Systems

The best agency management software & tips for choosing

Image for Kate Vincent By Kate Vincent

Running an agency means spinning plates, juggling balls, wearing a lot of hats and essentially everything else that means doing an awful lot of things all at once. If you manage an agency, you know that you’ll be dealing with multiple projects, clients, teams and budgets every day.

Which in many ways is part of the creative buzz of agency life. But in my experience managing agencies, you can’t do it alone. You need a system that helps you keep projects on budget, optimise resource management, streamline workflows and forecast and track your performance.

That’s where agency management software becomes your new best friend.

What is agency management software?

Agency management software is an all-in-one system designed specifically for creative agencies – such as advertising, marketing, design, or web development agencies – to help manage projects, clients, resources, finances and reporting.

The right agency management software can help you:

  • Bring everything together into one place. All the untidy admin and unruly manual processes neatly wrapped up, in turn helping to improve efficiency, data visibility and access to real-time information (not stuff that happened so long ago it’s too late to do anything about).
  • Increase your revenue and profitability. Which is never a bad thing. Keep track of budgets, costs, margins and billing, plus you can more easily identify opportunities and areas for improvement.
  • Use data to drive your decision making. Having the most up-to-date, accurate info works wonders when you’re planning resource management and recruitment, as well as shaping your client projects and strategies.

Project management software vs. agency management software…

What’s the difference and which to choose? In a nutshell, project management software is a broad category that can help with any project, regardless of the industry. Agency management software is highly focused project management software for creative agencies.

So agency management software brings all the features and benefits of project management software. But because it’s created with agencies in mind, it also brings more tailored and relevant features such as:

  • Client management and target tracking
  • Pipeline management and forecasting
  • Job costing and profitability reporting
  • Resource scheduling, utilisation and capacity planning
  • Time, expense and purchase tracking
  • Invoicing and revenue recognition
  • Reporting and analytics

But not all agency management systems are created equally. You’ll find some with more features than others, some that are more generalised and others more suited to your specific needs.

The big question is: how do you pick the right one for your agency?

There can be a lot to navigate. To make your life easier, here’s my pick of the five best agency management software from the 20+ I’ve reviewed.

The five best agency management systems

  1. Synergist – Best agency management software for agencies wanting to scale smartly
  2. Paprika – Best agency management software for integrated accounts
  3. Forecast – Best agency management software for artificial intelligence
  4. Teamwork – Best agency software for client collaboration
  5. Harvest – Best for small agencies wanting to track project budgets and billing easily

1. Synergist

Best agency management software for agencies wanting to scale smartly

 Synergist is a highly comprehensive agency management software featuring everything your agency needs to operate efficiently and grow intelligently.

Designed specifically for creative and marketing agencies and refined over 20 years, Synergist has hundreds of well-crafted features. Plus, it evolves alongside your agency, giving you the advanced functionality you need as you grow.

Key features:

  • CRM and client targets
  • Pipeline forecasting
  • Advanced estimating and quoting options
  • Project planning and performance tracking
  • Resource management, utilisation targets and capacity planning
  • Task and workflow management
  • Time tracking, expense and purchase management
  • Billing plans and revenue management
  • Two-way integrations with leading accounting software
  • Live performance dashboards and advanced analytics

It’s highly customisable with lots of settings, permissions and custom fields. Agency management experts (that’s us!) help you set it up to work the way your agency wants. Plus, you get loads of ongoing support to help you get the most out of it and grow your agency. If you’re looking for a scalable agency software solution that helps you grow, Synergist is our top choice. ­­

2. Paprika

Best agency management software for integrated accounts

Paprika is a complete agency management system with built-in accounting. It aims to integrate every agency function, from managing clients to job costing and quoting jobs, to project and resource management through to invoicing and accounting.

Key features:

  • Time and expenses
  • Purchasing
  • Client billing
  • Managing clients and jobs
  • Estimating and quotes
  • Resource and scheduling
  • Finance and accounting

With a global user base of creative agencies and capabilities in six languages, Paprika incorporates multi-company and multi-currency capabilities. Making it great for large agencies who want an integrated accounting system.

But… because the product caters to both agency management and accounting, some of the functionalities for handling projects and operations are not as simple or useful as they could be.

In my opinion, you don’t want the product development time to be spent on matching the top accounting systems. You want development that’s centered on continual improvements on the agency management side, as this can help your agency get a real advantage over your competitors.

3. Forecast

Best agency management software for artificial intelligence

Forecast is an AI-powered resource and project management software for agencies and professional service businesses. It helps you manage your tasks, projects, programs, resources and finances in one easy-to-use platform.

Key features include:

  • Project management
  • Time tracking and invoicing
  • Resource management
  • Capacity planning
  • Financial management
  • Business insights

The Forecast proposition is that its ‘advanced AI technology enables intelligent recommendations so you can be more proactive’. For example, it learns from your best projects to give you recommendations and predictions and flags risks and issues proactively.

However, it does lack some of the key financial management functionality agencies need, such as client quotes, billing plans and purchase tracking.

4. Teamwork

Best agency software for client collaboration

Teamwork is an all-in-one team platform to manage client work – projects, budgets, team and clients.

Key features include:

  • Resource and workload management
  • Project and task management
  • Time tracking
  • Team and client collaboration
  • Reporting and analytics

Customers praise it as being a helpful tool for planning and managing projects. A feature that might particularly appeal to agencies is Client Users, which allows you to involve your clients in your projects. They can send requests, monitor project progress, add tasks to a project, comment on tasks and even track time… all of which could be beneficial for some agencies.

But it is noticeably lacking in key agency management features like opportunity management, client quoting, capacity forecasting and purchase management. The budgeting, billing and accounting system integrations are also very basic.

5. Harvest 

Best for small agencies wanting to track project budgets and billing easily

Harvest is a project time-tracking software designed for small project-based businesses. Its primary features include:

  • Project budgeting
  • Time tracking
  • Expense management
  • Invoicing
  • Utilisation reporting and analytics
  • Payment and accounting system integrations

It’s a low-cost, user-friendly tool for monitoring budgets and utilisation, and it’s suitable for small agencies. However, it doesn’t cover all the needs of project planning, resource management and forecasting, which means you’ll need some extra software or tools.

Harvest works well with project management software, such as Asana, Trello, Basecamp, Clickup and Jira, which allows agencies to create an integrated eco-system.

How to choose the best agency management system for your agency

Before starting to look for your new software, ask yourself why you want to change. Knowing what your business needs right from the word go helps you figure out what kind of system will work give best value to your agency.

  • What are your main business goals?
  • How do you expect this system to help you reach them?

Then, list the challenges, issues or areas of weakness you need to fix.

For example:

  • Do you often go over budget on projects?
  • Is your workload distribution uneven across your teams?
  • Are you wasting a lot of time preparing reports?

When you’re caught up in busy day-to-day agency life it can be tempting to just think about the here and now. But to get anywhere, you need to also focus on the future and your long-term objectives. If your agency grows a lot over the next year, you’ll be looking at different challenges and probably need yet another new system to tackle these. Save yourself the hassle and cost of doing it all twice and look at both your current and future landscapes.

Next, ask yourself what you need to achieve your goals and needs.

The MoSCoW method can be a helpful technique in helping you to define what you’re looking for. 

  • Must have. Critical non-negotiable requirements.
  • Should have. Important but you are open to alternatives that still deliver the same results.
  • Could have. A nice idea but nothing that’s going to influence your decision too much.
  • Won’t have. Too low on your priority list to make a noticeable difference.

Get your teams on board

Bringing in a new system means getting everyone in your agency to agree with it. And there’s no point in trying to do this after the fact. Talk to your teams about what matters to them, as this can help you make a list of priorities.

But remember to focus on your main goals and problems. Some things might be annoying but not deal-breakers. Others might only happen once in a while. Stick to the major problems. As agency leader, you need to look at the big picture to get the best system for the whole agency.

Once you’ve done the groundwork, it’s time to start looking at suppliers. Always with a view to your original goals and needs. It can be easy to get distracted by fancy features, but they might not address what you really need.

Taking the time to find the best agency management software for your business can help you avoid bad decisions and save you money in the long term. A little research goes a long way… and could propel you ahead of your competition.

Want software advice from agency management experts? Say hello

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