Choosing the right system and software for your agency

March 20, 2024

Having the right tools can enable you and your agency to improve productivity, streamline processes, improve collaboration, and enhance collaboration. Overall, they can make a big difference when it comes to improving your agency’s overall efficiency. 

It’s true that systems and software can take time and money to implement and embed. There’s the time and cost of training people to use it (including future new joiners). They can also be hard to replace if things don’t work out in the way you’d hoped. So, when it comes to finding new tools, it’s vital to spend time thinking about what your team really needs and will use.

This blog covers some of the pros and cons of different types of systems, including integrated and standalone software, as well as how you can ensure the tools you end up choosing will work for your business. 

What’s the best system for my agency?

I’ve found that Microsoft Excel is still the default tool for managing agency project resources, finances and the like. However, with so many different tools out there that can do things far more effectively, Excel isn’t always the way forward. 

But which one should you be using? Every agency has different needs, but the best system for your agency is the one that is actually used - and to its full potential!

Lots of agencies are wowed by the bells and whistles offered by software companies. Then, they pay for new tools that they think will revolutionise the way they do things. In reality, few agencies use all the features that come with these systems. Few people buy in, they’re too busy to learn, and you end up with multiple different ways of working with different tools. So, spending some time discovering what you really need and will use is vital to avoid this from happening to you.

The Systems Workshop

Enter the systems workshop - the way I recommend all agencies to find out what they really need out of their tools. It’s common to get sucked into demos for fancy new software, only to never use half of the features to their full potential. This is where the systems workshop can help.

I recommend selecting a typical type of project, and inviting a team that would be likely to work on it to the workshop. Then, start by mapping the end-to-end delivery process, trying to identify all the opportunities to leverage tech throughout the process. You’ll probably find that there are four key areas where tech can make the process smoother and more efficient. These are:

  • A CRM to log new business activity
  • Financial management 
  • Project management
  • Resource management

At each stage of the mapped process, assess what’s working, what isn’t, whether you’re currently using any tools, and if so, is it doing the job or does it need replacing? 

From there, you can work out whether you need integrated or standalone systems - there will be more on these later. 

The final stage is to write a vendor brief which you can present to the different vendors. This should cover your processes, what’s working, what isn’t, and where software can make a difference. You can get the different vendors to answer this brief, instead of listening to their generic sales pitches. This will ensure that you get your questions answered and aren’t blinded by their pitches, helping you to make a more informed decision. 

Integrated systems

These are all-in-one systems that do a number of things in one tool. For example, they might offer a CRM alongside financial and resource management. Essentially, if they do more than two things, they fit into the integrated systems category. Here are some examples of integrated systems:

  • Paprika
  • Synergist
  • Streamtime
  • Scoro
  • Magnetic
  • Deltek Workbook
  • Screendragon
  • Workamajig
  • Proofhub
  • Productive
  • Adobe Workfront
  • Kantana

Advantages of integrated systems 

  • They streamline your workflow, enabling you to do everything from end to end with just one system
  • They enable greater collaboration, as everyone knows where to go and everything is kept within the one tool
  • Teams don’t need to learn how to use lots of different software, keeping training to a minimum
  • All data is kept in the same place, so teams don’t have to go to lots of different locations to find what they’re looking for
  • Overall, they typically work out cheaper as you don’t have to buy multiple different tools to solve different problems

Disadvantages of integrated systems

  • You may encounter resistance to change from some of your teams, if they are used to their own ways of managing projects
  • These tools can offer limited specialisation - they won’t be the best at absolutely everything they offer 
  • You may encounter scalability issues. An integrated tool might not be enough for your agency as you grow, and changing it over can be hard once it’s embedded in your agency. So, it’s important to future-proof by finding a tool that can grow with you 
  • You may find yourself locked into a supplier, so if things aren’t working out well, you’re stuck having to work with them to find an improvement
  • Overall, integrated systems offer a long-term cost saving but the upfront costs are high as you need to get your teams trained and get the system set up and embedded

Standalone software

Where integrated systems offer more than one thing, standalone software does one solution really well. They may have elements of other solutions, but their primary purpose is to provide just one. Some common examples of standalone software are:

  • CRMs like Hubspot and Salesforce
  • Financial management tools like Xero, Quickbooks, or Sage
  • Project management tools including Monday, Asana, and ClickUp
  • Resource management tools such as Resource Guru, Float, and Forecast 

Advantages of standalone software

  • They give you the ability to pick and choose what tools you want, to fully customise your tech stack. If you do the systems workshop and discover that some of your tools are working well, you can find others that fill in the gaps and totally customise things to the way you want to work.
  • These tools offer deep specialisation. They’re the best at what they do because that’s all they do. Unlike integrated systems which can be a mixed bag, these tools invest lots of time and money into improving the one thing they do really well
  • Standalone software is quicker to implement as you don’t need to learn a whole new system
  • You’re not relying on just one supplier, so if the tool isn’t fit for purpose or scalable enough, it’s easier to change without the huge impact that comes with changing an entire system
  • There’s a lower entry cost as you don’t need to do as much training

Disadvantages of standalone software

  • Using lots of different tools can lead to a fragmented workflow as different things are done in different places
  • They can lead to communication and data gaps as wires can get crossed and data is stored in different places 
  • Security issues may be a concern. It’s important to ensure each tool has the latest updates and is well protected, which can be a lot of work when using several different pieces of software
  • Overall, standalone software can be expensive as you’re buying lots of tools individually 


CRMs (or Customer Relationship Management tools) are the one thing I think every agency should have. Unfortunately, an Excel sheet really doesn’t cut it. Some popular CRM tools include:

  • Hubspot
  • Pipedrive
  • Zoho
  • Salesforce 

A good CRM will enable you to get to know your clients better. You can log every interaction you have with them in one place, from their business goals to where they went on holiday. These tools are also great for managing communications, as they can send out auto-reminders to make contact with clients, chase them up, and more.

Some CRM tools are also highly sophisticated, allowing you to manage email campaigns and other marketing tasks. 

With all of the other tools mentioned in this article, I’d recommend doing the process mapping exercise above to figure out what you truly need. But, everyone needs a CRM to keep things organised and efficient. Some are even free, or offer free features. For example, Hubspot offers plenty of free features that enable you to use a basic CRM without having to pay for it. 

Artificial intelligence in agency systems and software 

The use of AI in systems and software could be a whole post in its own right, but here is a brief overview of where things seem to be heading.

Lots of project planning is done on autopilot, with the same things happening again and again across different projects. AI could be useful for predicting project planning. By working out how you’ve done previous projects, it can predict how much time it will take, create a quote and timeline, and even tell you the type of resources needed. This could then give you a good starting point to adapt to create a comprehensive project plan. 

AI could also be used to preempt where there may be resourcing issues, and tell you when the people with the skills you need are available. Similarly, it could also be used in risk management, highlighting previous problems and what to look out for in new projects. 

Task automation is also on the horizon, where AI can update your teams about new briefs, timelines, and more. Some tools already have some of this functionality, but I believe it can and will go a lot further in the future. 

Finally, AI may play a pivotal role in process mapping in the future. Few agencies already allow time for washups, where the successes and mistakes of a project are assessed. In an AI environment, it would learn from past mistakes such as going over budget, and price projects accordingly in the future, helping agencies to avoid costly scope creep. 

A summary 

The right system or software will help optimise your agency, and is definitely better than Excel. However, it’s important to note that it’s vital to take the time to get to know what your agency really needs before buying a new tool.

Remember, tech is just the sidekick, not the superhero. It won’t mask underlying problems with your ops, people, structures, and ways of working. These issues need to be solved at the core, and the process mapping exercise above will help you uncover them. As an agency operations expert, I can also help you solve ops issues and become more profitable. Click here to find out more about my audit service and how I can assist your agency. 

Overall, agencies always have been and always will be about people at their core. Your tech stack is not as important as its users. Your teams need to be consulted from the get go, to ensure that they’re getting what they truly need to do their best work, and that any tools you do bring on board will have the buy-in needed to make them a success.

Let’s work together to grow your agency.

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