Timers, Tasks & Estimates… OH MY!

Over the past 5 years, I have had the opportunity to test many project management tools while trying to figure out the best workflow for my business, and while working at other agencies. Instead of going through the many PM tools that have caused me to want to pull my hair out or bang my head on my desk, I’ll save you the misery and tell you about the tools that have proved useful and powerful within my workflows. Here is a brief rundown of my top 5 project management and account tools for small business.

FreshBooks – I used Freshbooks Classic for years running a small print and digital publication and always found it to be a great product. After switching to the more complex QuickBooks online for about a year, I found I needed some simplicity and ease of use in my accounting software. Freshbooks is so easy and has a wonderful user experience. It is truly one of the easiest to use accounting apps out there in my humble opinion. Artisan Website Company currently uses the new FreshBooks online for our invoicing and accounting needs. It includes features such as estimates, time tracking, invoicing (based on time tracking or flat fee), invoice deposits and payment plan options, project notes and discussion, and expense tracking that can be auto-imported from your bank account. I found this cloud software so much easier than QuickBooks I had to make the switch. One other very important perk to a design business is that FreshBooks allows you to customize your invoices and estimates to match your branding and style. It’s the most customizable invoice I have found to date. If you want to learn more about FreshBooks, you can check them out online at www.freshbooks.com. They also have an informative blog with a lot of great articles for a small business located at www.freshbooks.com/blog.

Harvest – Harvest is our current time tracking tool for Artisan Website Company. Although FreshBooks has time tracking, I prefer the detail and organization of Harvest. Harvest is more than just time tracking and also offers the ability to invoice based on both flat fee and tracked time, but this part of the app lacks compared to FreshBooks so we use both and utilize only their strong suits. The best features of Harvest are the ability to track a team of users, the way it lets you set a budget of hours on a per project basis and alerts you when you’ve gone over, it’s beautifully laid out graphs to visualize how much time (and money) has gone into a project on a daily or weekly basis, and it’s extremely easy to use timer app for both the browser and your computer whether it be a Mac or PC. Harvest also integrates with many other apps so it will probably fit into your workflow if you are using a popular CRM or PM tool. Read more about this literal “Time Saving” tool on www.getharvest.com.

Podio – Podio is a great project management tool for medium to large agencies looking for a robust solution that is fully customizable. I became very familiar with this PM tool while working at a medium-sized agency that was growing rapidly. We needed to have constant communication with each other even though the employees and managers were located all across the country and even the world. Podio features tools not only to comment and tag other employees but allows for direct messaging as well. It’s great for collaboration. Another awesome feature is its ability to create custom workflows that can set off actions when completed. If you have ever used Zapier, it is a lot like that. The customization can lead to endless possibilities for you and your team. It’s also much more than just a PM tool, it has a host of sales team features allowing it to be an end to end CRM platform too. Lastly, this platform has many integrations, so if you’re using an app like Dropbox, Google Drive, Evernote or even FreshBooks Podio is sure to integrate with it. You can check all of its integrated apps here: www.podio.com/site/features/integrations. For more information on Podio please visit www.podio.com.

ActiveCollab – ActiveCollab is a PM and invoicing tool we used at that same medium-sized agency before switching to Podio. It’s great for small to medium-sized businesses but could be a struggle if you grow too large. Here is a list of the great features it offers. ActiveCollab is a simple user interface and is very easy to use. It has beautiful, calming, good-mood themes to help get you through the stressful workday (unlike Podio’s facebook like style). It has a great calendar for scheduling and viewing tasks in an easy to read manner and allows for great team collaboration on projects utilizing tags and comments. Lastly, ActiveCollab also has time tracking albeit not as detailed or advanced as Harvest. We used this tool at Artisan Website Company for over a year and I would recommend it to any small to medium-sized business.

ClickUp – ClickUp is the new guy in town and our current PM tool at Artisan Website Company. It reminds me of a mix of Trello Boards, the simplicity of ActiveCollab, and the task management system of Podio all rolled into one great PM tool. ClickUp is currently in its growing stages and they are releasing new features as we speak. Some unique features of this tool are the ability to assign tasks to more than one team member and also the ability to assign comments to team members and mark them as resolved once the issue has been taken care of. ClickUp has a clean and minimal UX which I love and lets you customize the way you want to see your tasks. You can choose from Boards (like Trello), Lists, or Boxes. Right now they are working on adding filters too, so you will be able to see tasks due today or really by any date of your choosing. Lastly, ClickUp is very responsive and has some of the best staff for a PM tool that I have ever communicated with. That is very important when you need help and can be more than enough reason to choose one PM tool over another. Customer service is key! To check out ClickUp please visit them online at www.clickup.com

These are just a few of the tools out there on the market that happen to be our favorite. What project management tools have you and your team used? Give us your recommendations and favorites in the comments.