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 your company time and money or reduce errors and create new opportunities.
Making the world a better place one pixel at a time is a task that we were called to do. We have been lucky enough in our 10+ year history to touch the lives of so many through the websites we design, the graphics we create, and the marketing we implement. We’ve helped thousands of clients reach millions of new customers. Part of why we’ve been able to do this is by constantly testing and implementing new software automation tools.
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. Larger agencies tend to like Wrike and Asana.
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.
PandaDoc: 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 definitely at a higher pricepoint than competitors, but it’s because it brings the beef.
fattmerchant: We used Quickbooks Merchant services for a while until we realized the fees were absolutely untenable. Fattmerchant is a subscription-based at cost merchant service that saved us 5 figures in fees in the first year alone. And they have a killer tech platform that brings a big value-add, check them out! Full disclosure: they’re a client of ours and local in Orlando too.
Viewpost: Paying vendors can be a pain. Viewpost made it painless. We can’t recommend them enough. And they’re local too, big bonus!
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.
Google Apps: as a Certified Google Partner, we are obviously fans of simple products that do complicated things. Google Apps for Business does it better than anyone else.
Prezi: we like to jazz up our presentations a bit and Prezi is simply more fun to use than the standard Powerpoint and Keynote workhorses.
Slack: there’s always a battle in the office over this one. Our CEO really likes Google Chat, but the dev team fought for and won the use of Slack as our de facto team chat. Now Facebook is getting in on the action with Workplace, we might look at that someday after we’ve seen the last giphy.
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 in to a 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.
Shutterstock: Not all clients can afford to do photo shoots for their marketing assets. If we’re not designing something totally custom, but finding photos that can be placed on a website or a flyer, it’s hard to beat www.shutterstock.com and www.istockphoto.com for the price. Anyone who uses it knows it has pretty much something for every almost business. We say “almost” because we couldn’t find stock photos for one of our client’s businesses that involved sock puppets fighting insects.
Coffee: lots of it. Seriously.
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.
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: We’re one of the top Shopify developers in Orlando and it’s because we were an early adopter. While we love control of development as much as anyone (which is why we eyeball Woocommerce and Magento from time to time), 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.
Flywheel: a relative newcomer to the playfield, this is a typical recommendation we make to small businesses or freelancers when they want to dip their toes in hosting for clients. Low cost, WordPress optimized, and staging servers oh my.
Pantheon: we love the hosting at Pantheon. They currently host a significant percentage of our client websites. It’s fast and developer friendly and they just get us. They focus on badass Drupal and WordPress hosting.
WP Engine: These guys are amazeballs at hosting WordPress. If you need muscle for your WP site, you can’t go wrong here.
Kalabox: One click local development for Drupal and WordPress.
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,” said Sadiq Diamond Lakhani. It does save us a tremendous amount of time rather than going to dozens of different places to find what we need to find.
Buffer: we use this when managing social media from our phones. You can build your own feeds of curated blogs to help build your own curated feed of social media ideas. And with a click or two you can share other people’s content across your entire social spectrum.
Google Analytics: this is a baseline install on every website we build. Traffic data begins here.
Wordstream: this is our workhorse software behind the scenes to help us plan strategy and track intelligence for our many client Adwords accounts. Wordstream makes money off us making money off our clients making money for Google in turn making a lot more money for our clients. $.
Yoast: want to DIY with SEO on your website or for clients? Yoast is the gold standard in the WordPress ecosystem.
Ispionage: SEO and PPC are things we do well, and 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.