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3 Posts authored by: maryprescott

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Posted by maryprescott Jan 5, 2014

Small businesses are already lean on resources such as staffing, for instance. Scaling up is hard. Resources are scarce, and it just gets worse while your business grows. Technology, thankfully, is much more affordable, dependable, and can actually do a better job than people can (for some tasks, though). That explains the rise of SaaS applications and the populated segment that project management software industry has become.


In spite of the availability of so many tools, businesses really have to try to get their hands dirty working with a few chosen tools to arrive at the one that perfectly aligns with their business processes.


Here are some reasons, however, why you should avoid heavy weight project planning and management software such as Microsoft Project, Worketc, or others:


You can’t bootstrap with heavyweights


The way heavyweight project collaboration tools are built; you’d only get a basic feature set for free. In fact, none of those so-called popular tools have free plans. You’d certainly get a free trial though. You’d not take a free ride if you have no intention to buy, would you? If you are a startup or a business looking to bootstrap your business to the profit finish line, you are already starting with the wrong set of tools. You cannot possibly bootstrap with a running bill like that, can you?


You have options


We don’t say that the project management software heavyweights are bad. In fact, these tools are robust, extremely capable, and absolutely helpful for businesses. It’s just that not all businesses will need such expansive feature sets.


Further, small businesses have plenty of options to choose from and no one’s really breathing down on your neck for any kind of loyalty. The best way to find the project management tool that really works for your business is to play, tweak, and pick on free trials (most tools have either trials or even free plans) and then figure out what works best for you.


Find a match


If your business is small but if you have project management software with too many features or if it requires you to actually get trained or to understand, it’s just not for you.


Time is precious. Everyday wasted in trying to understand how an application works or how it fits into your business process is money left on the table.  The feature set of the project management system in question should fit right in for your business. Go find that match. Don’t stop until you find the one that works for you.


Kinks are not tolerated


Project management is hard enough. The last thing you’d want while projects are in progress is when systems don’t work. Just like uptime guarantee for web hosting is critical for web hosts, a trouble free application is what you’ll need for effective and time project management.


Features you depend on don’t work. Integrations don’t go smooth. Emails are not delivered. Notifications don’t show up properly. You’d need none of those.  You have enough on your hands already. You don’t need kinks.


Small is beautiful


If you were a small business, you’d need nothing bigger than the size and scope of your business.


For instance, if you a solo-business owner and if you are using an enterprise software such as Microsoft Project, you can switch to cloud based alternatives such as WorkZone quickly, and without hesitation. Microsoft Project is a very capable application; it just doesn’t fit your business. What you’d rather need is an app that’s light, simple to use, integrates with other apps that you might be using already, and is much more affordable.


Reduce your exit cost


Let’s assume you picked Microsoft Project to start with. For the cheapest plan, you’d pay about $30 per user/month. Assuming you have five users, you’d be shelling out $150 per month. If you were to work with it for 6 months, only to look for alternatives, you’d have already spent $900 and you’d barely have anything to show for it.


In essence, you now have an exit cost of $900, which will be hard to account for under a sub-heading called “trial”.  We call it exit cost; just don’t ask us why. Experimenting with cheaper options with other project management tools which charge you a fixed monthly price for X number of users is a more viable option.


Save time & hassle


While we did mention money in the previous point, we neglected to mention the projects you already started, the contacts you’d have added, and the database of documents, files, and other information you’d have thrown into the projects in those six months.


Migrating that data is a pain (ask anyone who has to do this for a living or to save his or her business).  While in the “looking for alternatives mode”, start with dummy projects if you can and not with real (paying) ones. Further, don’t go overboard right away and zealously throw in all the information you have on any one tool until you find the software that you can work with.


Projects could be your lifeblood. They make you cash. Handling projects well and delivering on time could be the only USP you might be able to differentiate yourself with. Managing teams is crucial for businesses that depend on talent, skill, and productivity of a global team to get work done.


A project management tool should be the last reason why work didn’t get delivered.


What is the project collaboration tool you work with? Why are the tools you work with your preferred choice?

Ad agencies have a lot on their plate, and they need tools to cope. From survey tools to presentation software, auto-responders, inbound marketing platforms, and list building services, options can start to get overwhelming. While we can't recommend exactly which set of tools is best for every ad agency, we believe that the following three simple tools will put almost any agency ahead of the pack.


1. At Least One Social Network

While social media has gone through its stages of hype and backlash, social networks have proven themselves as tools that nearly every ad agency should be using to boost exposure for itself and its clients. The problem is that most ad agencies aren't using them properly.


ROI is difficult to measure on Facebook, but one peer-reviewed study has demonstrated in extreme detail just how useful it is. The study compared sales data on 14,000 consumers from an Asian fashion retailer with user activity on Facebook, and came to the following conclusions:


  • Users who joined the Facebook page spent $22 more than other customers. Deep analysis revealed that this effect was created by their behavior on the Facebook page, not simply by Liking it. The study controlled for various self-selection factors, so it is very likely that these customers spent more because of their activity on Facebook. It's much less likely that they joined the page because they were going to spend more anyway.
  • Exposure to information rich content from other Facebook users on the brand page had a positive influence on sales. This positive effect was visible whether that information was positive or negative, although positive information from other users had the strongest effect.
  • When it came to communications with a marketer on the Facebook page, only direct communications influenced sales.
  • The more users communicated directly with each other, the more inelastic the commodity became for those particular users.
  • Keep in mind that this study was only investigating the influence of Facebook activity on consumer sales. It wasn't analyzing the potential additional sales that could have come from referrals, or from building up a subscriber base on other channels, like email, as a result of Facebook activity.


In short, the evidence that social media can influence sales and demand is overwhelming. The problem is, most ad agencies aren't using them properly. They fail to recognize that they can only produce sales by sparking consumer to consumer communication, and by communicating directly with consumers themselves.


Notice that I listed the social networks themselves as the tools. Using scheduling tools for social media is a bad idea. As we pointed out, only direct communications and consumer to consumer communications influence sales. Scheduling tools don't help with this.

2. Base

This is an intuitive CRM tool built for our cross-platform world, and designed to be easily understood by your workforce.


Base keeps everything you need to know about each customer on a single card, including any related deals, calls, emails, files, and notes. The Chrome Contact Clipper makes it easy to pull leads straight from your social networks of choice, and visual sales reports let you see past the numbers to refine your strategy.

The sales forecasting feature makes it easy to pinpoint where in the sales funnel to start pushing sales, by providing an estimated close date. It also alerts you when it predicts fluctuations in your future sales, and to filter these predictions based on the user, team, group, or tag.


Base offers integrated voice calls on PC, tablet, and mobile, and lets you track the calls by the lead, deal, or contact in question. You can use it to record calls and analyze them later. Automatic reporting allows you to detect trends in which calls lead to sales, and to track which users are having the most successful calls.

After linking it to email, Base will automatically sort incoming mail into contacts and associated deals. It provides easily accessible context to the email so that you don't need to dig through everything to find the history of the conversation.


Base offers several other features as well, but the end result isn't a laundry list of features. It's an integrated, easy-to-use interface that puts bloated tools like Salesforce to shame. CRM is essentially useless unless it is widely used within your business, and Base makes its use simple enough that this isn't hard to accomplish.

While Base certainly isn't the only simple CRM tool out there, it's our recommendation.

3. WorkZone

No ad agency can function for very long without project management software, and this is one of the best software choices for an ad agency. WorkZone is cloud-based, and designed for use in the collaborative workspace of the modern agency. While it's currently promoted for various uses, it was originally developed internally by an ad agency.

While it's virtually impossible to talk about this space without mentioning BaseCamp, WorkZone is in many ways a more versatile product. Project managers will appreciate the Gantt charts, cross-product view, subtasks, and task-dependencies that make it easier to deal with how projects are actually managed in the real world.

Despite having more features, WorkZone hasn't sacrificed simplicity. Starting with the ability to remove unwanted features, WorkZone makes it clear from the beginning that they want to provide your entire workforce with an intuitive interface and full functionality.

Features include:

  • A project dashboard summarizing the status of all projects in one place, complete with who's responsible for each project, start and end dates, completion status, and notes.
  • Project to-do lists put everything on the table, so it's clear what needs to be accomplished for each campaign or project.
  • Personal to-do lists let your employees focus exclusively on what they need to know, without being distracted by the big picture. If they need to access the full project to-do list, however, they can, allowing them to stay in touch with what is happening at the company.
  • Status alerts on the project dashboard let you know when projects are falling behind. You can set it up to send out automatic email alerts to the relevant employees when this happens as well.
  • Workload reports and time tracking make it relatively simple to measure where time is being spent, and by who, for billing and strategic purposes.
  • The document sharing capabilities are tailor made for ad agencies. With secure file sharing and flexible permissions, it's easy to keep things synchronized. Image markup makes it easy to add notes to an ad right from WorkZone's interface, and file versioning ensures that you can always look back to previous iterations. Optional email alerts let people know when a relevant document has been posted.
  • Full text search makes this tool's search function more useful than most.

WorkZone is useful for keeping projects organized and up to date, without being so complicated or overbearing that it would limit project flexibility.

Getting to Work

While it should be obvious that these are just a few of the tools that an ad agency needs in order to stay afloat, we feel these three in particular are must-haves. While there's always flexibility in your choice of tools, we recommend these for their simplicity. The most crucial function of a tool is whether or not it gets used in the first place, and these tools have shown themselves to actually get used.