Are there better alternatives to workflow software? The temptation of a novel new system may be in conflict with common sense. Let's make sure that we can't use the office software we already own.
- Online Marketplaces
- A spreadsheet
- Bookkeeping software
1. Online Marketplaces Like UpWork
What about offloading the workflow, bookkeeping, and banking to UpWork?
UpWork is an online marketplace used to connect clients with contractors. The UpWork marketplace takes a commission for using their system. They've evolved a workflow process and handle the banking. Their services include collecting and reporting sales tax to the tax collector.
All of the members on UpWork start by paying around 20% of their rate to UpWork. For my Australian client, UpWork adds the 10% GST (Goods and Services Tax) to the invoice to the client. As an example, I bill out in $61.11 AUD an hour. The client pays $67.22 AUD to UpWork and I take home about $48.88 AUD per hour.
UpWork is one of the alternatives to workflow software because it eliminates my risk of holding debt (unpaid invoices in accounts ageing) when the client is slow to pay. UpWork's system replaces the time I would spend doing bookkeeping and banking.
Our client, the ad agency contracts each assignment to us through UpWork. This idea didn't work because the client would have to enter the assignment data. To manage the writers, I need access to the client's login to manage the assignments. The agency and I thought we could streamline the process to be less than 20% fees, too. (More on that in the future.)
2. A Spreadsheet
The simplest solution is to list assignment details a spreadsheet. A spreadsheet is one of the good alternatives to workflow software when it’s a basic list.
The spreadsheet contains the assignments, the deadlines, the writers, and payment history. I enter updates for the dates:
- The assignment is offered to the writer
- The writer accepts the assignment
- The deliverables are received (with the writer's invoice)
- The payment to the writer
- The invoice to the agency
- When the agency pays the invoice
The risk of using a spreadsheet is creating a lot of data entry. Another risk is making a mistake in the data entry or not completing the data entry.
3. Bookkeeping Software Like Xero
For the last two months, I have been using Xero in combination with a spreadsheet to track assignments and payments.
Xero can track deadlines as due dates in a purchase order or an invoice using the Bill function. However, Xero alone is not one of the good alternatives to workflow software. The bookkeeping functions are great -- but using bookkeeping functions as workflow software creates excessive data entry. And, the data is harder to customize.
Xero has workflow plugins to streamline the process for a mid to large sized business. The real way to use Xero is to use the WorkFlow Max or KissFlow plugins.
The trick with managing workflow recognizing when the business grows big enough to need real workflow software. The setup and connections to other business systems is justified when there is a large amount of activity.
Choosing Alternatives to Workflow Software
Time and labour are more valuable in the early stages of a business. The amount of data starts small when managing the writers' workflow.
The bigger struggle has been to maintain the cash flow. The workflow tracking can fluctuate between nothing and enough content to keep 4 to 5 writers very busy. The amount of available cash to pay the writers strains as the number of assignments grows. assignments can go between nothing and enough content to keep 4 to 5 writers very busy.
I also had an unplanned issue in the early stages of this workflow. The bank transaction fees and Xero subscription fees increased in proportion with the increased work.
Meeting Goals with Alternative Workflow Systems
The goal of managing a content writing team is to delivery copy, not so much to develop a business system. The purpose of managing workflow is not to develop a business system, but to use workflow to ensure regular deliverables, roll out and all income for the work rolls in.
Many small modifications are being made to my content management process along the way. Recently, the writers discussed being consistently available -- if there is the right balance of work. The writers want enough pages in the assignment to make it worth their time. They will trade me a discounted fee for a longer deadline.
My goal is to have a stable group of experienced writers. I want writers to enjoy their work and like the routine. Predictable workflow tracking and reliable payments are critical to keeping good writers.
In my next article, I will expand on the issues of managing the right types of writing assignments. We will look at using briefs in an easy-to-repeat system. I will share how to use feedback from writers to build a better system.