A marketing firm’s track record for conjuring creative and effective campaigns may draw in clients but delivering projects on time and under budget is key to generating repeat business.
Smart project management is central to achieving this by helping to keep a lid on unnecessary costs, streamlining processes to save time and — most importantly — ensuring that your firm’s payday boasts a healthy profit margin.
Getting the project management plan right can be particularly helpful for marketing and advertising firms, allowing them to focus more time on creative tasks and less on maintaining a project’s administrative scaffolding.
Here are five essential tips that marketing teams can follow to ensure they’re managing projects efficiently and effectively, while maximizing profitability:
1. Prioritize Accurate Cost Projections
Ensuring that a marketing project will be as profitable as possible and completed on time hinges largely on how accurately the costs of bringing it to fruition are estimated. In other words, crafting a budget that will hold up as the project goes through its development stages, from conception through completion.
This requires having a good handle on labor costs: How many employees will be on the project and how many hours will they be devoting to getting it done? Will there be a need to enlist contractors for certain tasks not covered by in-house staff? And what about contingencies for unforeseen problems with production or staff?
Management teams would do well to assign a dollar and time cost to each of these questions and build it into the project’s overall budget. A pre-established hourly rate for new requirements that may arise as the project unfolds will keep “scope creep” from eating up profit margins.
The goal, of course, is to ensure the costs of delivering the finished marketing campaign leave a healthy profit.
2. Keep an Eye on Profit Margins
The main job of a grounded, reality-based project budget is to maximize profit margins. One way to keep an eye on profit margins is to use an integrated project management platform. Such applications benefit users because they enable them to easily follow how profit margins shift as time is tracked and money is paid out to cover project-related expenses.
Say you have won a $75,000 contract for a marketing campaign. As freelancers and in-house employees take on tasks and meet early project milestones, an integrated project management platform can provide a constantly updated snapshot of how many hours are being logged on the project and surface any unplanned expenses.
Using such a platform to manage projects is a better alternative to spreadsheets, as it allows users to manage all the various components of a project (internal teams, hiring freelancers, tracking progress and associated billing) in real time, not after the fact, when it’s too late to take action to minimize out-of-control costs.
More robust tools can provide this type of visibility within project phases for an added layer of accountability.
3. Consider Real-Time Payroll Tracking
One of the key ways to keep profit-eating project expenses in check is to manage labor costs. While businesses may start off with a budget, often their sense of how on-budget (or not) they are coming to light when they process payroll.
Payroll can be predictable enough when it comes to a salaried workforce but allocating those team members’ hours to a particular project can be a nightmare without the right tools. Moreover, firms that rely on independent contractors often only get a clear picture of costs once freelancers file an invoice. When invoices come in late, or at the end of a project, they can inject some uncertainty into how the company’s profit margins are holding up.
The answer is using software that allows for real-time tracking of the labor cost generated by hourly and salaried employees as well as independent contractors.
4. Streamline Administrative Tasks
Another approach to optimizing project management is to streamline the various administrative functions that are important, but ultimately take a back seat to the creative work necessary to deliver a successful marketing campaign.
Bigger companies may rely on in-house accountants, bookkeepers and other finance professionals to manage billing, payroll and expense tracking, leaving account managers and top executives free to focus on creative concerns.
Smaller firms, however, may not have that luxury. And the last thing an executive charged with developing big ideas needs to deal with is writing checks for office supplies or vetting an invoice from a freelancer.
For those firms, it pays to streamline by implementing independent virtual assistants, possibly paired with strong financial automation software that includes project tracking.
5. Plan Early and Honestly
Planning is essential to making sure the project is optimally organized so that tasks get done in the right order to complete the marketing campaign on time. You’ll need to be unflinchingly honest about your team’s capabilities in order to make a solid plan that won’t fall apart when it meets reality.
Is your in-house staff up to the task for exceeding the client’s expectations? Or should you enlist outside help? Is the budget realistic, or are you setting the company up for a thinner payday once extra costs are factored in?
Asking the tough questions early will spare you from having to scramble to find solutions in the thick of campaign deadlines, keep your team happy and boost your odds of winning over the next client.