Every business has a list of go-to tools that they would struggle to live without - and we are no different here at Convert Agency. But it’s incredibly easy to get too comfortable and wind up in a platform-related rut that does nothing to improve business efficiency.
15 March 2016 | Sophie Ferris
(Note: all pricing is accurate at the time and date of publish, but may be subject to change).
1: Tools for Executing & Measuring Email Campaigns
Before we invested in Hubspot’s CMS, we were weekly users of Campaign Monitor: an excellent platform that creates, sends and reports on your agency’s email campaigns. The easy-to-use platform has an infinite number of layouts, simple to build templates, personalisation features that sends targeted content to your database and A/B test options. The point-and-click editor doesn’t require any HTML knowledge which is a distinct benefit for non-designers.
Campaign Monitor was an incredibly intuitive and user-friendly platform for us when executing our weekly newsletters. Each campaign’s report was easy to interpret and very detailed: the number of unique opens, number of bounces, number of ‘not opened’ emails, % of users who clicked a link, % of users who unsubscribed and number of shares on social media. And the ‘report overview’ allows you to easily compare your email’s performance with other recently sent campaigns. Overall, a great platform to kickstart your email marketing efforts.
There is no free version of Campaign Monitor, but their basic plan start at $9 (£6.50) per month, or you can choose to pay per campaign.
As useful as Campaign Monitor was, we were looking for some more in-depth insights and for a way to house all of our marketing efforts under one roof; this included managing our social media publishing, email marketing, blogging, CRM etc. Extensive research pointed us in the direction of Hubspot as the appropriate platform in which to do this.
Hubspot’s sophisticated email features are on a par with Campaign Monitor but provide a more detailed insight into user-behaviour: opens by device type (e.g. desktop or mobile), a detailed click-map and clicks by browser (e.g. Chrome, Mozilla, Firefox etc.), A/B testing and much more.
Hubspot’s price tag is also its biggest barrier - its cheapest ‘Basic’ plan is £140 per month, plus an initial £420 ‘onboarding’ (training) fee. For that you will get access to the complete cutting-edge software offering an all-in-one marketing automation solution, but the initial outlay and ongoing costs may mean it’s not suitable for everyone. Hubspot only comes as a complete package (so you can’t buy JUST the email functionality), but they do offer the option of a free trial.
Sidekick by Hubspot is a great extension that provides a deeper insight into your customer’s behaviour. With Sidekick, you will receive notifications when someone has opened an email you’ve sent, how many times they’ve clicked on the email, when they are on a page on your website, and links to their social media profiles and recent activity.
You don’t need to be a Hubspot customer to use Sidekick, there is a It’s also pretty great for seeing if your colleagues are ignoring an email of yours…they said. Well, with this tool, you will have the means to safely call bullsh*t.
We’ve found it invaluable, especially for our business development efforts.
In short - it’s a nifty little tool that provides insights straight into your inbox through push notifications and a side panel in your browser and integrates with both Gmail and Outlook (Windows only).
You don’t need to be a Hubspot customer to use Sidekick, there is a (limited) free version that’s available to everybody.
2: Tools for Team Communication
Oh Slack, how we love you. This platform is up there with our all-time favourites. Forget the repetitive and inbox-clogging back and forth emails between colleagues: Slack makes in-house emails irrelevant with its instant messaging platform and makes the dreaded 'reply-all' threads obsolete. It’s like Whatsapp, but better. And it’s on your computer.
Slack allows you to create multiple channels specifically for each account you may be working on, and you can hand-select which colleagues are added to each channel. Of course there are private messaging options too if you ever need to quickly rant about your boss (which we would never encourage, but hey - we're only human).
Slack also offers a sophisticated search function, file sharing and custom integrations - for instance we have a channel that is linked with our development repository (GitHub) and all development pushes are recorded here.
With a lot of our colleagues in and out of the office, we’ve really found that it makes day-to-day communications within the team so much more efficient. Also you’ll find out just how funny your colleagues can be when they are unleashed with GIFs…
Not convinced? Well, apparently the app is so adored, that “some companies have begun mentioning it as an employment perk alongside on-site massages and bottomless bacon-tray Fridays in their job listings," according to a recent write-up in Wired.
(image source: Slack)
Slack offers a free and three paid-for versions. We have actually recently upgraded to the (paid) Standard version ourselves, but used the free version happily for years previously.
One word of caution (and why we eventually made the decision to upgrade): if you are using the free version of Slack, there are limits to how much storage you get. We would not recommend the tool for sharing any large files, as you will soon find yourself having to go through and delete them. And if you have a big team, you will find old messages are quickly unavailable as storage space is used up. Perhaps understandably, Slack doesn’t make this storage management or deletion particularly easy, as they are obviously keen for users to upgrade to their paid version.
Skype may seem like an obvious one, but it is honestly an agency’s lifesaver when conversing with clients and partners regarding on-going projects. Unlike Slack (which can only be used internally), Skype allows you to add contacts outside your company and also offers the additional benefit of audio and video calls, as well as screen-sharing.
So why not use Skype instead of Slack? Well, we’ve found that both systems offer unique benefits that the other doesn’t. Skype’s search functionality is nowhere near as good as Slack’s, and it offers much less in the way of rich messaging, and no custom integrations.
But when it comes to client management, Skype is the fastest way to update your clients and collaborate with your partners. Period.
Skype is free. The only charges are those related to making calls to landline and mobile.
3: Tools for Design & Video
Obviously Photoshop is at the top of our list. Used for more than just making faces less spotty and bodies less round (yes, we know your secrets), Photoshop is an incredible platform that allows you to create pixel perfect design gold, website mock-ups, 3D artwork etc. The possibilities are endless, though it’s worth noting that it’s not really suitable for formatting (large) bits of text - this is where InDesign shines, see our next tool.
Listen to your designers, Photoshop is an absolute essential.
As a one-off business purchase, you can buy a Photoshop license for £14.29 a month. However, if you are planning to use any other Adobe products in conjunction with Photoshop (see below), it’s probably worth considering shelling out for the entire Adobe collection, as it gives you access to all their 20+ apps for a much more cost-effective fee of £38.11.
The brother of Photoshop, InDesign, is just as useful but has a central purpose of designing publishing content. The platform lets you work on desktop and mobile devices to publish brochures, digital magazines, iPad apps, printed books, eBooks (just like the one you’re reading now…) amongst many other things.
However, a common concern with InDesign is that it can be quite slow and clunky to use - it’s not as intuitive as Photoshop.
Adobe Illustrator is the most intricate platform out of the entire Adobe family. Made for designers with great attention to detail, Illustrator is perfect for creating complex vector illustrations, typography, logos, icons and sketches as quickly and as easily as possible.
If you’re in the process of creating an app or designing a website, InVision is the most useful platform you could invest in. You can easily upload your designs, add transitions and transform your wireframes into interactive prototypes, which makes it incredibly useful for showing clients or prospects initial designs and getting feedback through the commenting functionality.
Customisable hotspots link together your design files to create a realistic map of your future customers’ journey, helping your understand where improvements need to be made to the user’s experience.
InVision offers both a free and a pro version which largely offer the same features - the free version only allows you to create one project at a time however.
Need the perfect tool to present your beautiful designs but absolutely detest PowerPoint? Look no further. Keynote is the perfect platform to create incredible presentations where you can easily drop in your designs, videos, mock-ups etc. If you’re feeling particularly fancy, feel free to use the platforms’ accessories to create cinema-quality transitions… Your boss will be making ‘ooohhhhh’ and ‘ahhhhhh’ sounds with every slide-change.
Keynote for Mac is automatically installed on any iOS devices or Macs that date from late 2013 onwards. For older products, you will have to purchase Keynote for £14.99.
4: Tools for Social Publishing and Reporting
Ah Hootsuite. Another platform that unceremoniously got the boot once we moved to Hubspot. Up until then, this tool was our main social media publishing platform that allowed us to post (simultaneously) on Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn weeks in advance.
It’s actually a great tool that lets you easily measure the reception of your social media posts as well as monitoring the posts of your followers.
Even better, Hootsuite offers Social Listening channels that enables you to monitor relevant tweets that mention certain hashtags, words or phrases.
It also supports and integrates with 100+ other networks and apps that you might already be using (such as MailChimp, Marketo, Gmail and Google Drive - to name but a few) which really maximises efficiency.
If we hadn’t moved to Hubspot (which has its own integrated social media functionality- see Hubspot Social Publishing), we would still be very happily using Hootsuite.
Hootsuite offers a free plan for individuals which allows integration of up to three social media profiles and basic reporting. Paid plans start at £6.99 per month, on an annual plan. However, it can start to add up if you want more bespoke reports and features.
Hubspot’s social publishing tool really is the dream. Not only does it offer the same features as Hootsuite, but its intuitive design is incredibly easy to follow for even the most tech-unsavvy user.
The platform allows you to edit images before you attach them, organise your social media messages into campaigns so you can easily track your efforts, tells you how many posts you have published in comparison to previous months, how many clicks and interactions each post has, how many visits your site has had through social and even tells you who your most influential followers are.
With Hubspot, you never actually have to venture onto each social media platform itself. You can follow people back, favourite tweets, delete social media messages etc. straight from the social publishing hub. The reporting is incredibly comprehensive, and as it’s all part of the integrated solution, allows you to see the effect of your social media efforts in the context of your other activity (blogging, emails etc).
Of course Hubspot allows us to measure the ins and outs of our Twitter activity, but Twitter Analytics treats us to a few additional insights that we could not live without. The tool reports how many monthly visits your Twitter profile has had, tweet impressions and some pretty great insights into your audience’s behaviour including their top interests, demographics, lifestyle and even their consumer behaviour.
Twitter Analytics is free.
Fanpage Karma is a great tool that provides a detailed analysis of your Facebook Page in comparison with a competitor.
Though Hubspot does offer excellent competitor monitoring and a Website Grader, it doesn’t have specific social media competitor analysis, so this is where Fanpage Karma comes in. You begin by entering your Facebook name and your competitor and voila, free insights will appear in front of you. These insights compare page performance scores, number of fans, average weekly growth, engagement, total likes, comments, shares etc.
Fanpage Karma is free.
5: Tools for Project Management & Task Productivity
WeekDone is a useful task-based platform that keeps you in the loop with your team’s weekly to-do’s and progress. Each employee is required to implement a list of plans for the work-week which can be manually moved to a ‘progress’ list upon completion. The employee also has the opportunity to record any problems, that may have interfered with their work and can score their overall work-week out of 5. You can also assign tasks or to-do’s to colleagues.
These reports are then forwarded on to your team’s leader for a review where they can offer valuable feedback. The clever use of hashtags groups to-do’s together, giving a comprehensive overview of how many tasks are associated with any topic or project.
It’s an excellent platform for both leaders and their staff as it encourages productivity and organisation within the team but also helps the team leader identify which member may be under-performing… Week Done really will help you weed out the weak.
There is a free version (for up to three users), and three paid-for options.
GitHub is one of the largest code hosts available that tracks any code- changes your team has made. It’s features are pretty extensive and absolute life-savers. It offers a flexible issue tracker to keep you on top of your bugs, collaborative code reviews, an auto-completer that adds text entry, syntax highlighted code and rendered data. Did we also mention that it’s available on mobile so you can track your progress on the go? Well, it is.
GitHub is free to use for public projects. There are paid options for collaboration on private repositories.
So, how many of you are plagued with the curse of constantly forgetting passwords? It’s a horrible cycle. You go to login to one of your favourite platforms, type in your password, then BAM: Um, yes! But wait, what’s the password for your Gmail account again…?
To those password amnesiacs who experience this soul-destroying cycle on a daily basis, do your heart a favour and invest in Lastpass, a secure tool that remembers your passwords for you and offers top-notch security to go with it. One of its main Enterprise features is a shared passwords functionality - particularly handy if someone is out of the office and you need access to something urgently.
The only tricky part is remembering your master Lastpass login, but if you can overcome this obstacle, you'll be well on your way.
For individuals, LastPass offers a free version. For businesses, there are two paid options. To access the shared folders option, you will need to purchase the Enterprise license, which starts at $24 per user per year (for companies with 1-100 employees).
Basecamp is a tool that’s very popular in our office when it comes to project management. Created by designers for designers, the platform has simple functionality, to-do lists, file sharing and a messaging system to make sure your project is on track. The messaging system can be set up to integrate with your email, and you can specify which members of the team and/or clients’ team gets notified with each message.
The platform can be used for internal projects, as well as with clients, where you can specify exactly what is and isn’t shared with them.
It is a great place to document meeting conversations of who said what to prevent any future disagreements or misunderstandings when handling tasks. Definitely worth a go!
Individual users can sign up to Basecamp for free. For businesses, Basecamp is $29 a month for internal teams or $79 a month if you use Basecamp with clients.
Note for clarity: We are still using the ‘old’ version, Basecamp 2, which is no longer available for new customers. According to Basecamp, the new version (Basecamp 3) offers “a new interface, enhanced integrated chat, instant messaging, all-new reporting, automatic check-ins, @mentions, desktop/push notifications, the Clientside, and brand new iOS and Android apps.”
One of our personal favourites, Trello brings a sense of physicality to project management and draws rave reviews from those who love the card functionality.
Each task is set up as a virtual “card” that can be dragged and dropped between different columns, which can be created and arranged as appropriate. Clicking into a card lets you assign tasks, create check lists, set calendar reminders, as well as add comments and files.
In Trello’s own words: “it’s a list of lists, filled with cards, used by you and your team.”
It looks good and it’s incredibly easy to use - what’s not to love?
Trello offers a very comprehensive free version, which we personally have never needed to upgrade from. However, the two paid versions do offer more features, app integrations and additional security features.
6: Tools for Analytics
Google Analytics is the ultimate platform to track and report your website traffic. Its features are pretty much endless but here’s a little taster: Google Analytics documents each page's’ number of views in any given time period, number of sessions, average session duration time, bounce rates, acquisition, behaviour and whether the user visited your website on desktop or mobile. Pretty clever right? If you’re a Google Analytics virgin, check out this article that will thoroughly walk you through the basics of the platform. If you’re a pro, then it’s time to familiarise yourself with these articles that will show you how Google Analytics can measure your SEO and conversion.
Google Analytics is free.
Ever been curious about how your SEO ranking compares to your competitors? Don’t lie, we know you are. To really understand your positioning in comparison to your competitors, SpyFu really is the ultimate tool. The platform identifies keywords that competitors are using (paid or organic) so you can tap into your competitors’ strategies and outrank them on Google. It is also a useful tool for working out what valuable keywords you may be missing from your strategy. It’s a little sneaky but we all have to get our hands dirty at some point. Right?
There is a basic free version of Spyfu, but paid-for subscriptions offer many more features.
So, there you have it, folks. A full comprehensive guide to some of the best and most essential tools that will keep your team organised, motivated (and maybe even a little scared). This is our full list of tools that we use here at Nerv so you should feel a tiny bit special that we shared such intimate information with you.
If you have any questions about how these tools work, how to use these platforms to the best of your advantage or you just want a natter, be sure to get in touch. We are more than happy to answer any questions you have!
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