The key to running a successful agency is to utilise relevant tools and software to manage and automate as many areas of the business as possible, enabling you to focus on the needs of each of your clients. Having great tools in place to help you and your senior team manage areas such as operations, resourcing, CRM and reporting will free up your team to focus on adding value for your clients.
In this post, I’ve put together a list of tools and technology to help you out in areas that are essential in ensuring your agency runs smoothly, so that you can stay focused on your customers.
1. File Storage: Google Drive & File Stream
There are multiple ways of managing files within an agency, but the priorities for any agency owner must be ease of access, security and simple file syncing options.
Google Drive (and Docs) is built for collaboration, which makes it the perfect fit for agency working. Whenever a change is made to a file on Google Drive, the previous version is automatically updated, so everyone is accessing the latest version no matter whether you’re accessing it from your iPhone or PC:
With Google Drive, your entire agency can also share folders internally or with external clients or contacts while maintaining administrative control themselves:
Of course, you will want to ensure you consider adding an extra layer of security as there will no doubt be client-sensitive information contained within some of the files. Google has this covered via a range of options including:
What if something gets changed or deleted by accident?
If you want to revert to a previous version or undelete a file, you can easily do this in Google Drive or in any Google doc:
You can also restore deleted files via the Google Drive admin console.
2. CRM & Agency Management: Podio
Customer relationship management is crucial to running a successful agency. As your agency grows, you'll need a robust system that will help you to manage data relating to previous, existing and potential clients.
As an agency, you should be looking to implement a CRM system that offers the following features:
- Ability to easily store and maintain accurate client information
- Ability to track and manage client communication
- Tracking billing information, managing invoicing and billing contacts
- The ability for people across the agency to view up to date client information and information related to client specific projects
At Hallam, we have utilised a project management tool called Podio to build a customised CRM & Project Management workspace that our entire company can access. This space allows us to manage client data, contacts at each organisation we have on record, track client projects, billable and non-billable hours, request resources from multiple areas of the business and create mailing lists from the data we have on record to hook up with Mailchimp.
As a digital agency, you need to keep a close eye on how you and your team spend, bill, and manage time. Podio allows you to build custom apps to track this data and associate it to other apps via the use of relationship fields and automated workflows. For example, all of our client projects link up with apps such as billable hours, non-billable hours and financial forecasts. This ensures we have everything related to each project accessible in a single place:
Like a lot of agencies, we started with an Excel spreadsheet to track hours, which can obviously be quite time-consuming (and often painful) to maintain accurate data, especially as we have grown. For anyone still using this approach I would strongly encourage you to test out customisable tools such as Podio which will enable you to mould a system to the needs of your business.
3. Project Management: Basecamp
Every agency needs to manage client projects, and there are a number of simple project management tools that can significantly increase your employees’ ability to get work done quickly.
Basecamp is an excellent project management tool that makes collaboration really easy both internally and with clients. Basecamp revolves around a few simple functions:
- To-do lists - These should be time bound and allocated to members of each Basecamp project. Basecamp also allows users to attach files to to-do items and send lists to clients for updates and approval
- File sharing - Having all files related to a project referenced in a project workspace is hugely useful and avoids having to dig around in file storage platforms to find what you’re looking for. Basecamp allows users to link to files and documents on Google Drive.
- Chatting (campfire) - This option should be used for informal chats around client projects.
- Message board - Updates on projects can be posted here instead of being sent via email, keeping an audit trail within the project workspace instead of information being lost within emails.
- Scheduling - Basecamp has a calendar function which syncs up with most major third-party calendars such as Outlook, iCal and Google Calendar. To-do’s with dates are automatically added to schedules, meaning they can appear in your calendar of choice if synced.
- Automatic check-in requests - Automatic check-ins allow you to set milestones for each client project and ping reminders to everyone involved at key milestones.
Using Basecamp gives you full transparency, working away from email and in clearly visible workspaces which clients can be added to. That being said, there can be a clear separation between "agency side" and "client side" in Basecamp which enables seamless but safe communication that’s visible to agency managers.
One of the huge benefits of Basecamp is that it's vastly simpler than most other project management systems. We trialled using Podio for clients by creating individual client workspaces and almost all clients found it hard to understand, including those that are tech savvy. Basecamp essentially means that clients just have to respond to an email for everyone to get visibility over the discussion.
In my experience, it's an excellent tool for collaborating with clients, getting sign-off on various tasks and tracking client communication. You can even hook Basecamp up with CRM systems (such as Podio) via Zapier, enabling agencies to maintain a single customer view.
4. Resource Planning: Podio & HighCharts
Knowing the capacity of your workforce is at the core of managing your projects and enabling your sales team to successfully bring in new clients.
Beyond just having visibility into projects and their associated billable hours, it's important for agency owners to understand:
- Employee utilisation by individual, team, and department
- Non-billable hours spent on client projects (over-servicing)
- Non-billable hours put into pre-sales activity and conversion rate of that activity
Your team and their time are your most important assets, so it’s up to you and your project managers to ensure they’re focusing their attention on the right projects and tasks. Finding software that enables you to have a clear view of staff availability and utilisation can help manage workloads and empower recruitment decisions.
In my opinion this information should be captured in any agency CRM system, which for us means it’s captured within Podio. There are then a number of third-party tools which can help extract and visualise data from most popular CRM or agency management systems.
One tool which I can highly recommend for this purpose is Highcharts. Highcharts allows us to extract data from Podio and visualise it in a range of customisable graphs to report on areas such as utilisation and capacity and split it up by individual, team, department across a variety of date ranges.
We also use Highcharts to report on our business KPIs in our monthly senior management team meetings, again extracting the data from our CRM system and visualising it using Highcharts.
If you’re already collecting data in these areas then why not give Highcharts a try to see if it could help you better track performance across your agency?
5. Client Reporting: Google Sheets & Data Studio
We have in the past used Google sheets for all of our client reporting by hooking it up to extract and display our client’s Google Analytics data.
This solution delivered huge time savings vs. pulling manual reports, while allowing us to set up highly customisable analytics dashboards for each of our clients, providing them with a concise overview of their performance at all times which is automatically updated each month.
You can read more about how to set this up here.
What are Your Favourite Agency Tools?
This post has covered a few essential tools we use to manage our marketing agency. There are of course plenty of other tools that we use as an agency to help our management team keep the business running smoothly.
We’d love to hear from other agency owners and managers about the tools you’re using to help manage your agency – please use the comments section below.
About the author
Ben Wood is Marketing Services Director at Hallam Internet. Ben has worked in digital marketing for over 8 years and gained client side experience at a blue chip corporation before moving to a high growth digital agency in 2012.