Tools I Use to Run My Digital Agency

A couple months ago I wrote about the tools I use for WordPress web development & workflow. That article seemed pretty popular, so I figure I’d come out with a piece about my business-related workflows and tools. I hope you enjoy it!

DigiSavvy is a boutique (read small) digital marketing agency. I mostly provide custom WordPress development for businesses of a certain scale. I also do a lot of ActiveCampaign consulting, typically for automation setup & implementation as well as email marketing. Naturally, it takes a lot of tools to do all the things well and it also takes a lot of trial and error to build a process that works for you. Believe me, I’ve errored a lot! But with each failure, I learned some lessons.

Running the Business

If you run a business, or if you’re a freelancer, you know that staying on top of things is difficult. Hopefully you’ve found the process that works best for you because I’m not here to tell you what you should do. The only thing I will tell you is that you should be defining and refining your process.

Maintaining Relationships

One thing that I learned the hard way, as I entered into my second year of entrepreneurship, was how important it is to keep track of your leads. While I’m not sure of how many leads I lost because I didn’t follow up, I can tell you about at least five different projects I lost out on because I failed to follow up. Two such clients let me know that my lack of follow-through was my undoing in my attempt to win their business.

At the time, it was just me running things. So I started researching different CRM tools and I tried so many of them! And none of them stuck. It’s not that the tools were problematic, it was hard to find something simple enough that I could commit to. And then, after a lot of suggestions from colleagues, I finally landed on ActiveCampaign. I fell in love with the email marketing at first and soon found their CRM was a perfect fit for me. Using Ninja Forms + the ActiveCampaign Extension (which we built btw) allows me to take inquiries through my website and place people into my CRM so I can easily track our conversations. AC’s CRM can also track email conversations so you know what’s happening.

Don’t Annoy People; Be Human. Always.

Smart automation is huge for helping one win new business, that much is true. Let me tell you, though, doing automation is difficult and it’s easy to get carried away with automations and you end up creating a quagmire for yourself like I did. Don’t be like me, be smarter. I’ve dialed down my automation sequences quite a bit. I use it for light touch work. What that means for me this: Be human, be useful. If I don’t want a human reminding me to buy some shit then I’m not going to expect someone else to either.

I use automation to onboard clients to let them know what they can expect from me, how they work with me, and what I expect from them.

I also use automation to offboard clients. I let them know what happens after our project is completed, what they can expect. And then I remind them of a few ways they can review the business online.

That’s it.

If a lead replies to an email, and they have an open deal, I get a notification to contact them. And that has worked fine for me.

Proposals

Currently I use a tool called Proppy (although it’s shut down recently). I’ve used Bidsketch and liked it just fine. There’s no shortage of proposal at your disposal, just find the one that fits your workflow and needs.

I’ll do a proposal for non-clients who are looking for work to be done. Sometimes I’ll do proposals for larger projects from existing clients, however, if new work comes from a client I’ll just issue a standard estimate (which I’ll get to in a bit).

Based on whether or not the proposal has been won or not, Zapier is connected to Proppy thus I can update my Deal in my CRM to Won or Lost. If the proposal is won, it puts the client into an automation sequence that fires off a series of emails that explains how we work together. It’s pretty slick!

Project Management

I use ActiveCollab. Simply put, it’s an easy to use tool,  you can either self-host or use their hosted SaaS platform. Updates come regularly, I personally like the tool. It’s intuitive and it’s relatively inexpensive for self-hosting (which is what I do). Your mileage may vary. They update regularly, support is decent, and it’s a great product in my opinion.

Money Matters

Accounting
I consider payroll, accounting, and invoicing matters of monies. Today, I use LessAccounting for not only keeping track of business expenses and profits but I also use their bookkeeping service to keep things in order so my tax person doesn’t kill me. Which reminds me, if you live in California and you need a good tax guy/accountant I know a couple! Leigh Rodgers and Ken Sidley keep my money straight for the IRS and answer all my tax-related questions! I highly recommend them. I’ve been eyeballing Quickbooks online, however, since it’s a traditional double-entry accounting system (one most accountants prefer).

Payroll aka Paying Yourself
For payroll, I use and love Gusto. Gusto is a fine tool, it’s simple and easy to use and they file payroll necessary paperwork for you. You can set it and forget it if you use their automated payroll. Onboarding employees and contractors are a snap!

Personally, I like a more traditional means of paying myself; getting a paycheck every couple weeks makes sense to me. I pay myself partially as a w2 working and then partially as a disbursement. It’s something that was recommended to me some time back and it works okay for me.

Invoicing
I use and love Sprout Invoices. Sprout is a WordPress plugin, so your invoicing is self-hosted. If that doesn’t turn you off then you’ll love all the features it provides, from built-in time tracking on projects to collecting ACH payments, Sprout Invoices is a feature-rich and easy to use system for collecting money from folks. It’s also highly customizable and the developer, Dan Cameron, pushes new features out on a regular basis. In fact, he does custom work, too! He made a slick time and expense importer for my project management tool…

Automating the Machine

I’ve found that most people are fans of working with businesses that have solid processes in place. People don’t want to be left guessing. So it helps to have automated ways to keep clients on track with the right communication and expectations. We can’t be everywhere at once and we also can’t rely strictly on automation to handle our business relationships lest we want to send a message that we’re detached or that we don’t care. In that regard, I’m very mindful of automation practices.

I used automation to start getting past clients to signup for website maintenance plans and it worked well for a time. Actually, it worked really well.

ActiveCampaign 

I’m a big fan of ActiveCampaign, in fact, I’m such a big fan that I do a lot of ActiveCampaign consulting for businesses. ActiveCampaign is a badass email marketing tool, specializing in automation. Not only that, it has a lightweight CRM that you can use to track lead conversations and automate your sales funnels. I’ve used it to help stabilize my business month over month.

If you use Caldera Forms, there’s an add-on for that which integrates with ActiveCampaign. (psst! There’s a Ninja Forms add-on, too!).

Aside from getting people into your sales funnel and nurturing leads, you can also use ActiveCampaign to automate your onboarding and offboarding processes (if you’re not doing these things get with the times folks). You can also use it to communicate updates to your existing clients about exciting (or scary) changes that are coming down the road.

Analytics

Here’s an area that could really use improvement. All I’m doing is using Google Analytics and Search Console. One thing, will tell you that is slightly different is that I use the Intelligence Add-on for Ninja Forms. It provides insights into actions that might happen before and after a form is submitted.  You can create scoring around meaningful site actions like link clicks or bounces.

WordPress Google Analytics Plugin

But that’s about it; I check to look at the value of my traffic and to see what posts are helping drive interest and create interest. I’m able to prove and improve on my content by creating more relevant content.

I also use Sanity Check and SEMrush for client work as well as my own site. This helps me track data referring to keyword ranking, competitor analysis and more.

Hiring People

I’ll tell you, I haven’t really figured this piece out yet. I’ll hire folks I know personally but I’ll also use services like Upwork (a freelancer marketplace). More recently, I have been using Freeeup to find talent to work with. They do the heavy lifting of vetting people for you so, theoretically, you can hit the ground running and get to work with a skilled individual. So far my results have been positive, maybe yours will be too. I’d love to know.

Here, I’ll also use ActiveCollab’s ability to create project templates to put new people through development tests. It’s a small project that has a list of things they need to accomplish. This helps me figure what they know, what don’t know, and how good of a communicator they are.

Managing Content and Social

Right now we use Co-Schedule and Buffer. They’re both great tools and do a number on broadcasting our content. Co-Schedule is a bit pricey but it does what it does so well that I can’t see moving away from it any time soon.

We’re also fans of the WordPress plugin, PublishPress, for helping us manage client calendars and content workflow. Of note, we’ve eyeballed Ops Calendar, too. It wasn’t ready for prime time at the time I reviewed it, though.

This is NOT a Blueprint

This blog post is just that. A blog post. There are a TON of tools that I could use for any of the things I need to do day-to-day to run my business. As of right now, I’m not looking to replace anything or improve what I have for the time being.

Can you use this list and get up and running? No. But maybe it can be a barometer or a thing someone uses that you can reference when it comes time for you to make some decisions about your own business. Maybe you write your own article on this and link it back here. That would be pretty groovy.

Let me know what you all use, I’d love to know.

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