Starting off your web design freelancing career might not require advanced tools and applications, but you’ll soon realize that’s organization is key. Thankfully, many entities have reached that same conclusion, and therefore there are numerous tools on the table for you to make your pick.
Project management tools help freelancers and agencies collaborate and organize tasks between the different members to meet milestones and sign-off projects with their clients. It might seem like a bit of a luxury to have at the beginning, until the 3rd or 4th client gets angry due to late work and brands you unprofessional. That’s when it becomes the kind of tool you simply cannot live without.
A quick Google search will inevitably lead you to 37 Signals’ hot shot, Base Camp. It is by the far the most popular project management and collaboration application in the market. Its fame is not unfounded; Base Camp’s sleek interface makes it a breeze to create milestones, assign tasks, share files and more. The main problem is that Base Camp’s value is a function of its add-ons – from billing, invoicing and financing, to time-tracking and aiding widgets, it’s a growing list. In theory, the concept behind plugins is genius, but when you consider how much you have to pay for Base Camp alone, and then the individual add-ons that make it sufficiently comprehensive, the package becomes rather hefty. Realistically, you’re looking at about $50 a month, which will only rise as you gain more clients and projects.
Even if you find Base Camp the ideal solution, chances are it doesn’t need to be your starting point. Enter ProjectPier, the “free, open-source, self-hosted PHP application for managing tasks, projects and teams.”
With ProjectPier, you can add client companies (with members), projects, milestones, task lists and tasks. Together, these features qualify it as a reliable project management system. Moreover, you can share files, start forum-like messages, and collaborate with co-workers and clients.
What makes ProjectPier special is that it’s free and open-source, meaning with updates, it can only get better and offer more powerful functionality. On top of that, it is hosted on your own server, which gives you complete control (and privacy). The installation process is a straight-forward one, with your standard shared hosting supporting PHP and a MySQL database doing just fine. I’ve personally installed it at http://manage.tarekshalaby.com
Don’t be pushed away with its 90s Geocities-style interface – thankfully there are alternative themes. I personally prefer the Zura Blue Steel (shown here). You might also notice its email notifications’ feature is not complete, and there’s no way to view all of the upcoming milestones in a traditional calendar, but it is still the number one choice in my book.
The part I like most about ProjectPier, is that my clients actually find it very user-friendly and easy to use. It doesn’t take me the standard ‘technical courses’ to get the clients to add files to it, check out and comment those that I post, and follow up on the tasks as they are being completed. A must-have for any freelance web designer/developer, and I would go as far as saying the same to agencies and small to medium companies in the field.
NOTE: Credit to Omar Mohamed from Hadaye Helwan, Egypt for hand-picking ProjectPier when we were looking for a project management tool for our startup touringa (which is my next post’s topic – stay tuned!).