I recently received a Tweet from 17hats letting me know that they have added several new features to their client management system for solopreneurs. They more than hinted that maybe I would like to update a post that first appeared on Freelance to Freedom November 2014 in which my good friend Morgan of A Little Creative reviewed and compared 17 Hats to a competing system, Motiv (which is now out of business).
Well why not? I know from the comments some of you left in the original post that many of you are still “on the fence” about whether to go with 17hats or not. This time, I’ve asked another friend and colleague, Sarah Noked who is an experienced Online Business Manager to weigh in with her impressions of the system since the new features were added. Here’s what Sarah has to say.
For sure, the number one most useful addition to 17hats is the continued development of their workflows feature. It’s important to keep in mind that 17hats is project based at its core with everything else supporting the smooth flow of projects that you do for your clients.
Setting up custom workflows is what allows you to automate your business processes. And we all know how central this is to our sanity. 17hats suggests that you create a workflow for each of the 3 stages of a project: pre-sale, during delivery and post-sale, and then create one or more phases within each of these workflows. Typically, phases will include to-do items (which are really reminders), action items (where using templates is super powerful) and pause items (when you are waiting on a reply from your client). Once you understand the logic behind workflows, setting them up is simple and straightforward. Oh and by the way, they have a great video that explains this all in about 4 minutes.
Adding a time tracking feature was high on the user list of new feature requests and has been in place for a while now. It allows you to include a billing rate and description and even if and how you want to round out your billing time segments (by 15 minute intervals, for example). Once your time is recorded, it’s easy to invoice your client for just the billable hours, with the un-billable hours showing up in your own internal report for that client. 17hats will even group all the billable hours for a certain task (like photo editing, if you’re a photographer) into one invoiced item, if you choose that option.
Lead capture forms
To help with the marketing of your business, 17hats added a lead capture feature that allows users to add forms to their website (as a popup or embedded on a page) or Facebook page. The contact info captured on these forms is pulled directly into the leads section of 17hats. What’s great about this feature, is that its setup routine was designed with the solopreneur in mind. You don’t need to know too much about online marketing to get this up and running on your website fast. With this feature, 17 Hats is also a mini-CRM (Customer Relationship Management) for one-man businesses.
What’s in the works
A mobile app is the most requested feature that has not yet been implemented according to the 17 Hats User Voice forum. But they are working on it, with launch planned for the end of this year (2015). As they point out, you can currently use 17hats on mobile devices through your browser.
Another much requested, missing feature is an online scheduling app so that your or your clients can schedule appointments and meetings directly into 17hats. The development team is aware of this, but have not yet committed to when it will be available. In the meantime the work around is to use your Google Calendar (which integrates with 17hats) and connect it with a third party scheduling app.
Over 700 17hats users have requested a client portal where clients can see the details of their project, such as billing statements, open and closed tasks, signed contracts, questionnaires, and even a place to pay their bills. Again, the 17hats team is looking into this and promise this feature will be coming soon.
The biggest drawback
Definitely the major disadvantage right now is that the free trial period is still too short at 14 days. Most entrepreneurs need at least double this time to complete a project lifecycle with their clients in order to really get a feel for the system and whether it right for their business or not.
Superb customer support
It’s a no brainer that getting customer support right is what makes or breaks a company today, especially a young SAAS (software as a service) startup that will surely have hiccups along the way. And this is why 17hats has a real shot at leaving the competition behind to eat their dust –their customer support is excellent! They are helpful and responsive, so even if the system does not work perfectly, you know there is someone to talk to and get the problem fixed.
What it’s not
17hats in its current form is not a do-it-all system that can handle all your business needs. It is not a collaboration or project management system, like TeamWork, Asana or Basecamp. It’s for solopreneurs (one man businesses), helping them with their recurring admin processes and internal workflows. It streamlines the management of clients through the normal lifecycle of a project.
I don’t think there is an all-in-one system out there yet, and on reflection, this may be a good thing. If such a system fails, even temporarily, it would be that much more disastrous for your business. Separating project collaboration from internal client life-cycle management may not be such a bad idea.
What do you think?
P.S. If you want some help learning about the different steps and tools you should be streamlining in your business, grab Leah’s free Freelance Process Checklist!