In this post, 40+ experts running agencies share their secrets for improving operational efficiency including visualizing your work, developing SOPs & more.
Agencies | Dec 24 2020
Kevin Kononenko on June 15, 2018 (last modified on September 2, 2020) • 19 minute read
In the 2018 HubSpot Agency Growth Report, 1000+ marketing agencies shared the software tools that would help them run their agency more efficiently this year.
Which tools were the highest priority for agencies?
You guessed it–project management.
Now, I don’t really believe that 40% of agencies are avoiding project management tools altogether.
That would mean that close to half of all agencies are either winging it or using outdated methods of staying organized.
Instead, it likely means that 40% of agencies are currently dissatisfied with the current implementation of their project management tool.
Bummer. So does this mean that all these agencies should start the long process of evaluating other tools and subsequently reacclimate their team to a new system?
Not necessarily. Most agencies just need to learn how to create better agency processes and roll them out to their team (or contractors).
A great project management tool will make it easier to run consistent processes.
So which tools, and features are the best for keeping a team organized?
We grouped the responses by feature so you can learn which tools will be most likely to address challenges at your agency.
The tasks contained in project management systems are intimately connected to actual data or files in other systems, like accounting or file-sharing software. Most agency leaders don’t want employees to manually log in to other systems every time they need to take action on a task.
So, the best project management tools integrate with popular services like Slack, Dropbox and Quickbooks. That way, employees can reference Slack conversations, invoices, or files stored in a company file-sharing system.
If you want to make sure employees keep their tasks up to date in the system, make it as easy as possible for them to do so. They want to get back to the actual work!
Favorite Feature: 3rd party integrations
Why I Like It: Trello’s 3rd party integrations work with every other tool that I use seamlessly. Because of this feature, I don’t have to commit to Trello’s “world” – I can use the exact tools that I want, as I want.
I have Trello deadlines integrated with my Google Calendar. I have Google Drive documents integrated with Trello – where every card has a document added to it. I even have my time tracking tool – PunchTime – seamlessly integrated so that I can break down time by card.
Favorite Feature: I like that the accounting and project management is integrated.
Why I Like It: That’s why we chose it. Most project management tools don’t have the option of accounting and client billing. In that case, you need separate software to process invoicing PO’s, vendor and client invoices. Having separate systems leads to discrepancies, inconsistencies, and inevitably more work!
Favorite Feature: Versatility
Why I Like It: Asana makes it so easy to look at not only your upcoming tasks, but also the overarching strategy of your projects. I love how I can choose between task lists and Kanban-style boards depending on what works best for a particular project, and how I am able to help multiple businesses stay on track with ease. But most of all, it’s so satisfying to watch the unicorns fly across my screen after I’ve checked something off my list.
Favorite Feature: Communication all in one place
Why I Like It: Basecamp isn’t the latest or sexiest product out there but it is robust and does a great job keeping all communication in one place. At Web Profits, we use Basecamp to share files, weekly updates, monthly reports, create to-do lists and much more.
Your employees likely need to collaborate with other team members from outside their discipline. Marketers need to work with developers… developers need to work with desingers… you get the idea.
Project management tools can help you eliminate unnecessary meetings and email threads if you get your team to buy in. But, your software should have a clear way for team members to communicate without the help of other systems. If tasks start getting lost and deadlines pass, everyone will get frustrated. And, team leadership needs visibility on how team members spend their time.
Your PM tool should have specific ways to organize team communication. This helps it stand out compared to e-mail.
Favorite Feature: The ability to share tasks with fellow coworkers.
Why I Like It: Along with being able to create customized and organized lists of tasks, we also have the ability to share them with fellow co-workers who have the tool as well. This makes work more efficient than before, as it helps keep everyone informed of their daily tasks and place it in a single location where everyone would be able to see it.
Favorite Feature: Creating multiple teams who can share a common workspace and board
Why I Like It: I love how Upwave lets you create and organize employees and contractors in different teams that are responsible for a specific set of clients.
Let’s say you have one team consisting of an account manager, content writer, designer and a contractor, I can create one workspace that shows their all their tasks for all the clients in a single Kanban board.
This is great because each member of the team does not have to jump around between different projects or clients.
Favorite Feature: Tracking my personal/project/team tasks
Why I Like It: I absolutely love how simple & user-friendly Airtable is. It lets me easily upload projects/tasks and assign them to my team members. Each team member can have their own view of their personal tasks as well as see the overall project tasks. It’s just incredibly simple & efficient to use.
Cheshire Cat Marketing
Favorite Feature: The “To-dos” section
Why I Like It: It’s been a lifesaver and has really helped our team keep track of our many, many client projects. You can easily see when it’s due, who is assigned to it, details, etc.
The PHNX21creative Agency
Favorite Feature: Clients in Basecamp
Why I Like It: The newly implemented Clients feature in Basecamp allows an agency to collaborate with their clients within the portal itself. Previously, clients would only receive an email that would allow them to respond “Approved” or “Not Approved” with some feedback. There were plenty of limitations when attempting to share folders, content, or new updates with client email by email.
Now, clients can be added to all projects that our team is working on. Just to add icing on the cake, Basecamp gives you the option to choose what the client is able to view or what needs to stay within the team. The Clients in Basecamp feature creates an interactive way to communicate with your clients with a spirit of collaboration, partnership, and transparency.
Favorite Feature: Managing TEAMS
Why I Like It: Managing teams and projects by team is valuable, as we have different teams working with our clients. Also, defining projects within the customer teams we have makes us very efficient.
Favorite Feature: Teams
Why I Like It: Teams adds a 4th layer to working within Asana. Until the addition of Teams, you could create a Project with Tasks and Subtasks. But, as an agency, we had to also separate our projects and day-to-day work based on another level. As soon as Asana released Teams, we created one team per client and then assigned only the relevant people who were dealing with the same client. That way, it’s easier to manager ongoing tasks, there’s less clutter as only people who are part of the team can see all client tasks. And, this allows us to use templates more efficiently as each client can now be created with specific onboarding project templates within minutes.
Favorite Feature: Task Boards
Why I Like It: The team can use Scrum boards and have a clear view of all the necessary work that needs to be done in one sprint.
Adam J. Wiggins
Palmer Ad Agency
Favorite Feature: Teamwork Board View
Why I Like It: Teamwork’s Board View allows us to create a visual workflow for our project tasks that gives us full transparency over the progress of any project in just seconds. Additionally, the Boards view allows us to easily update the status of any project quickly, giving us back more time in our day.
Diaz & Cooper Advertising
Favorite Feature: Kanban Board
Why I Like It: The Kanban board (Board View) in TeamWork is one of many fantastic features. It’s a visual workflow tool that works similarly to Trello, allowing our Team to work in an agile and collaborative manner. It gives us the flexibility to structure the boards based on our own internal processes and the specific needs of each project, while allowing us to keep clients updated of status in a visual way. Most importantly, it reinforces accountability and gives us the kind of big-picture view of our process that encourages breakthroughs and continuous improvement.
You may think that visualizations are one of the less important features since they do not speed up any existing workflow. Are pretty graphs on the same level as all the other robust features in this guide?
But, the visualizations are necessary for quickly communicating many tasks at once. If a team leader can’t quickly find information, they may do one of two things:
The right visualization will help everyone skip these steps. Even better, if the tool allows you to switch between different visualizations, each team member can choose the one that works best for him or her.
Favorite Feature: Calendar View
Why I Like It: Asana offers a quick view of all tasks assigned to you in all of your projects. The default view is a list, which you can sort by deadline or project.
But you also have the option to turn it into a calendar view that displays all of your deadlines — all in one place. With Asana, I like being able to view a calendar for each project individually or for all the projects in the same Workspace. But that’s not even the best part! I can also drag tasks around in calendar view, which is helpful when I’m planning out my week. Pretty much everything can be dragged around, which makes it super-easy to reorganize. If I have too many tasks planned for the same day, I can simply drag some to another day later in the week.
Favorite Feature: The boards dashboard
Why I Like It: We have multiple clients, and of course, a lot of challenges happening at the same time. We need to see them integrated, in one view.
Ward van Gasteren
Favorite Feature: Extreme simplicity with overview
Why I Like It: Workflowy is different than any other project management tool, since it’s just one document with a simple layout. This should make it easier to organize your ideas. You can just start typing and typing, and your ideas will be organized thanks to intelligent filters, collapsable bullet points and loads of keyboard-shortcuts. It’s a totally natural way of working.
Sales, SEO & Social Media
Favorite Feature: Gantt chart, calendar view and project view all in one sheet
Why I Like It: We can schedule tasks into the project sheet and view it from 3 different perspectives. The calendar view is good for clients, while project and Gantt view are good for our team. We can the save the template and use it again the following month.
Favorite Feature: The concept of boards (which correspond to projects) and within boards, there are cards (which represent tasks)
Why I Like It: I love this tool because it is a simple-easy drag & drop visual tool (not complex like other tools)
A Trello board is a list of lists, filled with cards that can be used by you and your team. The software offers the tools you need to execute projects of any size.
You can create cards and comments via email. Every board has a special email address you can use to create cards. Trello uploads the attachments you send along, too. Also, when you get notifications via email, you can reply via email without opening Trello.
Lists can be fully customized, and collaboration takes place in real time. Members get apprised of the latest developments in a project and changes made appear instantaneously onscreen. There are also instant notifications alert users when new tasks have been assigned or when updates and changes were made on the project.
Austin Lawrence Group
Favorite Feature: The dashboard
Why I Like It: All your tasks are in one place and you can set up different widgets for different priorities, projects and timeframes to indicate when they are due.
Here’s one way to measure the adoption of your project management tool. Go around the office and interview employees on how they are organizing their tasks. Are they using Google Sheets, sticky notes or pen and paper alongside the PM tool? That is a warning sign!
Likely, they are documenting and taking notes on processes that should be tracked in software. If, as an agency leader, you do not have transparency on all these little tasks, you will struggle to help your employees become more efficient.
And, when integrations and internal processes are not enough, you can always turn to Zapier’s integrations to see if you can help employees organize all their project data in your PM tool.
Favorite Feature: Recurring tasks
Why I Like It: Like everyone, I have a ton of tasks that I complete at regular intervals:
Before making the switch to Teamwork Projects, I used to have to schedule out those to-dos one-by-one, which was a huge waste of time when you consider I was doing that in multiple to-do lists for multiple clients. It was easy for tasks to fall through the cracks when it came time to schedule everything again.
But now all I have to do is go to the project in Teamwork, set my task in the proper task list, then select the “Repeats” option in the scheduler to determine when I’d like my task to repeat (on the first of the month, every week on Friday, quarterly on the same day, etc.). It’s a tiny convenience in the grand scheme of things, but it saves time, helps me maximize my productivity, and virtually keeps track of things for me!
Favorite Feature: Risk Register
Why I Like It: I was a project manager for over 20 years in the IT industry before starting Web Journey. During that time, I used various project management tools starting out with Microsoft Project & in-house solutions. I moved on to software tools like Jira as they became available.
When looking for a project management tool for Web Journey, we had many essential feature requirements on top of the basic ones like projects, tasks, messages and files that you’d expect from project management software.
However, one feature that is critical and can often be overlooked by agencies is risk management. Risk management is key to project success. You need to identify risks up front, rank them, manage them and report on them as frequently as you report on project and task status. Identifying risks and being transparent about them from the get-go with your clients and your team will allow you to build better relationships and achieve better success with your projects.
For example, if you are creating content for a client that is required to get a review and sign-off from their legal and compliance teams, you increase the risk of missing some project milestones.
Teamwork has a Risk Register feature which allows you to register risks, the probability of it happening, impact on the project if it happens, the status, mitigation plan and impacted areas – cost, schedule and performance.
Some risks change over the course of the project along with their likelihood and level of impact. Being able to track, update and report on them with ease is essential. Teamwork allows you to do this.
Strategic Internet Consulting
Favorite Feature: Risks
Why I Like It: Teamwork’s risk management tool allows you to assess and assign risk probability to client projects.
With it, the management team can identify a likely risk, assign a probability of it occurring, assess the impact this would have on the project, and detail the areas of a campaign that would be affected (cost, schedule/timescale, performance). From this, project managers can see the risks directly related to their project, then form a mitigation plan to avoid – or manage – that risk. Directors, Department Heads, MDs etc too, can also use this tool to assess and prioritize risks across the whole business.
With this feature, our agency identified that for one project, over-use of allocated resource was a key risk. The project was rapidly using up budget in month one. If this continued, the project would not have the resources to continue activities into months two and three. We highlighted and reviewed this risk using the tool, then formed an implemented a mitigation plan to guard against over-management. Overall, we have much greater visibility (and control) over risk and project challenges with this feature.
Favorite Feature: Templates
Why I Like It: “We are a remote agency and therefore, sometimes we have changeover in contractors. For any repeatable task, I can set up a template and assign it to a Job title, like Graphics. When we need to use that template, I can pull it, assign to the actual people who hold that job description at the time, set a starting date and it automatically populates, sends out emails and assigns all tasks. It save me a wealth of time!”
Lone Fir Creative
Favorite Feature: Custom Templates
Why I Like It: Custom Templates have been a game changer for us. They allow us to outline the process for each type of tactic we execute for a client, ie running Facebook Ads or writing blog posts.
When we are building our epics each quarter for the client, the tasks associated with each area of the project are all outlined and can be followed.
Then we “recall” those templates and use them to build out the gameplan for each team member to follow each day and make sure they are not missing parts of the tasks when balancing across multiple clients. This also allows new team members to get up to speed much more quickly.
Favorite Feature: Templates
Why I Like It: When it comes to marketing our services, and our client’s products and services, it’s extremely important that we stay consistent week in and week out. Asana’s templates feature allows us to create detailed marketing plans, assign them to the appropriate team members, execute them, and then reuse the same template over and over again. It also allows us to quickly and easily get new clients onboard by simply choosing the template that fits their needs and then customize it for the client.
Favorite Feature: Checklists in Trello cards.
Why I Like It: Checklists are especially convenient because they let everyone involved in the project (all members of the Trello card/project) keep track of their assigned tasks and mark off the ones that are completed to keep everyone on the same page with progress.
This is especially convenient when certain tasks need to be completed before the others and you’re waiting on your colleagues to finish their tasks. Or, it helps when you’re the project manager and need to know how the tasks are progressing.
It’s very important that Checklists are well-written and clear about who’s responsible for each task.
Combined with comments, you will always be informed about the tasks being done on the cards that you manage or are a part of.
Brian V. Matson
Favorite Feature: Tasks
Why I Like It: The biggest benefit of using a project management tool, as far as I’m concerned, is the ability to create and assign tasks to myself and team. No more messy legal pads or sticky notes. Having the ability to quickly assign and review tasks allows me to keep my fingers on the pulse of our client work while feeling confident nothing has slipped through the cracks. The tools are only as good as your dedication to using them, though!
Favorite Feature: Moment
Why I Like It: During the day, I can just randomly add tasks onto the list whenever I think of them. At the beginning of every day, with the Any.Do Moment, it takes 2 minutes to actually put them on the calendar with the right date and time. I’ve never encountered a project management tool that works with the “speed of mind”. I can use it just as fast as I can think. That’s efficiency.
A project management tool is one way to help keep your agency both productive and organized. But, its impact is limited since, you know, it can’t actually do the work.
Execution is on you and your team.
Luckily, there’s a whole industry of automation tools that can eliminate manual work for your team. Things like:
We created a separate guide on tools that improve marketing agency efficiency. If you have a project management tool that deserves to be mentioned, let us know in the comments.
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