Product Reviews Archives - SkEye Studios
Organize Your Life: Basecamp

Organize Your Life: Basecamp

THE OVERVIEW

At SkEye Studios, we’re passionate about using technological resources available to us.  While there are surely hundreds of helpful office management/small business tools out there, we use some more than others on a daily basis. As SkEye’s adamant organizer, let me introduce you to Basecamp—our in-house project management software.

 

THE APPLICATION: Basecamp 3

THE PURPOSE: Project Management

PRICE: $29/month for internal teams, and $79/month to use Basecamp with clients

FIND IT: www.basecamp.com

 

Basecamp 3 is one of the most revolutionary project-management products out there.  Eh, who are we kidding…  It’s. The. Best.  Chris started using Basecamp 2 earlier in 2015.  It was powerful, but when Basecamp 3 (the latest version) came out, I decided we would be early-adopters.  We got on board and started organizing our projects and to-do lists in ways that were clean and easily accessible.  

 

WHAT WE USE IT FOR

 

  • Communicating with team members.
  • Assigning and completing project to-do’s.
  • Uploading and organizing project files.

 

Like any amazing multi-purpose tool, there are features that we use like they’re going out of style, and there are features that we hardly ever touch, but I can see how they could be useful in a different setting.  SkEye uses it as our work-related instant messaging application between co-workers.  I’m a to-do list writer, and Basecamp allows you to create lists of to-do’s in organized locations.  Each project has it’s own “basecamp.”  The basecamp has six possible features:  Campfire (quick project-related messaging), Message Board (focused discussions), To-do’s (ability to group lists within the project), Schedule, Automatic Check-ins, and Docs & Files.

 

Since we’re a team of five, we often are working to delegate tasks to those who are most suited to them.  And sometimes, there are tasks that everyone needs to do individually, but on their own time.  For those of you alongside us in the startup life, you know that you’re spinning plates…  Sometimes you’re spinning so many plates you forget that you also started spinning a bowl and a saucer.  The to-do list keeps those around…or it allows you to re-assign them to someone more suited to the task.  For example, I’m writing this blog, but Margaret will be making the featured image.  I have set a to-do for her to create it in a timely fashion.

 

The Docs & Files is also especially important to us.  Here is where we can store any of our general files related to a client or project.  Occasionally, when I’m making updates on the website or blog, I’ll need our “official” SkEye colors.  Instead of asking Patrick for the exact color of orange each time, I simply go to our SkEye Business Development basecamp to the SkEye Assets document where I can find the color listings, our logos, and any other common SkEye branding items.  The Docs & Files is where Margaret will upload the featured image she created for this blog.

 

THE PROS

 

  • Simple/clean – doesn’t require any training, just use and exploration.
  • Adaptable – Use it where it makes sense for you, desktop, online, or in the iOS or Android app.
  • Deep – There is no limit to the projects or number of users, only space.  Purchase the amount you’ll need to start.
  • Affordable – Pricing is set and doesn’t fluctuate based on number of projects or users.
  • Responsive – The team at Basecamp is incredibly responsive and always making changes and updates based on client feedback.  They also have a myriad of support tools available as you research whether or not it is the best program for you.

 

What I like best about Basecamp is it has helped our project organization in leaps and bounds.  Conversations among ourselves regarding a client or project are contained in the respective project basecamp.  The ability to assign to-do items is also incredibly helpful as it reduces the time we spend distracting one another with trying to figure out whose responsibility is whose.

 

THE CONS

Because I know I’m a bit blinded by my love of Basecamp, I had to do some research with others in our office and on the internet to have a better idea of what could use improvement.

  • Limited Feature Set – Basecamp 3 is an outstanding community project management tool, but we’d love it even more if it had better tracking and reporting.  Specifically, I would appreciate it if we could track time spent on tasks or to-do lists within basecamps.  Also, because I love modernization and integration, with all the communication abilities, sometimes I’d like to use Basecamp for video conferencing within the team.
  • Margaret mentioned to me that Basecamp’s interface and overall appearance seems outdated.  Unlike similar software, Basecamp is non-customizable in that you are unable to personalize your account by changing color schemes or inserting your company logo.
  • Applause – Actually, we love this feature so much, we just wish we could use it more!  Giving applause is something one user can do to show appreciation for comments and documents.  However, the ability isn’t extended to being able to give applause for completing a to-do.

 

To me, the biggest drawback to Basecamp is that it does not have a time tracker.  Due to this, we are constantly having to add projects to multiple organizational tools (ie. both Basecamp and Toggl, our time tracker).  Occasionally, we forget to add a project to the time tracker as well, or things get added multiple times, and the tracking is less effective.  I’d love if it was all in one place!

 

THE TAKEAWAY

 

If you do one thing for your business today, it should be to examine how projects are being tracked.  Are you constantly going between your team trying to figure out who’s doing what and what the status is on a project?  Do you find yourself losing track of your to-do list and the due dates on items?  Or realizing that a to-do would be better completed by someone else?  Even worse, do you ever remember a (virtual) conversation, but are unsure of where it took place?  A project management software that’s simple enough for everyone to stay on track might be just what you need.  
Don’t be afraid to adopt a new process or system.  Even if it’s in developmental stages!  Early adopters are critical to a business’ or product’s success.  We are the ones who have the opportunity to share our opinions of what features we like and wish could be better, ultimately contributing to the creation of the best thing possible.

A Startup’s Best Friend: Google Apps

A Startup’s Best Friend: Google Apps

THE OVERVIEW

At SkEye Studios, we’re passionate about using technological resources available to us.  While there are surely hundreds of helpful office management/small business tools out there, we use some more than others on a daily basis. As SkEye’s adamant organizer, let me introduce you to Google Apps for Work and why they’re great for a small business like us.

THE APPLICATION: Google Apps for Work

THE PURPOSE: Email with Company Domain, Document Editing/Sharing, Calendar, Video Conferencing

PRICE: $5 per user

FIND IT: www.drive.google.com

Oh Google.  In this day and age, it’s nearly impossible to function without it.  Personally and professionally!  Before migrating to using Google Drive, entirely, we were trying to keep track of shared items using Dropbox or by emailing them to one another, eventually realizing we were struggling to keep track of whether or not everyone had access to everything they needed at all times.

WHAT WE USE IT FOR

  • Email with a consistent domain for the whole team.
  • Shared business calendar for everyone to access and view one another’s availability.
  • Editing shared documents…In fact, Margaret and I are editing this blog in a Google doc as I type!
  • Google Hangouts is becoming more widely used for video and voice call conferencing.

Before I actually began work at the SkEye office in Hillsboro back in September, I was invited to collaborate on editing a script in Google Docs with the rest of the team.  It was my first time collaborating on a document at the same time as others…and it was LIKE MAGIC.  Let’s just all remember back in the day when group projects required the whole group to crowd around one computer (or typewriter???) while one person types and the rest pretend/try to give suggestions.  Working on a shared file in Google Drive with several other people is synergy in action.  Ideas can be fleshed out in shorthand, and changes can be made instantaneously.  

Our calendar is a work of art.  Our shoot for the Hillsboro Chamber of Commerce was pretty in-depth.  There were a lot of locations, and not everyone was needed at each shoot.  I give the rest of the team a bad time about not studying the calendar religiously, but, I suppose, given the crazy number of things that could be going on at any point in time, it’s not their fault.  

THE PROS

  • Easy – doesn’t require any additional training for the active computer user.
  • Adaptable – Can go on your phone or your computer.
  • Deep – The starter business plan comes with 30GB of storage per person in the Drive.
  • Committed to improvement – Google is always making adjustments and refining its tools.

What I like best about Google Apps is how user-friendly they are.  It’s particularly nice to know that as long as I “share” my documents with the rest of the team, they can access them.  I also love integration and consistency.  In my opinion, the more needs an app, or in this case, a suite of apps, is able to fill, the better it is.  Google already seems to be on a mission to fill most of our technological needs, and so far, the Google Apps for Work seem to be doing just that!

THE CONS

  • I love the idea of a shared drive of common folders that all staff as access to, simply by being a SkEye Studios employee.  It’s totally possible through sharing, but a little less convenient because it requires the extra step of sharing each document with the group.
  • Google or Apple?  It’s becoming an age-old question.  At SkEye, we all use Apple computers, but our personal cell phones are a combination of Apple, Android, and Windows, so accessing and integrating the Google suite of applications, especially the calendar into our personal lives requires a bit of finesse.
  • Can’t see reports with filters on mobile

To me, the biggest drawback to Google Apps is that if you are not a regular user of the suite, there are some difficulties in feeling comfortable with some of the intricacies.  For example, we’re still working out the bugs in our understanding of inviting non-company individuals to Hangouts.  Sometimes people say they aren’t able to connect to the meeting link.  So whether that’s just a user-error or an oversight, we have yet to learn.

THE TAKEAWAY

If you do one thing for your business today, it should be to re-think how entering into the “society of sharing” could impact your life.  Would having an integrated calendar system help with scheduling issues?  Would being able to write and edit documents in real-time from different locations within a team help with productivity?  Is the reason for not entering a shared-cloud workspace because you truly don’t have much to share or is it for selfish reasons, like being too tied to “your” documents.  Or maybe you just have a massive, crazy busy business and adding the Google Apps for Work would over-complicate things.
However, for those of you small businesses with a small team, I recommend the use of the Google apps.  We’re constantly finding new ways to build them into our daily functions as they fit our needs.  In the mobile world we live in, to me, it’s been beneficial to be able to access files that are regularly updated by any one of the SkEye team without having to re-download something or request a most up-to-date version to be sent to me.

Time Management For Startups:Toggl

Time Management For Startups:Toggl

At SkEye Studios, we’re passionate about using technological resources available to us.  While there are surely hundreds of helpful office management/small business tools out there, we use some more than others on a daily basis. As SkEye’s adamant organizer, let me introduce you to Toggl — a time tracker that has revolutionized our workflow.

THE DETAILS

THE APPLICATION: Toggl

THE PURPOSE: Time Tracker

PRICE: $9/month per user (ranges from free to $49)

FIND IT: www.toggl.com

TIME FOR TRACKING

Like many busy people, we recognize that our time is as (if not more) valuable as money.  And as millennials, we’re also really good at wasting time.  I think we can all agree that there are definitely days when the clock hits 5 p.m., and we wonder what the heck we did all day…or maybe that’s just me.  However, just tracking our time usage has helped us to become more economical and more aware of the the things we do that are not delivering a return on our invested time.

Toggl is a time-tracking, productivity application.  It can be downloaded as a desktop or phone app, or it can be used natively on it’s website.  It has four levels of subscription, based on your company’s needs.  Right now, the second level, “Pro,” is best for us.

WHAT WE USE IT FOR

  • Keeping track of billable hours per project/client
  • Exporting & reviewing reports of project tasks (pre-production, production, web, etc.)
  • Personal accountability & time management

Toggl is most beneficial by allowing us to set up each project we’re currently working on and track the time that we’re spending on each “task” or each aspect, from conception of an idea to production to post-production and administration.  At first, we created a task for every little thing we may have done within a project.  For example, a contract of a home page video and website might have had several dozen tasks like motion graphics, coloring, proposal, ideation, shooting, set up, storyboarding, billing, etc.  Now, we group all these tasks into five components:  admin, pre-production, production, post-production, and website.  This makes it much easier to compare project to project how we’re getting better at managing our time.

THE PROS

  • Clean and Modern – As you begin using Toggl, it is easy to name what you’re doing and click start/stop.  The reporting is equally as clean.  The reports can be very surface-level, or they can track deep into a project or individual’s time.
  • Adaptable – Available in desktop, online, or mobile format.
  • Deep – There is no limit to the projects, clients, or tasks that can be tracked.
  • Reports – In depth reporting, we use it for better understanding the time we’re spending vs. how much we budgeted.

What I like best about Toggl is how it has helped me become more aware of how I’m spending my day.  I have to be honest about time that is ultimately unproductive.  Some days, I realize that I had a more distracted, less productive day; others, the reverse is true.  Mostly, however, Toggl has helped us to increase the speed at which we complete projects.

THE CONS

  • No Integration – When we started using Toggl, it integrated with Basecamp 2.  When we updated to Basecamp 3, there was no integration ability.
  • Price – It is a little steep to be tracking time for $9 per user per month.  Even now, I think, “Man, should I be looking into other time-tracking software?
  • Simplicity – In some ways, Toggl is so simple that it’s easy to get lost by not developing best practices as a team.

To me, the biggest drawback to Toggl is the price per user.  This summer, we’ll be adding five interns to our staff, and in turn, add them to Toggl.  Unfortunately, that’s an additional $45 per month, which, in my opinion is not necessary.  I’d also say that after using Toggl for about four months consistently, we’re just now developing best practices for ourselves.

THE TAKEAWAY

My best advice—especially for start-ups and small businesses—is to start tracking your time.  Every working moment, track what you’re doing.  Do that for at least a month.  Most time tracking applications have a free version.  If you’re taking it to your co-workers as well, remind everyone whenever you think to do it.  Keep one another accountable.  After a month, pull some of the reports.  Start with the Summary.  It’s pretty amazing to realize where your time is actually being spent.  Currently, we’re working on becoming more efficient—doing our work more quickly and to the best of our abilities, effectively increasing the value of our dollar.