13 Essential Tools To Run Your Agency
We become what we behold. We shape our tools and then our tools shape us.
Over the last 10 years, I have tried hundreds of different project management, accounting, email, server, hosting, scheduling, task management, and time tracking software that’s available. Every platform has its pros and cons, and over time I’ve learned that it’s not about what software you choose, but how you intend to use it based on your business needs.
That’s an important lesson most people starting out don’t realize. First, you need to clearly define the business needs, and then, chose the software that best supports it. These are tools to help you run your business, rather than the foundation for the business itself. Managing all of these different software platforms is a job in itself. It will most likely take more work to setup and manage a system like this than it does to just do the work yourself, but you benefit with economies of scale allowing you to think growth, with a much deeper understanding of the analytics behind your work.
If you can’t measure it, you can’t improve it. — Peter Drucker
As an agency, we share the need to use software to create deeper collaboration, reporting, and tracking. We’ve tested almost every popular tool on the market, and below is a list of my favorite software we use to run our business.
1. Google Apps for Business
Everything you need to your best work, together in one place, that seamlessly works with your computer, phone or tablet. We spend most of our time in Google one way or another. I recommend Google Apps for Business for every client looking to create a new business as their foundation for email, documents and storage.
- Gmail — King Tide’s email service runs on Gmail. Create your account and login like you would any gmail account, and you are off to the races. You can also use Inbox by Google, their fresh take on Gmail that goes beyond email to help you get back to what matters.
- Google Calendar — We use Google Calendar to manage all important ievents, including interbal meetings, client meetings, holidays, and varius work events. Google Calendar integrates with Calend.ly which can be use for client scheduling.
- Google Drive — Since the beginning, we have used Google Drive to store documents, spreadsheets, and important client information. Over time, we have developed better sytems for some of this information, but Google Drive remains our go-to source for most information.
Slack is a key foundation for our team collaboration. We use Slack for all internal communication. Slack helps us create alignment and shared understanding across our team, allowing us to talk less and do more. You can download Slack for your desktop and mobile devices at their website.
- Messaging: Use Slack to message other members of the team directly when you need someone
- Slack Channels: We have a Slack channel for every Client and Project, allowing us to share important information regarding process, updates and signoffs.
- Integrations: Slack integrates with all of our other softwares including Trello, Google Drive, Jira and Confluence.
Jira is our main project management system. We use this to plan and execute on all of our projects, creating, assigning and updating tickets as they move through our project pipeline. Jira is an Atlassian product and integrates with our other systems.
- Plan: Create user stories and issues, plan sprints, and distribute tasks across our team.
- Track: Prioritize and discuss your team’s work in full context with complete visibility.
- Scrum boards: Agile teams can stay focused on delivering iterative and incremental value, as fast as possible, with customizable scrum boards.
- Kanban boards: Flexible kanban boards give your team full visibility into what’s next so you can continuously deliver maximum output in minimal cycle time.
Another Atlassian product, Confluence is the central hub for all our project team spaces. Confluence acts like a wiki, allowing us to create and organize all Project documents in one shared place with our clients. A few of the things that live in our Confluence page include:
- Team Members: List of King Tide project team and client team including roles and responsibilities and contact information.
- Project Overview & Goals: Existing scope of work, detailed outline of the project and the client’s key objectives
- Product Roadmap: The project broken up into major milestones “epics” and their associated timelines and key deliverables
- Jira Integration: Confluence gives us the ability to integrate seamlessly with Jira, making it easier for Project Managers to assign tickets to team members, and giving clients a visual progress update on the reporting of each individual ticket
In most service-based companies, time-tracking is critical in order to ensure we’re properly measuring our work against our client’s budget and timelines. We use Toggl, a highly ranked time-tracking tool that integrates with most of our other software. You can learn more about how to use Toggl, and you can download the Chrome extension, Desktop, iOS or Android app.
- Workspaces: Large companies use Workspaces for individual departments, but we act as one team and therefore, use only one workspace (King Tide)
- Clients: A client is a specific company or organization we actively work with as a client. There will only be one client for each company. All projects and tasks will live under each client.
- Projects: A Project is a specific Active Project we have with a client. These follow a specific name convention which is below. Please follow these naming conventions exactly.
- Tags: Tags can be used to add additional information to a time entry. We use tags as much as possible to identify a specific label for a project, a phase or a department working on it.
- Reports: Most importantly, Toggl generates great reports that we use to share with our clients at the end of each week or month, as well as review internally to track profitability.
GitHub is a code tracking repository that allows our developers to easily collaborate on projects without overwriting each other’s code. All of the code lives within our organization, and each develop can pull branches of code from the Master branch, edit them, and push them back into GitHub, where our lead Engineer reviews and merges the code ensuring nothing breaks.
- Collaborate: Working together allows us to complete projects fast and with more accountability.
- Report: We have transparency in how much code is being written and who is committing code.
- Security: If anything ever happens to a project, we can easily revert back to an older version.
We use Zendesk to receive maintenance requests from clients. Zendesk is managed by our project management team, and tasks are assigned to our internal resources where they are estimated and put into a sprint in Jira. Project managers communicate via Zendesk with our clients, and at the end of each month we have detailed reports which we can send to clients.
- Create Organizations and Add Users: Project managers “onboard” companies on Zendesk and add the different users on their team..
- Submit Tickets: Clients can easily submit tickets at support.kingtide.la or by emailing email@example.com following our guidelines.
- Weekly Reviews: Every Monday, our lead maintenance PM goes over all of the outstanding tickets with team leads, reviewing what updates need to be sent to clients.
- Monthly Reporting: At the end of each month, the maintenance PM sends a detailed update to each client.
We use Hubspot as our Sales CRM, storing all companies, contact and deal opportunities within our network. Our Hubspot is managed by our Sales team, and we have weekly meetings to track the state of each lead in our funnel, create and review proposals, and follow-up with clients.
- Sales Funnel: Our sales funnel consists of the following: Incoming, Qualified, Questionnaire Sent, Questionnaire, Completed, Ready for Proposal, Proposal Ready for Review, Proposal Sent, Ready for Contract, Contract Sent, Closed Lost, and Closed Won.
- Proposals: Proposals are creating using our templates in Google Docs, and are estimated by our team leads prior to sending to clients.
- Contracts: Contracts are creating by our Account Executive and are sent via Docusign.
Docusign is the world’s leading electronic signature software, and we use it for all our contracts and signoffs. Whether it is a new client starting to work with us for the first time, or an existing client approving each phase of work, Account Managers must send documents via Docusign.
- Contracts: We use short-form contracts and master service agreements for every project we do. While contracts are important, we use them to outline the scope of work clearly, and less as a Legally binding document. We aim to please our clients, and if they are not happy, we will make right by them and avoid litigation at all costs.
- Signoffs: We use signoffs to establish the acceptance of each phase under our waterfall methodology. Upon completion of Discovery, Design and Development, we send our clients a signoff that signifies they approve of the work, and any further changes will be billed separately.
Sketch is a design toolkit exclusively built for Mac built to help you create your best work — from your earliest ideas, through to final artwork. Sketch allows us to easily create repeatable objects to reuse anywhere and collaborate as a team.
- Repeatable: With nested Symbols in Sketch, you can combine symbols together to create reusable, customizable and flexible design elements with ease.
- Collaborate: With Libraries you can collaborate and share Symbols with other designers, across all your documents — and always stay up to date.
- Community-Powered Plugins: Extend Sketch’s functionality and make it your own with plugins submitted by our developer community.
- InVision Integration: Sketch integrates with InVision and allows designers to easily sync and share with our Clients and our team for feedback.
- Developer Tools: The best part about Sketch is that it allows Developers to easily export code and assets directly from the process, saving us hours of Development handoff packages.
InVision is a popular digital design platform making it easy to collaborate with clients, customers and colleagues. Once designs are complete, our Design team uploads them to InVision and creates a clickable prototype which includes the User Experience.
- Feedback: We use InVision Commenting feature allowing clients to easily comment on design to provide feedback.
Zoom is our preferred video conferencing and web conferencing service. We’ve found that it has the most reliability and video quality. Zoom is the leader in modern video communications, with an easy, reliable platform for video and audio conferencing, messaging, and webinars across mobile, desktop, and room systems.
Trello is a project management tool used by some of our project managers to manage their internal, personal priorities for the week.
Thanks for reading. Let me know if you have any questions or other ideas worth sharing. Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org