Email isn’t dead, but it is gasping for air.
There was a point in time when email was a genuine revolution in communication. Not so much anymore. The delay, the back and forth, and the imitation of long-form letters is simply obsolete when it comes to modern business communication among professional teams.
Team messaging apps have taken the business world by storm, and it’s not hard to see why. They are responsive, immediate, and very useful.
If you haven’t heard of Slack before, it is a next-level communication tool for teams who are looking for the absolute cutting edge in productivity and collaboration. It is one of the many tools we use at ClydeBank Media to make sense of the organized chaos that is transforming a book from concept to finished product.
This post is part of a new ongoing series where we break down the exact tools and techniques we use at ClydeBank Media that have helped transform our company from a basement operation into a successful small business.
Small business owners, managers, and entrepreneurs of all types are invited to use these same tools and concepts to write their own small business success stories.
NEW UPDATE: The makers of the Slack team messaging app want their service to be used. Earning credits off your bill is easy by adding new users and getting others to sign up. Want a $100 credit on ClydeBank Media? Create a new workspace here. Try out Slack for free, then get a $100 credit when you upgrade to the premium plan.
If you're not sure Slack is a good fit for your organization, read on and learn more about the ways ClydeBank Media uses Slack on a daily basis.
Is a Team Messaging App a Good Idea?
There are a million reasons to switch to a team messaging app, especially for distributed teams like ours.
Slack is the only team messaging app I will use, but that’s because it is a unique fit for us.
We have team members across the US, many of whom are cross-trained in different business roles. It simply wouldn’t be feasible to have everyone in the same office, let alone the same room, so a team messaging app quickly became the best option for us.
Team messaging apps are also ideal for offices or other workplaces that are based around time spent on a computer or where a smartphone is close at hand. Should a commercial farm utilize a team messaging app? How about a construction site?
That’s for management to decide.
After reading this list of reasons why Slack has been transformational for our business, and why I think it is the best messaging app for teams, think about how these benefits could work for your business, your team, and the flow of work through your organization.
Personally, I think that a team messaging app is a poor fit for organizations where the team is ultra-small. If everyone who is a decision maker is in the same room, you will all benefit more from face-to-face conversation than from decision making through a computer screen or in a chat window.
It is truly the rare organization that couldn’t benefit from a little extra clarity and immediacy when it comes to communication; however, there is simply no substitute for working through problems with your team in a hands-on, face-to-face environment.
It is also worth noting that this list is composed of the Slack features that we have found most useful, but every organization has different strengths, weaknesses, and business needs.
That being said—emails? Come on, what is this, 1999?
1. Channel Organization is a Godsend
This is huge.
Channel organization is hands down the number one reason that Slack has benefitted us at ClydeBank Media.
The other features are nice as well, and maybe there was another way for us to replicate this benefit with the tools we were using, but out of the box this is a great feature for cross-trained teams.
For us at ClydeBank Media, the process that takes a group of concepts from notes to a manuscript, then to a feature-length book, audiobook, and ebook is made up of several stages.
Many people have their fingers in the ClydeBank pie, and not only are they rarely ever in the same room, but they are all cross-trained to fill a number of roles.
For example, my senior business writer also handles the bulk of our social media efforts.
Our copyeditor edits full-length titles, blog posts, supplemental material, and ad copy.
In the world of email communication and phone call after phone call, correspondence and business communication means lots of back-and-forth that can easily be derailed by an unclear subject line or a bad connection.
Slack’s solution is to silo topics into channels that we select and create as a team. To prevent noise, only the relevant team members are added to the pertinent channels, and the channels are dedicated to specific business functions or steps in the publishing process.
Channels can even be created for the duration of specific projects to really drill down the focus.
What this means for our business is that whenever anyone receives a message, they already have context as to what the subject may be. Conversations are focused and stay on topic. It is easy to look back at the conversation history surrounding a specific topic and search within a specific channel.
What does this look like in practice?
The increased productivity and focus that the channel system provides is difficult to quantify and is best expressed with examples.
Take our creative director, Katie.
At any given time, she has a task list full of ad creatives, illustrations, graphics, and layouts to create, update, and approve. With Slack’s channel setup, she can chat with our senior business writer/social marketer regarding ad copy and creatives, and with our ebook formatter regarding layouts and illustration placement.
Instead of taking multiple phone calls or drafting numerous emails, each of those pertinent conversations can happen in a focused and dedicated environment with a clear conversation history.
2. Searchable History
The searchable history aspect of Slack is one of the messaging platform’s most underrated features, and it dovetails nicely with the file storage and sharing aspects.
The quick messaging style of Slack means it can be all too easy to shoot off a quick thought, only for it to be lost in the steady stream of back-and-forth chatter.
The number of messages adds up quickly. At ClydeBank Media we have clocked well over 35,000 in the space of eight months or so, and we have a fairly small team.
A best practice we have adopted is to include a quick snippet at the beginning or end of the message that makes it much more easily searchable.
For instance, a message about updated ad copy for a new promotion would be in the channel #marketing, with a snippet at the beginning with something to the effect of *Download Promotion Ad Copy Update August 17*.
Slack’s text formatting renders text surrounded in asterisks as bold, text surrounded by underscores as italics, and text surrounded by tildes as strikethrough, although users have the option to edit messages once they have been sent, so I have never personally used the strikethrough functionality.
When it comes time to look back at a conversation or channel history, if you haven’t taken the time to insert these helpful markers, or you simply can’t waste the precious seconds, the paid versions of Slack include advanced search capabilities to narrow your search.
3. Comprehensive Analytics
The analytics package that Slack offers is by no means the most important aspect of the messaging platform, but it is a nifty feature. It can help decision makers evaluate the ways in which their team utilizes Slack and assist them in making the final decision about whether or not Slack is a good fit for their business.
If analytics show that team members aren’t using the platform because they prefer to chat on the phone or converse in a face-to-face environment, then a paid subscription to Slack might not be the right choice.
Free plans have general data about message read rates, active channels, and other basic information. Standard and Premium (Slack’s two paid options) have expanded and detailed reporting.
4. High-Functionality Free Version
Slack is inarguably better if you pay for it (no surprise there), but for new customers the free version has a lot of functionality.
They call it the “Unlimited” version. Instead of receiving a trial period and then being forced to pay, you can simply use the free version indefinitely. There are some important restrictions, but it is worth noting that small teams could conceivably use the free version forever.
The free version is throttled in three key ways.
First, the Unlimited version allows only the last ten thousand messages to be searchable.
While messages outside that threshold stay safe and sound in Slack’s database and are associated with your account, they are not searchable and are kept behind a paywall. If you maintain a small team that has intermittent use for Slack, this isn’t really a restriction, and you can always pay at a later date to access those older messages if you really need to.
The second key restriction comes in the form of integrations.
We’ll get to integrations in a moment, but the Unlimited version only allows up to ten to be used at a time. These integrations make Slack an even more powerful tool for advanced teams with structured workflows.
We use the Trello integration and the Google Drive integration, and I have experimented with some other productivity tool integrations, but with small teams you may never reach the limit of ten. On the other hand, large teams in excess of thirty people almost definitely will, especially if the entire organization is on Slack.
With each department using their own host of scheduling, productivity, and reporting tools, that limit of ten could be a serious barrier right away. Not to mention that a larger team will burn through 10,000 messages much faster.
The third restriction, and the one that really throws up a roadblock, is the storage limit included with the Unlimited plan. Total uploads cannot exceed 5GB with the free version of Slack, which is really a very small number.
It is just too damn convenient to upload a file and have it within a searchable history to share with the team, and 5GB fills up fast. Storage limits increase with the standard and premium plans, but Slack is not meant to be a file storage service (that’s why they integrate with Drive and Dropbox).
Even so, when we first started using the Unlimited version of Slack, we didn’t fill up the 5GB limit for several months, proving that small teams can get quite a bit of use out of the Unlimited version before their older files start getting locked behind a paywall.
5. Handy Integrations
Integrations are all the rage right now as more and more software solutions developers realize that modern entrepreneurs will use the best combination of tools for their specific circumstances.
Instead of creating a software solution that is a perfect fit for every customer (an impossible task, to be sure) developers understand that it is better to be very good at one feature—such as team messaging—and then allow customers to fit that feature into their existing workflow.
The Slack App Directory is a truly impressive list of all the current app integrations that exist. We didn’t jump on the integration bandwagon right away, but the allure of increased productivity and extreme convenience become very real when poking around in the app directory.
6. There Are Always More Features
In addition to the sheer power that Slack brings to the table in the form of a robust team messaging app, there are endless hacks, tricks, and nifty little features that make Slack a pleasure to use.
Some of these features inject sneaky little productivity hacks into your day-to-day. Some are simply quirky and fun, like the Giphy integration that allows users to respond to their teammates with gifs or to make their own emoji. Slack also has:
✓ A host of shortcut commands that can be used to jump in and out of advanced searches and direct messages.
✓ A notepad functionality that takes the shape of a one-sided direct message conversation with yourself.
✓ Specific words or phrases can be highlighted, with notifications sent every time the highlighted key phrase is mentioned.
✓ Slack is available as a desktop app as well as a mobile app so notifications follow users across their devices.
Even if your team doesn’t use all of these features, they are handy additions that underscore just how robust a platform Slack is, and how tech savvy users can spread their wings, while those who are comfortable with “just the basics” can easily use only the messaging and file sharing functionalities.
7. One More Reason: Slack Grows with Your Team
At time of writing, Slack’s paid options are affordable, but the cost scales with your team.
Slack’s paid options—Standard and Premium—are billed based on the number of active users. A small team means a small bill, and a larger team means a larger bill. They even have an enterprise option for truly massive teams that span entire divisions.
Paying for Slack doesn’t just lift access to messages outside of the last ten thousand and increase the 5GB upload cap; there are a whole host of other premium features.
Paid Slack accounts allow external users to have limited access without becoming members of the team. Additional security features such as user authentication, permission control, and activity logs are unlocked with paid accounts. Compliance policies can be instated and enforced along with increased analytics information.
An Interesting Note About Paid Plans: The makers of the Slack team messaging app want their service to be used. Earning credits off your bill is easy by adding new users and getting others to sign up. Want a $100 credit on ClydeBank Media? Create a new workspace here. Try out Slack for free, then get a $100 credit when you upgrade to the premium plan.
The Bottom Line
The bottom line is that Slack has the range and the capability to become a one-size-fits-all solution for team-based communication and file sharing. Teams of all sizes can benefit from Slack’s robust offering, and users can take advantage of as many or as few features as they need or are comfortable using.
For my team at ClydeBank Media, Slack has become a central hub. The unique nature of our business coupled with our distributed team means that services like Slack are essential enablers of focused and productive communication, along with easy file sharing that integrates with services we already use.
Best of all, Slack is free to try, and as I have mentioned, small teams that use the messaging app functionality intermittently can use the Unlimited free plan indefinitely.
This post is part of an ongoing series where I share the exact tools, methods, and techniques I have used to grow my business and sustain my success. Nothing is left out; everything is included. That means the good, the bad, and the ugly.
Fortunately, for me it has been mostly good. Mostly.
Do you have a burning question about small business development in the digital age? Contact us. I’ll do my best to answer your question, and it may even make its way to the front page of the ClydeBank Business Blog.
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John co-founded ClydeBank Media in 2013. Focusing on adding as much value as possible to the market, John, with the support of the exceptional team at ClydeBank Media, has helped guide the early growth of the company. He currently serves as the Director and as a contributor to the ClydeBank Media blog.