Behind the Scenes
Here are some of the best tools we’ve found for running our agency
The great thing about living in the future is ready access to an enormous selection of web-based services that can make our lives easier in just about any way. Those hours we spend at the office are no exception.
As an agency, we’re solution-agnostic. We often simply use the tools which the client already has in place. But for running things internally, and when we get the opportunity to set up the client workflow, these are some of our favorites.
These aren’t affiliate links and, of course, we don’t have any financial interest in recommending any of these services. This isn’t an exhaustive survey, either. It’s just a list of the services we’ve come to rely on. We hope this is helpful.
E-commerce performance monitoring: Compass
We’re big fans of Compass. It assembles analytics from Google Adwords and Analytics, and payment platforms like PayPal and Stripe. You can sync your Facebook account to track ad performance. And, it works with e-commerce platforms like Amazon Seller Central, Shopify, BigCommerce, and Magento.
It culls all of this to generate a set of easily digestible reports. Particularly valuable is the ability to add overhead costs (like web hosting) and margins for a complete understanding of profitability. And, the benchmarking feature shows you how you’re doing against other stores in your category.
There’s a free version which offers limited reporting, and without historical data. The paid version, with a fee that scales with your stores’ revenue, is well worth the investment.
Project management: Smartsheet
At its core, Smartsheet is a hybrid of the basic functionality of spreadsheets and project management software. You can manage tabular data (such as a list of tasks, each with parameters like project owner and due date), and then assign dependencies and view everything as a Gantt chart (or, as a calendar view, if that’s more your style). Assets can be attached to tasks thanks to its integration with Egnyte and other file-sharing platforms. And, flexible security options allow you to group sheets and assign access level by sheet or by group. We also like the fact that sheets can be shared as HTML, facilitating dissemination of updates without having to purchase a seat for every stakeholder.
While a first-time user can be onboarded and managing their first project within 30 minutes, the sheer breadth of its functionality requires more time than that. If you’ve never used it before, it may end up being several weeks before you’ve tweaked your sheets to perfection. Smartsheet includes a number of templates for everything from construction and facilities management to barcode inventory management to SWOT analysis. But, you may find that these pre-built sheets will serve as inspiration for what can be done, rather than solutions that are exactly what you need without your own modifications.
Site speed testing: Google PageSpeed Insights
There are lots of free tools that will measure your site’s load time and give you advice on how to make it better. In our experience, there are none better than Google’s PageSpeed Insights. The major reason is that it’s mobile-first. Some other tools don’t even address how your site looks or performs on mobile devices, making them useless by modern standards. With the Google tool, you’re presented with your mobile report first, and you need to click to even see your score on desktops.
Time tracking: Harvest
Running an agency requires a method of tracking and reporting billable hours that works well for everybody: team members, contractors, project managers, and, most importantly, the client. Our favorite is Harvest. Its work timer is among the best we’ve seen. It has lots of great features like integration with Slack and Trello, team workload monitoring, and simple generation of client reports and invoices.
Any thoughts? Want to argue with us? We’re at firstname.lastname@example.org.