We know client management needs to be flawless. With a myriad of software out there to help manage clients, we're capable of overlooking some of the strongest platforms.
Google offers free, intuitive tools that can be tweaked to keep you on point with all your clients.
Best of all, you're probably using them right now.
This is a post about two everyday tools, and how you can freely use them for productivity, organization, relationship management, and profit.
Whether you’re in a large agency setting, or a small consulting group, you spin a lot of plates. I’m back in the client services game after a two year stint of in-house work.
Being on the other side was quite an eye-opener. I’ve come to the conclusion there are four ways to screw up your perception by your client that don’t involve your personality (remember, perception is reality).
- Send the wrong client’s deliverables.
- Miss deadlines.
- Not provide details.
- Not follow up on items you (even briefly) spoke about on phone or email.
My agency upbringing was a disciplined trial by fire. We were bred to be very organized, responsive, and serving. In hindsight, I really appreciate this stressful education.
So naturally when I went in-house, and an agency or consultant dropped the ball on me, I tried to be understanding. “Oh, no problem – I’m from the agency world. I know how it can be.”
That sympathy faded when I started drowning in my own work. The last thing I wanted to do was help a consultant who I was paying to help me.
I had a social media company completely drop the ball. They accidentally sent me strategy documents for one of their other clients (who happened to be a competitor of ours).
At one point after two months, while I was buried under my own work, I sent them an email asking if they were still in business. This company is now owned by a major search property, so it’s likely they were evenly positioned to manage clients’ expectations. It was probably just sloppy, unorganized work on the part of my account manager.
This wasn’t an isolated issue. I had an equally distant content company. I also had a website development agency who was slow to complete projects and very lax on details (creating a lot of stress and wasted time).
At one point we were waiting three months for their invoice, our billing department was not pleased.
I suspect sometimes agencies and consultants don’t realize there’s more people affected by poor service than just the in-house point of contact.
Right tools for the job
Today I have a few workflows and tools that I use to manage clients. Alternatively, they were also tools I used to manage projects while I was in-house.
Through my jobs I never had access to big collaboration tools like Basecamp, though bean counter time tracking tools were of course very prevalent. To add a layer of organization (on a small budget) I played with several free (or trial-based) collaboration, wiki, and project management tools.
Some were raw, some were weak, some were ugly, but all were basically dropped due to lack of interest from my team. Getting your team to buy in to a workflow and software package is tough if it’s not drilled in from the highest level. Sadly, in agencies, who has time for that?
The solution: Make the time with easy to use tools.
In this decade, SEOs are lucky to have a ton of smart, robust tools that truly do offer value. Best of all, most are free or very cost effective. In my world though, free is for me.
Below are two massive tools I use on a daily basis, courtesy of Google. No matter what you think about it as an entity, Google does occasionally hit product homeruns. Best of all, I don’t need to take calls from vendors looking to sell similar tools at higher prices.
I’m a late adopter of Google Docs (now part of Google Drive). I thought, “what’s the point? I have Microsoft Office.”
But, things started to look different when I first played with the now defunct Google Wave. For those who don’t remember, this was a cloud based application that allowed people to collaborate on ideas in real-time.
Some of Google’s marketing seemed to be aimed toward the everyday user, where you’d create a Wave to discuss what you were going to do for someone’s birthday party (for example). Perhaps a little too steep of a learning curve for the kids, but this was really useful in business.
My SEO group actually used Google Wave. Once we got used to it, it was fantastic for sharing and organizing ideas. Personally I communicate better when I write than when I speak – Wave gave me the time between each back-and-forth communication to think, unlike an in-person meeting where the pace is usually faster and clumsier.
When Wave flopped, some of the features started to turn-up in Google Docs. The collaboration on documents, the sharing of documents, and the “on-demand” cloud based functionality became available.
Today I’m never on a client call without Google Drive open. In fact, I sent my agendas over in a Google Document and share the public URL with the client. This way the client can see the notes I take in real-time.
This puts me on the hook for everything I say and type, but that’s perfectly fine. I’ve found this creates a great sense of security in the relationship, especially when we revisit the agenda on our next call.
This doesn’t just go for Google Documents, but Google Spreadsheets as well. Neither is as advanced as Word or Excel, but for 90% of what I find myself sharing with clients, it’s perfect.
Heavier computing I save for Excel (though there’s a fair amount of unique functionality and scraping ability that Google Spreadsheet holds within).
When you get the impromptu client call, you probably reach for your notebook ready to scrawl some notes next to notes from an earlier meeting; a reminder, a phone number – who knows what scribble you have there.
For me, I use Google Drive (notably Google Documents) to create a dedicated “notes” and “to-do” doc for each client. With quick shortcuts all over my computer and smartphone and tablet apps, I’m taking client notes faster than you can say CRM.
With Google Drive’s introduction came the inclusion of features from another tool I would have recommended if writing this post last year: Dropbox. Google Drive took the Dropbox model, and basically improved upon it by merging Google Docs.
If I have a file I need to share with a client, it all goes into Google Drive. Ranking reports? It’s in Google Drive for the client to visit at will (I simply encourage them to bookmark notable URLs to these reports).
The truth is, I run my business with Google Drive. Short of sounding like a commercial, this is easily Google’s second best invention in my opinion.
- Real-time communication through documents.
- Access anywhere (including smartphones and tablets through Drive app).
- Break out of your black-box by giving the clients keys to folders and documents of your choice.
- Easy to take client notes on the fly with a simple, dedicated Google Document.
- Calendar for invoicing reminders.
- Plenty of room for keeping note of your expenses, budget, performa, and other bookkeeping items.
- You need to convince your whole team to drink the Google Kool-Aid. If they don’t have a Google account login, they’ll have to make one (or more).
Google Drive is great for a single client. Everything is in there Everything is easily retrieved. It gets a little stickier when you have several clients.
Just as your current Windows Explorer, you find yourself navigating through single network drives or local drives finding the folder that represents a given client. Would it be great if you could literally swing over to another computer that was 100% dedicated to a client? With Chrome, and Google Drive, you (virtually) can.
Chrome has an amazing, seldom talked about user-switching function. Create users, and toggle between them with a click to the top-left corner of the browser. The beauty is that each account is already logged in to a different Google account through cookies.
That means, with a quick toggle to another account, you’re already logged into that Drive account, Gmail, Calendar… everything. Not to mention, you can switch to your personal emails too.
Protip: Install a password managing extension into Chrome for the times cookies fail or expire. I have LastPass installed on every user instance.
How is this useful?
- Create a user for each client. When you get that surprise phone call from a client, toggle to their user account, and you’re ready to go.
- If you use personas for link building or marketing (where you may use a different name or email address), this is a great way to go.
Use to switch between your work and personal accounts. For example from the graphic above – billsebald75 is my personal junk Gmail account (you know, the one you give to companies to get free whitepapers!).
Bill@greenlaneseo.com is my company Gmail account, email@example.com is my personal email, etc. Sorry Hotmail and Yahoo, you’re not convenient anymore.
- Log-in to different G+ accounts. Since G+ is a Google property, each user logs you right in. If you’re focused on authorship for your clients, this is quite helpful.
Other cool benefits: each account lets you install different extensions or bookmarks. So, when I switch over to my linkbuilding persona, my bookmark bar only has things I need for prospecting.
When I log back to my personal user status, I get my normal bookmarks about guitars and zombie movies. Also, each user holds its own cookies as well.
For example, if you have a different Twitter account for a different user, by switching to that user you’ll see you’re still logged into your last session.
- It’s very easy to partition your real life from your marketing life, and toggle between clients.
- It’s difficult to accidentally send a client the wrong file from Drive (if you’re strictly a Gmail user through these different user logins).
- Uniqueness between each user session makes workflow much simpler.
- This powerful feature isn’t in the Chrome mobile app.
So while this may have seemed like a Google love-fest, I completely understand there are still privacy concerns with Google having all your information. They provide these tools for free, but at what real cost?
While Google Drive is an open platform, where you can use it almost any way you’d like, you basically have to swap trust for service. Is Google able to mine your usage and sell this data? If you’re not comfortable with Google’s world domination, this won’t be a solution for you.