Tools of the Trade

by Glenn Roberts.

There are some great apps out there to solve the problems of running a business. Here are some of the tools we like to use to make running Siyelo a little easier.

Full Disclosure: some of the links below include our referrer code. Clicking them costs you nothing extra. In in the event you sign up for one of the services, we'll benefit by getting a month free or something like that. It's not like we'll be getting free trips to Vegas, but we might save a few bucks on an existing subscription. With the money we save, we can invest in internal projects. Like that cure for Stuart's Carpal Tunnel. Or Nic's next crowd-sourced tattoo. Or Glenn's quest to make Vegemite even tastier.

Sales

We use a simple form to track inbound leads on our Sinatra-powered website. This sends us an email notification with the details.

When contacting and following up on leads, we like to use Boomerang For Gmail. It reminds us to engage leads and follow up on our promises.

All our leads go into Pipedrive for sales tracking and planning. It's Kanban-style way of looking at the sales process resonates with us.

Marketing

We use a Ghost as our blogging platform. Its still in beta, but we already prefer it to our old Octopress, which deserves an honourable mention. Ghost is arlready a pleasure to use, and has some great features on the horizon.

We use Trello as a lightweight way of managing the authoring process, from Ideas -> Next Up -> Draft -> In Review -> Published.

For social media, we use TweetDeck. BufferApp is our next move as we start to integrate our marketing across different social media platforms.

Client Contracts

We use DocuSign for 95% of our client contracts. It's templating feature is particularly good for our Master Services Agreement. Our individual Statements Of Work are quite customized, so we still need to upload and tag those each time. Still, it's great for managing signatures, expiry dates and past agreements.

For the other 5%, we use a Fujitsu ScanSnap ix500 to scan signed agreements. These get OCR'd and saved straight into Dropbox. Great for searching.

Scheduling

Ah, the bane of every consulting company's existence: so-called "resource" allocation.

We use Elabs' ProjectPuzzle to track our utilization across projects. It focuses us on the macro level i.e. weekly (or daily) scheduling. A spreadsheet used to suffice here.

Several tools we evaluated tend to be more granular (i.e. hourly). We've learnt the hard way that increased granularity means increased overhead. That's why we now do weekly scheduling + billing.

Client Projects

For managing client project backlogs, we use PivotalTracker. We've been a loyal customer of them for some years now. It fits our window of development from "Ready For Development" to "Done".

Trello, or a simple kanban board works well for managing the flow of ideas & features outside development e.g. Design, Engineering Improvements/Technical Debt.

For day-to-day communication, we have a project-specific chatroom in Flowdock or Slack. We ask our clients to interact with the team there (rather than a 1-1 Skype chat).

Time Tracking & Invoicing

Harvest has been great for us for many years. It was particularly useful when we did hourly billing.

Nowadays since we do weekly billing, Harvest is slightly less useful, but we use it daily. It does help us track sick/annual/family responsibility leave, and of course, do our invoicing.

Team Communication

We mostly work remotely and sometimes asynchronously. We've had to be both creative and selective about the tools we use to communicate.

FlowDock has been a favourite of our team for a while. We are trying Slack, and will likely switch over once they add threaded conversations.

Sqwiggle was an interesting experiment, and useful for getting hold of people. Yet we voted to stop using it. At the time we felt it might work against our efforts to work & communicate more asynchronously.

We've tried iDoneThis with some success, and will continue evaluating it. RollCall is also an option we are evaluating. Both tools encourage asynchronicity and over-communication in the team (both good things!).

For informal/quick calls and/or sharing screens, particularly within our team we use ScreenHero. ScreenHero has trumped Skype, Google Hangouts and TeamViewer combined.

ScreenHero is not only great for sharing screens but has become our main method for remote pairing. It's one of the few tools that have allowed be productive in this fashion.

Google Hangouts remains our choice for scheduled/formal group video-conferencing and screen-sharing, particularly with clients.

Internal Projects

Our Trello board "The Corporate Juggernaut" is describes our various internal projects. We have Kanban-y columns like Ideas, Ready for Vote, Agreed & Up Next, Doing, Ready For Review, Done.

Hiring

We use a Gmail account with simple filters to move job applications through our pre-defined pipeline. This method has worked with previous volumes and differing role types, but it is quite manual.

The Rest

We produce most of documents using online services. We use Google Apps for email, calendaring, documents and (simple) spreadsheets. We fall back to Excel for more complex or data-intensive modelling.

Dropbox for documents. But BTSync looking better with each new Board Member that Dropbox hires.