Project Information from Clients Minus Email Hell
February 9, 2016 7:39 AM   Subscribe

I am freelance PMing for a tiny marketing department, and I'm about to lose my mind. Please help me figure out how to corral my personable assortment of feral cats, chickens with heads cut off, and other colorful animal analogies. I need the multiple, confusing emails to stop.

I am paid to PM for a small software company. I've been doing it for about a year now, and really, I've been limping along with not much of a submission system. We used to use JotForm, but frankly I totally hated it, and when the graphic designer who owned that service rolled off the account, I let it die.

We manage the following kinds of things:
- Emails
- Print ads
- Web ads
- Things they need for events
- Internal graphics / copy needs

The team is me (PM); a graphic designer and a copywriter (also freelance); an internal person who's doing SOME marketing stuff; and the owner who is the ultimate approver on most stuff. We also work a bit with the ladies who run their events/professional meetings.

The issue presently is that I'm taking all project requests via email, and while it was manageable for a minute, it's really, really not manageable now. I'm starting to lose things which is driving me crazy.

I need them to be able to communicate the following:

Name/Nature of project (ex, "Prospect Email for February Meeting)
Due Date
Description (this is pretty broad, longform. May include links.)
Requirements/Specs (usually for print)
Attachments (word docs, pdfs, jpgs, etc)

In the past we tried for a more "agency style" creative brief ("who is the audience?" "what is the voice?") but we never got good answers to these questions, and the client just does not think in these terms. In general I will get that in the title of the project ("prospect email") or in the description. We have an instance of Basecamp, but letting them start discussions in BC in the past resulted in a pile of crazy. I admin BC now and I am the only one who starts discussions or projects. It keeps that area down to a minimum of insanity.

Google forms gets so, so close, but I can't get attachments to work out there (suggestions welcome). I need something SIMPLE, preferably free but if not low-cost (think no more than Dropbox monthly), that can take attachments. Ideally it would have some simple dashboard and it will tell me (via email) that I have a form to look at. It's okay if it emails everything to me (because this automated system won't send me 50 emails on the same subject).
posted by Medieval Maven to Work & Money (12 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: How about Wufoo? It includes a file upload field and you can otherwise design your own forms.
posted by soren_lorensen at 7:53 AM on February 9, 2016

You could set up a folder in Dropbox for each project and have them drop files in there and link to them in the description on the form instead of attaching directly. I PM teams that have 6-7 agencies plus the client and we do something similar (with Box instead of Dropbox due to the client's preference).
posted by bedhead at 8:04 AM on February 9, 2016

Response by poster: I had forgotten about Wufoo. It's just a shade more expensive than I'd want in order to include the file upload option . . .but that's so. bloody. close.
posted by Medieval Maven at 8:22 AM on February 9, 2016

My favorite project management software no longer exists, but I've heard good things about Freedcamp (free) and Asana .
posted by three_red_balloons at 8:26 AM on February 9, 2016

Best answer: I'm a PM for a small web design agency and we use Smartsheet for this.
posted by anotheraccount at 8:38 AM on February 9, 2016 [1 favorite]

In the past we tried for a more "agency style" creative brief ("who is the audience?" "what is the voice?") but we never got good answers to these questions, and the client just does not think in these terms.

Not my specialty and I don't have a technological suggestion, but you might find Mike Monteiro's Design Is A Job helpful for clarifying what the process might be like and who you should be looking to, to fill in those blanks.
posted by jon1270 at 8:47 AM on February 9, 2016 [1 favorite]

Why are you talking about adding forms that will give you... more email... and not something that will let you actually manage jobs? Even a basic helpdesk system would let you track deliverables. Alternatively, you could try something like Teamwork or Asana or whatever.
posted by DarlingBri at 8:57 AM on February 9, 2016

Response by poster: @DarlingBri - I need something that will make them submit projects in a sensical way that doesn't result in me getting half a request and then corresponding with them over 10 more emails to get the link to the example or the specs. ONE email would be fine; the 5-10 is what's killing me. I manage the jobs via basecamp discussions and to-dos which my designer and copywriter are fine with (we have a good system over there). The submission part is what's broken.
posted by Medieval Maven at 9:03 AM on February 9, 2016 [1 favorite]

Would a ticketing system help? Our creative studio uses ZenDesk but it's pricey - Spiceworks is free, but I don't know how customisable it is.

In theory you should be able to customise the information that people have to provide before they submit a ticket to include whatever you need from people, and you can legitimately say things like "emailed requests won't get handled - you need to submit it via [ticketing system]" and "you can't update your request by email, you need to update your ticket" - which also has the benefit of keeping all updates for that one request threaded in the same place.
posted by terretu at 9:09 AM on February 9, 2016

My company uses Basecamp for this kinda thing, and it does projects well, I think.

All the other stuff my company uses it for, like bug-tracking... I can't believe it works well.
posted by Sunburnt at 9:51 AM on February 9, 2016

Asana is relatively good for corralling cats into specific, uh, corrals. You can create Sections, Tasks, and Subtasks, upload files, and add comments. It's not my worlds-most-favorite piece of software, but I find it much easier to manage my client requests and data when it stays put at one URL than when it flickers back and forth across my inbox.
posted by instamatic at 11:16 AM on February 9, 2016

Response by poster: Thanks guys. I think SmartSheet is where it's at.

Mostly they just don't think in terms of what we're doing -- Design is a Job is actually a great recommendation -- and so I need the form fields there front-and-center to remind them, RIGHT THERE ARE SPECS. And to keep related but discrete items separated. They're not bad clients, just very . . .enthusiastic and also over the top, and very much into sending a lot. of. email.
posted by Medieval Maven at 1:12 PM on February 9, 2016

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