You're a small business looking to get organized. The technology's out there, you know that. The problem is you can't afford dedicated project management software. Or so you think. Luckily for you, I've waded through the Web to find four of the best options for small businesses on a budget. Forget cheap. It's got to be free. You have the right to remain organized whether you run OS X, Windows 7, Red Hat, or some combination of the three, so I've only looked at online solutions. There will be plenty of opportunities to upgrade. Some might be worth it for your business. However, I'm interested in the top deals that don't demand a credit card. Online project management software cleaves into two halves: the management of projects—calendars, milestones, tasks, and to dos—and the online communication between team members, freelancers, and vendors—whiteboards, forums, chat and messaging systems. Along the same lines, there are two presiding philosophies to online project management: less is more and more is more.
On the more is better side of the spectrum, Ace Project and Zoho Project are the finest options I encountered. Both have online storage, plenty of (paid) options to grow your business, and can be customized to the core. Whereas Ace is high when it comes to free projects, storage, and tracking functionality, Zoho serves up Google Docs integration and an alphabet of features and ancillary products.
When it comes to stripping excess and delivering clean, functional software, small business owners need look no further than Huddle and Basecamp. Neither piece of software sings from the spec sheet: Huddle enables one lonely manager; Basecamp offers zero online storage. However, when it comes to real-world use and simplicity of configuration and maintenance, both are tops. Huddle boasts the finest file management system of the group as well as options to bundle Web, audio, and video conferencing. Basecamp secures the Editors' Choice designation for its integration with existing technologies, dead-simple setup, and orbit inside 37signals' constellation of products and services.
As entry-level offerings, none of these options are perfect. No single option—not even the Editor's Choice pick—trumps all others in all respects. Instead, small business owners would do well to assess their needs and identify the product satisfies, and can scale to, their business. If you love it, upgrade it. But at the low-low price of free, these four pieces of software ought to sweep away any impediments to some (early) spring cleaning at your small business.
AceProject Free as reviewed (premium plans available) For small businesses aspiring to get and stay organized, AceProject looks like the best card in the deck. The free online project management software will not only help you keep tabs on projects, but it'll also help you manage employees and expenses. With a quarter gig of free storage, FTP access, versioning, and up to five projects for free, and AceProject looks like the ace in the hole until you start playing. That's when you run up against the service's cumbersome, dated UI.
Basecamp Free as reviewed (premium plans available) With over 3 million active users, Basecamp is the benchmark of free online project management developed by 37 signals. It helps small businesses and large businesses, from wedding planners to hedge fund managers, to get and stay organized. While other online services like Zoho Projects and AceProject heap on the features—and complexity—Basecamp remains, after nearly seven years of service, the simplest, fastest, and most scalable service available.
Huddle Free as reviewed (premium plans available) With the ability to manage projects, store files, schedule and hold meetings, and facilitate communication through wikis and forums, Huddle's free onlineservice hands small businesses many of the tools they'll need to get organized. While services like Zoho Projects and AceProject function as Swiss Army Knives of online tools, Huddle acts as a scalpel. Despite some limitations in its entry-level offering, where Huddle operates, it's effective: file management is exceptional, and online collaboration is finely tuned.
Zoho Projects 2 Free as reviewed (premium plans available) Zoho Projects 2 (free to $80, depending on services) is the posterchild for the "more is more" school of thinking in online project management. Zoho dishes a smorgasbord of online tools for small-business communication and organization. The complementary version serves up the largest entree of online collaboration tools, including messages, forums, wikis, and online chat. At the same time, Zoho is a zealous manager. You can configure project milestones, assign responsibilities, set due dates, schedule meetings, and even post documents to an online storage space. If your needs grow, Zoho can accommodate with a wide selection of paid services. But the app is high maintenance, and the UI can be confusing.