Our Essential Tech Stack

Jaimz Hodge

September 30, 2023

Introduction

Ready to learn which tools we use in creating our websites?

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Let's talk tech!

As the owner of a website agency here in Missoula, I've found that having the right tools in place is essential to staying competitive in the digital marketing industry and delivering world-class websites for our clients. Therefore, we're constantly exploring new options to speed up our workflow, make things easier for our team or clients, or simply see what's new. It's not uncommon for us to switch tools as we explore what's out there.

However, that can be a lot of work for any business or agency. So after seeing all of the other posts sharing their popular tech stack, we thought we would share the various tools we use to collaborate, manage projects, invoice clients, host domains, build websites, design graphics, protect passwords, and more. This will help you have a better sense of what's out there, what tools we've settled on, along with tools we ended up leaving and why. 🤫

Ready to begin? Let’s go!

In a rush? Here's what we're currently using:

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Collaboration & Project Management

One of the most critical aspects of running a successful agency is the ability to collaborate effectively with our team and clients. For this, we use Basecamp, a project management tool that enables us to keep all communication and tasks organized in one place. Basecamp has been a game-changer for us, but it wasn’t at first.

When our agency first started out, we tried out every collaboration tool under the sun - Monday.com, Asana, Clickup, and Wrike. But nothing really stuck. We even tried Basecamp with their free trial, but we ended up walking away because we didn’t think it had enough “features”.

However, that was where we had made the mistake. It was the features that always ended up causing us to lose things. It took too long for our team to find what they were supposed to be working on in other tools, and we ended up drifting from tool to tool, never able to find what we needed. Here are some of the top pain points that we had with the other tools (keep in mind this was our experience in 2019, tools change and improve.):

  • There was just too much going on in Clickup. All of the features sounded nice, but none of them felt polished, and they didn’t work quite the way we imagined. It ended up being more stress than we wanted. I was the only one who ended up using Clickup.
  • Asana felt like a glorified checklist. It was hard for team members to know what went with what. We only used this for the two-week trial, but we left this one probably the least satisfied.
  • To be honest, in the really early days, I used Wrike when I was working by myself. Their software just feels really nice, polished, and easy to work with. However, it didn’t jibe with our business workflow at the time, so we ended up shelving this tool. I’d recommend giving it a chance to see if it's a good fit for you.


So why did we choose Basecamp? After trying out such a wide variety of tools, we needed to settle on one and just stick with it. We had projects beginning to line up, and we wanted to settle into a rhythm. The biggest reason was their features, the way they handled seats, and their pricing at the time. At the time, we were able to sign up for $999 a year and get ALL of their features, UNLIMITED seats for clients AND team members, and their features let us drop a lot of tools. Which, as we all know, the simpler we can keep things the easier work will be.

In Basecamp, we could make documents, checklists, talk in chat rooms, use an app when on the go, and invite clients to monitor our progress and communicate with us. All of that in just one app. We didn’t need Slack (or Discord, which is what we were using at the time). We didn’t need Google Docs (though it’s free, it can be a hassle to organize). And we didn’t need a company calendar to let each other know when we’re taking time off or when projects are starting and when due dates are.

Since then, Basecamp's features have grown, and they’ve changed their pricing model. But I actually think in some ways it might be better for small agencies, and they still give you all of the features no matter which of their two plans you choose. I think that was the biggest frustration with other apps - playing the “which plan has the features I want” game. It was nice just to have everything they offered for one price.

Overall, Basecamp lets us do what we need to do. It provides an easy-to-use platform that makes it simple to communicate with clients, share files, and collaborate on tasks. The best advice we can give though when choosing a collaboration tool to run your projects in? Choose one and stick with it, at least for a while.

Calendars and Communication

To manage our calendars, cut down on meetings, and ensure that our content is error-free, we use Google Calendar, Loom, and ChatGPT, respectively. Google Calendar is a simple, user-friendly calendar app that makes it easy to schedule meetings and manage our schedules. While we schedule company-wide events in Basecamp, Google Calendar has become our go-to tool for managing our schedules and ensuring that nothing conflicts with our personal schedules without making that information available to everyone else in the company.

For meetings, we use a combination of Basecamp, Loom, and Google Talk. We try to hash out as much as possible in updates, idea posts, chats, and Basecamp's table charts. This allows us to work on things when we have the time and explore ideas in different formats. It also allows us to put thought into our responses and ideas.

However, sometimes it's not enough or fast enough for certain projects or ideas that would be better explained through talking. So the next step up is Loom videos. We try to record as many updates and big ideas as possible to be respectful of other people's time and schedules. This allows team members to watch the videos when it makes sense for them, and at a fraction of the time since they can speed up the video.

We use Google Talk for meetings that need to be done with clients or when just a few people need to jump in to make something happen. We're already a small team, but we've really enjoyed building the business this way so far. You can check out 37Signals' post on this workflow, which is where we've mostly gotten our ideas from for handling meetings.

Lastly, we use ChatGPT to quickly draft content, fill in blank pages to get the brain flowing, and for final grammar checks. ChatGPT's language model has been amazing in helping us proofread our content and ensure that it's error-free.

We've tried AI calendars, but we don't think they're quite there yet. There's a lot that happens on a daily basis that isn't predictable and just throws everything off. But one day, they could be amazing!

Invoicing, Scheduling, and Proposals

When it comes to invoicing clients, time tracking, and creating proposals, we use Hello Bonsai (affiliate link). This all-in-one tool has made our lives much more manageable, as it enables us to automate invoicing, track payments, create professional proposals, and schedule projects all in one place.

Before we started using HelloBonsai, we had been using Keap. However, Keap was a bit more expensive than Hello Bonsai and didn’t allow us to create professional-looking proposals, which was a major time consumer when it came to starting new projects for repeat and new customers. Previously, we would spend probably around 8 hours on a project proposal because we had high standards for what it covered and how it looked. Now, we can finish a proposal and have it out the door in an hour or two. HelloBonsai has saved us time and money, and it also has a very simple-to-navigate user interface!

I’ve also really enjoyed being able to easily tell how much money is supposed to be coming in this month, what our expenses look like so far, and then managing all of that through their banking features.

All around, HelloBonsai has helped manage the financial side of the business with ease. So much so that we decided to become an affiliate for them!

Wondering why we dropped Keap? Read our Keap vs. HelloBonsai article! (coming soon)

Password Protection

To protect our passwords and other sensitive information, we use 1Password. 1Password is a password manager that enables us to securely store and access all of our passwords for both our own accounts and clients. With 1Password, we no longer have to worry about forgetting our passwords, saving them in insecure areas, or having them float around in emails or texts.

The feature we love most about 1Password is being able to share passwords with link sharing and put time and access limits on those links!

We found that 1Password was more geared towards agencies, had a more intuitive user interface, and a better track record. With 1Password, we can access all of our passwords with just one master password, control who has access to those passwords, and when, which has made our lives much easier.

An illustration of invoicing software

Web Development

When it comes to building websites, we use a combination of Wocode and Webflow. Wocode is a tool that enables us to create simple websites quickly and efficiently. We use this primarily for our clients that aren’t looking to spend a whole lot and don’t need a fully custom website. Webflow, on the other hand, is a visual design tool that allows us to create stunning websites without any coding.

(*Note* We're actually moving all of our clients away from Wocode and over to Webflow.)

Before we started using Wocode and Webflow, we had used WordPress, Square, Wix, and other website builders. However, we found that these tools were limited in their functionality and often required a lot of time and effort to create custom designs. With Wocode and Webflow, we can create beautiful, custom websites in a fraction of the time with little to no limitations.

Read our article comparing all of the website editors we’ve used here to get a more in-depth comparison.

Domain Hosting

For domain hosting, we use NameCheap (affiliate link). We chose NameCheap mostly based on the recommendation of our technical team. Before we started using NameCheap, we used MyDomain. Both are great platforms, but NameCheap was a little cheaper and offered free privacy, which we found more valuable since we generally handle SSL for our website anyways. We also appreciate that they have an affiliate program that we can use for clients who don't want us to host their domains, or that we can link in blog posts like this one! If you want to check them out, you can use our affiliate link here!

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Graphics and Photos

For graphics and photos, we use Affinity Designer. Affinity Designer is a vector graphics editor that enables us to create stunning designs quickly and easily. We love the fact that Affinity Designer is affordable, easy to use, and offers a range of powerful features, and you don't have to pay a monthly fee for it.

Before we started using Affinity Designer, we used Adobe Illustrator. However, we found that not everyone on the team needed an Adobe account, and having the entire team use these tools was often expensive. With Affinity Designer, each member of our team can open a file to view it and make minor tweaks, while our designer still works with Adobe. So I guess technically we still use Adobe, just not the entire team.

SEO and Social Media

For SEO, social media posting, local positioning, and idea generation, we use Semrush. It's an all-in-one tool that provides us with all the data we need to optimize our clients' websites for search engines and social media.

With Semrush, we can conduct keyword research, track rankings, analyze backlinks, and more from the very beginning of our process. This is critical for us to do effective research and make informed decisions that can inform our copy, design, website structure, and even make recommendations on what services and products our clients should focus on.

We haven't had experience with any other tool aside from Semrush, but we're happy with the results it's brought for ourselves and our clients. In fact, we used Semrush to research before we even started writing this article! We'll also be using it to review the article once it's finished.

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Conclusion

In conclusion, having a comprehensive tech stack is essential to running a successful business. By using tools like the ones we've mentioned above, we can collaborate effectively, manage projects efficiently, create stunning designs, protect our passwords, and more. We hope that this article has provided you with insights into the tools we use and the benefits they provide. What tools do you use and why? We'd love to hear!

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