Efficiently implementing different stages of a digital marketing pipeline is elemental in forging a successful career in the digital industry – so why is that pipeline management is often neglected?
The balancing of a project pipeline encompasses many factors, such as awareness and use of resources, cash flow management, client engagement, and the planning of future projects. Here, we’ll have a look at some of the ways you can stay in control and make pipeline management a key part of your project planning.
How much work can be done and at what speed it can be completed at is determined by the capacity of your pipeline. When accounting for all of your available resources, you should consider your available time and the technology you have at hand.
There’s no point in saying you can do 150 hours work in a week or committing yourself to writing up a dozen reports in a week if you don’t have the right paid-for tools like those from Moz or Serps to do the job quickly.
By knowing exactly what you have at your disposal you can queue projects more efficiently in the project pipeline allowing you to easily inform clients of deliverables and monitor your progress.
On top of that, by identifying limitations you can properly plan for removing them, increasing capacity and adding value by investment in technology or enhancing your own skills through education.
Ask a digital marketer how long something will take and very often they will be guilty of gross underestimation. Whether through hubris or a desire to tell people what they want to hear, it can lead to overpromising and underdelivering.
A decrease in project speed is proportional to the number of projects in a pipeline, as set out in Little’s Law, a surprisingly simple mathematical theorem for project management. It can be described in layman’s terms that someone’s project pipeline can encounter delays “because they have seen success at the individual project level. This success leads to more projects being introduced, which leads to more success, and eventually you’ve got a clogged pipeline, and all of the projects begin to slow down” – Scott Converse, University of Wisconsin
Basically, by not properly estimating the time it takes for lead generation, discovery, engagement and all the project planning factors necessary for a successful pipeline, increasing amounts of time are “lost” (or more accurately unaccounted for).
The solution? Keep track of absolutely every bit of time spent, including the process of keeping track of time. Although it may feel like a tedious task, after a while, it will hopefully become a good habit. The results can be tremendous, by knowing exactly how long something takes you can give exact estimates, spot road blocks and recognize time-heavy activities that are not financially viable.
Did you know that 82% of small businesses that fail do so because of cash flow problems? The digital marketing field is no different; digital marketers truly cannot survive without cash flow. Whatever your position, no-one is resistant to the financial drought caused when cash flow dries up.
Quite understandably, not everyone enjoys the vagaries of financial planning and accounting. Sure, we like to see the money in our account and maybe even give a little fist-pump when a payment clears but there’s also the dread of a looming bill or the interminable wait for a client who swore they’d pay you “any day now” three weeks ago. The general approach to cash-flow can leave you stuck on an unnecessary emotional rollercoaster.
To start you should have a clear idea of your expenditure for at least the next three to six months and a decent vision for beyond that. There are lots of tools out there to help, like Mint or business scale solutions depending on your needs. Once you realize what’s really going to be coming in and out every week and month for the near future, the next step is figuring out how to cut out fluctuations and maintain a steady income stream.
To keep the money train rolling along smoothly, however light its cargo, clients must be made aware of their responsibilities with regards to sign-off and payment dates. Discussing such things can literally keep some people up at night but it shouldn’t be so. It’s your livelihood, it’s what you’ve earned so don’t feel bad about asking for it.
The problem for cash flow arises from payment being expected on final delivery of a completed project. That might work out great for the client but for the all-important cash flow of the digital marketer it’s a nightmare. It means living project to project, huge highs followed by a gradual low and possibly rock-bottom. What if they refuse to pay? What if they demand extra work not in the original contract? What if they go bust themselves? All reasonable worries and all signs of a poorly managed pipeline.
One solution is being an incredibly astute saver, budgeting everything to the nth degree in preparation for the rainy days ahead. A more feasible option however are milestones, as in agreed upon points in the digital marketing plan where deliverables are delivered and money is transferred. For example, one might consider asking for three equal payments, one at the start, one in the middle and one on final delivery. If it is a project which you could be working on for weeks or months it is essential to have the security of knowing your hard work is going to be rewarded. If there is any issue you can make a decision to continue working on the project or to simply say you are pressing pause and move onto the next person in the queue.
Another way of avoiding cash-flow issues and managing your pipeline properly is to underpin your plans on the basis of recurring revenue. This could be from activities like regular blogging or part-time social media management. If you’re lucky enough to be able to pick and choose your clients and hours it should be a major consideration in your project planning.
Decide on the split you want, like spending 60% of time on new projects and 40% on recurring revenue. Though there may be a great comfort in having a steady stream of income coming in, it is also important to keep in mind your overall career progression. Too much time devoted to something that is current now may leave you some way off the industry leaders in two years’ time. That’s without even considering the valuable and important notion of client upgrading (i.e. searching for higher paying clients to replace lower paying ones).
We all have to keep moving forward in digital marketing and sometimes ideas, talents and clients get left behind. However, for your pipeline to get healthier and to personally progress towards being a digital leader you have to keep exploring, learning and doing new things.
Planning for the future is not the sole reserve of apocalypse survivalists. Abandoning the peak and trough cycle of constant project work depends on having another project ready to go once one is finished.
Time should always be set aside for future project planning. This includes lead generation and engagement, project discovery and the creation of initial reports like a digital marketing plan or key deliverables and timelines. They may amount to many small things but it’s important to give them their proper weight of importance, both so they’re not forgotten about and, as we’ve seen before, are included as a time cost.
It may take up time for what you may consider “urgent” work but good pipeline and project management is all about using your resources wisely to ensure consistent success.