The #1 Digital Agency Podcast for Social Media, SEO, PPC & Creative Agencies

As a Certified Management Accountant, a Certified Internal Auditor, and certified in Strategy and Competitive Analysis, Naten Jenson, co-founder of Agency Dad, is certainly the best person to help you establish a strong business and drive your agency's profitability. Today, he joins us to talk about scope creep, a topic that many agency owners struggle with but should definitely learn more about. Remember that if we can get a hold of scope creep, we're going to increase our profit.

3 Little Nuggets

  1. What gets measured gets managed. Many agency owners get so focused on that next client that they forget to measure and they are not managing the profitability of existing clients. First mistake, because you cannot identify a problem when you fail to measure. If you don’t have the data, there’s nothing to analyze.
  2. How to get those numbers. There are three numbers that you need to know. The first one is your bill rate. The second thing you need to know is your gross profit on a client, and finally, you need the number of hours that you spent on a client. The formula you will need is: gross profit ÷ bill rate. So let's say your gross profit on a client in a month is $1,200. If your bill rate is $120 an hour, you get an answer of 10. Now, what if we had 10 hours budgeted and we use 17 on a client? Well, we've now measured our scope creep. It was 7 hours, and 120 x 7 is $840 of revenue that you’ve lost.
  3. Is the problem coming from the client or the agency? Before doubling your rates, you could look at the origin of the problem. If you do this scope creep analysis over three months and clients are consistently using too many hours, then it’s time to look internally first and see if the problem is with the agency. Do I have an employee who actually doesn't know what they're doing? Do they need more training? Is it the wrong fit? Are some questions you can ask yourself before taking this to the client.

Sponsors and Resources

Agency Dad: Today's episode is sponsored by Agency Dad. Agency Dad is an accounting solution focused on helping marketing agencies make better decisions based on their financials. Check out agencydad.money/freeaudit/ to get a phone call with Nate to assess your agency's financial needs and how he can help you.

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Understanding Scope Creep Will Help Drive Profitability

Jason: [00:00:00] Hey, what's up agency owners, Jason Swenk here. And I'm excited, I have a repeat guest and a repeat guest where we're going to talk about scope creep. Right? You should hear that tun-tun-tun on scope creep, because a lot of us, we struggle with this and if we can get a hold of scope creep we're going to increase our profit. And we'll be able to afford those people to really come in and do the things we don't want to do anymore.

So this is a really important episode and let's get into it.

Hey, Nate. Welcome back.

Nate: [00:00:34] Thanks Jason. Glad to be back with you again.

Jason: [00:00:37] Awesome. Well, uh, for the people that have not checked out the first episode, tell us who you are and what do you do.

Nate: [00:00:43] My name's Nate Jensen. Uh I'm with Agency Dad, our website is agencydad.money. And we are an outsource CFO firm, bookkeeping firm, accounting firm.

And our focus is really helping agencies to drive their profitability. We do that by good accounting where we can actually measure profitability, measure what's going on and those metrics drive action, drive decision-making that leads to greater profitability.

Jason: [00:01:08] Awesome. Well, let's go ahead and talk about scope creep and how to identify this, because I know there's a lot of agency owners. We're busy at bringing in new business and we really kind of take our eye off the ball a little bit. And there's a lot of, uh, what I call profit leaks in scope creep. So tell us how can we identify these?

Nate: [00:01:33] Yeah, no, you're absolutely right. What I, what I see is when, when someone's in growth mode, they're, they're so focused on that next client, that next client. That they're not measuring and they're not managing the profitability of existing clients. Peter Drucker is famous for saying what gets measured, gets managed. So identifying scope creep, the first thing you've got to do is measure it, where's it happening with clients is that happening with? And, and how bad is the problem?

And so I want to talk today a little bit about how do we measure it? What are the numbers that we need to know? And, uh, after we go through that, we'll get to, what can we then do about it?

Jason: [00:02:09] Cool. So, yeah, let's get into how do we measure it?

Nate: [00:02:12] Ok, First, how do you measure it? There's three numbers that you need to know. And most accounting systems you should be able to pull at least one of these numbers out of there. You need to know your bill rates, which is, hey, if we think we're going to spend 10 hours on a client project, we're going to bill them, let's say, $120 an hour. So we're billing $1,200. The $120, that's your bill rate.

Second thing you need is your gross profit on a client. This is the one that you should be able to pull out of QuickBooks or whatever accounting software you're in. And your gross profit is what you build a client minus any direct costs. So if you're, if you're spending money on ads for your clients, it's going to be what you bill the client minus what you spent for those ads. That's your what's left is your gross profit.

And then the last thing, the third number that you need is how many hours. In a given month, did you actually spend on that client? So the way you measure scope creep, I'm going to give you three formulas there. They're simple formulas. If you're driving don't, you know, don't stop and try and do the math.

Jason: [00:02:09] We'll put them in the show notes for you guys.

Nate: [00:02:12] But the first thing all you're going to do is you can take that gross profit by clients in whatever month you're looking at and divide it by your bill rate. So let's say your gross profit on a client in a month is $1,200. If your bill rates $120 an hour, you get an answer of 10, right.

1200 divided by your, your bill rates, 10 hours. And that 10 hours. That's how many hours you have available for that client. You've said based on my bill rate, you've got 10 hours. So one of those other numbers that you need is how many hours you actually used. So if you look at that client and you say, h, okay. Out of 10 hours, we only used, let's say six.

Well, I have four extra hours, so there's no scope creep. I had 10 hours budgeted. I only use six. I have four leftover. Great. Now what if we had 10 hours and we use 17? Well, we've now measured our scope creep. We have in that month, we have seven hours scope creep, which is, you know, if you've only budgeted 10, that'd be pretty significant.

And then the final thing you want to look at here is what did that cost you? Okay. So if we know we're seven hours over and our bill rate is $120. 7 hours x $120. We've actually lost out on $840 of revenue. Does that makes sense? I know it's a lot of math. It's a lot.

Jason: [00:04:34] yeah, it definitely does. You know, what we always did and what I've always told everybody is, is you should be tracking all of your hours for everything that you do.

And so how we had it in our software, we use a really cool project management software back in the day called My Intervals, but it works like ClickUp or Teamwork or any of those and what we would do after we had a baseline of projects or engagements. We'd be like, okay, well we know this normally takes a hundred hours to go do, and then we would break it up into segments or phases.

And then we would actually get a visualization of each of the deliverables and each deliverable had allocated hours to it. So then, then on a weekly basis, our project manager, or on daily basis if they wanted, they could look at it and then it would show green. If they're under, you know, yellow, if we're getting close red, if we're over.

And so then we could go, all right, well, why are we going over? Or why, why are we getting close? And then we can make our adjustments.

Nate: [00:05:35] Yeah. Well, one of the things that I tell people and I, I've totally made this statistic up, but I use it anyways is I say 95% of your data analysis is new data entry. The number of clients that we work with when we start working with them, who don't actually track their time to clients, uh, it continues to surprise me. I'm like, if you're not tracking the data, if you don't have the data, there's nothing to analyze. And, well, it's no wonder you've, you've spent a year growing your business and you're working twice as hard and you're making just a little bit more money.

Jason: [00:06:05] Actually. They're making less. That's what I see a lot of times.

Nate: [00:06:09] They are making less, I was giving the benefit of the doubt. But, yeah, that's why you've got to track the data. You got to track the time. And so if you, if you have the numbers. And again, throw them into these simple formulas. It's really easy to see, Oh, I've got this client, this client, and this client, they're each using, you know, seven hours per month too many.

And it's really easy to see where you, like, what you call the profit leaks, right. Where it’s easy to see where those leaks are.

Jason: [00:06:35] I find scope creep actually starts before you even actually sign up the client. I find it happens in the sales conversation. It's about setting the expectation with the client and not trying to oversell them.

I think a lot of, especially if you're an agency owner and you're doing the sales, which that should stop immediately, right? You should find a salesperson, but a lot of times you try to go like this is what we're going to do. And we're going to do this, this, this, and you're just piling all this stuff that, you think in order to close the deal, or if you have a really bad salesperson, you do that. And it really starts there. And, but I totally agree with you on data entry too.

Nate: [00:07:15] Well, no, you're absolutely correct. Because whether you bid the job wrong, you know, in the beginning or whether the client has just taken a little more time, a little more time, a little more time, the problem ends up being the same. It is you're not, you're not billing for the amount of time you're spending on it.

And so regardless of what caused it, you're still able to measure it and identify where is this happening? So it's amazing. Let's say, let's say you have 20 clients and you find that three of them are using seven hours per month too many. Well, that's only 21 hours per month, but what you bill, times your $120 hour bill rate, and you're losing $2,500 per month in revenue. You should be charging, somebody should be charging, whether it's this client or if they're not using it to pick up a new client, and then you have that bandwidth to take care of them.

Jason: [00:08:04] Yeah. One of the things that we found that pointed it out to me, because yeah, like, like you said, you’re like, oh, it was only three hours here, or it's only an hour here, but if you do this one thing and I can promise you you'll change your idea about, because when the client comes to you and go, Oh, can you do this? And you always say yes.

You should implement a $0 change order. I talk about this and the agency playbook all the time and we actually give you guys a template for it, but it's really when they come to you for something very small, I want you to print them out a change order. That shows the original price that you would actually charge for it.

So if it's a hundred dollars an hour, let's just say easy math, put that down and then cross it out and have them sign it and send it back to you. So you're training them that this is additional. So when they actually come to you for the big items, then you can actually go, oh no, no, no. My digital agency can't do this. Again, we already gave you this free stuff over here.

And then the client is programmed to go, oh yeah, it's it's additional. And when you start acting, like, I literally started adding up all the change orders and I was like, oh my gosh, like I gave away $10,000 last month.

Online Training for Digital Agencies

Nate: [00:09:19] Right. Yeah. It's great if you've taken the time to train your clients that way. And anybody that's not, they should get started.

Right. But if you were to do this analysis and say, oh my heck, I'm giving away three grand a month in free services. We need to talk about, okay, what can I do right now? Okay. It's great. I'm going to start changing my process with my clients, but what can we do right now? The first thing I would say is I would not go to a client after one month of analysis and say, hey, we're going to charge more money because that month may be an outlier, right?

That month. Maybe you're doing a lot of prep work that's going to pay you over the next several months. But if you do this analysis over, let's say three months, and clients are consistently using too many hours. Then I would go and I'd look internally first and I would say is the problem with me? Okay.

Do I have an employee who actually doesn't know what they're doing? Do they need more training? Is it the wrong fit? Etcetera. So what's, what's kind of generating it. If my employee who's done this work, if I asked them, what, what are they spending their time on? And they say, every time he put up their Facebook ads within two hours, there's a phone call. They want the copy change. They want the image changed.

Then we know the problem is more with the client than with us. But even then, it's not necessarily that we go to the client and say, hey, look, we're changing the contract. You've got to pay us more money. It might just be a trust issue, right. It might be that they don't really believe that we're the experts. And if they don't put themselves into the process, we're not going to do it, right.

So it might just be a conversation of helping them to actually trust that we can do the work. And so we're in, instead of charging them more money, we're helping them to take less of our time. And then again, that frees up our bandwidth and we can then. With those additional hours, we go pick up a new client and build that client instead of giving those hours away for free.

Jason: [00:11:06] Yeah. I always, I like how you said kind of look back at your internal process first before you kind of blame the client. Because a lot of times the clients, they'll just, they don't know they're ignorant. They've never gone through this process and they don't know what's in scope or out of scope.

When I would talk about scope creep, I would always kind of default back to when I was building my house. Like, I didn't know. The process of building a house. I was like, oh, can I make my room bigger after they do framing?

And they're like, you could, but we have to kind of tear down these walls and like all this other stuff. And they were like, well, that would be additional. Or you want a waterfall? Okay. We can do like, like I was just like, it's not included? I thought you said you'd built my dream.

Nate: [00:11:51] Yeah. And like, I think it's a good point you brought up earlier is. It is it maybe in the, in the bidding process. And if you're, if you're looking at this on a regular basis and you can… It's gonna, it's going to help you identify that problem, right? If, if you're saying, if you're seeing client after client, where simply their expectations were not in line with what the reality was going to be as an agency owner, that that may be on you and that's, that's fine, right?

If you, if you learn that fantastic and let's fix it going forward, but if you're not measuring it and you're just saying, hey, new business, new revenue is going to make me profitable. It's not always going to do it.

Jason: [00:12:28] Yeah, I can promise you all of you listening now, before I actually started tracking all of this and actually measuring our time and looking at scope creep, we were losing money on 60% of our engagements, 60%.

That's probably what you, Nate, lot of times when you guys probably get an under the covers of a lot of agencies, you probably realize, wow, you're losing a ton of money on these clients. Like, why are you still doing this?

Nate: [00:12:54] Right. And I would say sixty maybe high. 60% is, is a high percentage of clients to actually be losing money on. But, but almost guaranteed. There are very few agencies that I do this kind of analysis for that aren't losing money on at least a few clients. And keep in mind, it's not just about, is the client actually profitable or unprofitable, you know. One of the questions you should be asking is, is the client profitable enough?

So we may have a profitable client, but because of the scope creep. We're spending so much time that they're, they're just barely profitable. When really if we're going to run a, a good, solid, profitable agency we need to have those boundaries. We need to be able to say, you know, our, our bill rate is 120 an hour that finds you this many hours.

And if we're consistently spending too much time, we've got to change that. We've got to fix it.

Jason: [00:13:42] That's another good point about like how profitable are they? We had a mastermind member not too long ago. Uh, had a bunch of legacy clients. We showed them a bunch of systems in the mastermind where they really kind of quadrupled their sales, but then they had all of these existing legacy clients and we started looking at it and they were, some of them, all of them were profitable.

But just like you were saying, they were barely profitable. And we went to them and we're like, well, how can we get them up to par? And the only way we can actually get the mastermind member in order to do this was to have them calculate the opportunity cost. Like, what was the difference between the new clients coming in?

Like how much money were they making there and the old ones. And that actually forced them, like, as they started looking at the data, he was like, holy cow. Well, like if I could just double the rates, and we're like double those rates, and even if half those clients go away, the other ones will make up the difference.

But you want to know what happened, Nate? Every one of them said yes. And he made 60,000 extra every month. By not having to sell anything more or deliver anything more just by literally going, hey, we need to be more profitable.

Nate: [00:14:56] I'm glad you brought up opportunity costs because some people would say, hey, let's take an example of we're spending seven extra hours on this client every month.

And what I said earlier is you're losing $840. Cause it's those hours times your bill rate. And some people would argue, well, no, cause I'm really only losing what I'm paying my employees. I'm not losing the whole bill rate. I'm like, yes, you are because you should be invoicing that. Right. You're spending that whatever it is, 40 bucks or 30 bucks an hour on your employee, regardless of where it's spent or not being used on a client at all, you've got to look at the opportunity cost.

It's that's really what, you're what you're losing. It's not just money out of pocket. So yeah. Perfect point.

Jason: [00:15:36] Well, this has been awesome. Nate, is there anything I didn't ask you that you think would benefit the audience listening in? Before we go over to the, the cool thing I want to, I want you to tell everybody about right.

Nate: [00:15:48] Really, it really comes down to just taking the time to measure this stuff is so easy. Like you said, if you are, if you're an agency owner and you're doing your own sales system, if you're an agency owner and you're doing your own bookkeeping, your own financial reporting, which means you're probably not doing any financial reporting.

You should stop, right? You've got to look at this and you've got to look at it consistently. If you're not measuring it, it's going to get out of hand. There's, there's no question. So I don't think so. I think we've pretty much covered it and I'll make sure that you've got the formulas and you can disseminate those out to your listeners, however makes the most sense.

Jason: [00:16:23] Great. Yeah. I mean, if, if you guys are not measuring and if you guys are doing this, then you're not doing the other things that only you could be doing, which, you know, it makes me very worrisome. If that's a word, I don't know. I mean, maybe making up words now. But, uh, Nate, tell us about kind of the special offer where you can, uh, you know, help identify this, you know, for them.

Yeah. So we do, we do a free audit on some, some various metrics for agencies, just to, just to have a phone call, just to get to know you and see if there's maybe a fit for us to work together. And so we, we offer a free audit of, of your, your profitability and different metrics. And so for this summer, we're actually offering a free first month, if you do want to do some business with us.

Nate: [00:17:06] So, there'll be a link. It's that fact, it's the agencydad.money/freeaudit. And there'll be a link there to have a phone call with me and we can, we can talk to see what your needs are.

Jason: [00:17:16] Awesome. Uh, repeat the URL one more time for everybody.

Nate: [00:17:20] That's agencydad.money/freeaudit.

Awesome. All right, well, everyone, uh, go do that now. You know, I really do appreciate Nate coming back on the show. Make sure you guys go get your free audit, because if you can identify that scope creeps are happening, then you actually have an action plan of what you actually need to go do in order to fix it.

So make sure you go there. They're incredible. We've said a lot of mastermind members and a lot of listeners over there. And they've all had amazing things to say about Nate and all their crew. So go do that now and until next time, have a Swenk day.


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