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Up-in-the-Air Creatives is an agency that specializes in missed opportunities, harried employees, and disgruntled clients.
In one of their latest ‘success’ stories, Up-in-the-Air was somehow contacted by Amazon’s lead marketer, who wanted to know if they could design an ad campaign for a new and exciting Amazon feature. As you can imagine, taking on this project for Amazon had the potential to catapult Up-in-the-Air to a superior status as an agency.
The problem was, the day the request came in was a hectic one, (even by Up-in-the-Air standards). There was last week's deadline to reach, the lead designer had gone on vacation with no replacement, and the latest unfortunate recruit had picked up and left the company in a huff.
So to cut a long story and a lot of angry accusations short, the amazing opportunity to create an ad campaign for Amazon, became yet another missed opportunity.
They didn’t have a project intake process.
Now, you might be thinking: We’re an organized agency, nothing like Up-in-the-Air, thank goodness, would we really need a project intake process?
In this blog, I’m going to show you how a project intake process can do wonders for your agency's efficiency, quality of work, and peace of mind -even if you think you’ve got it all down pat already.
Let’s start with defining what a project intake process is.
What is a project intake process?
A project intake process, or project request process, is the process designed by a company or creative team to automate and simplify the way they deal with project requests. It involves having a central location for requests to come in, a project intake form for clients or members of other departments within a company to fill out, and protocols for project acceptance.
What are the benefits of having a project intake process?
- Organized proposals: Having a single place where all proposals come in gives you the organizational clarity to choose which projects to take on, which to leave in the pipeline, and which to refuse.
- Greater efficiency: A project intake process means you have everything worked out and templated before you even see a proposal. Instead of reinventing the wheel with every project, your project intake process flows efficiently from the get-go.
Higher quality proposals: The creation of a project intake process includes deciding and documenting which type of proposals to take in. When proposals go through this quality control, you end up with the proposals you want instead of sifting through irrelevant ones.
Better consistency: When proposals include the same information, it is easy to be consistent in the type of projects you take on. You have the right information, so you can make the right choices.
Helps control WIP: With a working project intake process, you can control the amount of work coming in, decide when there’s too much, and decide when to take on more.
Punctual payment: Having your process organized includes having a protocol for payment, which greatly increases the chances you’ll be paid on time.
Increases trust in clients: Having a project intake process shows clients that you are professional and experienced, which makes them more likely to choose you over another agency.
What are the steps in creating a project intake process?
Define and communicate responsibilities: In order for your intake process to be successful, there needs to be clarity on who is doing what and those decisions must be communicated. For example, who is in charge of reviewing proposals, and who is responsible for making decisions?
Designate a single place for project request submissions: Whether it’s an email inbox, a dropbox file, or the best option, a cloud-based PM software, it’s important to make it clear to both your team and clients that all project requests must come through that forum.
Decide what your project acceptance requirements are and document them: For strategic decisions to be made, there have to be predefined requirements for project acceptance. A simple example would be; if an agency niches in toys, part of their criteria for accepting projects would be that it has to involve toys.
Document work process: Having a clear list of stages is key to a successful project intake process. Stages such as accepting the proposal, submitting it, and reviewing it should be documented and followed through (though of course, it can change over time).
Automation: Once you know what you need to include in your project management intake process, it’s highly advisable to automate the process through project management software, like Workamajig. This will save you time and resources and will also guarantee that your process is done correctly.
Create a project intake process presentation: Kick off your new project intake process with a presentation to team members. Visually show them how it’s all going to work via e.g a project intake process flow chart.
Adjustment: With time, it will become apparent which parts of the process are working well and which need adjusting. Regular assessment and adjustment will allow you to perfect your process.
What types of questions to ask during the project intake process?
During the project intake process, you want to extract as much information as possible from your client. So which types of questions should you be asking? Here is a list of generic questions, though if there are questions specific to your project, be sure to include those too.
- What is the objective of this project?
- What problem do they aim to solve?
- Who is their target audience?
- Who are their main competitors?
- What are the marketing trends in this area?
- What are their financial goals?
- What date do they need the project to be completed?
Project intake process best practices
Only take on projects sent to your designated entry point: It may take a while for clients, and even your team to get the hang of using your designated inbox/platform for project requests. By being strict in only accepting requests sent to the right place, you’ll soon get the message across.
Automate requests with a project intake form: Part of the request process for clients should be filling out an intake form. This way, you can get all the information you need to decide whether to take on the project, automatically.
Automate your approval process: This can be done easily with project management software and will save you from manually approving or disapproving every project that comes through your pipeline.
Ensure smooth communication between stakeholders and team members: One of the best ways to snag a good potential client is with excellent communication. People want to feel heard and that they’re on the top of your priority list. If you can convey that feeling from the get-go, you’re off to a head start.
Have a sales meeting: Even with a solid intake process in place, it’s important to ensure that you really understand your client’s needs by meeting face to face. Often you think you understand what they want, but a meeting then proves otherwise.
Agree on payment terms: Before you invest in a project, discuss and finalize payment terms with your client. It’s wise to have a physical timeline for payment deadlines so that there are no misunderstandings. Additionally, asking for a deposit upfront increases your client's commitment to the project, making it more likely that the project will a) go through and b) be profitable.
Client onboarding: Once you have agreed on payment terms, it’s time to document all the data for your client's project in your PM software and let team members know what their responsibilities are for this project.
Send a welcome package: You might know exactly what your procedures for managing projects are, but don’t leave your client wondering! Sending a welcome package, whether by email, or physical document will answer any questions they might have. Aim to make it as detailed as possible, including information like project milestone timelines, contacts, payment plans, and meeting dates.
Send a thank-you gift: Although not a must, sending a small gift or thank-you note will set the tone for a positive relationship. Check out this link for some ideas and tips on client gift sending.
Share your expertise: Show your client that they’re in good hands by giving them your expert guidance as often as possible.
How to diagram the project intake process?
Below are some project intake diagrams to help visually simplify the project intake process.
Credit: Smart Sheets
Credit: Innovate Syracuse
Project intake process metrics
Here are some of the variables you’ll want to measure in your project intake process:
Amount of projects coming in from a given industry: This information can help you decide if you want to niche in a certain area, e.g. if you keep getting requests from real-estate firms, it may be a good idea to try and nail that market. It can also help you find out which industries to learn more about so you can better help your clients.
The number of proposals coming in over a certain period: This can help with resource forecasting, as well as influence financial decisions.
Amount of projects complete and incomplete: With this information, you can decide how many projects to take on at a given time.
Challenges of a project intake process
Although none of these challenges make having an intake process redundant, they do need to be looked out for:
Ad hoc projects: Even with a perfect intake process in place, there will always be ‘one-offs’ that disrupt the plan and take away time and resources from other projects. Although usually unavoidable, try to avoid the avoidable ones!
The process is not followed: The first thing is to have a process in place, and the second thing is to convey it to team members and ensure that it is followed through. Obviously, a process is only as good as its implementation.
Disconnection between projects: It’s important to consider current projects before taking on new ones, or you can easily end up with not enough resources, finances, or time to reach a deadline.
Unclear project acceptance requirements: Part of a good project intake process is having protocols for which types of projects to accept. These need to be clear if you are to keep your projects aligned with your agency's business goals.
How can Workamjig help you with your project intake process?
Workamjig allows agencies to run seamless operations and processes, using one integrated tool. When attempting to create a project request process, Workamjig will help you streak ahead with minimum effort on your part.
- Automate your intake process from beginning to end
- Keep all your client info in one place with Workamajig’s robust CRM software
- Have all communication and updates in one place so nothing falls through the cracks
- Run reports that will tell you exactly how many projects you can accept at any given time
Gain full pipeline visibility and easily convert leads into clients, with all the info you need.