Running a digital agency in a manageable and profitable way requires a huge amount of work. Using the right tools can facilitate the day-to-day running of your agency and the work your team does. Today I’m looking at 9 tools that every digital agency needs in their toolkit, to help you operate in a profitable way.
1) Customer Relationship Management (CRM) System
Having a CRM system that you use to manage and monitor your customer relationships is essential for your agency.
It will ensure you don’t miss valuable opportunities by helping you to monitor incoming leads, track the progress of your communications with them, and organise follow-ups and your to-dos relating to different contacts, so that nothing gets overlooked.
2) Project Management Tool
Different project management tools come in differing levels of complexity. Depending on the type of work your agency does, you will either be better suited to a simpler, more high-level project management tool, or a more powerful and more complex one.
Your agency may even find it beneficial to use two different project management tools: one for your team to use internally to plan and manage their workloads; and one to share externally with your clients so they can help to prioritise the stages of your projects.
3) Resource Management Tool
A resource management tool will provide you with a high-level overview of your agency activities and key resources. It shifts your focus away from the work you’re doing, on to the key resources required for that work: budget, time and employee skills.
A resource management tool is extremely useful for capacity planning, tracking the profitability of your projects, and identifying staffing shortages. It helps you see the ‘big picture’ – perfect for helping you make informed strategic decisions.
4) Time Tracking Tool
Having a way for your employees to track their time is essential for ensuring your agency is running in a profitable way. Some resource management tools (like Scale) have time tracking functionality built-in, but you can also use standalone time tracking tools.
Your employees’ time is intrinsically linked to your agency’s profits, even if your agency doesn’t work on a billable hours pricing model, so it’s essential that your employees have a tool with which to track their time easily and accurately.
5) Invoicing and Payment Processing Tools
Managing your agency’s cash flow is one of the most important parts of maintaining the health of your agency. You will need a tool to help you generate and send invoices to your clients.
You will also need a payment processing tool to make it as easy as possible for your clients to pay you. If you work mainly on retainers, and so need to collect recurring payments each month, tools such as GoCardless can help to automate that, simplifying the payment collection process even further.
6) Communications Tools
As well as using email to communicate with clients, employees and leads, you may want to use other communication tools. Many agencies are now turning to real-time messaging tools like Slack or Hipchat as their main internal communication tool, as it’s better for collaboration than email.
However, it’s unlikely you’d want to use that externally to communicate with prospects or clients, as it sets unrealistic expectations in terms of response times. Instead you will probably need a tool like Skype, for running calls with clients.
7) File Storage System
Agencies are increasingly moving their file storage into cloud-based systems like Box or Dropbox. This provides them with greater flexibility: files can be accessed from anywhere in the world – a must-have if you have a distributed agency team, and equally essential if you want to build flexibility into your agency culture by enabling your employees to work remotely.
It’s becoming increasingly popular for agencies to have their own knowledgebase using a wiki-type tool, or similar. Having an agency knowledgebase, that everyone can access and add to, is a great way to facilitate knowledge, information and process sharing across your team.
Using an agency dashboard is a great way to collate all of the key insights you need to monitor the health of your agency. This will be most useful for agency founders and directors, as this type of high-level data might not be relevant for all of your employees.
Ideally, your dashboard will pull together agency KPIs, from data gathered from other tools, and display it in one place, so you can get an at-a-glance overview of your agency performance, and identify any potential problems before they escalate.
Your Digital Agency’s Must-Have Toolkit
Some agencies find it difficult to choose between using a large number of small tools, or using one big, joined-up tool that does everything.
In the early stages, your agency will benefit from using a collection of smaller tools; big, all-in-one tools are either very prescriptive (and so don’t allow much flexibility for your agency to innovate or develop your own way of working) or hugely complex (meaning that your agency needs help to start using the tool, incurring an extra cost just to get up and running).
While it may seem complicated to use lots of different tools for different things, many tools will automatically integrate with one another, and you can use Zapier or IFTTT to build up further cross-tool integrations.
Once you’ve got your agency toolkit in place, it’s essential that you work on developing processes to help you and your employees use them properly, to get the most value from them. After all, tools are only as good as the people using them, so with the right processes in place you can ensure your agency and your team are operating in the most efficient and profitable way possible.