Resources, Management, and Getting the Job Done.

We’ve been doing this a long time now, and have used a lot of different tools. Below are some of our favorites in order of how they are used. Marketing first, to bring in sales, then management and design, next is hosting, money management, and finally all the other tools we use all the time that fall into multiple areas. So you know, some of these are affiliate links. If you sign up with the affiliate links, we get a little percentage of your purchase. So if you’re looking for these tools and want to help us out, sign up here. The cost is the same to you one way or the other, and we definitely appreciate the boost. Cheers!

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Marketing





Leadpages

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We started using Leadpages on BrainLeaf to do a little bit of A/B testing, and I was really surprised at how easy it was to use. As expected, they do a great job of trying to upsell you on everything, but they are also pretty good about informing you about the tools that could make your projects work better. The system is generally focused on helping you get people to give you their email addresses so you can continue to nurture that list. One of the coolest tools that we started using is a leadbox system that pops up after the user has been on the site for 45 seconds or more and then moves their mouse up to the top right of the page to try to close it. When they do this, a modal box pops up asking if they liked what they read and to get onto the email list. There is a lot more that this system does, but this is a good intro, and I definitely recommend it.
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Hootsuites

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As this point we manage SO MANY social media platforms. There was just no way to manage 10 different companies’ Facebook, Twitter, Google+, LinkedIn, etc. social media platforms well without a centralized system. At this point, I feel like we’ve got it pretty well under control with HootSuite. The only thing I have to warn you about is that the system management can be confusing, and there is definitely a learning curve. However, once you get it, and get your organization, teams, and platforms set up, it is pretty smooth. A couple of the things I really like here are:

  1. The Auto-Suggest feature that will automatically give you a bunch of recommended content to pick from to post, most of which has worked well for our followers on Twitter.
  2. The assignments and approvals processes. This allows you to give team members assignments and let them work on it while you do other things.
  3. Finally, of course the main focus of the system, I can manage everything from one place… so much faster and easier!
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Mailchimp

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What would we do without Freddy and his gang? If you don’t know, Freddy is MailChimp’s mascot and logo. I only found out his name was Freddy about two months ago from a friend who works there. We use Mailchimp pretty much every day for something. They have a super simple system to use, provide a free account if you’re sending less than 2000 emails per month, and overall do an amazing job of keeping it all together. Of course, there is also Mandrill, their emailing platform for developers. When you sign up for something and automatically get one of our emails, it’s probably coming from Mandrill. These guys are great, local, and always looking after people like you and I.
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Client & Project Management





Basecamp

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What would we do without Freddy and his gang? If you don’t know, Freddy is MailChimp’s mascot and logo. I only found out his name was Freddy about two months ago from a friend who works there. We use Mailchimp pretty much every day for something. They have a super simple system to use, provide a free account if you’re sending less than 2000 emails per month, and overall do an amazing job of keeping it all together. Of course, there is also Mandrill, their emailing platform for developers. When you sign up for something and automatically get one of our emails, it’s probably coming from Mandrill. These guys are great, local, and always looking after people like you and I.
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Harvest

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The first thing I’ll say about Harvest is that we pay these guys a lot of money. We pay them because they’ve done that thing that so many SaaS systems strive to do, become invaluable. Basically, this system has become a cornerstone of the management of multiple companies I manage. It is a super simple tool to use, but with powerful management and reporting; and all the time, they are adding more and better tools to their system. Just to be sure I say it, it is not expensive to get started with this tool, it just costs a lot when you have so many different people on several teams using the system. Harvest lets you and your team track time, send invoices, integrates with Quickbooks and Freshbooks, and overall is a fantastic tool.

On a secondary note, for those of you who are not tracking your time, you really should do this. I know it’s hard to get started, but remember that in the end, it is your time you are selling. If you were selling products that cost between $25 and $250 dollars you would want to make sure you knew where every item was and what you got for each one right? Well basically, you are. It’s just that those products are your hours. You need to know where every one is, who bought it, how much they paid for it, and how much profit you made for each one, every time. Right?
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Jira

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I think that Zach at Atlassian, the makers of JIRA, Confluence, Bitbucket, and several other amazing tools, have some weird love affair. He always wants to introduce everyone to it, get them started with it, and tries to make sure they keep using it, even if the people he is talking to don’t do anything close to what we do for a living! Overall they have turned him into a pretty huge brand ambassador. Personally, I think we should get paid for all the sales we do for that company. But there is a reason behind his devotion. JIRA keeps us organized and profitable, and that is what Zach is in charge of. JIRA helps us set up and manage our internal workflows, whether they are waterfall, agile, mixed, or something else all together. Because it integrates right into Bitbucket, we can see tickets, who worked on them, what they did, the changes in the code, and all of the communications about each item. We can also get some amazing reports, manage teams across the world. and integrated with a ton of different systems… maybe I should be called the brand ambassador? Anyway, it is a great tool, and we really couldn’t do without it at this point. There is a learning curve, but with anything that complicated, if there wasn’t a learning curve, something would probably be wrong.
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Confluence

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Everyday Confluence becomes more and more a part of my task list. We are using this now to manage so many things. In particular, we use it for it’s knowledge base and document management… which I suppose is exactly what it’s supposed to be used for. It is a highly modifiable system, and we store everything from our daily work duties all the way to our contracts in this system. It helps keep everyone informed all the time.
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Bitbucket

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Where would we be without a code repository? Probably lost. It took a while to get the whole team using a code repo years ago, but once we did, we never looked back. Or if we did, it was with disdain. BitBucket is great because it’s cheap and it integrates with our other Atlassian tools. As far as repo tools go, it is pretty snazzy. I really like some of the visual tools that GitHub has, but once you learn how to use the command line, even as a designer, I think it is easier. If you can’t live without your GUI though, you can also use SourceTree. I also have to throw in my standard disclaimer here too. If you’re not using a code repo, learn how to use one! This is really important. Not only will you be able to keep from making some terrible mistakes, manage your code better, work with other teams, and be able to more effectively test, you’ll also not look like a total amature if you share code with someone and tell them you don’t use a repo when they ask for your changelog.
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Wrike

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About 8 months ago we started using Wrike. It’s a mixture of a folder-based issue tracking system and a project management system. It’s kind of similar to JIRA with less functionality and integration, but easier to use. There is one team that we work with that likes this a lot more than JIRA. I really like the ease of use here and use this tool along with that team pretty much every day. I think the company is growing fast and taking on new users quickly, so sometimes if they’re not managing their servers well, the system will be a bit slow. But it’s a small price to pay for such a useful system. If you have a small team and are currently on Basecamp and want to move up the something a bit more powerful without jumping deep into the project management world, this is a great first step.
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Slack

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Go ahead and try out slack. It’s free, it’s super easy to use, and it works. Basically, it’s just a messaging system for work. It helps your team manage daily communication and files, and it integrates with tons of 3rd party systems. I know they’re doing great already, but this is definitely a winner. We use it all the time.
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Trello

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So I manage 5 different companies. To be fair, my team members do most of the work for me, but there is still a LOT to keep track of, and it changes all the time. If I didn’t have Trello, I would be so lost. I manage all of my lists here, hold people accountable with this system, and generally keep it all together with this. Trello is like one of those old pinboards where you would move items from one list to another and create a kind of workflow with that. For example, you might have lists called waiting, doing, and done, and with Trello, you can just move your list item from one list to the other as it goes down the line. Oh yeah, and Trello is totally free, cha-ching!
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Clarizen

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We used Clarizen a while ago, and when we were using it, it worked very well. It is a full on broad level project management tool. Before the recession my agency was a lot bigger and we needed something to keep us all going in a straight line. I liked working with the system, and they kept adding to it all the time. If you’re looking for a more traditional PM system and don’t like Wrike or JIRA, take a look here. Oh, it’s not cheap, but it is powerful.

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Roadmap

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Roadmap is a system that plugs into Basecamp and enables it to really become a much more effective project management tool. It does a good job of giving you project health, gantt charts, and reports. I particularly liked being able to see all my projects’ health indicators all in one place.
We don’t use Basecamp the way we once did, but if I was going to use it again for any kind of project management, I would definitely pay for Roadmap as well.
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Design & Development





Adobe

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If you don’t know why you need Adobe, you’re probably in the wrong place. I feel sometimes like these guys don’t get enough appreciation for what they do. Basically, they run the show. They build the most amazing software out there for everything design and they sell it for $70 per month. When was the last time you stopped to think about how freaking amazing that is? Come on, give some props to Adobe.
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Sublime Editor

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Sublime is fast, lightweight, easy on the eyes (literally), works really well, and is totally free! They are always asking that you pay them for the premium package, and if you use this like our guys do, you really should. They deserve it. I think this is probably the best, free code editor out there.
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PHP Designer

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Admittedly, I don’t use this system because I’m not a developer. However, when I asked my team what they recommended they told me that I couldn’t get away without recommending PHP Designer. It too is fast, effective, free, and it makes it really easy to see all your functions.
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Hosting





Digital Ocean

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About 45 minutes before writing this blog, Digital Ocean was taking forever to reboot a server. But what made that ok was how quickly they responded to my support ticket. You see, it normally takes about 45 seconds to reboot a server, but this one was at 7 minutes when I decided to send in a support ticket. The developer I was on the phone with actually told me “send them a ticket, they’re really quick at getting back to you”. In about 4 minutes they were working on it, and in another minute it was up and running. The big thing here is, it’s not like I’m paying these guys an arm and a leg. Yeah they’re getting a few of our bigger projects these days, but even still, they almost always take care of you super fast and really well. One important thing with this, you really do need to know what you’re doing when working with them, or be prepared to learn. This is a system developed by developers, for developers.

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Rackspace

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My main compliment of Rackspace is the same as Digital Ocean, they’re customer service is awesome. Now in contrast to Digital Ocean, we do pay Rackspace an arm and a leg, but we get our money’s worth. We have a full on team that is on call whenever we need there. We once called at 2am on Easter Sunday because we had a major crash, and they had a full team there to take care of everything. They are super knowledgeable, really good, and always nice and professional even when you are shaking scared. If you’ve got the cash and the needs, Rackspace is the place to go.
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Money Management





Quickbooks

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There are some pretty awesome accounting systems out there these days, and everyone is trying to keep up with Intuit. I’m not going to lie and say they are the best ever, but we’ve been with them for a long time and they’ve always come through. We use their web-based system for multiple different companies, and it works great. They are slowly opening up to more integrations. If you’re looking for a solid system for a bigger group, this is probably worth your time.
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Freshbooks

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If you’re one guy or a small team, or even a medium sized team, definitely look into Freshbooks. I love their approach, their narrative, and the fact that they cater to guys like us. Also, the guy who started the company wrote a great book on value based pricing which I highly recommend! This group also tries hard to integrate with as many tools as possible.
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Screenpresso

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I use screenpresso every time we’re doing debugging for BrainLeaf. It is great! I think it is the best screen grabbing, and screencasting tool out there. I used to use Jing, but when it runs in the background it seems to slow everything down a lot. Not a problem with ScreenPresso though. After using this tool every day for about 2 weeks and realizing I wasn’t going to be going back, I went ahead and bought the pro version, more than anything because I thought they deserved the money for all the hard work on such a great product that I was using all the time. Look out for a Youtube channel of Screenpresso videos for BrainLeaf coming out in January or February!
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Skype

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We use this every day to talk to people overseas. From the Philippines to Romania and back to the US, I think Skype is the best free video chat system out there. I even put some money into it so I can make calls to phones directly from my computer now. I think Skype is probably best for overseas calls. Google Hangouts just doesn’t cut it for calls to Southeast Asia or Eastern Europe.
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Googles...

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Where do you start with Google? They’re amazing. It’s no wonder they run and rule the world. Just whatever you do Google, don’t be evil.
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Synergy

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Do you have a laptop and a desktop? Or maybe two desktops or two laptops? Ever wanted to have one mouse work across both computers? The future is now! I know it’s a small thing compared to getting a rover to Mars, but I was almost as excited about being able to use my desktop mouse and keyboard on my laptop like it was just another monitor as I was about the landing. Technology is so amazing!
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Hex Color Finder

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Another precious diamond in the rough. This is a lightweight color finder that runs from your desktop. It is super simple and works really well. I use it all the time when I am designing.
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WinSCP

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It used to be FileZilla, but the most recent release really pushed me away from it. It wanted me to install McAfee!!! What happened FileZilla? You just ruined all those great years we had together. Well, WinSCP and I are going on to live a long and happy life together… without you. It’s better anyway.
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Git

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I can’t git away without mentioning Git. If you don’t know about Git, look it up.
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