How to Set Up Systems and Work Less In Your Agency

By Jason Swenk on November 16, 2022

How many hours per week do you spend working IN your business? Do you need a better work-life balance? Would you like to focus just on the work you really like? One agency owner went from dedicating 50+ hours/week to her agency to working 10-12 hours per week. She did it by recognizing her strengths, setting up the right systems and coaching her team.

Andrea Jones is a social media strategist who runs OnlineDrea, a digital agency operating done-for-you social media services. They handle all social platforms and do content creation from video editing and graphic design and primarily work with online business owners in the coaching services. A big shift in her personal life limited the time she could dedicate to the business. Therefore Andrea drastically changed the way she ran things. Fortunately, she managed to do it in record time and found it was just what her agency needed.

In this interview, we’ll discuss:

  • Transitioning out of client work and into the CEO role.
  • Scaling back from 50+ hour workweeks to 10-12 hours.
  • Coaching your team and building the right culture to take a step back.

Sponsors and Resources

E2M Solutions: Today’s episode of the Smart Agency Masterclass is sponsored by E2M Solutions, a web design and development agency that has provided white-label services for the past 10 years to agencies all over the world. Check out and get 10% off for the first three months of service.


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Are You Afraid of the Word “Agency”?

Andrea has always loved the internet and the process of content creation. She started a blog in 2004 and even a YouTube channel in 2007. What really jump-started her career was moving to Canada, where she started freelancing and slowly built a team. However, she admits she was scared of the word agency; so for many years she thought of herself as a freelancer who “just happened to have a team”.

Her work as a freelancer started as a necessity while she worked on her legal status in her host country. Nonetheless, in time she realized the repeatable nature of social media had landed her a really good agency business model.

Removing Yourself from Client Work and Scaling Back to 10 Hour Work Weeks

If you’re an agency owner, it’s not uncommon to work 50+ hours a week. Maybe you love your agency and don’t even realize you also need a break.

Andrea went through a similar situation where she was working 50-60 hours per week. She says she wasn’t looking for a way out because she really enjoyed the work. However, when she got pregnant, she knew she couldn’t get through such long work days.

She made a decision and started removing herself from client calls, hired more staff to support clients, and hired her first official employee. This made a real difference, although she admits it was a long journey. In the past, every time she iterated the structure of the agency she was still at the center of it. It was only after she got pregnant she realized everything was still going through her. The real change came once she accepted this wasn’t sustainable any longer.

Making this change was no walk in the park. It was easier than it could have been thanks to getting super clear about agency culture. She took the Clifton strengthsfinder test and her second strength turned out to be positivity. She had never seen it as a strength before, but she realized that’s why some people worked really well with them.

So when it came time to remove herself from sales, she knew she needed account managers with the same energy and she leaned on that in their training.

Andrea knew she got it right when she got a message from a client praising her team’s work. It is a difficult realization that clients don’t need you, but it is exactly what frees up your time to do other things!

Online Training for Digital Agencies

Transitioning from Owner and Strategist to Agency CEO

Changing the agency’s structure also meant changing Andrea’s role. She went from leading strategy to coaching her team. Instead of just being an agency owner, she really transitioned in the role of Agency CEO.

It was a big change but she now feels more like a mentor than an expert. In essence, instead of being the person who provides the solution, she guides her team to finding the solution. 

The downside — some of team members didn’t make the cut. Not everyone was on board with this new direction or stepped up to the plate for their new responsibilities. Some people did end up leaving, which presented some unforeseen difficulties. In the end, this created more space to hire the right people and bring on new talent.

Try to Not Rush the Process and Get the Support of a Mentor

Agency owners need to proactively take steps to reduce the amount of time working in the business before they’re burned out. Rather than being reactive out of necessity, you can set a reasonable timeline to do it successfully.

It took Andrea about six months to achieve great results with her team. She admits a more realistic timeline would be a 1.5 years to account for unforeseen challenges. It was just one month before her due date and she managed to figure it out thanks to her team. Nonetheless, taking the time to do it without rushing out of necessity is ideal.

A longer timeline provides time to test-run. Andrea and her team tested the results of her coaching efforts once she had her baby. Since having the baby, they’ve had some time to fine-tune the process. She really recommends giving yourself the time to practice not being around and actually limiting your hours. There will be things you may not have considered, like sharing your passwords, that can go much better if you run a test first.

Finally, one key element Andrea cannot recommend enough is getting the advice of a mentor. As an agency owner, you probably feel that if you managed to grow a successful business figuring this out can’t be that hard. However, consider how much you would be helping yourself by getting the support of someone who has done it before. Andrea’s mentors helped her through many unforeseen bumps in the road so she is thankful for having had support.

Are You Looking for a Mentor or Trusted Advisors? 

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