Subscribe to our newsletter

Get the State of Digital Newsletter
Join an elite group of marketers receiving the best content in their mailbox
* = required field
Daily Updates

Small Agency and Freelancer Tools

25 March 2014 BY

Estimated reading time: 5 minutes, 26 seconds

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:

  1. Workflow and task management
  2. Reporting

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
  • Ahrefs
  • etc…

Again I find it very useful to get background information on a website so tools such as the following are useful.

  • SearchMetrics
  • SEMrush

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:

  1. Workflow and task management
  2. Reporting


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.


Time Tracking:

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.

Reporting Solutions
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?

Take a step towards marketing awesomeness and join 1,000s of others

Would you like to be an awesome marketer? Or would you rather know less? Become one of our elite members by joining in on our newsletter! Fill in your details below and start receiving high level knowledge now!


Neil Walker started working as an SEO in 2002 and rose to become Group CTO for Swedish Marketing Agency “Online Group” in 2010 he moved to consulting with agencies, in-house teams and PR companies. In 2014 he formalised this work and founded Made Notable Ltd a boutique digital consultancy based in Manchester, UK.
  • http://lukeglassford.com/ Luke Glassford

    Some good tools to check out here, cheers Neil. I’m currently using Asana for the workflow management, and that integrates directly into Harvest for time tracking.

    SEO/link tools are a nightmare for me at the minute – after running a few free trials I think I’m ready to settle on using a mixture of Raven and Ahrefs, but I’ll probably change my mind after a few months!

  • Jim Woodhead

    Great article Neil.

    I’d like to put a shout out for Toggl (www.toggl.com) for time tracking and SEO Powersuite for reporting tools although I too am looking to Raven Tools for SEO/Link tools.

  • http://quaeromedia.com/ Neil Walker

    Thanks Luke, yep seo tools are difficult to choose, i’m a majestic fan, yet also sign up for moz last week as i needed to use followerwonk, difficult to do everything you want to, – I sometimes make the decision based on time it could take if i or one of the staff did it manually and how many more times would it need to be done.

  • http://www.advancedwebranking.com/ Philip Petrescu

    Thanks for the mention Nick. For people who want to avoid the hassle of managing proxy servers themselves, we’ve built AWR Cloud, which is also backed up by reliable proxies from Trusted Proxies.

  • Bert Catsburg

    Hello Neil,

    Thanks for the nice words on Swydo.
    We just released the Google Shopping Campaign integration.

    About your comment on letting customers logging in:
    Yes, we are working very hard on this one. Also the branding of reports and emails has been improved last couple of months.
    There are a lot more fantastic ideas on our roadmap and we continuously improving the user interface of Swydo.
    Any questions and ideas can be fired at support@swydo.com.

  • http://www.proofhub.com/ Leesa Dercyke

    It’s good to see alot of information nowadays and different materials devoted to selecting right project management software. I just would like to recommend Proofhub if you want to use web-based product with integration with Google Drive and Dropbox. Really good solution for freelance too.

  • http://www.invoicera.com veronikatondon

    Hi this is an awesome list and some really helpful tips. Would like to add some tips for digital agency invoicing:

    1. Online invoices should be supplemented with reports of the work done

    2. Late fee and payment reminders for clients to pay up on time

    3. Invoice templates to look more professional

    http://www.invoicera.com | https://www.facebook.com/Invoicera

  • http://www.fanuriotimetracking.com/ Nicolae Cismaru

    Hi Neil,

    I’d like to suggest Fanurio (http://www.fanuriotimetracking.com) which is a time tracking and billing software application, highly appreciated by freelancers for its intuitive interface, flexible timer and ability to produce detailed invoices.

    Fanurio is not free but it has a free trial. It costs 59 USD (which means about $5/month for the first year) and you can use it for life.

    I know that there are many freelancers who prefer to use a desktop application in order to keep their data on their own computers. Since Fanurio is a desktop application, it integrates very well with the platforms it runs on. On OS X, you can easily access timers from the the menu bar and from the dock icon menu. On Windows, you can start a new timer or control the active timer from the thumbnail toolbar or from the tray icon. You can also use global hotkeys to control the timers from within any running application.

    Fanurio is used by many freelancers not just to track time but to bill their clients as well. Fanurio can export invoices to HTML, PDF, Microsoft Word 2007, OpenOffice OpenDocument and other formats so they can be printed or e-mailed. Invoice templates can be created manually, with a visual editor (Adobe Dreamweaver, Microsoft Word or OpenOffice) or with the built-in template editor.

    I hope this helps.

  • http://www.Fliphound.com Elizabeth Farha

    Consider adding digital billboards to your media mix with Fliphound, an OOH online buying tool. Get real-time pricing, pick billboards you want from an online map, set up your campaign and get your ads up in minutes. Digital billboards are a powerful tool for your clients and all them to reach customers at the right time and with the right message. Now smaller agencies can expand their offerings to include outdoor advertising. Browse the largest online independent digital network in North America. To learn more http://fliphound.com/Home/advertiser