Freelancers are people who have first-hand knowledge about effective collaboration. Often they have to deal with remote teams. Freelancers may also have to deal with both location differences and time zone differences.
For successful communication and file sharing many freelancers use online services like Skype, email and ICQ. However, anyone who has used these tools knows that having too many active applications is not convenient and may cause your computer to become overloaded. As a result of an overloaded machine, you may have to stop all your project work for an undetermined period of time.
Let’s face it–having a common workspace with all the necessary collaboration and project management (PM) tools in one place is much easier and more effective! (You get a lot with less effort!)
Luckily, today business software is one of the most developed areas in the IT world and freelancers have quite a wide choice of collaboration tools available. I would like to share my own experience of using collaboration and PM software by reviewing seven solutions that meet all the requirements of most freelancers. All the applications have either open source code or are available at zero cost for at least a trial period.
Top 7 Collaboration Tools
Here are my top seven collaboration tools for freelancers:
- IBN Instant Business Network. This tool is from Mediachase. It provides users with an open source solution so the platform can be modified to meet your needs. The trial version is available for 30 days. IBN has a flexible access rights system. All the users are divided into three groups: inside users (company workers, administrators, project managers, etc), outside users (those who have access to certain pages of IBN portal only), and partners (those who do not work in a company, but appear in the group of its partners). Instant Business Network also has a document workflow system. You can download docs, attach them to concrete projects, set up the priority and even project work(ing) hours, so that your customer is able to see how long it will take you to get things done. There is also a possibility to rollback the document to the previous version and integrate files with Microsoft Project.
- ProjectPier. This application enables you to set up tasks and project milestones and send messages to other members of your team. You can host ProjectPier on your server for free. The only (but quite significant shortcoming) is that the system doesn’t have access rights. This means that clients and freelancers can both track current projects. At the same time, I can’t but thank the authors for the ability to download and store files directly in the portal, comment on them, and watch the versions.
- Clocking IT. This free project management system was developed for those who work as consultants. Even the pickiest users will be satisfied when they get the complete report detailing each minute that you’ve spent on their project. GANTT charts help them to visualize the project schedule and update it with date changes. The application is translated into 15 languages and it has absolutely no limitations on the number of users or projects.
- Teamlab. This is a web-based Open Source document and project management system. The main advantage that distinguishes Teamlab from similar PM solutions is that it has a powerful document management module, represented by the built-in Open Office application. It includes their newest feature–an Online Document Editor that easily competes with Google Docs. It enables users to create, share and edit documents and spreadsheets online directly in the corporate portal. As for the basic features, there is a huge toolkit of everything you need for successful collaboration: time tracking, tasks and milestones, blogs, forums, chat and multi-chat, the ability to create polls and vote, automatic reports and other nice functions that can enhance your communication efficiently at zero cost.
- TeamworkPM. This tool helps you do things on time and under budget. It will certainly be useful for those who always miss project milestones–the notification system is almost perfect! The application has an intuitive user interface. It never makes you think twice before pushing a button. Even if you hesitate, the system prompts you about what to do. The functionality of TeamworkPM is similar to Basecamp–there are many similar features and data can be imported easily without any data loss (which is a great advantage if you are moving from one platform to another). You can use the free version as long as you only need two projects and no more than 10MB of storage space.
- Ardzo.Teamwork. This is the simplest system created for small and medium groups of freelancers who manage projects online. The application is quite popular among programmers, designers and content managers. As for the basic features, Ardzo.Teamwork enables you to track project progress, set up tasks, and manage the list of clients/partners and colleagues. They made the system simple so that anyone can use it whether or not they are knowledgeable about project management. It also provides self-hosting on PHP and is available for free to those who send a query with a description of their activity.
- Freedcamp. This is one of the newest and the most promising collaboration solutions. You can register via Facebook. Freedcamp developers can be proud of the nice, friendly interface. The system provides users with instant communication tools such as the built-in Meebo Chat that can easily be integrated not only with Gtalk and ICQ, but also with Facebook Chat and other IM clients. All the essential options are available for free: time tracking, automatic reports, and the ability to create discussions and set up milestones for a project. To me the most “delicious” feature is those small to-do lists that you can create with just one click when the button “To-Do” appears on the main Dashboard. This small feature may seem simple and insignificant, but I can’t keep silent–this is missing from many other applications.
Tools I Would Like to Add to the List
There are many options for freelancing collaboration tools. The previous list barely scratches the surface of what’s available. Here are some additional tools that I haven’t had time to review:
- Dotproject.net–as an example of a project management system supported by volunteers.
- Project-open.org–as a powerful PM solution fully integrated with ERP.
- Redmine–as a bug-tracking tool and as a PM solution for Gantt Charts.
There is no doubt that such collaboration giants as Basecamp, Zoho and Microsoft Project will stay up to date, but in this post I was trying to cover platforms that are not that well-known. Besides, the ideal collaboration system has not been created yet, so I strongly recommend that you try as many applications as possible and choose the one that suits your needs.
What other freelancing collaboration tools do you use?
Share your answers in the comments.
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