Top 5 Web App Combos for Running an Online Business

Top 5 Web App Combos for Online Business

When it comes to freelancing and working on the web, few things are more important than the online applications that make it all possible. From project management, to invoicing, to contact management, and more — each of these apps play a critical role in running an online or freelance business.

At FreelanceFolder, we’ve been on a sort of quest to find the ‘holy-grail’ — A combination of web apps that completely fulfills a business owner’s needs without breaking the bank or over complicating things. We’ve organized our findings into the following top 5 web app combos:

Combo #1 — Business on a Budget

Zoho budget invoicing app

This combo is a great way to get started on a really small budget. Most of these apps are well thought out and very functional, but you may have to live with a few extra ads. If you’re just starting out, though, this is really a perfect choice. Total Cost: $27/mo.

  1. Wrike — Project Management —  Premium plan, $8/mo
  2. ZOHO Invoice — Invoicing — Basic plan, $5/mo
  3. Gmail Contacts — Contact Management — Free!
  4. RememberTheMilk — Task Management — Free!
  5. Google Docs — Document Sharing — Free!
  6. Skype — Call Management — SkypeIn + Unlimited World, $14/mo

Combo #2 — Simplicity Rules

37 signals simple webapps

Everyone knows that an online tool is only as useful as its interface. For those workers who need tools that are simple and elegant, without any complication, this collection of apps is for you.Total Cost: $84/mo.

  1. Basecamp — Project Management — Basic Plan, $24/mo
  2. Freshbooks — Time Tracking + Invoicing — Shuttlebus plan, $14/mo
  3. Highrise — Contact Management — Basic plan, $24/mo
  4. Google Docs — Document Sharing — Free!
  5. RingCentral — Toll Free + Calls + Fax — Business Plus, $24/mo

Combo #3 — Host it Yourself

ActiveCollab - host your own project management

If you don’t like the idea of recurring charges, and can’t stand putting your data in someone elses hands, then this is your combo. Each of these apps have been picked because 1) they rock, and 2) you can pay for it once and install it on your own server. Total Cost: $298 + Hardware.

  1. ActiveCollab — Project Management — Small Biz Version, $199
  2. Invoice That — Invoicing — $99
  3. Simple Customer — Contacts + CRM — Free!
  4. SmartFTP — File Sharing — Free!
  5. KnowledgeTree — Document Management — Free!
  6. Asterisk — Build your own PBX — Good Luck :-)

Combo #4 — Feature Complete

SalesForce - Complete CRM

For those of you who want to have the most possibilities and the most options in the future, this is the right package. Each of these webapps was chosen for its robustness and completeness, though to be  fair we made sure they were easy enough to use too. Total Cost: $107/mo.

  1. ActiveCollab — Project Management — Basic Plan, $24/mo
  2. QuickBooks Online — Invoicing + Accounting– Online Plus, $34/mo
  3. — Contacts + CRM — Group Edition, $25/mo
  4. Google Docs — Document Sharing — Free!
  5. Toodledo — Task Management — Free!
  6. RingCentral — Toll Free + Calls + Fax — Business Plus $24/mo

Combo #5 — Open Source All The Way

Vtiger - Real open source crm

For open source junkies, your train has come in. This package features all of the best open source products you need to build the perfect virtual office. Though, we don’t recommend this package for the technically-averse, since code and server knowledge is a usually a must. Total Cost: Free + Hardware.

  1. DotProject — Project Management — Free!
  2. BambooInvoice — Invoicing — Free!
  3. vTiger — Contacts + CRM — Free!
  4. FileZilla — File Sharing — Free!
  5. KnowledgeTree — Document Management — Free!
  6. Asterisk — Build your own PBX — Good Luck :-)

What Do You Use?

Do you know of a better app for one of these combos? Do you use something extraordinary that we need to know about? Let us know in the comments…


  1. says

    Wow, great post! I really like your approach with grouping the apps. Definitely bookmarked for the future and will be very useful to passing along to clients as well.

  2. shiido says

    CurdBee, for invoices
    Coded preview, for webdesign preview
    Goplan, for managing projects and collaborations.

    and all of them are free!! ( or have a free plan )

  3. says

    @Shiido and Qoska — It sounds like CurdBee is definitely a worth addition, probably for the “Business on a Budget” category. Do you know if they support recurring invoices?

    Keep the suggestions coming! I’ll tally the best recommendations into a post sometime next week.

  4. says

    Wow! What a graet list of programs! A great resource for any entrepeneur. Just a quick addition: I use and it is incredibly easy. Unlike a lot of free invoice trackers/creators, there is no limit to the numer of invoices, clients, etc you can have. Hope this helps someone out. Great article.

  5. says

    Great combos there. There is also an alternative to ActiveCollab, called ProjectPier, that can be installed in your own server, and it is actually free to use. Might be useful to decrease even more the price of these packages. There is no online version, though… :P

  6. says

    Just started using CurdBee, and I LOVE it. I also use Slimtimer for time tracking, which is free and web-based (so I can track my time on any computer).

    I’ve just gotten a toll-free fax number for $5/month through TrustFax ( I have yet to receive any faxes though, so I can’t speak to that yet.

    Of course, Google has all those awesome free apps – I use Docs (for sharing and for downloading useful templates), Sites (for my portfolio), and Talk (for client chats).

  7. says

    @Phillipe — I’ve used ProjectPier before and it’s definitely not bad. Actually, what happened was the ActiveCollab developer went from open source to closed source, and projectpier is the remaining open source fork. Personally, I think ActiveCollab is worth the price for most business uses though.

    @Kari — I love the fact that RingCentral has fax capabilities built in. I don’t know what I’d do with out it, because I absolutely hate real faxes.

    @Rohan — Looks interesting, I’ll have to check that out in more detail.

  8. says

    Hey Mason,

    What an extensive and useful list of online business go-tos! Thanks so much for the shout out. FreshBooks’ Shuttle Bus package is actually $14, but what’s a couple bucks? ; )

  9. says

    This is absolutely fantastic! I am definitely bookmarking this post.

    The company I work for uses ChangePoint for project management.
    It’s pricey, with a tough learning curve…

    Thanks for this!

  10. says

    neat list. Thanks!

    Just wondering , if i can take all the open source softwares in Combo#5 and host it on amazon ‘s computing cloud.

    How much would it cost then?

  11. says

    For software project management (on a budget):
    Unfuddle – Free for small projects, inexpensive for larger projects. Includes issue tracking / Subversion and Git hosting / milestone tracking

    Also, Google apps (for your domain) offers contact sharing and website hosting on a budget (free for certain organizations):

  12. says

    Just a thought the Microsoft office Live offering is pretty good for a lot of what you are discussing, and it’s FREE! Free web hosting with authoring tools, free collaborative tools free email, free project management free document management (all based on Sharepoint.
    See my site at for an example free web site.

    I’ not normally a MS fanboy (I’m trying to stick to all freeware) but this service is really pretty good and free.

    You can do a lot with as well (the site in my header)

  13. says

    A life saver of an article ! I am in the process of leaving my “Job” and starting out on my own as a freelance designer / developer. This article is exactly what i was looking for. Sometimes putting all the pieces together can be real challenge when starting up and having articles like this (along with valuable comments) are so useful, thanks again.

  14. says

    Great entry, Mason. Personally, I really dig combo #4. These are excellent combos for running a small business; there’s a problem that I hear from small business owners all the time — there is a learning curve for all these products and services. In addition, not all systems talk to each other, unless the provider has open APIs and a small business owner has a Web developer connect them up.

    I think all-in-one solutions are great and connect the dots for small business owners in to automating and managing their small business effectively. One such software is Infusionsoft, boasting automated follow-up marketing, e-mail campaigns, voice/fax broadcast support and fulfillment automation. Many small business owners are turning to Infusionsoft to run their business. The only thing lacking is finances like QuickBooks and the price is a bit high — $299/monthly, $5,000 setup and consulting.

    You can learn more about Infusionsoft and even get an exclusive demo at if you’d like.

    Keep it up, I love this blog!


  15. Rajesh Kumar says

    1. Amazon S3 – Jungle Disk for storage – $20 one time, around $5 a month for 5 GB storage

    2. Google Docs for Word, Excel, Powerpoint

    3. Host website in a shared host – – $6-8 a month
    Free 24/7 support, email and they fix problems with site.

    4. Hire a php freelancer, to create a Simple CRM app in the shared host – $120 One Time

    5. Company email – Gmail for Domain – Free

  16. says

    I had subscribed to the comments of this post and Rajesh’s comment made me come back here for another comment.

    I’ve been using midphase’s services for the last 20 days and shifted to them after checking out all the rave reviews that they got. Since then I’ve had over 10 hours of downtime and their support don’t really support you. I had to send them 6 emails, go thru 3 chat sessiong and 2 calls just to change MX records!! This is an example for pathetic service.

    I think midphase is in the process of losing more than one customer!!

  17. says

    I personally use Collabtive for project/time management, paypal for invoicing, gmail for calendar/todo/multiple email accounts, etc, google docs for document management/sharing, and vonage for telephone/fax.

  18. Chloe Sanders says

    I’ve been using Jexxe Freelancer from for the last month.

    I’ve found it to have just the right mix of invoicing and project management all in the one app. Its also hosted on my own website so I have been able to rebrand it to match my own site

    its perfect for me :-)

  19. says

    Great post!

    I’m using Harvest for invoicing. For me it works great since I’m brazilian and I need to customize all fields of the mailing invoice.

    Still looking for a CRM and Project Management that works for me.

    Best to all.
    Bruno Lima

  20. says

    I just recently signed up for BaseCamp (love it so far) and signed up for CurdBee as a result of this post. This is a fantastic list – my business has recently started to take off and getting a CRM, invoicing, etc in order was becoming a big problem.

    Oh, on the IM front – I use Digsby. Great app!

  21. says

    i’m glad to see filezilla in your list — i was so pleased to have discovered it awhile ago. for a free/open source program, i found it to be _extremely_ well done, and i enjoy and appreciate using it. (fyi, to use on a mac, you’ll need 10.5+. this was kind of a bummer for one of my machines that is still tiger.)

    +1 on the basecamp + freshbooks combo. if you’re just starting out with at most 3 clients, the free freshbooks account (‘moped’) is a great deal. the basic ($24/mo) basecamp price is not too bad either, as although it could use man feature upgrades, it’s a very useful tool. i use basecamp for not only project management, but also task management (to-do lists) and some documents sharing (writeboards).

    37signals’ backpack tool is available free for minimal features, although i’ve found that its usefulness for me professionally has been somewhat limited. but perhaps it can also be used for task management, or other creative uses.

  22. says

    We use our online project management tool SantexQ in-house. It’s similar to basecamp in that it’s simple but elegant. The focus is task and time management but the latest version also includes invoice creation. It’s a great tool for keeping all your projects organized as well as keeping track of progress.

  23. says

    #GeekTip – Google & install “ToodledoAir” & “Snackr” – these two combined make organising & managing your tasks a breeze with ToodleDo (grab your task feed in TD and subscribe in Snackr) batch process your rss feed during the day. GTD Nirvana :D

  24. David Cobwell says

    Great topic thread, found it really useful. Personally I have gone with Jexxe at and finding it to be exactly what I need.

    Not bloated, but got all the features we need, can’t recommend it highly enough for small freelancers

  25. says

    I like HyperOffice because it is most like the most comprehensive in terms of feature range. It includes completely integrated collaboration features(online document management, intranet and extranet workspaces, contact management, project management, calendars, forums, polls, mobile access), messaging features ( web and mobile email, Outlook integration, shared Outlook tasks/calendars/contacts) and also integrated web meetings and web databases.

    What more could a freelancer, small business want!

  26. Maria says

    Thanks guys for recommending Curdbee, such a lovely app and exactly what I have been looking for months when I want to invoice my clients.

    I’ve tried quite a few products out there from Harvest, Freshbooks and Zoho but I can certainly confirm the free version of Curdbee does invoicing better than their counterparts.

    Its indeed a time saver for me and will save some bucks too. Love you all those who share great tools like these :)

  27. says

    First of all, I disagree with Salesforce making this list. The others, all good calls. Salesforce is way too feature rich and thus complicated but, they have done a good job of extending their integration with other apps.

  28. says

    We’ve been using Curdbee for almost a year now and it’s been super, really love the simplicity and tracking feature that it offers. Right now we’re looking for a good project management/crm/invoicing app that really has all in one, including time tracking, email integration, calendar integration and client login… any recommendations?

  29. says

    We use Capsule CRM and Xero online accountancy. They work together brilliantly so you can look at a client and see all the work currently going on with them and the money you have invoiced so far, Great system.

  30. says

    Mailchimp is a great piece of kit to send email marketing newsletters to clients – its bottom plan is free and more than enough for most contractors. Little bit fiddly to use but not too bad.

  31. says

    I don’t know if this counts as an app but Wufoo, we use it on our website for new clients signing up and it does a great job – the forms are so good and it is really easy to use. Plus it gives a legal IP address so you don’t have to send out engagement letters as you can post this online and say that when you hit submit you agree our terms.

  32. says

    I use Collabtive for project management, paypal for invoicing, gmail for calendar/todo/multiple email accounts, etc, google docs for document management/sharing, and vonage for telephone/fax.

  33. says

    i know that this article has been around for a long time but the one that i can add would be for an online phone number which can forward call to any phone number you choose and also email voicemails for about $5 per month. I also love now that they have lowered their prices and the interface is much easier to use.

  34. says


    thanks for the list. Its very usefull for me bacause i started a freelance business some years ago and still searching for some good tools (e.g. invoice tool). I used a lot of different services but now, with your advice of ZOHO i think i found a smart, powerfull and cheap way to manage my finance

  35. says

    Thanks a lot. I was searching for an app like Curdbee for months and did not find anithing comparable. I am very happy with the usage and possibilities of this program. It would be very interesting if you could add some new tools to the list because this post is a little bit old ;) Maybee there are some interesing new apps out there in the world wide web you could recommend to us!

  36. David Johnson says

    I’ve recently been using Google Calendar and meetingShed to arrange all my meetings and events online. In combination they do a good job, and for free. Combine with GMail as well and you’ve got a free cloud hosted system for carrying out most office tasks that is much less expensive and complicated than the big software like Microsoft Outlook or Lotus Notes.

  37. says

    I’m now using Google Docs and don’t see the sense in any other document program for my use, particularly since it’s free. I’m beginning with Freshbooks as the company is growing and not sure about it yet although they seem good. Nice job grouping products and including prices!

  38. says

    wow very very cool :-)
    I hope Apple does a “Pages for Web” soon, because that would be quite cool, or Google Docs for the web,….thx for ur text , does the invoicing tool also help for the austrian law rules? or just US?

  39. says

    Great collection, open source technology is great and free, but unless you are willing to learn how to use it and support it you may have issues, thats why I always prefer to pay the guys who support the service to keep me from having to look under the hood, so to speak.

  40. Mike says

    Just wondering if anyone has heard of They look interesting, but are they only for property managers or do they do project management and crm too?

    I’m looking for a bit of an all in one… but don’t want to spend what salesforce costs.

  41. Lucy says

    We got a couple of months ago and we like it a lot. We had looked at Zoho and RTM and BAsecamp but we are quite a small company and even though the partners wanted Basecamp because our big clients use it and like it when people copy them we found Dooster does just as much for a fraction of the cost.

  42. says

    Check out for hosting any kind of development projects. Cloud-based workspaces organize project tasks, collaboration, and code (svn, git, hg), and it offers an activity feed of all project activity, email notifications, and many tools for managers watching over development.

    My one go-to-tool for organizing and managing development projects.

  43. Tess says

    I use Dooster and I enjoy it. I hadn’t used collaborative software before. The company I currently work at have had it for some time.

  44. says


    thanks for the list. Its very usefull for me bacause i started a freelance business some years ago and still searching for some good tools (e.g. invoice tool). I used a lot of different services but now, with your advice of ZOHO i think i found a smart, powerfull and cheap way to manage my finance

  45. Domique says

    Grate post. Have a look at Kanban Tool ( for tasks/ project management and real-time collaboration. It has a free plan and an unlimited plan (€3.5 per month). The app has recently received a major facelift.

  46. says

    Hmm, I’d be curious how many freelancers or small businesses really use Salesforce. It’s a very heavyweight CRM, ideal for the enterprise environment, but a bit of an overkill for small businesses.

  47. Yauhen says

    I also use activecollab for data saving and collaboration. I know it is an od post, but I adveci you to include some more services for proposals and invoicing. I always use to create and track proposals. I think it should be in your list!


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>