The future of work and business is here, and it’s remote.
As we look to the 2020s, we’re seeing start-ups and corporate giants alike move toward remote, distributed teams. In fact, a study by UpWork shows that 55% of hiring managers anticipate more than one-third of their full-time employees to be working remotely within the next decade.
With this evolution of the workforce comes the need to find the right tools and processes for facilitating cross-team communication, project management, sales, and client relationship management.
I started my remote company, Sea Foam Media & Technology, in 2017. What started as me consulting for a few blockchain and AI start-ups quickly scaled to what is now a team of twenty people across the US, UK, Bali, the Phillippines, and Nepal, offering end-to-end services from editorial to engineering.
Having tried what feels like almost every management and sales tool in existence, I’ve narrowed it down to the eight that have served us best.
Leave a comment if I’m missing any that have been indispensable for you and your business!
1) Trello (project & task management)
Trello is the real MVP. Because it’s so simple yet highly dynamic and customizable, it allows our team to remain agile and evolve our processes as we grow. We use it for everything from managing client projects, internal projects, product builds, organizing creative ideas, and even managing sales.
Trello has been very useful for organizing our sales funnel. We get new client leads and partnership opportunities coming in constantly, and it is perfect for keeping track of where these relationships are at, who I need to follow up with, and when to follow up. It also saves time and money in not needing to set up a separate tool, although I see us eventually outgrowing it and moving sales funnel management to a tool like Pipedrive in the future.
I’ve actually waffled on Trello in the past, having loved it for smaller projects but been frustrated when trying to scale. However, over the past six months, my project manager and I have tested different strategies and now have our processes dialed-in nicely. Because it is so customizable, the biggest thing is figuring out how to make it work for you and your team.
When getting started, I recommend watching some tutorial videos on how to set up boards, lists, cards, and checklists for you and your team, as well as how to integrate with other apps like Slack and Google Drive to make your processes even smoother!
Also: it’s free!!
2) Slack (internal communications)
Slack. Is. Everything.
Its mission: To make your working life simpler, more pleasant, and more productive.
While many companies still rely on chat apps and email alone to communicate with their teams (ugh), the ability to organize conversations by project or department, share and pin files, and easily reference back old communications makes engaging with and managing a team so much more enjoyable. Also, you can add custom emojis! As someone who works remotely, logging into Slack for me is akin to going to the office.
You can use Slack for free up to 10,000 messages but have to upgrade your account to access older communications and other features such as adding guest users.
As mentioned above, Slack also integrates beautifully with Trello.
3) Telegram (external communications)
While simple chat apps don’t work well for our internal communications, the Telegram app has been perfect for interfacing with our clients and industry partners.
When working on a project, we set up a Telegram group for all stakeholders and managers involved so we can easily discuss new ideas and resolve issues in real-time. Telegram has a very clean interface and also has a nice desktop app, making it easy to chat as well as share files and information.
If getting your clients on Telegram is an issue, you can use WhatsApp and WeChat (popular in China) in a similar fashion. We use all three depending on the client.
4) Google Apps For Business
Need I say more? While Gsuite may seem like a given for any business or individual, it can’t go without mention. From folders to organize documents, forms to create client surveys, and docs, sheets, and slides to replace Microsoft Word, Powerpoint, and Excel with a more collaborative experience, there’s nothing on the market that comes close to comparing to these tools. Plus, they’re all included with Gsuite!
5) Qwilr (client proposals & contracts)
Qwilr allows for the creation of beautiful, customized, highly dynamic sales proposals. At Sea Foam we are constantly getting compliments on our client proposals and presentations, which easily outshine those of our industry competitors from what I’ve seen and heard. Building the proposals is as easy as selecting a template and making simple tweaks.
While Qwilr is among the most expensive tools in our arsenal at $89/mo for the business plan, when you’re selling 5- and 6-figure packages it’s worth it to communicate the utmost professionalism to potential clients. It also makes it easy for me to churn out new proposals by cloning previously customized templates.
Another amazing feature is the ability to turn your proposal into a binding contract by adding an e-signature section right on the page, which generates a document of record. You can also integrate with tools like Stripe to accept payment instantly upon closing a deal.
When sending out Qwilr proposals I like to include a description of our vision for the project, a plan of action, a list of our team members who will be working on the project along with their bios and photos, and links to our blog and portfolio of work.
In subsequent blog posts, I’ll go deeper into how to create a winning proposal, and will go into even greater detail in my upcoming book, The New Distributed Workforce.
6) HelloSign (document signing)
Simple and sweet, HelloSign is a great app for sending and signing documents. It can also integrate with Gmail and Google Docs! Honestly, we use it because it’s free up to a certain number of documents each month, but as we scale we’ll probably upgrade to the paid version.
7) MailChimp (email list management)
Email newsletters are the best way to stay in touch with your clients, partners, and users, which makes a tool like MailChimp absolutely indispensable for any business.
I have to be honest here: I’ve never logged into our company MailChimp account. However, our project manager swears by it for managing our email lists and sending regular newsletters and announcements to our clients. The newsletter templates are chic and easy to put together, and there’s a great analytics dashboard as well. We have also integrated it with the email form on our Squarespace site, which took minutes to set up.
8) Squarespace (website building)
As someone who was dedicated to Wordpress for years because of the flexibility and plugin options, I finally decided that it was too cumbersome to put together and maintain for Sea Foam’s site, not to mention riddled with bugs. (Yes, I realize this may be controversial. Yell at me in the comments.)
While Squarespace is a bit on the expensive side, especially if you opt for the Business Plan ($216/year including hosting), it has been well worth it for us. In my opinion, the results look a lot sleeker than those of other website builders, and it’s quite plug-and-play, with lots of templates and possibilities for integrations (i.e. MailChimp, as seen above). To achieve the look of the Sea Foam site, we used a template along with custom graphics and some custom CSS.
As a new business, we are constantly updating our messaging and adding new service offerings to our site, and Squarespace makes it really easy. The site also loads quickly, and we’re always getting compliments on how beautiful it looks!
What are your favorite business tools? Do you use any of the above? Share how they’re working for you!
Rhiannon Payne, based in San Francisco, is the founder of Sea Foam Media and DLT.dev, agencies working with blockchain & AI companies to help them build their products, tell their stories, gain investment, and scale.
With a team of twenty people distributed globally, she is specifically interested in distributed team building and the changing workforce of the 2020s. Her book, “The New Distributed Workforce,” will explore these changes and new opportunities for women to go remote and start their own businesses (publication date: Q4 2019).