This is Block 81's archive of past articles. Once in a while we may add more, but it's rare.
Block 81 is a design studio producing beautifully crafted websites and brands for independent businesses and startups.
October 19, 2016
If you read our article on project management you’d know that we use Basecamp. We used to anyway. We recently canceled our account and haven’t really looked back.
Basecamp served us well for years. And everything I wrote in the aforementioned article was true. Basecamp 2 is still great and were it not for a change in our processes and client relationships, I think we may have stuck with it for quite some time. And to be honest, Basecamp 3 was never going to be right for us. (That UI just doesn't do it for me. Oof.)
The best reason for us to use Basecamp was to have a centralized place for communication with both, our clients and our team. And with the exception of a couple of clients, Basecamp was easy for them to use once they got used to it.
The one thing I didn’t ever like was giving our client yet another account to deal with. Sure, emailing replies to Basecamp was a cinch, but creating a new message meant logging in. Clients just want to get their thoughts to us without having to do much more. But, we kind of accepted that necessity and kept on with it – the benefits far outweighed the cons.
The one feature that was missing from Basecamp from day 1, version 1 was approvals. Getting approvals on design, code, wireframes, copy – whatever – is critical to how we work. And Basecamp didn’t really have that baked in (and still doesn’t as far as I know).
Oh sure, you could integrate with a third-party service, but that usually meant 1) another expense and 2) yet another account or thing for clients to deal with. We try to run a lean business in every sense of the word. From keeping our expenses low to keeping things as simple as possible for clients who choose to work with us. Integration with a third-party didn't really help with that.
We had a few different workarounds over the years. They were always some variation of making a note in Basecamp to the client that they had given us approval on something we had delivered so that we could move onto the next step. It worked ok.
We’ve been using ClientFlow for roughly a couple of months and frankly, it’s one of the better process-related decisions we’ve made.
ClientFlow is simply a communications hub. You keep track of client communication, including approvals (woot!). And, your team can jump in and see what conversations have taken place, even if they’re not involved in some of them. As for clients, all they ever see is all they need: email messages. It’s that simple.
For us, Threads is where we spend the most time. Sending new messages, replying to clients, following up, etc. The biggest boost to our workflow related to this, however, is the ability to quickly see where you’re at with a project based on your client conversations. Now, I realize that’s doable in Basecamp too, but the amount of clicking has been greatly reduced thanks to ClientFlow. It’s the little things like this that add up.
Admittedly the one downside to ClientFlow is that if a client needs to start a new email conversation, there’s no way to get that into ClientFlow. What we’ve found though, is that is rarely needed. We don’t really use ClientFlow unless it’s for a specific project. When a client does email us first, we simply put our reply into ClientFlow with a copy of their original message at the end of ours. No need to complicate things, right?
Although it doesn’t get used that often, Approvals was the killer feature that lead us to go with ClientFlow. This one little feature makes it so easy and clear to get sign-off from clients. All they need to do is click a button. That’s literally it.
I love ClientFlow. And it was recently acquired by JD Graffam and his team at Simple Focus. I’ve had the pleasure of meeting JD. He’s a brilliant entrepreneur and the guy can tell a good story. I’d be lying, though, if I said I was supremely confident in the future of ClientFlow.
Don’t get me wrong, I think ClientFlow is here to stay – that much I’ve been reassured of by JD himself. What always concerns me about company acquisitions is radical changes and feature bloat.
On a scale of 1-10, ClientFlow is easily an 8-9. Is there room for improvement? Absolutely. What I don’t want to see is ClientFlow morphing into some bloated project management app.
But I guess we’ll see what happens. I’ve got hope for good changes.
The bottom line of all this though is that, when it comes to working with agencies, clients just want to stay in the loop and easily get in touch with you. While needing to understand your project process is no doubt a requirement, making clients jump through hoops at the online app circus is overkill.
Seriously, broken or not, your clients just want to email. ClientFlow makes that possible and keeps your internal process, well, internal. It’s perfect.