Over the last three years, we’ve experimented with many tools and have settled on the ones that work the best for us. We evaluate our process and how we do things a few times a year and although we’re always open to new apps, tools, and services that can improve our business – we’re wary of them too.
No tool is a silver bullet; subscribing to a new service or downloading a new app will not magically fix your problems. It takes time to integrate tools into your process and train yourself and your team to use them in day to day work. Here are the ones that we use constantly – they are so seamlessly integrated into our daily process that we don’t even notice how many there are!It takes time to integrate tools into your process. Click To Tweet
Email, documents, shared folders, hangouts, collaborative work – all of that gets taken care of for less than $10/month with G-Suite. We all know Google Apps and we all love them. We pay for a professional domain and extra space in Google Drive, and it’s worth every penny and more.
This is our primary communication tool. We love separating our conversation into channels (at any given moment we may be carrying two concurrent conversations in different channels!) and the app integrates with literally any other service you use (and if it doesn’t..Zapier to the rescue! More on that below). You can do calls within the app (although we still forget about that sometimes, hah!) and it’s super duper fast to share images, links, pdfs, etc. We love Slack.
When we can’t find an integration for Slack natively, Zapier almost always comes to the rescue. We use it to connect our social media accounts (among other things) to Slack so all updates, mentions, and messages get channelled into a dedicated channel where we can review them.
Pro tip: It also lets us stay on the free plan on Slack because we can connect multiple services via Zapier instead of as individual integrations natively via Slack!
We find that the best video and audio quality we get is with Skype. We use it to talk to each other – some days we’re on Skype for hours, and we also use it with a handful of clients who prefer it (for a myriad reasons) over our default client communication app (more on that below). The most important part of Skype is the pop-out video! It’s what keeps us committed to Skype. You can look at things and do your work and still have the other person in the corner of your screen.
We already mentioned G-Suite, but Google Hangouts deserves a spotlight of its own. This is our primary real-time client communication tool. We have a handy dandy shortcut link to our meeting room that all of our clients usually have memorized by the second meeting (more on how we set that up below), it’s accessible from any browser, and works in bad internet connection situations as well. It’s also really easy to teach clients how to share their screen in Google Hangouts and use the chat box for anything we need.
Speaking of client meetings, how do we schedule those? There’s a ton of scheduling apps out there – believe me, we tried quite a few – but the best one for us has been Calendly. It’s attractive with minimal branding, super easy to use, lets you ask pre-meeting questions, sends automatic meeting reminders, lets our clients schedule meetings, reschedule meetings, or even cancel meetings without any involvement from us, AND it integrates with Google Calendar.
We have dedicated meeting days and we prefer a buffer of 30 minutes between each meeting (back to back meetings are draining and don’t allow us to give our 100% to each client), Calendly handles that with a breeze. It cross-checks as many other calendars as we want it to, making sure there are no conflicts, and the backend is so easy to use.
We know a lot of people have gripes about the Creative Suite turning into a monthly subscription service, so ours is an unpopular opinion. We love the monthly subscription. The updates are frequent, the constant new changes are welcome, and it’s a suite of apps that keeps on giving.
When we transitioned from using Photoshop to Illustrator for design, we already had it and it was the latest update. We never have to copy paste colour codes because Creative Cloud libraries are accessible in each app (we create one for every project and client we have).
We use Adobe Sign to set up and sign all contracts with our clients – we used to use HelloSign but then Adobe Sign’s web app got a fantastic update and allows us to set up contracts in a heartbeat, and it was already included in our subscription.
When we decided to create little animating videos for one of our clients, we already had access to Adobe Premiere. Optimizing videos for different platforms is a breeze with Media Encoder – the sizes are usually up to date and we never have to worry!
The version of Typekit that comes bundled with Creative Cloud is perfect for us – we use it to serve fonts on this very website.
We promise this spiel is not sponsored in ANY WAY by Creative Cloud. We’re just huge fans.
Up until last year, all our accounting was done in a complex set of Google Sheets that we had created over time.
Until the complex set of Google Sheets turned into an energy drain that was time consuming to keep updated and made it difficult to assess the financial health of our business. Did we or did we not have enough money to buy better hosting?
Quickbooks certainly has a learning curve – especially since we aren’t accountants by any means. It took us about a week or two fiddling with it to figure out how everything works and how to do everything we needed to.
We use Quickbooks Essential – subscribed during one of their many discount periods, and we love it. If we need to see a big picture, we can run a report in a second. Recording expenses only takes a couple minutes. We’ll be saving money come tax time because Quickbooks takes Exchange & Losses into account every time we invoice a client in USD – something we never did before because it was just too annoying to do (and in the beginning we didn’t even know about it!). GST records are handled automatically and paying ourselves is easy peasy.
It even let us create recurring bills for monthly expenses! One more thing we don’t have to worry about.
We invoice our clients in both USD and CAD, and this is something Quickbooks does not handle well. There were ugly workarounds for it that we weren’t interested in, so we use Invoice Ninja instead. It allows us to charge in whatever currency we want, it connects to Stripe (more below), it has an automatic client portal where they can see all their transactions with us, and it’s minimally branded.
Is it a bit of a hassle creating an invoice in Invoice Ninja AND in Quickbooks? Yes, but it’s far easier and simpler to do this than the alternative for us.
90% of our clients pay us using credit cards. It’s easy for them and it’s easy for us. Yes, Stripe charges a transaction fee, here’s how we look at that:
It’s the cost of doing business, dude.
When a client pays us $5000, roughly $145 of that goes to Stripe. Why would we complain about ONE HUNDRED when we’re getting paid FIVE THOUSAND, instantly and in a stress-free environment?
Enough headaches early on in our business taught us an important lesson: penny pinching gets you nowhere.
We track our time so we know how well we’re optimizing our schedules – it also helps us set prices when we know how much time we spend doing something. There are lots of apps out there, but Toggl is simple to use with team sharing that works perfectly.
Flywheel is one our favourite WordPress hosting providers. They’re optimized for WordPress and the attention to detail in service, design, and admin management is awesome. As soon as we were able to afford it, we jumped ship from our old host to Flywheel. We recommend them to EVERYONE who needs hosting for a WordPress website – they are baller.
Siteground is another fantastic host for every type of website including WordPress. We use them for temporary client staging sites and we recommend them to our smaller budget clients. They offer stellar service and budget-friendly prices.
Local By Flywheel
I’ve gone through a number of local development environments. MAMP, Vagrant, Desktop Server – the list is a bit long. Then I landed on Local by Flywheel (formerly Pressmatic) and I fell in love. It has everything I need. I can have as many installations of WordPress as I need, I can manage the stack for each installation separately and even change between PHP versions on the fly. I can tunnel my local installation with a temporary online link so I can share the website with someone else on the Internet. It comes with a mail logger attached so I can test emails that WordPress sends out. I can pre-setup the login credentials for the installations so I never have to worry about creating the first account and I can create installations from a Blueprint with all my important plugins and settings all ready to go. Love, love, love.
We have quite the history with Todoist. When we first started out, we tested over 10 different project management tools out there. None were right. None had all the things we needed them to have – we didn’t even have that many requirements. Asana came close but it was..not very good looking at the time. Then we found Todoist; designed well, affordable, and had everything we needed. Back then we sort of jumped the gun, we didn’t actually NEED a tool like that yet; simply didn’t have enough business.
Then last year in December, we found ourselves sinking without a project management tool. So Todoist came back. We don’t have a process nailed down yet for Todoist but I’m pretty sure it’s going to stay with us.
Pretty Link Lite
Those handy dandy shortcuts I keep talking about? They are like bit.ly links except using our own domain name, and we use a WordPress plugin called Pretty Link Lite to do it! We do tons of shortcut links, each client gets one that they can use to access their most current invoice, they also get one to access their shared Google Drive folder with us, and they sometimes get one for their development site when we reach that stage. We use it all the time and we love it!
Is this all the tools we use? Part of me is surprised the list is so long and another part of me is sure I’m forgetting something. This list is probably not comprehensive, but it does highlight the most important tools we use day in and day out to keep our business running smoothly.
What tools do you use in your work? Share them with us on Facebook or Twitter. We’d love to hear them!
P.S. We’ve got exciting news coming super duper soon. Sign up below to hear about it first! (You’re really not going to wanna miss this.)
P.P.S: Turns out we WERE forgetting a number of things, so here’s list of special mentions.
Coffee (because duh), GluePrint, ImageOptim, Transmit, Alfred 3, Tomato One, Writed, Frank De Loupe, Littleipsum, Awesome Ipsum, iTerm, and a bunch of development related tools which I won’t list out here. Those deserve a post of their own!