As the Project Manager, I have a lot of roles to fill here at Blue Fish. I’m responsible for tasks like, but not limited to, the following:
Updating clients with the status and progress of their project. (This can also include sending files to clients to review and approve.)
Working with our team to plan out and adjust timelines for our proposed and active projects based on each project’s progress.
Invoicing clients for completed work or recurring retainer work.
Ensuring we are utilizing our employees efficiently by reviewing time spent on tasks versus our estimates.
Confirming billable work is tracked and billed correctly.
Working with our accountant to ensure all billing is reported accurately.
Fielding requests from clients and assigning a priority, then ultimately an employee to handle those requests.
Creating quotes for clients. Accepting approvals of quotes.
Converting those approved quotes to active projects or retainers (and invoicing for that work).
When I started here at Blue Fish, we were using pieces of multiple softwares to handle different aspects of running the agency. Communication to and from clients can come from emails, texts, phone calls and even Facebook messages. Project and Task management had an app (and it is a great app for tracking tasks) called TeamWork. Tracking time happened via a Harvest plugin for TeamWork. This setup, at the time, didn’t allow us to utilize the native time tracking feature which prevented accurate internal reporting of time spent versus estimated time. Invoicing had its own service/app, Harvest, that allowed our accountant to have access to login and update our account in her software. Again, it’s a great app that many use, just another software to deal with. When a new request came in from a client, it might have been sent to any one of our staff and that left an opening for a delay in the response time if it wasn’t sent to the best person for the job. Quotes were being handled by the Big Fish himself, either through email, Harvest, or a custom internal web app we created that also creates a contract with a Master Services Agreement. When an approval for a quote would come back, it was usually in email form and came back to Marcus who would then forward to me and I would create a new project in TeamWork, a new retainer in Harvest, or both depending on the contract. Not to mention the CRM we were using called Base to track clients and leads. You see the problem yet?
If you’ve been following along, we were using phone calls, emails, text, and Facebook to relay information to our clients and leads while trying to track all the details in Harvest, Base, TeamWork, email, and the accounting software. None of which paired together to make finding everything easy to do.
This is where we took a giant leap and adopted a new agency management software called Accelo. (insert heavenly noises!!) They advertise their service as a one-stop shop for all aspects of running an agency. We’ve been using their service for around 3 months now and I’ve got to admit I’m impressed. I’m not going to say it’s a perfect system because in reality, I’m not sure there will be a perfect setup that is perfect for every agency using any number of project management styles. But it is FLEXIBLE. You can customize it until your heart’s content and our entire workflow is now in a single place.
Through Accelo, we can add a contact as a lead, create a sale with a cost estimate and probability of the sale being won, create a quote based on that sale if requested, approve the quote, convert the quote into a retainer/project, invoice the client, and track time for the work performed all within Accelo. If Accelo doesn’t have a “Module” to replace a previous app/service we were using, it integrates into that service (based on our previous apps/services).
For instance, Accelo doesn’t handle email natively, but it can ingest all email traffic (inbound and outbound) and associate it with the contact and his/her company (if they have been added to Accelo). If you’re using G Suite like we are, they have a very handy option for the admin to setup everyone’s email automatically. In fact, the system will import all historical emails so we can reference emails sent to a contact years in the past before we were even using Accelo. As the project manager, this has been handy since all emails (unless restricted by the employee via Accelo’s settings) are displayed under the contact/company no matter who sent them or to whom they were sent. If one of our employee’s receives an email from a client, and needs assistance with answering, they don’t have to forward that message. I can open the contact/company in Accelo and reply directly to the email thread.
Other modules within Accelo are more straight-forward replacements. Take the Projects module for instance. This is very similar to TeamWork in that we can create a project, budget time and assign employees to goals/milestones/tasks and then plan those out into the future.
We’ve gained a new, and very useful, module that we didn’t have previously called Tickets. Now, we can accept inbound support requests from clients and create a ticket that can be assigned to an employee to resolve. If the issue being handled is larger in scope and requires multiple people, we can assign multiple tasks within the ticket; all of which have time budgeted and tracked and can be set as billable to the client.
One of the biggest reasons we switched wasn’t just to bring all our services under one roof, it was to track and analyze that data to be a better agency. With our projects, tickets, and retainers now being tracked all in one place, we can use the “Dashboard” portion of Accelo to show how busy we are as a staff on a day-to-day or week-to-week basis.
On top of all of this, we’re enjoying seeing our clients benefit from increased productivity and better, advanced access to a support portal. This portal allows them to review any work we are working on for them (all projects, retainers, tickets) and allows them to send in “Requests” which are available for our entire staff to review and take action on. No more waiting for an employee to forward an email that had a request from the client. We can even send them files for review and have them sign-off on them right there in the portal.
Here at Blue Fish, we want to ensure we are providing the best end product and service possible, and Accelo is helping us do that. Check them out, and if you decide to take a test drive with them, tell Lanie we sent you!