We recently asked Scott Mann from Highforge to share with our authors some of the tools and apps they use to run their successful design agency.
Anything that saves time without cutting corners is gold to any small business and we have a feeling any one of these tools has the potential to save you time and money, reduce errors and create new opportunities.
General Small Business Tools
Quickbooks Online: It’s not a perfect but it gets the job done. There are alternatives like Xero.com but QBO absorbed the fine talent over at Mint.com and the fruits of that acquisition are finally starting to show. Intuit overcharges for everything, but they get the job done and our accountants thank us for it.
Smaller agencies with less sophisticated needs may prefer Freshbooks and larger agencies may want to look at Intacct and NetSuite.
Basecamp: When you’ve got thousands of projects to manage for hundreds of clients simultaneously, keeping things in order is a task all in itself. Basecamp allows our team to easily communicate within the agency, with clients, keep all important information in one place, and just keep the wheels turning.
We tried many different project management solutions over the years and this one stood out in a crowded market ultimately because it’s just so damn easy to use. Another super popular alternative is Trello.
Keepass: We have to securely manage thousands of passwords for our clients on an internal network with strict safety protocols. We still don’t trust cloud-based solutions for this type of thing so we keep it in-house old-school-style using this slick desktop app shared across key members of the team internally.
QuoteRoller: We got tired of doing manual proposals a long time ago. The time sink was a back breaker. Enter this slick SAAS to save the day. Honestly, it’s one of the best apps on the market and is simple, powerful and allows for some pretty sophisticated automation. It’s a great price for one person, but it’s overpriced if you need to add more sales team members.
We deal with it because we really don’t want to build our own system for it. They’ve got a solid development team behind them and the updates they roll out, while slow coming, are usually well-tested and planned smartly.
Marchex: Digital marketing and phone systems don’t usually play well together. When we need to track phone sales results, we turn to Marchex (and a few other vendors) for our phone tracking needs. With call analytics we can track what efforts are generating leads and our clients can record conversations and make sure their team is doing a great job converting leads.
Digital Agency Design Tools
Classic tools (pen, pencils, paper, scanner): “It’s great to just do things the anachronistic way outside of doing everything digitally,” said Schiani Ledo, anti-hipster Art Director for Highforge.
Many of the designs done for our clients, including logos and other artwork, is drawn by hand and scanned into digital format. It’s easy to sink into the flashy new technology, but when something is drawn by hand, it’s definitely something special.
Wacom Board: This tool is pretty much the coolest thing that a guy could get if he’s an artist. Making specific hand-drawn lines and shading by pen on a digital screen is less stressful using this incredible tool.
Adobe Tools (Photoshop, Illustrator): We stick to the classics and the standards for the design team as much as we do with our old standbys like pen and paper.
Tumblr (for inspiration): It’s great to be able to do something related to art every day, but the biggest downside of it is that sometimes you feel like you’ve drawn or designed the same thing too many times. Tumblr and other similar sites are great places to go to seek out inspiration for that artistic rut that so many of us find ourselves in from time to time.
Coffee: Lots of it. Seriously.
Tools for Internet Coding and Website Development
Sublime Text: When you have different websites with different themes and different looks to each and every one of them, you need a tool to create them. We love Sublime Text. It makes the lives of a developer much easier, and when our lives are easier, so is everyone else’s.
Xenu: Even developers are fallible. Well, sometimes we are. But we check our work using Xenu, a tool that searches through and finds broken links within each site we build.
nginx: Need a server? Well, we do since we have so many websites, but if you do, nginx (pronounced “Engine Ex” for you dev noobs), does the job for us.
WordPress: This should be obvious for a website company to have a website creation platform on their list of tools that they use. And WordPress is good to us. Many of our sites are built in WordPress, and we’re certain that many more will be over time.
Shopify: While we love control of development as much as anyone, the reality is that simple interfaces and software that’s easy to use for our client’s is even more important. And ease-of-use is where Shopify nails it.
Django: No, this isn’t the Unchained variety… technically. This open source framework tool gives us the chance to build all sorts of applications, and we know our Django like the back of our hands.
Energy Drinks: We sit for hours and stare at computer screens. Overdosing on caffeine is our religion.
Pizza: We just really like pizza. It’s a team rule to get pizza on Fridays in our office. It’s rule #0.
Unicorn Masks: If we have to explain this… we just can’t help you there.
Digital Marketing Tools
Hootsuite: managing each one of your social media platforms individually is so 2007. With Hootsuite, we can manage dozens of social media accounts from one singular place. Plus, its posting tools and analytics make it great for us to schedule posts and keep track of our clients’ social power.
Moz: If you don’t know your SEO, then you know nothing. And Moz knows its SEO. Plus, within Moz, there are several tools, like keyword ranker and Open Site Explorer, that we’ve used to get our job done.
Feedly: Since we often learn from reading other sources for new ideas and ways to become a better agency, Feedly is great to keep all of the things we need in one place. And it gets used a lot. It does save us a tremendous amount of time rather than going to dozens of different places to find what we need to find.
Ispionage: When we need to find the right keywords to build up, we go here. It’s also great to see how our clients’ competitors are doing in the same keywords, so we can snipe them out. (Metaphorically.)
Majestic Site Explorer: another great site explorer tool we use to track our clients’ rankings and position throughout the world of the Internet. Simple to use, great results, and a whole bunch of insight.
Tea: We should be endorsed by a tea company based on volume of consumption. We aren’t even British. Honestly we have no excuse.
Scotch: We don’t need an excuse.
Now go forth and be prolific with your new bat belt of tools.