Small Agency and Freelancer Tools
I’m an owner of a small Digital Agency / Consultancy, we are growing well but we still don’t have an endless supply of cash flow, which can often make it difficult to compete with the larger agencies.
There are advantages to being small, clients that are referred to us often want to work with a small team and don’t want to become another number added to a client list. (Not to say this is the case for every agency.) However growing an agency isn’t easy especially if you have no personal or outside investment.
When I changed the direction of my business from being me as a consultant to becoming more of an agency I came up with the following problems:
- Workflow and task management
The main problem with being a small agency is resources such as access to tools and staff. For example there are a lot of tools available to help you do your digital work, for example if you offer SEO, you need to be able to review back links so which tool do you choose to purchase.
- Majestic SEO
- Moz – Open Site Explorer
Again I find it very useful to get background information on a website so tools such as the following are useful.
But they all come with a fee, so as a small agency it is not profitable to purchase them all. There are advantage and disadvantages for each but what I’m going to talk about below is some tools I use to solve the daily problems mentioned above:
- Workflow and task management
I’m a big fan of Gmail, when I got my domain a few years ago for my business I decided to put my email through Google Apps for Business. The great thing about Gmail is it integrates with hundreds of online tools and websites where a login is required. Each time a new member of staff is added to the company, there is no need for them to use a separate Gmail account and so all communication from my company is consistent. It’s especially useful for outreach as tool such as Buzzstream integrate with Gmail.
To manage workflow, projects and tasks I chose Basecamp. Often you do not need a bespoke piece of software (Or at least the cost of something bespoke while your business grows). Basecamp allows you to set up a project its tasks and keep a dialog with your clients so they can see what work is going on all the time. (There are other online tools which do this, but if you are still using a spreadsheet it may be time to move over.)
You can read more on Project management in a an article from Paul Rodgers.
Not everyone’s cup of tea but I’m a fan of time tracking. It’s not to be all big brother on my staff, it’s so as a manager and individual I can see where time is leaking or inefficiencies. Every company has a client which takes up more time than they are paying for, so tracking the time that has been worked on a client gives you an account on why. This leads to being able to:
- Push back on clients
- Allocate resources
- Find way to make the time more efficient.
I personally use GetHarvest, it integrates into Basecamp (among others) and is fairly straightforward and not time consuming to use.
Invoicing and Financial:
It’s common for many small agencies and freelancers to do their invoicing on spreadsheets. I myself when I started a few freelance projects many years ago did this, but they what I’m talking about in this article is that as you start planning your work and time tracking you quickly realise that creating invoices is time consuming (Not to mention chasing payment), so an online invoicing tool is simply a must.
My choice so far has been Zoho Invoice. Once a company is set up I can very quickly set up an invoice, email it, set reminders and quickly see in a dashboard how much money is outstanding. It also makes thing like VAT and Corporation tax far easier to calculate as it does half the job for you.
Without doubt, reporting will be one of the biggest time consumers in your business or freelance day, some tips are firstly set out to clients what you are and are not willing to report on, creating bespoke reports are great but they can take hours and you may often find yourself doing more reporting than actual work.
For my agency we offer a number of services from SEO, PPC, Web Design to conversion and content writing (the usual suspects) and we like to report on the following:
- Tasks Carried out
- Traffic and Goals
- Ranking (well client like this anyway)
- Monthly Website issues
- Clicks, impressions leads
- Cost per click
- Average Position
- Cost Per lead / Cost Per sale
- Historic Performance
- Split A/B Test Results
The above just scratches the surface and doing it manually is simply far to time consuming but yet its not the most professional to always send out automated reports from Google Analytics.
I started using Swydo about 6-9 months ago after some heavy research on AdWords reporting and the tool has really come a long way. It allows integration with:
- Google Adwords
- Microsoft Advertising
- Webmaster tools
- Google Analytics
The cost is relatively low compared with some more extensive reporting solutions which is perfect for a growing business or freelancer, unfortunately you can’t give clients a login to see reports online. However you can set up a template (unique to each client) of what you / they want to report on and then you can either automate an email or manually make changes.
In terms of rank checking, I still use Advanced Web ranking Desktop – whether you still want to track rankings for your client is a whole other debate, but clients still like it and its useful to see a benchmark of where the site approximately is.
Side note: I use trusted proxies with AWR in order to get the rank tracking quickly from different IP addresses.
In terms of task management reporting, clients are kept up to date via Basecamp and when required I can pull out a report from GetHarvest on hours spent by client and project (Something which is checked on a regular basis to ensure we are doing enough or not to much work.
What’s your thoughts? Something essential I missed out?