It’s a new year and if you’re anything like me you’re probably doing some reflecting on the year that has just been.
As business owners it’s important that we take the time to stop and switch gears to looking backwards instead of forwards so we can…
1. Appreciate the Wins
2. Deepen the Lessons Learned
3. Take the wins and the lessons into the new year
As one of our core company values is to be open, honest and always communicate I thought a great way to be open would be to share publicly my review of 2016 for Automation Agency.
I’ve broken my review into 4 main categories
1. Growth – this is the wins/growth we experienced in 2016
2. Challenges – these are the lessons learned during 2016
3. Highlights – these are things of interest and/or we’re proud of
4. Future – looking ahead into 2017 here’s where we’re focusing on
191% Team Growth
In 2016 we grew from a team of 11 to a team of 32. Hiring 25 new people….
2 Customer Service
1 Internal Developer
We also had 4 team members move on, which is why we are a team of 32 and not 36.
38.75% Client Growth
Our client growth continued even without too much marketing effort in 2016 but it definitely wasn’t as strong as I’d hoped for or anywhere near what I know we could have had.
I’ll talk more about the causes for this in the challenges section below.
262% Task Growth
In 2016 Automation Agency handled a total of 16,600 requests, compare that to last year (2015) where we handled only 4,580 requests.
This growth came from clients finding their rhythm and better understanding how to utilise our services to support their business goals as well of course as new clients joining our services.
8 New Supported Platforms
Due to demand from clients and changes seen in the market, 2016 saw us add 8 new platforms to our supported platforms list.
Whenever we add a new platform to our services it’s never an easy decision because it always adds a new layer of complexity and training requirements that as our team continues to expand is harder to perform rapidly.
Our desire to deliver quality and have true expertise means that we don’t add a Platform if we aren’t committed to mastering them and we don’t see supporting them creating massive value to our current and future client base.
The platform we added in 2016 were…
7. Thrive Content Builder
8. Thrive Leads
Even towards the end of 2015 we had started to see cracks but it wasn’t until early January when we started to grow even more quickly that we faced an unexpected challenge with our service model.
Originally when we launched we didn’t have the Active Task Limit that we now have. This Active Task Limit means we’ll only actively work on that allowed number of tasks for your account at one time.
Prior to us introducing that limit mid way through this year people could send in 10 tasks and our internal prioritisation system would stack them all on top of each other as priority.
This led to major inequality of service across clients.
If a client (Client A) who uses us weekly sent in 10 tasks right after each other at let’s say 11am on a Monday, and then another client (Client B) who uses us once every 2 months sends in a task at 1pm that same Monday then Client B would be stuck behind the 10 tasks for Client A.
What we found happening was our team were working really hard to clear the tasks but clients were complaining that we were taking so long. What we realised after some digging in was that Client A was happy as we were completing their tasks while Client B was frustrated (and rightly so) that we were taking so long.
It became clear that we needed to tweak our model to ensure fairness to all clients and that’s when we introduced the Active Task Limit.
… the result has been faster turnarounds for all clients, and fairer access to our services based on the plan level you are on.
The above model malfunction combined with more clients signing up than our recruitment efforts could staff for created a big challenge in our service delivery.
From January through to March our average turnaround times suffered, and our internal processes were flawed meaning client’s weren’t even being told if their task was in or out of scope until we’d had it in our queues for 2 days already, obviously this led to a larger than normal cancellation from clients both old and new.
To take control of this we closed our doors to new clients and put in place a Waiting List, so we could focus our attention on fixing the issues and delivering quality service to our existing clients.
This loss of clients combined with the fact that we didn’t take on any new clients for 3 months definitely impacted our client growth in 2016.
Even once we felt we were ready to begin taking on new clients again we continued to control our growth by only taking on 5 new clients a month from our waiting list for a further 3 months.
While it held back our income and client growth it bought us the breathing room to re-engineer a number of areas of our business…
1. Task Handing and Routing – we completely redesigned the flow of a task being received and how it gets evaluated to ensure faster responses and to speed up completion times of tasks.
2. Recruitment & Training – we also completely changed our recruitment methods, places and target skill set to allow for a wider group of candidates who we could then bring through a deep 3 month training program with far more coaching & support than we had given earlier hires.
3.Management & Leaders – it became clear to me that without more management in place the operations and delivery side of what we do was going to suffer, as well as consume all of my available time so we focused on bringing on great managers and team leaders.
4. Systems & Software – from the very beginning I’ve invested heavily into software and in creating systems to make our business model and our low price point even possible, during this slower growth period as well as investing in new software applications we actually began custom building our own internal software to improve workflows and make some common tasks easier.
…These 4 areas as well as countless other tweaks, one-on-one trainings, and conversations combined to allowed us to begin taking on clients far more rapidly and in higher numbers again back in September.
In fact the majority of 2016’s client growth has actually come since September when we opened the doors wider once again.
Internally we have a culture of service, of going above and beyond to assist our clients, this has served us well however at times it has also caused challenges.
One such challenge is its ability to create scope creep. 2016 saw a number of occasions where we out of our culture of good service took on tasks requested by clients on platforms not on our Supported Platforms List, while sometimes they were simple and easy, others were complex and ate up a LOT of our heroes time which ultimately ate up profits as well as impacted task turnaround times for that task as well as all the other tasks the hero wasn’t able to get to because they were busy learning a new platform.
This is an area in 2017 we’ll be looking at how we better handle these situations, and drawing a more solid line of what we will and won’t do when it comes to scope and supported platforms.
90% of our clients are good and always fall within our scope, it’s just those 10% where occasionally the scope get’s stretched where we’ll need to be firmer with our line.
Pricing and Currency
When we launched I purposely set out for Australians to pay AUD while the rest of the world paid in USD, and in the beginning the currency exchange rate between AUD and USD wasn’t that much.
However during 2016 that currency gap increased and this created a level of complexity around our pricing that was unnecessary and confusing to both us and to clients.
As the majority of all our businesses expenses are paid in USD and the fact that all the software that we support for clients is charged to them in USD we decided to switch completely to USD currency for all new clients rather than continually be increasing the AUD pricing.
This has left a handful of clients who were grandfathered in as a thank you for being one of our early clients and are now getting an incredible deal paying AUD for as long as they remain a client. However if they choose to cancel and then come back they’ll be treated just like everyone else and have to select from our now USD plans and pricing.
If that’s you and you’re reading this… I would recommend staying for a long long time 😉
Client Portal Development
In November 2015 we began development of a web based portal to allow our clients to better manage their tasks outside of email.
This portal was to serve as a foundation to allow for future features and enhancements to make client’s lives easier and increase the value we deliver to our clients.
In June 2016 we put 4 clients on it to BETA test what we had built, sadly it never made it out of BETA.
In fact in August 2016, I requested we throw away what we’d built and we start again.
As an ex-programmer myself, I’ve been frustrated by the challenges I’ve faced with the development of this software and it’s made me often wonder how on earth non-technical people manage to get software built that doesn’t become a disaster.
While there have been development issues and we did have to replace the developer who is working on this project with someone more experienced, if I’m honest with myself and you one of the biggest reasons it’s still not released is my Perfectionism and desire to deliver a quality product.
My mindset has been that I didn’t want to create an Apple Maps scenario. You know where even the biggest Apple fan hated Apple Maps when it was first released.
We have such strong loyalty and a solid value proposition with our clients I was afraid that if we released something subpar it would damage our relationship rather than be the value I wanted to add.
So the Client Portal Development saga continues even to this day, however I can share that what we have rebuilt from the ground up is a far better user experience than the original we BETA tested back in June 2016 and I’ve become OK with stripping back features on our V1 to be able to launch sooner and avoid this perfectionist paralysis.
Luckily we do have a temporary “Unofficial” client portal that many of our clients are using happily in the mean time while we push forward with this project into 2017.
Other Interesting Highlights of 2016
— Rob Malicki (@RobMalicki) October 14, 2016
- I spoke at the Ontraport User Conference in Santa Barbra (see above)
- Busiest Day of the Week for new tasks was Tuesday
- The peak time for receiving new tasks was 4pm to 5pm Sydney Australia Time
- 590 Priority Passes were purchased
- The most popular blog post of 2016 was our Click Funnels Review – What I Hate Most About Click Funnels
- Even with all our challenges customer satisfaction survey responses per task was still 96%
So now that we’ve looked back at the wins and the lessons, it’s time to look to the future again. I know I speak for the entire team at Automation Agency when I say that we are all very excited for 2017 and the plans we have.
You can expect…
Launch of the new Client Portal
After more than 12 months of development we are now getting very close to release, and it will give us a really strong foundation to build upon for many future enhancements that we have in mind.
More Education For Clients
Right now we provide marketing education through our blog posts which is available to everyone. 2017 we’ll be focusing on developing some client only education resources.
When I started Automation Agency I made the assumption that when businesses came to our services they would already know what they wanted and needed, they just didn’t have the time or skills to do it themselves.
While this is true of about 50% of our clients, the other 50% could benefit from further education on what’s possible, best practices and general sales funnel and email marketing strategy.
Constant improvements to our systems, processes and training
At Automation Agency we embody the value of “Kaizen” (Continuous Improvement), not a single week goes by that either myself or someone in the company doesn’t come forward with a suggestion for how we can improve our processes, deliver more value, or allow us to serve more clients.
Strong Foundation for rapid growth
After the challenges and lessons of 2016, we feel that we now have a far stronger foundation that will allow us to continue to grow rapidly without facing the same challenges that we faced in 2016.
Of course as we all know, business is business, there’s always going to be challenges but it’s a good day when the challenge you face is a new one and not the same one slapping you in the face yet again.
If you’re one of our much loved clients, thanks for allowing us to support you in 2016 and now into 2017.
If you’re yet to experience our services, I encourage you to consider signing up and trying us out, if you aren’t sure what we can do our 35 Task Ideas is a great start as is our Design Portfolio PDF too.