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Best digital agency project management software: What features you should look for

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Updated on:
March 10, 2024
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Digital agencies provide their clients with numerous winning solutions. They might transform a business’s social media strategy. Some may help partners understand better ways to engage with customers via their eCommerce solutions. Whatever the scope of the relationship, digital projects can be complex and run across multiple channels, involving numerous personnel and stakeholders.

That’s why project management is such a critical aspect of an agency’s workflows and processes. Without ways to assess what tasks need doing, who to assign them to, and how long they should take, projects quickly spiral out of control. However, with the right agency tech stack in place, it’s possible to take back control and improve experiences for both colleagues and clients. That stack should always include effective digital agency project management software solutions.

This guide will help you understand the importance of proper project management and how to choose the best software for your agency. We cover the best features and the benefits they bring to growing businesses.

Project management challenges facing digital agencies

Project management is a vital aspect of business yet sadly often overlooked. Trusted software comparison site Capterra recently highlighted an alarming statistic: almost half of small-to-medium businesses don’t have a project manager in place for transformational efforts. However, of the ones that did have project management solutions in place, 96% saw success in implementing change. This change could be anything from a new piece of software to a new way of communicating with clients. Whatever the project, it’s clear that agencies need either expert leadership or tech-based solutions to remove friction from their processes.

Understanding what type of project management tools to invest in requires an assessment of the challenges agencies come across while trying to service clients. Below, we’ve highlighted a few of the most common and how they impact agencies.

Ineffective communication

Communication is an essential part of agency success. It starts with client interactions which you hope will blossom into lasting agency-client relationships. You want clients to feel valued, trusted, and satisfied with the service they receive. But communication isn’t all external.

One of the primary issues facing agencies is communication among their own teams. This is exacerbated by the rise of remote work. As much as 29% of Americans work remotely at least some of the time, with at least 14% fully remote. Keeping in contact with every member of the team is more difficult than ever, yet vital to ensure everyone is focused and on task.

Data silos

These communication challenges also impact how easy or difficult it is to obtain the necessary resources to complete aspects of a project. If an off-site freelance web designer needs access to a client’s blog, they shouldn’t have to send a dozen emails back and forth to arrange this. Looking at another area of the business, sales leaders shouldn’t have to contact individual marketing managers to understand when campaigns will start or end.

These struggles to obtain the relevant information are known as data siloes. Data gets stuck or siloed in a particular area and causes delays, frustrations, and even client dissatisfaction.

Disparate team structures

Agencies can have so many different company and team structures, from very hierarchical to almost entirely flat. We already mentioned the challenges of liaising with remote workers. However, some agencies may work across multiple sites, or not have a static office at all.

Bonsai allows fast task allocation, a key aspect of digital agency project management software.

Bonsai addresses these challenges by providing an online platform that allows tasks to be allocated to the relevant personnel, no matter where they work. Without digital agency project management software tools like this, agencies can become overwhelmed by stagnating projects and abandoned tasks. Related problems include certain members of staff taking on too much or failing to delegate. Poor workload allocation leads to resentment, burnout, and even physical health issues and should be avoided at all costs.

Scope creep

When you’ve agreed to a particular brief or project timeline, but the client keeps demanding more, that’s scope creep. It leads to doing more work for no increased pay and can also result in clients who expect far more than previously agreed upon. Without effective digital agency project management software solutions in place, it’s more challenging to set boundaries and remind the customer of the existing scope.

A client who can’t access the project timeline may inadvertently shift their own expectations. Clearly documented conversations can help prevent this, but not as effectively as providing client resources that instantly show progress. Without ways to provide regular updates to clients, they may assume the worst which will damage your agency’s reputation.

How digital agency project management software addresses these challenges

These are just a few of the challenges facing digital agencies who want to provide excellent omnichannel services to their clients. Thankfully, there are apps, tools, and platforms that address some or all of these concerns. Understanding how digital agency project management software alleviates these pain points helps agencies choose the best option for their teams.

A single source of data

Effective project management solutions should bring all aspects of the project into a single, easy-to-access destination. Once you gain the resources you need from the client to start work, you can also upload these to the platform and create a client profile. These may include login details for their social media accounts, Google Ads services, or website backend. But you might also need branding documents, statements, and other digital media assets that take up space. A platform that can easily house all this data for rapidly growing volumes of clients is the core of effective project management.

More ways for teams to connect

This central repository for all things client-related can also become a working hub for your teams. They can leave messages and updates directly on the project timeline or via forms and documents sent directly from your digital agency project management software platform. Without a central collaboration tool, messages can become lost. It only takes one person on an email chain to forget to hit “reply all” and miscommunication snowballs.

Effective communication also speeds everything up. There’s no need to chase down details on task completion when it’s all right in front of you. Agencies that get things done faster impress clients and are more likely to get repeat business.

Clearly defined goals and deadlines

Another way to encourage repeat business is to be consistent and reliable. To achieve this, it’s important to have clear project goals and deadlines — what you want to achieve and when. Engage clients throughout the goal-setting process and you’ll naturally get their buy-in and head off objections around time-to-complete.

Your project management software is essential here. An effective platform allows you to log all aspects of the job and when you expect to complete it. Don’t forget to add a buffer to account for unforeseen circumstances.

Time management solutions

Hitting deadlines requires stringent time management. For agencies with only a handful of dedicated experts, this might be manageable as a manual process. However, once agencies expand and take on new clients and hires, this method becomes unsustainable. Separate timesheets and manual data entry make agencies vulnerable to human error, which could mean overpaying or underpaying staff. It also becomes increasingly challenging to monitor the actions of employees and understand how they’re using their working hours.

Great digital agency project management solutions should allow you to allocate tasks, monitor time taken, and create reports based on this data. Ideally, they should also provide simple ways for team members to log their hours worked.

Bonsai's scheduling tool, an essential addition for digital agency project management software.

Time management also extends to client handling. Bonsai’s scheduling tool, shown above, provides a simple way for clients to understand your availability and book meetings that won’t interrupt the project's progress.

Remember to consider any freelancers or contractors when you’re looking for software with time management solutions. Ask the vendor if you can easily add personnel from outside your organization. Since 2020, freelancers have contributed $1.2 trillion to the United States economy, and more agencies than ever utilize their expertise.

Features your digital agency project management software should have

Choosing the right software can be one of the biggest challenges for agency leaders. You want to know that you’ve put money into solutions that will offer a significant return on investment (ROI). It’s a good idea to look at software reviews and speak to peers in other agencies for advice. You can also use the following quick guide to features every digital agency project management software solution should have.

Customer relationship management system (CRM)

We already touched on the importance of a single source of data for effective project management. Many agencies opt for a customer relationship management (CRM) system for this purpose. CRMs come in all shapes and sizes but nearly all collate client contact details, assets, and project-specific data.

A CRM can be a vital part of a project management software suite. When you get a lead, you can follow every step of that journey from first contact to closure. From there, you can add a client profile and immediately upload relevant files, assets, and resources. When choosing a CRM, look for one that’s easy to set up with an uncomplicated interface. If it integrates with your other agency business tools, even better.

Task allocation and scheduling tools

Projects must adhere to strict schedules or risk failing completely. One missed deadline inevitably cascades, causing other aspects of the project to grind to a halt. With effective time management and scheduling tools, project leaders can keep everyone on task and working to the timeline. When you can instantly view what tasks still need completing, you can deal with any concerns immediately and move on to your next priority.

The ability to relay this data to the client in real-time is a major bonus. Project management tools that support your teams in scheduling regular catchups, video conferences, or in-person meetings keep everyone informed. This improves client confidence and raises your reputation in your marketplace.

Proposal and contract generation

We keep coming back to better ways to communicate, but that’s because it’s such a vital aspect of project management. When you send out inconsistent proposals, quotes, and contracts, you impact the professionalism of your image. Project management tools that allow you to turn a timeline into a concise and comprehensive proposal offer more ways to enhance client interactions.

Look for tools that offer ways to quickly generate professional, branded documents that impress clients with their clarity.

A screenshot of a web pageDescription automatically generated

Bonsai provides multiple templates for proposals, contracts, and other business-critical forms ideal for digital agencies. Better still, all these templates are free of charge.

Collaborative tools

A winning project management tool is one that encourages teamwork and collaboration. Ask potential vendors if their software allows you to quickly invite collaborators from both inside and outside your organization. The ability to add the details of any contractor or freelancer your agency has ever worked with is advantageous. It means you can ping them an invite to a project within seconds. You’ll get access to your trusted team of experts, and they can let you know their availability in real-time.

Once you’ve allocated team members and external contractors to a project, you want to be able to assign tasks. Look for project management solutions that allow you to split projects into logical tasks and delegate them accordingly.

File sharing options

Another key aspect of collaboration is the sharing of relevant data. If your project management tool allows you to upload client assets and no more, you need to invest in separate tools for file sharing. This isn’t ideal for agencies trying to make the most of strained IT budgets. Conversely, tools that allow all assets and resources to be stored and transferred in the same place optimize productivity and cut costs.

Great project management software should allow you to attach files and documents to client profiles, project timelines, or tasks, bringing clarity and efficiency to processes.

Option to create client portal

Collaboration among your team members is critical, but don’t forget client collaboration when choosing digital agency project management software solutions. When clients can log in and see the progress of a project for themselves, they’re less likely to demand meetings and phone calls for an update. This, in turn, helps you focus on the task at hand and complete it faster, further impressing the client.

A client portal is a window into your CRM or project management platform. You can decide what clients have access to and what functionality the portal has. Clients might use a portal to monitor progress, send relevant files, or pay invoices. You could also encourage clients to use their portal to send feedback which you can use for process improvement and marketing.

Integrated invoicing and payment solutions

As well as providing ways for your clients to see the progress of projects, you can make life even simpler by making it easy to settle up. Business software that allows you to send invoices at the push of a button is a major time saver. Look for solutions that let you brand and personalize invoices, adding in itemization as required by the client.

Effective invoicing should also include instant ways for clients to pay. Find out if your software supports links to PayPal, Stripe, or other online payment solutions. You could even find out ahead of time how your client prefers to pay. Use that information to create bespoke invoices for that client with that payment method prominently highlighted for ease.

Clients appreciate simple ways to pay, but of course, this also benefits agencies by ensuring a steady stream of income. Unpaid invoices cost small-to-medium businesses in the U.S. an astonishing $825 billion. Finding ways to make paying easier and intuitive for clients could help ensure your invoices don’t become a part of that statistic.

Digital agency project management software that grows with your agency

Business software platform Bonsai offers all of the vital features listed above. Investing in an all-in-one software solution for your agency saves time and money, and helps you get projects on track fast. Use Bonsai’s intuitive interface to create clear project timelines, allocate tasks, and collaborate effectively. Engage clients better with a portal that provides genuine benefits to them. Easily use the time tracking feature to keep every aspect of the project running ahead of deadlines. Schedule meetings with the click of a button to keep clients informed and feeling valued.

Plus, Bonsai also offers a range of integrated financial tools including bookkeeping and automatic invoicing. You can monitor payments with ease and send automated invoice reminders to keep cash flow consistent. There are even ways to log expenses and write-offs for when tax season comes around.

You can use Bonsai for free as a resource for templates, forms, and other critical aspects of project management. Or, register for a free trial and discover the full benefits of business software created with agencies in mind.

Organizations use 130 applications on average for business purposes and that number is increasing all the time. Streamline your tech stack with digital agency project management software that drives growth and client satisfaction.

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