July 26, 2017 by John Herrington in APPS

6 tools every agency needs

Over the years, we’ve all clung to tools that we couldn’t live without.

Tools like MS Office, WebEx, AOL Instant Messenger (AIM), and Campfire, were everything to us back in the day. Remember how you’d have to scramble when you’d get the pinwheel of death because Word was freaking out or that Excel spreadsheet from the media team just destroyed your 4 MBs of RAM? Those were the days. Actually, that sucked. Thank goodness technology never disappoints me these days. 🙄

Seriously though, now we have the cloud, Google docs, Google sheets, Apple Keynote, Google hangouts, and thousands of other options. These tools and apps are everywhere, and while there are plenty more that I could speak to, I’ll try to skip over the ones you’re probably already using like Dropbox. I’ll start with the tools that I use the most right now. Enjoy.

1. Slack

The most amazing team communication tool since trust falls and rope courses.

I remember when I first launched Slack, I thought,

“This looks like AIM on steroids.”

It wasn’t long before I had embraced all that Slack had to offer, from instant communication with a teammate to a wonderful project communication tool. Far more than email, Slack is an agency’s best friend. In fact, when Slack first rolled out in 2013, it was hailed as the email killer. Unfortunately, four years later, email is still around, but Slack is helping eliminate the internal email amongst your team. Slack’s customers have on average seen a 49% reduction in internal email. That’s phenomenal. Email continues to be how you can correspond with your clients, but Slack fixes the internal emails. Capable of connecting people, increasing morale with a GIF war, and even automating mundane tasks like ordering the office pizza. Slack is incredible, and if you disagree I will fight you.

Reasons to try it

Channels — organize your conversations in open channels. This could be by client, by project, or whatever you want. For sensitive information, you can create private channels and just invite a few select team members.

Direct messages — send messages directly to another person or to a small group of people for more focused conversations.

Calls — sometimes a conversation is needed, in which case you can hop on a Slack voice or video call in any channel or direct message. You can share your screen so everyone can follow along.

Emojis for days — Slack is known for its generous use of emojis within the platform and their brand overall. Instead of responding to someone with Sounds good. you could just use a 👍 reaction to whatever was said by your coworker. This can get quite entertaining.

Integrations — there are a TON of apps that have built bots and integrations with Slack. Categories like bots, analytics, design, HR, productivity, sales, project management, social & fun, travel, and so much more.

Platform(s): Mac, Windows, iOS, Android, Windows Mobile

2. Astro

Ok, now that you’re on the Slack bandwagon, hurry up and join Astro. Over the years, I’ve tried a ton of email clients. MacOS Mail, Spark, Canary Mail, Polymail, Inbox for Gmail, and my favorite until recently, Airmail 3. If you’re still using Office for Mac good for you. 😂 I just relish enhanced features like postponing outgoing emails, snoozing emails that you don’t want to respond to just yet, tracking when people open your email, templates, and third party integrations. That last point is where Astro really shines. They’ve built integrations with Slack and Amazon Echo. Honestly, I haven’t tried to integration with Alexa yet, but the Slack connection is amazing.

Reasons to try it

Universal search — this has come in handy so many times recently. If you believe in Slack, then you believe in the power of using email less and less, so that you can get back to actually working. With that point, you’ll find conversations that spill over from email, to Slack, and then back to email. The universal search within Astro allows you to find content within Slack or within your email. 😯

Astrobot — at first I thought this was a little bit of a gimmick, but I have to say that the AI is here. Astrobot will prioritize emails, remind you to follow up, set reminders, and help you determine who is a VIP within your circle. That means, you’ll get notifications for emails that matter, not the daily flash sale from J Crew.

Other features that are sweet

Priority Inbox — similar to Gmail, this will snuff out emails that aren’t as important to tack right now

Snooze for Later — maybe you want to read or respond to this later. You can set a specific time.

Snooze to Desktop — a nice way to see an email on your phone and then be reminded when you’re back at your desk.

Unsubscribe — let Astro do the work for you.

Mute — when you’re added to an email chain as “FYI” feel free to just mute it to stop notifications.

Customizable Notifications — get notified about important emails only.

Send Later — love working at 2AM? Now you don’t have to shame your coworkers for not having your drive. Just schedule the email to go out at 9AM when normal humans are working.

Email Open Tracking — get a nice little notification when someone opens your email.

Reply Tracking — get rid of your “Waiting On” folder. Astro will let you know when you haven’t heard back about important emails.

Rich Text and Emoji — if you’re not into Emojis then we can no longer be friends.

Attachments — add files from Dropbox, Box, Google Drive, iCloud, etc.

Platform(s): Mac, iOS, Android

3. Harvest

If you’re not tracking your time, you’re wasting money.

Reminds me of the legendary Rick Stacy who mercilessly hit the Dallas market with TV ads for the majority of the 90s. As legend has it, Rick got in trouble for burning real money on TV and had to start faking it, which really took the fire out of the commercials. See what I did there? You’re welcome.

Back to Harvest.

If you’re in the agency or startup world you have to track your time. Even if you’re not billing by T&M you still need to understand how long you’re taking on certain projects and tasks so that you can more accurately estimate them next time. I’ve used Harvest for the last three years or so, and while they’ve been a bit slow to update the UI/UX it’s still one of the best bets out there.

Reasons to try it

Estimates, time tracking, and invoicing all in one platform — yes, it can be a bit simplistic, but being able to house estimates, the time put against the project by your team, and then sending an invoice to your client is huge.

Harvest for Mac — a lightweight app that’s easily accessible in your menu bar. If you step away from the computer, Harvest will detect your idle time and allow you to remove those minutes if need be. This saves you time and helps to create more accurate timesheets.

Harvest for iPhone/Android — track time, record expenses, manage invoices, and check in on your team from anywhere.

Integrations — QuickBooks, Basecamp, Trello, Asana, Xero, Jira, Zendesk, GitHub, IFTTT, and about 70+ more.

Platform(s): Browser, iOS, Android

4. Droplr

Even though MS Paint is not going away in 2017 (FAKE NEWS!), we can rest assured that you use something to share your thoughts on a project, image, or video every day. That’s agency life. What’s tough is when you want to share something specific and you don’t want to break out Keynote, PowerPoint, or Photoshop to annotate it.

🎉 Droplr is here! 🎉

Reasons to try it

Because it’s super-hip. They didn’t even use the “e” in their name, because they’re all about saving time! #DadJokes

Share — snag images or videos on your screen and have them share-ready in a few quick clicks. You can snag this anywhere on your device, record activity as a GIF or video, and drop that link into Slack, chat, or email (ahem) Astro.

Markup screenshots — once you capture the screenshot, you see a preview and can add annotations via text, arrows, shapes, and even a blur tool to hide sensitive information. On the backend, you can control when this screenshot disappears. 👻

When working on creative concepts, websites, and especially QC, this little app can easily become your MVP. Pro tip: spring for a unique shortener for your agency like tegan.cc. It’s a nice touch of branding when you’re sending links to clients and partners.

Platform(s): Mac, Chrome Extension, iOS

5. HubSpot

If you’re at an agency and you’re not using a CRM then you better be Scrooge McDuck swimming in your vault of gold. Otherwise, you’re making new business, and life in general, more difficult than it needs to be. Sure, Google Sheets can keep track of your contacts, but it’ll never keep track of every email you have with them, record phone calls, or set up reminders and tasks on when to follow up with them.

Now, if you’re using Salesforce and you think this is where you skip down the page, you’re wrong. Dead wrong. Ok, maybe not dead wrong, but I still have some nuggets for you. Did you know that 90% of Salesforce users don’t utilize the tool to it’s full capacity? Also, 67% of all statistics are made up. But for real, time-and-time again, we see clients that are paying CRAZY money for enterprise level Salesforce implementation and then only utilizing 10% of it. If you can afford to get some Salesforce training and encourage your team to adopt the tool, great! If you can’t, then consider a free route before you pay for Salesforce. In addition, it’s not uncommon to have both HubSpot and Salesforce running simultaneously to use features out of both platforms. I was on a call recently with our HubSpot rep and he even told me that they use both HubSpot and Salesforce simultaneously as well. So, I’d say you’re in good company.

Back to HubSpot.

HubSpot’s offering can certainly be confusing, but at it’s basic level, they provide three tools.

  1. CRM — free
  2. Marketing — $200/mo, $800/mo, $2,400/mo
  3. Sales — free, $50/mo

So, if you’re like me, you want to know more about the CRM and Sales software. The Marketing offering has all sorts of cool features, but $3k for the first year (required onboarding is $600) is nuts, and that only covers 100 contacts. This is the first tool that I’ve talked about price, not because the other tools are completely free, but because HubSpot’s pricing strategy effectively eliminates a number of agencies that would love to use their Marketing platform. I’m a marketer. I get it. The free CRM is a loss leader to bring in clients that want to use the Marketing platform, but the cost/benefit just doesn’t line up to me.

With that being said, I’ll be the first one to recommend HubSpot’s free CRM. It’s robust and yet simple for anyone to use. Sales has a number of bells and whistles as well, and it’s worth your time.

Reasons to try it

CRM — what’s nice about the CRM is that you can invite your whole team to use it, it’s free forever (not a trial), and you can store as many as 1,000,000 contacts, companies, deals, and tasks.

Sales — lots of nice features here to help you in new business. Email Scheduling, Email Open Notifications, Email Tracking History, Email Templates, Record Phone Calls, and more. If you’re willing to pay $50/mo per user you can add:

Email Click Notifications — get instant notifications when links in your email are clicked.

Sequences — tee up a series of targeted, personalized emails to send to your prospects over time.

Prospects — find out what companies are visiting your website.

Meetings — share your availability and let prospects book time on your calendar without the back and forth.

Platform(s): Browser, iOS, Android

6. Bear

When Apple hands out its annual design award honoring outstanding design and innovation, you take notice. Out of the 12 apps honored in 2017, we’ve already highlighted Things 3 in our weekly Apps We Love, along with the previously mentioned Airmail 3. The third app out to check out from the 2017 Apple Design Awards is Bear.

If you’re an Evernote loyalist, I won’t try to persuade you, but unless you’re using the power features you probably will prefer Bear. Bear, like Slack and Astro, is just a beautiful app. Simplistic, yet powerful, we’ve made the switch. Here’s a handy How to Migrate from Evernote writeup as well.

Reasons to try it

Smart Data Recognition — elements like links, emails, addresses, colors are clickable

Hashtags — to quickly find and organize notes however you like

Multiple export options — including HTML, PDF, DOCX, MD, JPG, and more

Editing — word count, read time, character count, paragraph count

Platform(s): Mac, iOS

So there you have it, the 6 tools every agency needs. What would you add to the list? We’d love to hear from you below.

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