One of the most critical problems Antoine had managing West 7th Design Studio since 2009 was reducing his administrative workload to focus on fostering his team and growing his studio.
Imagine a world where getting a tenth of the calls you did before gives you the time, space, and breathing room you need to be able to focus on your long-term strategic goals, all while spending less time at your desk and more time binging your favorite TV shows.
Antoine Thomas, Founder and Creative Director of West 7th Design Studio doesn’t have to imagine it. He’s already done it.
“The amount of TV I’ve been able to binge-watch has been amazing. Like, ‘Oh, this is what people do when they stop working. Cool!’”
Antoine has managed to reduce unnecessary client communication by over 90%, saving himself and his team valuable time and allowing them to concentrate on creating even better branding and design. He estimates that by using Plutio over his previous setup, he saves about 15 hours a week which means more time for other projects and personal work.
Business owners are often the most social and people-focused among us, constantly making new connections and depending on old ones to push their companies forward. It’s clear when talking to Antoine that his human-centered approach to brand strategy and business is what drives the success of West 7th Design Studio.
“I’m people-focused, through and through. Everything I’ve done so far has been about connecting people.”
However, being people-focused does not mean that you should be spending all of your time interacting with just anyone. It’s more valuable to devote face-time to nurturing growth than to customer support for clients who can quickly help themselves with the right system.
So one of the most critical problems Antoine had managing w7th since 2009 was reducing his administrative workload to focus on fostering his team and growing his studio.
In the beginning, he had no system to manage and deal with client requests, no formal invoicing system, and no way of managing projects or keeping centralized communication with clients, so he began searching for a solution.
The first solution was a “home-grown” web portal created by a friend that allowed w7th to invoice clients and manage their work. This system worked fine for the studio at the time, but as they grew and started expanding, they began to notice some major limitations of taking this approach. Building from the ground up means increasing your administrative overhead by a large amount, struggling to balance your work and the maintenance of your in-house tools, or sacrificing quality and consistency in your product.
So w7th moved to a new system, this time managed and operated by someone else. While that system worked for the studio's needs for a couple of years, support essentially disappeared overnight.
“Things would break and it would take support weeks to respond and then months to fix, if support even responded at all. I found myself going into the back-end and making my own program updates again.”
Even before the portal support vanished though, it wasn’t an optimal experience for any of their clients. “The reporting function wasn't actually working,” Antoine said. “The messaging function wasn't working, either.”
Antoine was frustrated and stressed out.
Clearly, making a decision on what software to run your business on is daunting, especially when the success of your entire business is at stake. So when he found Plutio, he did a trial run with his team and a long-term client and they said “cool, this actually works! This is a viable solution!”
Over the years, Antoine’s award-winning studio has amassed an impressive roster of clients, including the NAACP DC Branch and the Howard University Cancer Center. Much of this success can be attributed to the studio’s approach to design and nurturing relationships. They value and focus on the human element of their work so their clients form authentic connections with their audiences.
Therefore it was important to w7th to choose a system that not only worked but catered to the human sensibilities of how things should work.
Antoine was particularly drawn in when he found out that Plutio is a system designed from the ground up with direct feedback and input from its userbase.
“I thought, okay, I can meet the founder. I can join this Facebook group. I can share some thoughts. I can see what other creators are doing. I can see what other business owners are doing and help build something that actually works on all fronts.”
This community support not only enabled w7th to excel at offering their clients the best service possible but empowered Antoine to build a more robust system that allows his studio to get more work done in less time.
“It’s very, very rare to find an out-of-the-box solution that just fits all of your needs, but to be in the community and see somebody say, ‘Hey, I was using this tool in the platform but I tweaked it and I use it like this now.' Like oh wow, that’s an amazing solution. Why don’t I try that? I like being able to really, truly make this platform my own.”
Antoine has gone on to customize Plutio in a way that fully allows him to utilize dashboards to their fullest advantage. He has really honed in on how exactly to manage projects with ease with automation and integrations that rival larger corporate design studios.
“Plutio was a major game-changer for me, to be perfectly honest,” Antoine proudly says as he displays his dashboards.
While many things about Antoine’s setup are impressive, Antoine stressed that starting his day out being able to see everything that mattered the most has been integral to his studio’s success.
"In our old portal, as the studio owner, I had a dashboard but my team members and my clients didn’t, so being able to create a dashboard specifically for them based on permissions is great. I can personalize this platform. I can welcome them with a branded experience all around. It’s perfect."
Antoine’s primary dashboard has a place for everything he needs to see to keep his business running from a glance.
"I need to see how much money we have coming in and what we're owed. This is a great default look for me to come in and say, ‘Okay, this is where we are. This is what we have going.’"
Antoine uses his Projects Dashboard to quickly get a feel for where everyone is on their given projects. He can quickly see how many tasks are assigned, how many projects are on hold, and how many client tasks are overdue.
Lastly, Antoine has a dashboard dedicated specifically to internal projects. This gives him a quick overview of anyone working on anything studio-related. He can see every task that needs to be completed, how long it’s been assigned, and who is working on it.
If you’ve ever worked in an internal agency for a large corporation, you’ll likely have seen how complex automation can get. Common automations include:
In Plutio, you can apply this kind of automation through various 3rd party automation platforms, and Antoine has automated his Plutio instance using Integromat. He’s taken full advantage of the ability to automate with Plutio, and some of his key automations include:
West 7th Design Studio has an in-house Project Manager that keeps track of all current projects and ensures that everything is handled on a timely basis. In order to do this, they need a project management tool that can handle everything they can throw at it, which is why Antoine has been so happy with Plutio.
“Projects are easy to manage and they get done on time. I’m really happy with the platform so far.”
Here’s a list of some critical project management features that Antoine has found helpful for streamlining his company’s workflows.
One of the key features of project management that Antoine has found useful is the ability to track budgets within the project settings page.
"I have my project manager meetings on Mondays and I can ask my manager, 'Hey, you know we’ve used 23% of the budget for this project. Are we 23% done?”
As soon as a project is created, tasks are created and assigned based on the project type. Antoine even has a task assigned to the project manager to plan out the project timeline.
Not only does Antoine have to deal with internal processes and management at West 7th Design Studio, he also has to manage a team of designers, developers, and salespeople. Luckily, Plutio’s inbox feature handles communication streamlining in a way that Antoine didn’t realize he needed at first. To ensure that everyone is on the same page and able to communicate effectively with each other, Antoine has implemented both automations and snippets.
One of the keys to communicating with clients efficiently has been creating snippets for the various stages of any given project.
Antoine has prebuilt snippets that his project manager can use for any project, including:
The biggest benefit Antoine has gotten from switching West 7th Design Studio to Plutio is that clients are now always in the know when it comes to the projects they're paying to have completed. During the onboarding meeting, clients are walked through how to stay up to date on their projects and communicate with w7th via the inbox. This has resulted in what Antoine estimates as a 90% reduction in unnecessary client communication. While Antoine states there are clients that call to confirm “they did ‘the thing’ right,” Plutio has saved himself and his team many valuable hours and has allowed them to concentrate on doing their jobs.
Antoine estimates that he personally saves about 15 hours a week from his personal workload by using Plutio over his previous setup. This time isn't just valuable from a business perspective but allows him to have a greater work-life balance. He uses his spare time to relax and get his mind off of work so that when he returns, he's fully ready to put in the effort his business needs to continue to prosper.
“I can watch TV, read a book, play with my dog, and just enjoy life outside of work without feeling guilty or like I'm forgetting something important for my team or my clients. That's an amazing feeling.”
Through fully-customized and powerful dashboards, Antoine has developed a way to always ensure he has his finger on the pulse of his business. Antoine uses dashboards to keep track of revenue, project budgets, overdue tasks, and more. Starting his day by checking on the overall health of his business has been an extremely powerful way of ensuring that he's staying focused on the activities that matter most to the financial sustainability of West 7th Design Studio.
“I'm so glad I came across Plutio. This platform has been amazing for my studio and I'm excited to see what the future holds!”