Choosing the right project management software for your creative agency

Aaron Green

Finding the right project management software to do your budgeting, estimating, time tracking, scheduling, invoicing etc…Geez, it can be hard work. Today more than ever there is an abundance of choice out there, all with their own strengths and weaknesses.

I’ve put together this article to help you think about what questions to ask yourself when looking for a solution for your business. Keep in mind we produce Streamtime – and we are one of the many solutions out there for creatives. I wrote Streamtime Classic over fifteen years ago from scratch after researching dozens of other products as none of them seemed to meet the needs of our business. Fifteen years later and I’ve been privileged to see and use hundreds of project management systems – you could even say it’s a passion of mine to learn as much as possible about them all. I also get to listen and talk to our 1000+ customers who are spread over 27 countries – a total of over 8,000 individual people using our software every day.  I get a lot of feedback and I read it all and take it all personally.  But that’s enough about us – what are the questions to ask when looking for a solution for your creative studio?

Here are a few things you should think about before purchasing any project management solution:

What do you do?

This might seem obvious but think seriously about what products and services you provide. 90% of the project management software on the market is generic to all businesses and so that software is probably not an ideal fit for a creative business like yours. When it comes to fully featured products purely designed for the creative industry – there are really only about a dozen of them to choose from.

Features

What are your needs?

Think seriously about this one – get your team together and spend half an hour brainstorming about what your business needs are.  Think seriously about how much time you spend in the different areas of your business and look for any bottlenecks.  Is it easy to track jobs through your studio and does all time easily get collected against the job without any slippage?  How efficient is your billing system currently – invoicing should only take a few minutes per week not several hours. What things stress your team out the most? Do you need a hosted solution or would you prefer the speed and security of an in-house solution?

What size is your business?

Most graphic design businesses are small with less than a dozen employees. Size is important because it will determine how you use the system. Larger companies tend to have a full on scheduling department while smaller companies are more agile in their approach to incoming jobs.  Ideally the software you choose should be able to cater for both situations well, the reason for this is that some jobs are “crash and bash” and go through the studio quickly, others are more “project” orientated and need to be broken down into many stages and tasks.  Project management software should take a job in from any stage and that job should be able to be moved along its stages by anyone with ease, if it can’t do this then the software becomes a rod for your back.

Ease of use

This is one of the most overlooked things when choosing software for your business.  There is a direct relationship between how easy a solution is to use and whether your staff / team will adopt and properly use the solution.  At first glance many systems may seem “easy” but I assure you they are not, the slick sales person will give you a whistle stop tour and make it all look easy but the rubber hits the road when you actually come to implement it.  There are several good indicators that help you identify if the software will be easy to use. Firstly does the provider let you try before you buy? You wouldn’t purchase a car without a test drive first would you? Make sure you are able to easily navigate around the system and find what you are looking for – does everything make sense to you? Are you easily able to create a new job, a new client, etc. Systems that are well designed should be easy to implement – they should be intuitive and logical.

Ease of use

Must have features

Many sales people will try and lead you down the path of a feature check list – bragging that they have every feature under the sun. The real question you need to ask is not only “do I really need that feature” but if you feel there is a feature missing from a product find out why its not there. Features are sometimes left out of systems for good reasons – they either over complicate the solution or the technology is just too young and immature to be reliable or useful. Apple of course are a classic example of doing this sort of thing all the time – remember the first iPhone had no video calling, no MMS, no removable battery, a proprietary headphone jack and so on – and yet it became the number one selling phone on the planet – the world loved it.  Its important to understand “WHY” people loved the first iPhone so much – they fell in love with its simplicity and ease of use. Having said this, its important to understand how much continued research and development goes into a product – technology changes fast and you do want to ensure that whatever you buy will be compatible with whatever Apple unveils tomorrow. Ask about their research and development budget and ask what they look for when developing the product.

What tribe are you in?

Seth Godin best selling author and marketing guru talks about tribes.  We all belong to tribes and these tie into and form our companies culture.  For me personally I belong to the Apple tribe, the Audi tribe and the Air New Zealand tribe to name a few. I love these brands for different reasons and they in turn help me shape and form our own brand – Streamtime. When you are looking for business management software for your graphic design business or agency it needs to be a good “fit” culturally.  I’m not just talking about the software itself I’m talking about the team behind the software.  Do the people selling the product to you love their job – love working for the company, believe in what they are selling you?  Come with passion? What is it they love and is it the same things you would love about that company? Does this all fit in with your own company culture?  Would you be proud if the person showing you the software worked for your business?  Don’t over look this one – I think it’s the most important of all the things I mention in this article.

 

Locked into contracts?

I don’t need to talk too much about this one but avoid anyone who tries to lock you into long term contracts with difficult “out” clauses. Everyone has to have legal terms and conditions but make sure you understand what you are getting yourself into.

 

Try before you buy

Most project management software offer free trials which will allow you to give it a real crack. Use the trial to run a live project and get all staff to try it, not just the key stakeholders. This is by far the best way to see if a solution is going to work for your business.

Try before you buy

If you are serious about getting the right project management software for your business do your homework.

If you want to know more about Streamtime than a comparison list can tell you then check out our website, follow our journey, or read our vision for the future of project management. And remember…you can try us for free by clicking the 14 day trial button. Go on, what have you got to lose?

Streamtime is project management software for humans – brought to you by a team of clever cookies dedicated to thinking big, shooting straight and bringing a little bit of spice to your work life.

 

 

Finding a good software solution to do budgeting, project tracking, timesheets, CRM, estimating, scheduling, invoicing and business analysis is a daunting task. There are lots of project management systems out there and they all have their own strengths and weaknesses. I’ve put together this article to help you think about what questions to ask yourself when looking for a solution for your business. Keep in mind we produce Streamtime – and we are one of the many solutions out there for creatives but I’ll try and remain unbiased – as hard as that is. I wrote Streamtime over fifteen years ago from scratch after researching dozens of other products as none of them seemed to meet the needs of our business. Fifteen years later and I’ve been privileged to see and use hundreds of project management systems – you could even say it’s a passion of mine to learn as much as possible about them all. I also get to listen and talk to our 1000+ customers who are spread over 27 countries – a total of over 10,000 individual people using our software every day.  I get a lot of feedback and I read it all and take it all personally.  But that’s enough about us – what are the questions to ask when looking for a solution for your creative studio?

 

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Choosing the right project management software for your creative agency