Why I Chose to Build an Admin System

Web designers are busy people. Running a web design agency is a busy job. You’re front and center for every aspect of your business. You need to manage your clients, your projects, your contacts and everything associated with them. When you’re first starting out it’s easy to get by by making notes here and there and just remembering the important things. But as your client list and responsibilities grow you’ll need something a little more professional to help keep you in check.

The options

Up until now I’ve tried various things. None quite lasted the distance for one reason or another.


Excel filesI started out using Excel spreadsheets to collect and order information. It made sense. Tabular data, easy to read, easy to access. The problem with this, however, is that it was all static information. It was also all in one place. Meaning if I ever wanted to update it when I was somewhere other than home, I needed to have copied an up to date version to a USB stick, or emailed myself the file. Awkward.

I’ve never been a fan of Excel either. It’s just too static. So I quickly ran out of patience with it and soon found myself dumping info into Textpad files and leaving them close to hand on my desktop. Not exactly efficient. Next, I began looking for options online.


Evernote logoEvernote is a phenomenally handy service. And although it’s primarily used for bookmarking, it’s one of those services that is so flexible it could be used for just about anything. It can be used as a bookmarking tool, file backup, moodboard, contacts manager and many other things. But…it didn’t have exactly what I wanted. I still intend to use Evernote as I think it’ll be particularly good for managing moodboards. But it’s not the CRM or project manager I’m looking for.


Basecamp logoBasecamp (by 37 Signals) was an obvious choice. It seems to be the preferred option for thousands of web designers and agencies. So I set myself up with a trial and got to playing with it. It is very good. But it’s also $49 a month, and is primarily focused on managing projects. I wasn’t keen on every aspect of it’s functionality and wanted more control over the layout. I kept thinking ‘it could do with an input field for this and an option for that….’. I wanted something that could handle more than just projects. It needed to manage my clients, contacts, template files and a knowledgebase where I could dump info as well. Sure, if I was happy to shell out the $49 a month for Basecamp and $24 a month for Highrise (37 Signals’ contacts manager) I’m certain they would’ve done what I wanted and more. But I wasn’t.

The solution

I love web apps. I love web tools. There are so many extremely helpful things out there. But nobody can know how I work better than me. Which left me with one option – build myself an admin.

Naturally I turned to WordPress as it’s the tool I’m most comfortable with. But more than that, it has plenty of built-in functionality that I could use:

  • built in image and file uploader – would be perfect for the file repository and knowledgebase areas of the admin
  • content is easily categorised and ordered by date by default
  • with the introduction of WordPress 3.0, custom post types offer the abilty to add different kinds of ‘post’ or content, making it infinitely flexible
  • custom meta boxes can be used in conjunction with custom post types to enter more varied info
  • custom taxonomies can be used to easily organise data and make it simple to filter my clients or projects, for example, by website package type


Customisation is the key to productivity for me. Unless it works the way I want, more likely than not I’ll stop using it. Everybody works slightly differently. Everybody thinks slightly differently. So for me personally, the only way to get something truly usable that I won’t quit on after a month or so is to build my own system. So that’s what I did.

In my next post I’ll go into a little more depth of how I used some of WordPress’ newest and most impressive features to create a system to keep me organised.

(Lead photo adapted from wwarby’s photo)


  1. I can’t wait to read your next post! I’m curious to see how you used WP to manage all your clients, contacts, files, etc. I’m looking for something similar – as of now I use Evernote, but I’m still not happy, and organized the way I want to be.


  2. Thanks Sibila. It’s a tricky one – I found myself trying to manipulate all sorts of systems to work the way I wanted them to but I gave up trying in the end. Much happier now.

    I’d be interested to know how you managed your stuff through Evernote as well. It’s so powerful but I can’t quite decide on what I should use it for…

    By the way, don’t forget to subscribe to my feed to get updated for when I publish my next post about what I actually did with WP. Shouldn’t be long now!


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