Managing projects with an internal staff is hard enough, but when you’re working with several people remotely and want to keep your clients in the loop (and happy) then things start to get a bit tricky.
I remember working for an agency that spent thousands of pounds and hundreds of man hours on a tool that boasted huge bespoke features (that they thought we needed) only to have the system implemented and no one use it. Apparently the staff had trouble installing it and remembering to use it, but I suspect a bigger reason for its neglect was because it was simply too complicated. Don’t fall into that trap. There’s plenty of tools out there competing for your custom, and while some are proprietary (good luck getting rid of them once the ink has signed on the contract) there are some really great companies who started out small and now dominate the market (and for good reason). All of these services are from $2 – 20 a month and can be used in tandem.
Read on dear reader if you’re looking for a tool to do any of the following;
- Client management
- File management
- Version control
- Sales and project flow
- Team collaboration
- Task management
Time tracking = mistrust
Before I get to the recommendations bit, I just want to say a word against time tracking. I’ve been there, we’ve all been there (even if you’re just clocking in and out of a building where you work). You know the drill – you have to show up at a certain time or click a button and describe what you’re doing, or fill in a time sheet or this or that. I can bullshit on all of it.
Now, I know a few big agencies use it, but in my experience, I’ve only seen time tracking engender mistrust from both employees and employers alike. The only ‘time’ I’m concerned in is the deadline, and if you miss that, what good will those time sheets do you? With that said, none of these tool track time, the first (Basecamp) grew their company with the feature but decided not to support it anymore either within their (now very large) company or in their tool set. That should tell you something.
Basecamp: Project management that makes clients happy (paid)
I’ve been using 37signals products for a few years now, both in and out of agencies and can attest that Basecamp is one of the simplest and most affordable choices out there. I’m actually kind of tied into it (in much the same way as a proprietary system that eats up your internal memory), because my clients find it so easy to use (and when a non-technical client likes a piece of software, you know you’ve struck gold). Its also super afforable (about $20 a month) which is a small price to pay for a client’s happiness.
Simply put, Basecamp is a place where you can message your clients and fellow employees, set deadlines, assign to-dos and upload and store files. It doesn’t get more basic than that. The company also has two other pieces of software which tie into Basecamp. One for contacts (Highrise) and one for chat (Campfire) – both of which I’ve used and dumped (see better tools below).
FreedCamp: a Basecamp clone (free)
I had spent a lot of time searching for a free version of Basecamp last year and was disappointed until I researched this post today – viola, a free Basecamp! FreedCamp appears to be pretty legit but I haven’t used it (and won’t because moving my client’s project over would kill them). But here you go! I say check these guys out first.
Asana: Ultimate internal and personal to-do manager (paid)
You don’t want to put all your to-dos on Basecamp, only project specific tasks that show clients what you’re up to, what’s next and where you are. For everything else, there’s Asana. I’ve used the iPhone apps and browser extensions that promise to sort your life out with their handy dandy to-do lists but nothing has even come close to Asana. Why? Because they all lack a specific feature – reoccuring tasks. I seriously don’t know why, but Asana seems to be the only company to get their heads around the daily, repetitive duties of the online marketer. Best use case scenario – I have daily work that has to be done everyday without fail, so I set up a ‘Daily Work’ task with an internal check list and forget nothing. Perfect!
HipChat: Group chat and IM built for teams (paid)
Okay, so working in an office can be seriously distracting, and working remotely can be very alienating. HipChat to the rescue! Basically an old school IRC chat room, HipChat was built for teams to share files and discussions about whatever. Install it, and always leave it on (they have a killer iPhone app too) so you won’t be disturbed when you’re ‘in the zone’ (just ignore it) but can get the information you need in a timely fashion (@ mention someone and they’ll get an email sent to them if they’re not logged in). The only problem with this service is that you can’t switch between companies – but if you’re working for several companies at once that need you simultaneous, you probably don’t need my help here.
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