Figuring out the best Internal Workflow Tools for your business can often be a challenge. In this exclusive Elusive Moose video, members go over their favorite workflow tools to use and why.
Please find a full video transcript below:
Molly: What I was hoping we could do, is just go around, introduce yourself, name, company, and then the topic is all right … What are the problems, what are the things you’re trying to manage and then what internal workflow tools have you found successful? We’ll just talk for 20 minutes and kind of bounce around, and go from there. Does that sound good?
Mike: Yeah that sounds great.
Molly: All right good. So I’m gonna do … I’m just gonna go ahead and start. Hello everyone. My name is Molly Connolly. We’ve got our member chat today. The focus is on internal tools. I would love all of our members to just introduce themselves and your company. Then we’re gonna jump in and talk about different tools we use to successfully manage our businesses. So Scott, would you mind starting?
Scott: Sure. My name is Scott Howard. I have a company Scott Howard Consulting that develops custom software. We have clients around the country and companies large and small and many industries. We have a vertical market district attorney case management app that has been keeping us busy and I enjoy what I do.
Molly: I forgot you have a vertical tool. So custom software and a product.
Molly: Okay, great. Vanessa, how about you?
Vanessa: Yeah, so I’m Vanessa Costanza. I’m with Recruiting Pro Software based in … I’m based in Madison Wisconsin. We do custom system design and development and app development for mostly small and medium sized businesses, but in a variety of industries in really a variety of needs and systems that they’re looking for.
Molly: Well, and one of the reasons I was really excited, you could jump on this call, is I know that your company has grown over time and you go, go, go, go, go and now you’re having a concerted effort to say, “Hey, do we need to rethink how we manage some of the processes?”
Molly: It’s worked.
Vanessa: But in my last few months …
Molly: Really having a chance to look at it. All right girl. How about you Mike?
Mike: I’m Mike Cavalieri. I’m with Figaro Services. I’m a one man shop. I just started getting incorporated recently, and I’m offering for my clients a multidisciplinary approach to problem solving to see if there’s a way that to have the right conversations to the right people. They can get more done. If that means just changing process great. If that means understanding and exploring what software is out there, great. If it means having to build something from scratch, well I can find that, I can do that and I’m kind of that extra right hand man so to speak that you may want. The good man Friday, or a …
Molly: Cool, I like it.
Mike: I like to think of it as Figaro.
Molly: I know, I need that background. Well and the other thing that’s interesting about you is you are a programmer. You can program, but that’s not the focus of your company. The focus of your company is more strategic planning, interacting, finding solutions with the customer and then as we talk about interior tools, being able to advise them on where they should invest and how they should invest.
Mike: That’s right. Yeah.
Molly: Okay, great. Susan.
Susan: Hi, I’m Susan Fennema. I am the chaos eradicating officer for Beyond the Chaos. I help small businesses figure out how to streamline their processes, specifically when it applies to project management, a process that will help them figure out how to make sure their projects end, which is always a big thing and that they stay in scope and in budget while doing it. Then I also can help write operational projects and help manage operations in companies. I usually target software development as well as creative marketing advertising firms.
Molly: That’s great. So the other interesting thing about everybody here is we’ve all built systems that help other people manage their chaos, but what I’ve personally found and within the different organizations I’ve worked in, is there’s a lot of … There’s that the cobblers kids have no shoes.
Molly: I can build it for somebody else and when I have enough time, I’ll build this fabulous solution for myself, but I don’t have enough time so I’ll just coddle together with what I have. So talk to me about, what are some of the internal processes that you need to manage. Let’s start there and just set the framework. One is billing. How do I keep track of my time? What else do you guys find as things internally that you need to get a handle on?
Scott: Contractor time.
Molly: Yeah, scheduling. How am I gonna have enough people to staff the many projects if you’ve got an advanced portfolio.
Mike: The other side of that, or maybe the sister side of that so to speak is then just hours in a day and where that time goes. What do your weeks look like? What does your month look like? When can you push things off? What can you prioritize differently? It’s one thing to have 40 hours, but is that gonna happen now, is it gonna happen later, or is it gonna be divided up? So, that’s there too.
For me I just use Calendar. I try to keep as bare bones, and strict to the OS as I can. My preferred OS is Mac, and for some of those tools, especially where I’m trying to manage multiple calendars. A dozen different calendars with different obligations. I just need something simple that I know is gonna work on all of my devices. It gives me enough free.
Molly: You’re using a calendar and you have multiple calendars … The Mac calendar?
Mike: Yeah. That’s right.
Mike: ‘Cause it’s ubiquitous, I can get information out of it and I can … Well I say it’s ubiquitous, so .1 and .3.
Molly: Well that’s good. Sometimes you need a translator.
Susan: To chime in with that, I’m a big fan of Google Calendar for a lot of those things too. From even if you’re managing a team, a small team. Now a large team, you’ll have to do it a different way. With a small team, even being able to plan out their schedule as a resource, with them as a resource onto a calendar so that you can see when they will be available to you.
Molly: Guy, help me out with the calendar. I’ve typically I have a lot of clients that ask for, “Oh, I wanna see it visual, I wanna see it on a calendar.” My push back has been, yeah but there’s 400 things happening on Monday. Do you really wanna see it in a calendar? I’m a list person, myself so I always have trouble translating that. I know they want visual, but I’m like, is that really helpful to see a microscopic dot. How do you guys handle …
Vanessa: Well and we’ve been really struggling with that recently because we’ve started using the new Basecamp 3.
Molly: Yeah, and it’s that calendar view right?
Vanessa: And they have a calendar in there, but the import into … For me to have on my daily use it imports every to do. So right now, we’re really struggling with that. Where do these things live and how do we share information with clients internally. Yeah, that’s something that I’ve really been looking into and haven’t found the right solution for us at this point.
Molly: Scott what are you using for task management?
Scott: We use Basecamp 2, Susan’s actually been helping us to find ways to streamline our operations, deliver better on time, kind of put some processes in place. One of the things that excited us about her is that she uses Basecamp 2 with the Google calendars, which we used already, but she’s kind of showed us how to leverage them well. The Google calendars interact really well with the Apple calendar. We have PC and Mac users, and it works really well on both.
Molly: What about to address Vanessa’s question? Can you limit the tasks that come over, so that it’s not like …
Scott: Yeah, you can turn on and off calendars, so I can just view my calendar, reminding our administrators or my developers.
Susan: Basecamp 3 handles it a little differently than BaseCamp 2. Basecamp is easier to see a calendar view in Basecamp as well as be able to import that into iCal. Basecamp 3 is a little more complicated of how you use it to work with your clients.
Molly: Well, it’s interesting we all use Basecamp. I use Basecamp. I’m not super happy with it, but it’s one of those things where it’s like, it’s pretty cheap, it’s however much a month, it’s easy for me to throw a client on there if they need to. Even with it’s … When I say it’s limited, I don’t like the task management, because it’s binary. For me the tasks are … It’s not necessarily done or not done, it’s on hold, or it’s waiting for something else. So that’s my argument there.
Susan: I got you some ways to do that, but you’re using classic right?
Molly: Oh, yeah. I just stayed way bare. The green interface.
Scott: I’m limited too, so…
Molly: There’s the other thing, I’m gonna do my own so I’m not gonna bother upgrading, ’cause some day, and it’s been like three years.
Scott: One thing I would mention is last year we went through a process of evaluating project management services that are on there. We tried Asana, MavenLink, Projectplace, a whole bunch of them, and a couple we dived really deeply into and really what ended up happening is we use Basecamp 2, in Classic you can do this too, because it’s a place where our clients can collaborate with us and it was instantly understandable to them. We have some documents we have written to help them understand how we use it and Susan’s helping us refine those.
We just discovered that even though we were getting the metrics we wanted from some of these systems, our clients hated them. Really, what’s key to us is making the clients comfortable where in our tool. Basecamp 3, I love the interface and functionality, but the way we work, you don’t have a place you login and see your to do list, so you can reference your files, it’s all email collaboration with clients. Maybe y’all have found other ways to work with it, but we just couldn’t fit it into our workflow.
So it really depends on how you work with your clients. Our clients instantly understand Basecamp 2 and when we help them use it more consistently.
Molly: And that’s a huge difference.
Susan: That’s a huge difference.
Vanessa: We have used Basecamp 2 previously and had a hard time getting client buy in. Clients would not go to Basecamp. They would email things separately and then we just ended up with stuff kind of all over the place. 3 so far, we’ve had a little bit better buy in from our clients, but it’s just trying to manage, like you said, some of those caveat things of where are we gonna put these and where do they go.
Mike: You know, I’ve always been interested in their products, but I haven’t used Basecamp, but it’s good to hear this, because for me, I’ve been a fan of Atlassian’s Suite. Their product of Jira and Confluence. One of the things that I do like about Confluence, well and Jira as well, is that it seems like it’s that place where it’s an environment that you can code in and you can customize, but it’s also hosted in such.
They don’t have to worry about doing all that overwork. There’s this thin overlap where you’re saying if I’m going to create the same sort of environment for each of my clients. I can start with a template and if they need more complex, real fine grained understanding of that. I can do that, but if they just need a place to dump some files, look at some collaboration, mark some things up, and then email kind of back and forth. I’ve always like the products that
You know Molly, like I said I’m not familiar with Basecamp’s tasks, but I do like Jira’s in the fact that I can say what type of flavor it is, where I am, where the workflow goes, etcetera. Even just for a one man shop, it’s easy enough for me and then to send that out. I think the thing is though too, is that we shouldn’t beat ourselves up too much about if clients are really adapting.
You know as much we want them too, we’re just gonna get those clients that you need to either do it for them, you need to spoon feed them or just smile and move on and you know I always wanna, especially when talking with others like you, is I say, “What is the threshold.” What’s the point where you finally go, I’m just not gonna push anymore. Nearly your not gonna jump into this. As much as it would save you money, make me more efficient and make this project better, it’s just gonna have to be something that we’re gonna move on with.
Molly: Yeah. I’m just gonna copy and paste your email into Jira directory.
Susan: Oh, yeah and everybody’s gonna have clients that some will embrace it and you’re like, “Wow you use it better than I do.” Other’s you’ll have to train just a little bit and they’ll do it. It might not be perfect, but they’ll do it and then others, uh ah, they can’t even think that way. They can’t even think in a task oriented way. That’s when you have to say, “Well, we can do that for you, but understand that you’re paying us to do that for you.”
Mike: Right, right.
Scott: One of our clients told us recently. She noticed that we responded quicker when she would post something on Basecamp, because everybody sees it. So now she and her whole staff has started posting things on Basecamp more regularly. I didn’t do that on purpose, but it just, everyone sees it and somebody’s gonna respond quicker.
Susan: Somebody’s gonna get it.
Scott: So they have that incentive to post there.
Susan: There are a lot of incentives and rewards you can offer clients that encourage them to use the tool the way you want them too without having to be so in your face and push on them, ’cause in the end you are still serving them. Right.
Molly: I wanted to jump in about Jira because we have another member, Roger Jakes, who he’s actually developing a solution. I think it’s Jira … Is Jira by Atlassian is that how it works?
Mike: Yeah, so Atlassian is the company and then they have Jira and Confluence, and Portfolio and other type of products underneath their main brand.
Molly: So I’m, you guys want to make me test this. So he’s building the system and the primary reason he does Jira is for the technical request that people, his clients come in. That task management for, I guess both, I guess he’s got the task management for his team but also the tasks that are brought in from the client, like the tech request, help desk, but what he’s also done, he’s very focused on time building.
So he catches time and he’s integrating it with QuickBooks. So he can pull, “okay your time will start and here’s how much I spent.” It was related to this task and then that goes out into the invoicing as well. So that’s interesting and that’s something he’s been working on that I’m interested in. I’m not necessarily as good as tying a specific task to my time. So I’d be more like, “Okay, we did project management,” but I don’t say project management about this issue, so I’m not sure if that would be a stumbling block or not.
Molly: Is that time?
Vanessa: For time tracking. Yeah, so I think their website is tickspot.com. There’s definitly been some things to get used to, but they’ve been very responsive and the integration with the to do list in Basecamp and the synchronization between the two has been awesome for us. Really reduced any reentry or anything like that. Being able to export it right to QuickBooks has been great too.
Scott: We use The Harvest, which has a little Google plugin, Google Chrome plugin, that puts a little timer in Basecamp.
Susan: It works in Safari too. There are some people who hate Chrome, because it takes up too much memory and all that. So it will work in Safari as well that plugin.
Molly: So we talked about task tracking, about requests, incoming requests. What are you doing for financial? I do QuickBooks online, it’s easy it’s there.
Susan: I do as well.
Scott: Yeah, Harvest and QuickBooks.
Mike: I actually … I’m sorry, go ahead.
Molly: What’s Harvest, Scott?
Scott: Harvest is a time billing and invoicing system that can stand alone.
Scott: It also integrates with QuickBooks and Basecamp, and a lot of other services. It also has an option called Forecast, which I think as we get bigger, it allows you to forecast your availability, but right now we can do that with eyeballing it better.
Molly: Right. Kind of do the gut check. Mike you were saying something.
Mike: Well I was just saying that I’m starting in with QuickBooks myself and so it’s good to hear that you are more experienced or are using it as well. I looked at different options that look best. One of the questions I have though. Maybe this is off topic, so forgive me.
I’m looking for the appropriate bank for financials. I was curious if any of you have a real love or hate relationship with who is handling your actual financials coming in and out, because there’s so many options out there and I look at one, and I look at another and I think I’ve got it narrowed down, but IM just curious if there’s anybody that says you’ve got to stay clear of this person, or you’ve got to go with this bank. If there’s anyone in particular that you vouch for.
Molly: Go ahead.
Susan: I’m using BBVA Compass. It’s a business bank. It lets you do some online payments. It ties into QuickBooks. It ties into my Quicken too, ’cause I do mine actually both ways. So I can see all my financials, personal and professional in my Quicken. It’s really hard to love a bank, right. I don’t love it, but there’s no fees. There are local branches if I need to go physically deposit a check and they have online banking that has improved since I started with them.
Susan: I looked into a whole bunch of them. I actually just started my business in June of last year.
Susan: So I’m not that far from you as far as researching and looking into all of those things.
Mike: Right, right.
Molly: The biggest thing that I … Somebody actually just told me about this. I don’t always have a nice stash of cash, like the cash flow is like this, but at the end of the year I often get really big prepays, and so usually my regular bank savings account, you get no interest, but I have to keep it liquid, but who knows when that’s gonna get big. There’s a couple … I think it’s Capitol One and the Goldman Sachs online banking, where you get 1% interest. So that was another thing I was like, “You know what, I might as well do that.” If there’s not necessarily a minimum, so in the case when I do have the extra cash sitting there in the bank, you make $100 bucks here and there.
Molly: I was like I should probably pay attention to that.
Mike: Okay. That’s great. That’s great to know, thanks.
Molly: And not be afraid to … I was like, oh I can only have one bank. You really can have as many as you want. It’s not that hard to keep track of.
Mike: Right, right, right, right. Yeah, yeah.
Susan: I think, Molly, that’s actually one thing to mention. All of us have national clients. We’re not going to somebody’s office next door and picking up a check and driving it to the bank. All of us are really doing things very virtually and paperless. That’s a big difference between some consultants and some developers who are more hands on and more paper. This kind of workflow actually streamlines your ability to get paid faster and to have the money available to you faster.
Molly: What about payroll? Scott, you’ve got employees. Vanessa, you’ve got employees. Are you handling that internally? Did you use a parallel service?
Scott: We do have an accountant we pay monthly, but we use QuickBooks online and then our bank we chose because it does direct deposit.
Scott: PNC bank. I think that’s regional or national.
Molly: Yeah, ’cause that can be a real pain, if you do have a lot of employees and your figuring out their taxed and you’re withholding and ahhh.
Scott: Yes, we’re very thankful for our accountant.
Vanessa: Yeah. We use Gusto for payroll.
Molly: Is that just a payroll service?
Vanessa: Yeah. We’ve recently switched to them probably in the last year and a half maybe and have been really happy just with their fees were a lot less than most the other places we worked with. They gave us all the information we needed to give to our accountant in a proper format. Integrates kind of with everything we’re doing now. Think we’ve had a very good experience with that one.
Molly: Well that’s the one that I’ve … At one point I was like, oh it’s like per person like $10 dollars a month. That’s so worth me not sitting there for an hour making sure I am withholding.
Susan: And then get in trouble with the IRS later.
Mike: Yeah, right.
Molly: Sometimes I just have to remind myself, just pay for it. Just ’cause you could do it doesn’t mean you should.
Vanessa: Right, it’s worth it.
Molly: So we’re gonna wrap up a little bit. Any other tools that you use internally? I’m just trying to think. Anything else internally that I use or that I might take advantage of.
Susan: I give you one little one that I think everybody should use. It’s calendly.com. To set up meetings that you can set it up to see the calendars you want it to see and block out time and man it’s so much better than a month of going back and forth to figure out when everybody’s available.
Molly: Yeah, anybody else use calendar solutions for meeting planning and all that.
Scott: Not yet.
Mike: The one piece of software I wanna recommend, that I’ve used a lot, not only for professional reasons, but for personal reasons as well, is called Resilio Sync. Resilio used to be BitTorrent Sync and then they rebranded it as it’s own called Resilio Sync. The reason why I love this and I try to promote it to people, is it’s a sweat spot of having storage that will sync to multiple devices, I know as well as everything else, but it’s not in the Cloud at all.
You can still selectively turn things on and off. So what I do, is I use it. It’s kind of one software that serves two purposes. It has the documents and the data where I need them, when I need them, but it’s also a backup. So I have for example, my laptop, a Mac Mini, a Mac Mini server, iPad, iPhone. Yes I own stock in Apple, I’m not gonna lie.
So the thing is, and I know that when I say that one thing, it saved everywhere but it’s not in the Cloud. It’s still using 256-bit encryption. You can still do sharing with other people and turn on or off what gets downloaded automatically etcetera, etcetera, etcetera. So for me, especially where I’m managing essentially multiple careers. I might have folders of scores and sheet music. I regularly have been using my iPad now for about four or five season for all my scores and concert engagements and such. Then also to be able to sit down and have the requirements document sheet from that client inward or the pdf or the images and it’s just there. I know it’s getting backed up without having anybody monthly service fee because eventually, those little subscriptions start to be like …
Susan: They do start to add up.
Molly: Yeah. They start to add up.
Mike: They start to add up and you start to go, how’d I get so many leeches on me. This is one less thing where you don’t need a leach to get the job done. So I just wanted to promote that. If there’s something to look at, I think it’s $40 for license and you can install it on as many machines as you want. It’s pretty user … They have a business plan to that I haven’t looked into, but just a fact of saying if you want to have your own storage, but not manage it like a traditional server space, but not pay a subscription. I would highly recommend it. It’s secure. It’s on every device and it’s really worked out well for me.
Vanessa: Have you used that at all for collaboration. I know one of the things we’re currently looking at is, do we try out the Microsoft Cloud drive.
Mike: Right, right, right.
Vanessa: To kind of have that living document feel but not be a Google Doc.
Mike: Yeah, yeah. So you can do that and turn on and invite people in as long as they have a sync as well. Let’s say you had a clients folder, and you have employee A, so you want them to see the client folder, but then there’s client B with employee B, so you can kind of selectively turn on and off.
Vanessa: That’s great.
Mike: The way that you can do it is, you can either share them in an actual link or there’s a QR code that will bring up on the screen and you can just take that with your IOS device, your Android phone, I believe. It will go, oh okay, and then get the link. Get it prepared and then you can selectively download and sync what you want.
Vanessa: Well that’s great.
Molly: Google drive, dropbacks …
Scott: All of the above.
Susan: But they’re all in the Cloud so that’s the difference from what Mike’s talking about. They are in the Cloud, but they do let you limit who sees what, so you can also divide it that way.
Mike: Yeah. The sync is a nice solution sometimes if you have those who are in the legal verticals, or medical and they’re really nervous about putting something that’s out of their control. This way you can say, look you save it here at work, you can leave this computer here. When you go home, it’s gonna be there waiting for you. You know and vice versa and it’s not gonna be in the Cloud. It’s gonna be, the encryptions gonna happen and then the lines go silent so to speak. If it’s the right fit, it’s something not look into.
Molly: I think it’s great. All right, well we’re at our little time up. Thank you everybody for participating. That was really fun for me. I’m gonna just post this and then, well hopefully we’ll just keep the dialog going, but it gave me a couple of things to think about.
Scott: Could I say one quick thing?
Scott: ‘Cause I think a lot of us are tinkerers and so we always want the latest and greatest of whatever tool that we’re using. I used to be a shareware junky. I loved utilities and new things and I still do, but I realized at one point that I just needed to take something from my project management and just leverage it, because there’s always gonna be something with just that one feature I’ve always hoped for, or it does this just slightly better, but the problem is, if you’re always switching from service to service, you’re really losing a lot of efficiency and so I really encourage people … ‘Cause I have people ask me what we use for project management and stuff and really I realized I just had to pick one and start using it consistently.
Molly: I think that’s great advice.
Scott: Find add on’s if needed, but otherwise just really become expert at using what you have to do what you want so you cannot focus so much on the tools, but on the job that you’re trying to do.
Susan: It doesn’t have to be Basecamp
Susan: That applies to any of the ones you choose.
Scott: That’s right.
Susan: You can develop a system that make them work for you.
Mike: Amen, amen.
Molly: All right. Okay, well thank everybody, I’m gonna stop my recording. There we go. All right, well this is-