Run Your Production Company More Efficiently with Google Apps

Our goal is to help production companies, post production companies and agencies operate more efficiently.

Fabulous productivity and video collaboration tools like ScreenLight help :). However, one product can't do everything, and to run a tight ship you'll need some additional tools. Today I'm going to help you get started with one of my favorites, which is Google Apps.

The main things that I like about Google Docs are as follows:

  • Price. It's free for accounts with less than 10 users. Can't beat that.
  • Gmail. An awesome email client that lets you hoard old messages like a packrat, yet still pull up exactly what you need at a moments notice. It does an amazing job of keeping spam at bay, and it's really easy to sync messages with your mobile phone.
  • Shared calendars make it easy to ensure that everyone is on the same page.
  • Simple document sharing and collaboration. It's much easier to share files with clients and co-workers using Google Docs, than it is to email Word documents back and forth. Awesome for production briefs, timelines, scripts, etc.
  • You can access your files anywhere, anytime.
  • You can edit files on any desktop, as well as, your iPad, iPhone, or Android device.
  • There is minimal feature bloat. Google Docs doesn't have as many features as Office,  and that's a good thing.
  • It's always up to date and there is no software to install or manage. On those rare occasions when I have to fire up Word, it kills me that I have to wait while the application updates itself to take care of some new security concern.
  • Everything is secure as the latest updates are automatically made available to everybody.

Getting started takes a bit of technical grunt work and about an hour of time, but it's well worth it. Let's get started...

Step 1 - Signup for an Account

Google is making the free version of its service a little less prominent, so following this link should get you where you need to go.

If you already have a domain name (which I suspect you do), you will be asked to enter it. If you don't have one, there is an option to purchase one for $10. After you have done this you will be asked to fill out a bunch of administrative blah, blah, blah, and sign away your rights.

Step 2 - Configure Your Account and Verify Your Domain

When you login for the first time (which happens automatically), you are asked to select your setup option. I would pick the express option unless you know what you are doing and have very particular requirements.

You will have to verify that you own the domain that you registered with.  I have found that the easiest option for doing this is to select the "Add a Meta Tag" option. To use this verification method, you will have to:

  1. Edit the main page of your website by adding the <meta> tag that Google provides you in the <head> section of the HTML on the main page of your website. You will want to make sure that it's placed before the first <body> section.
  2. Upload the new file to your website.
  3. Click the verify site button from within the Google Apps setup page.

I found this option is easier than the default suggestion which is to "Upload an HTML file to your domain's web server". This option is very straightforward if  your site is hosted at the root domain (http://yoursite.com), however, it gets more complex if its hosted at the the www subdomain (http://www.yoursite.com).

If you can't upload a file or add a meta tag, there are other verification options, but I'll leave Google to guide you.

Step 3 - Add Users

If you are a solo operator, then you can skip this step. If you want to add other users, the wizard will guide you to click the "Organizations & users" tab and then click the "Create a new user" button. You will have to enter the first name, last name, and the email address you would like to assign to the person. I like to use the firstname.lastname pattern for email addresses, but you can shorten to firstname@yourcompany.com if you like the more informal and easy to remember approach. If you already have email addresses, then you will probably want to create the same addresses in gmail to minimize disruption. Once you confirm your selections, for the first user, you have to option of entering additional ones.

When you are done, you will return to the setup wizard.

Step 4 - Setup Gmail

Setting up gmail is probably the trickiest step, because you have to redirect mail from your existing host to Google. To do this, you will have to login to your domain host's website and change your MX settings. Since most domain hosts have slightly different administrative consoles, the steps will vary based on your provider.  Since I use Amazon's Route 53 for my DNS, I'll give directions for that. Google provides configuration options for a number of hosts, so you shouldn't have to dig too deep to find the settings that will work for you.

Login to the AWS management console and select the Route 53 tab. Click the domain name that you want to manage, and select go to record sets. If there are MX records, then you will have to delete them and replace them with the entries provided by Google. If there are no MX records, then you should click the "create record set" button.

Route 53 Console

Either way, make sure that you enter the MX entries in the exact order and format outlined by Google. Set the TTL entries to 3600.

Once you save your entries, the process of moving your mail records to Google will begin. It can take a day or more before the changes take effect, and you won't receive email at your new address until the changes take effect.

The configuration wizard provides a simple way to test if the records have been set. Once the transfer has been completed, you can login to gmail at the following address: http://mail.google.com/a/yourdomainname.com

 Step 5 - Setup Calendar and Docs

You don't need to do much to set these up. I would suggest setting aside some time to play around with them later. For now, just remember that they can be accessed via the top bar in gmail, or at the address below:

  • calendar.google.com/a/yourdomainname.com
  • docs.google.com/a/yourdomainname.com

Step 6 - Setup Mobile Access

I'll leave this to you since there are different configuration options for Android, iPhone, BlackBerry, Windows Mobile, etc.

Step 7 - Configure Easy Access

The wizard offers options to add additional applications, download the Chromeweb browser (awesome!) , and access training materials.

I'll focus on a bonus step, which isn't included in the wizard, and that's configuring an easy to remember way to access your apps. We will configure the following addresses:

  • mail.yourdomainname.com
  • calendar.yourdomainname.com
  • docs.yourdomainname.com
  • apps.yourdomainname.com

  • Login to the Google Apps Administrator panel, click the "Settings" button, click email, and then click change URL.

Custom login

This will take you to a page where you can customize the login address. To speed things up, click the link that says change URLs for all domain services.

Google Apps-1

  1. Select the radio buttons next to the suggested names. Personally, I think apps is more memorable than start for the start page url, so I'll use that rather than the suggested default of start.

  2. Now you will have to make CNAME entries for each of these shortcuts. To do this, open a new window, login to your domain provider's website and navigate to the DNS section. My example shows the steps for Amazon Route 53. Your provider is likely different and Google has directions on how to configure CNAME entries with a variety of providers.

Login to the AWS management console and select the Route 53 tab. Click the domain name that you want to manage, select go to record sets, and click the "create record set" button. To configure mail you will enter:

Name: mail

Type: CNAME

Value: ghs.google.com

Repeat the process for calendar, apps, docs. The value is the same for each service you need to configure.

When you are done with the settings at your DNS provider, go back to the Google Apps page and click I've completed these steps. Within a day, you should be able to login to each of these apps using the easy to remember addresses.

Step 8 - Enjoy Your New Apps

Take some time to use your new Apps. Moving away from desktop applications is a bit of a shift, but the gains in productivity down the line are well worth it.

If you like this guide, let me know and I'll be sure to publish more like it.