by Mark Bloomfield
In a world where applications are taking themselves online, there’s a host of amazing web applications that perform all types of services and cater for just about any industry. Thanks to the joys of technologies like AJAX, Rails, PHP, XML powered Flash and the like, there’s no limit to the functionality that can be packed into an online web application. In the coming weeks, we are going to be highlighting a number of these web applications.
This week, it’s all about the workflow – tools that make running your business even easier. Granted, there are probably hundreds of applications that can help you with various aspects of your business. But for now, we’re going to look at project management and invoicing.
Whilst there’s loads of project management tools available on the web, there’s only a handful that are actually worth being called management tools. Even fewer are actually useful and worth signing up for.
Project Management: Basecamp
A project management application that definitely makes the grade is Basecamp. Put together by the veritable geniuses over at 37 Signals, Basecamp offers everything from to-do lists, milestone management, users management, task assigning, time tracking and even a built in chat.
Create milestones (items needing completion by a specific date) to make sure you make your deadline. To do lists can be compiled and associated to milestones. Clients with whom you’re working, can be added as users so they can track progress on their project. If they’re computer savvy enough, you can set the permissions to allow them access to add and edit tasks and milestones etc. File uploading is also enabled which means you can track files related to a project – images, video clips… anything! When finalizing content on a project, the Writeboards allow you to upload content and work on it with a subversion type setup whereby older versions are saved and archived.
Without a doubt a powerful management application that successfully manages all possible aspects of a project with ease.
Invoicing Applications: Simply Invoices
Once you’re done with your project, you’re going to want to invoice, right? Two of the more efficient invoicing applications are Blinksale and Simply Invoices. Both have their own pro’s and con’s, but both provide a powerful means of sending out professional looking invoices without breaking a sweat.
Simply Invoices has a quick start process that will have you up and invoicing in just a few minutes. The interface is very basic and almost seems like you’re on a ‘need-to-know’ basis with just the bare essentials being displayed – no frills or fuss.
One of the big PLUS points for Simply Invoices, is it’s ability to integrate with Basecamps Task Timing feature. In Basecamp, you can set the amount of time spent on a task. Simply Invoices is able to retrieve that data thanks to Basecamps API, and you can generate an invoice based on the time spent on that task.
That being said however, Simply Invoices might be a little too elementary and their feature set is lacking somewhat when compared to other applications. Their currency list allows only for Pounds, Euros and US Dollars and their usage of templates is a little confusing at first. After some playing around though, it does the job of basic invoicing pretty well and it’s a definite contender in this arena.
Pro’s & Con’s:
- Con: Too simple. Not enough functionality is provided.
- Con: Limited currency options.
- Pro: Integrate with Basecamp Task Timing
Invoicing Applications: Blinksale
Blinksale‘s design and UI appeal slightly more than Simply Invoices, but that is probably just a personal preference. Packed with AJAX and an awesome feature set, Blinksale has proved to be the #1 choice for online invoicing for many businesses.
Complete with tagging, recurring invoice templates and the ability to integrate with Basecamp, Blinksale is a finely tuned invoicing application that was built with expandability and customization in mind.
Besides the included list of 8 color schemes for your invoices, Blinksale as the ability to be styled by your own CSS. By stying the various elements of their invoice, you’re able to create your own customized invoice template. Once you upgrade your Blinksale package to any of their paid options, the “Generated by Blinksale” footer line is removed and you’re left with your own, custom styled invoice.
Creating new invoices is a breeze too, thanks to Blinksale’s ability to integrate Basecamp’s client list. That means when you’re done with a project in Basecamp, you simply open Blinksale and ‘import’ your client’s details for a new invoice. Invoices can also be sent along with a PayPal link that allows for easy invoice payment if you’re doing business via PayPal. Then, when payment has been made, you can ‘receive payment’ on your Blinksale invoice, and then send a special “Thank You” message to your customer.
It’s these kinds of small touches that set Blinksale and Basecamp apart and put them high on the list of the top online invoicing and project management web applications.
Pro’s & Con’s:
- Pro: Create customized invoice templates with CSS.
- Pro: Inclusion of a Paypal Payment Link.
- Pro: Ability to send styled ‘Thank You’ notes after payment is received.
- Whilst you have a number of options when it comes to online project management, with it’s multi-user setup, milestones, to-do’s, messaging, writeboards and so much more, you’ll have a hard time finding a more proficient tool than Basecamp.
- Simply Invoices is perhaps a tad too simple. Blinksale provides a much more flexible online invoicing platform with a larger array of customizable elements.