When it comes to keeping vendors and campaigns on task, the choices available to businesses to facilitate each are numerous ... and overwhelming. Deciding on one is a chore in itself, and the solution often involves a little bit of this and a little bit of that to accommodate all business functions.
But that dilemma is nothing compared to the nightmare digital agencies contend with on the other end of this equation.
Managing vendors and keeping them accountable is easy enough once you settle on whatever bits of software. Marketing clouds have turned vendor accountability into table stakes and agencies worth their salt are moving quickly — some frantically — to keep up.
But thanks to the cornucopia of choices available — and the fact that one solution is rarely enough — you can be pretty certain (if you're an agency) that none of your clients will land on the same system when it comes to tracking your activities for them and holding you accountable. And when you combine managing their processes on top of managing your own, you create a fresh hell that even Dante couldn’t envision.
The ABCs of CRMs
Larger agencies have super-sized CRM systems in place to track engagements, tasks and time, but the rest of us aren’t about to shell out money for a Salesforce-style CRM. And honestly, many CRM-focused systems aren’t a great fit for agencies (even the free options). Why? The features they offer are often sales-based and internally focused to maximize leads and opportunities, not to help you optimize and organize client work when the “product” you’re selling is you!
But you really have to sort something out if you hope to keep expanding your client base — and isn’t this where cloud technology is supposed to make everything simpler?
Yes and no.
The Cloud Giveth, The Cloud Taketh Away
Having your own house in order (regardless of the chaos you’re enmeshed in on the client side) is one expectation your clients have for you, Mr(s) professional small agency owner. And, like your clients, you’ll find that there’s no perfect one-sized solution to fit all of your needs (at least not for free).
So tasks that should be seamlessly connected and capable of being visualized in real-time are pure torture for you to recreate instead. And you’re forced to cobble together cloud-based solutions that allow you to move fast and automate when possible, and that cast of characters typically includes (if you’re savvy):
Social media management tool
You have lots of choices here. I’m put many through their paces and Buffer is a clear winner for me. It offers connections to Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, Google+ and Pinterest in a clean, non-confusing format that saves many minutes each day. You can set post's times for each account (and time zones too, if you have international clients) and can also schedule different times for every day of the week (if you're so inclined), so you’re not too predictable. And then you just click “buffer” from wherever you are web-wide at the moment (or schedule from inside the app) and voila. Done.
As great as Buffer is though for pushing content out, it unfortunately doesn’t help you manage interactions on each platform. So choose your poison well. Hootsuite allows for interactive streams, if you’d like to connect in more than one place. It isn’t entirely real time though and can be a tad temperamental. And if Twitter is your primary back-and-forth focus, then Tweetdeck has got you covered.
If you’re not already using Google docs, the rest of this will seem entirely next level. This is a basic necessity.
Task management and time tracking
This little detail right here is where many small shops miss out on the details and consequently fail. Nothing screams “I can’t handle your business” like consistently forgetting to follow through on the little things. And those little things take time. It’s hard to understand where your day went when you’re constantly handling one-offs that aren’t accounted for somewhere. So tracking tasks and your time is essential, and Due.com has that locked up.
Tracking your time is essential or when it comes around to creating that client invoice, you’ll have little to show for your retainer. (It integrates with Quickbooks, Paypal and other third party essentials too.)
Your hard drive is not a good place to have every client document live. And even if it’s created and saved in Google docs, you’ll want a static backup that isn’t easily modified (by mistake) and housed in a place where only YOU have access. Dropbox works well for this. Be sure you’re not syncing every folder with your desktop though, or your Mac Air will fill up quick and stop working. True story.
Have a crash plan. By far the most important item in your cloud-powered toolbox, the one that will save your sanity if you ever need to use it, is having a reliable backup for everything you do. Throw that external hard drive in the trash (unless you dished out big bucks for it, then use it to lift that laptop up a few inches and save your sore neck) or keep them if you really need to, but don’t stop there — sign up for Crashplan. It will back up those external drives too. You’re welcome.
The Cloud Isn’t Kind to Agencies — Yet
The free (or reasonably priced) solutions you source really depend on your niche area, but that’s a start for any digital agency attempting to get organized and create decent client reports.
So when will cloud technology reach a point where the little guys and gals can use it the way Bill Gates intended, to become incredibly rich and co-opt inventions as our own? Well, lots of businesses are aiming for exactly that right now, I imagine. I hope. We’re a target market, developers. Help us!
The cloud is both a blessing and a curse for most of us online, much like Facebook. We can do more, but we’re held accountable for more — and the options available to keep everything neatly in one place are often just out of reach ... or are they? Drop me a line in the comments if I’ve missed something obvious!