Web Applications: Improve Your Workflow

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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 Basecamp2. Put together by the veritable geniuses over at 37 Signals3, Basecamp offers everything from to-do lists, milestone management, users management, task assigning, time tracking and even a built in chat.

Basecamp4
Basecamp5
Basecamp6

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 Blinksale177 and Simply Invoices8. 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 Invoices9 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.

Simply Invoices10

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.

Simply Invoices

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:

  1. Con: Too simple. Not enough functionality is provided.
  2. Con: Limited currency options.
  3. Pro: Integrate with Basecamp Task Timing

Invoicing Applications: Blinksale

Blinksale11‘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.

Blinksale12

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.

Blinksale

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 PayPal13. 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:

  1. Pro: Create customized invoice templates with CSS.
  2. Pro: Inclusion of a Paypal14 Payment Link.
  3. Pro: Ability to send styled ‘Thank You’ notes after payment is received.

Summary

  • 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 Basecamp15.
  • Simply Invoices16 is perhaps a tad too simple. Blinksale177 provides a much more flexible online invoicing platform with a larger array of customizable elements.

Footnotes

  1. 1 http://www.smashingmagazine.com/2007/08/22/web-applications-improve-your-workflow/
  2. 2 http://www.basecamphq.com/
  3. 3 http://www.37signals.com/
  4. 4 http://www.basecamphq.com/
  5. 5 http://www.basecamphq.com/
  6. 6 http://www.basecamphq.com/
  7. 7 http://www.blinksale.com
  8. 8 https://www.simplyinvoices.com/home
  9. 9 http://www.simplyinvoices.com/home
  10. 10 https://www.simplyinvoices.com/home
  11. 11 http://www.blinksale.com/
  12. 12 http://www.blinksale.com
  13. 13 https://www.paypal.com/
  14. 14 http://www.paypal.com
  15. 15 http://www.basecamphq.com
  16. 16 https://www.simplyinvoices.com
  17. 17 http://www.blinksale.com

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Self confessed geek and web application fundi, Mark Bloomfield is owner of The Yellow Llama and the writer behind WikkidApps. A member of Adobe’s Community Experts and showcased CSS designer, he spends most of his time at his desk – designing, coding & blogging from his home in Port Elizabeth, South Africa.

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  1. 1

    I have used Billing Boss . It does not have all the features as some of the other apps but it is simple to use and best of all, free!

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  2. 52

    The other option of course is desktop with web connectivitiy. Using Jobsheet at the moment and it works a treat for service-oriented biz.

    0
  3. 103

    Hello,

    You may want to check TiMeister.com too!
    It’s free!

    0
  4. 154

    Sidharth k Dhanda

    December 31, 2009 9:00 pm

    Leaving my footprint here …

    p.s. Compiled a comprehensive list of project management tools which may be helpful to readers here … pls check @

    The Marathon List of Project Management & Collaboration Tools

    http://blog.decode10.com/2009/12/13/the-marathon-list-of-project-management-collaboration-tools/

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  5. 205

    I use Billing Boss as my invoicing software because it’s free and I can currently create unlimited invoices for unlimited customers. Because they recently launched their mobile payment tool “Payment Boss”, I like how I can collect payments using my phone. It’s integrated with the invoicing software so I can track who paid for what. Much easier to track cash flow, plus my accountant can go in and grab my files on her own.

    Full Disclosure: This author has been compensated by Sage. I am their Social Media Consultant but I was using their product well before they contracted me. They found me when I sent them an email giving suggestions about Billing Boss!

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  6. 256

    For project management Basecamp is the lazy man’s choice – kind of MS Project for web. Everybody knows the name without research, since it’s been around for so long.

    It’s main strength is not that it’s a “powerful” project management solution, but that it’s SIMPLE. In fact its company takes pride in keeping it minimalistic and NOT supporting many features.

    For something more modern, with more features, still simple, I recommend checking 5pm (http://www.5pmweb.com).

    For invoicing I agree with Mark – Freshbooks should be mentioned.

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  7. 307

    Anyone have tried cohuman? :)
    I do and I like it!

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  8. 358

    Any chance there is a more up-to-date version of this information? I’d love to see what the recommendations are now. This article was written in 2007—have there been updates since? Thanks!

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  9. 409

    Basecamp is great as a collaboration tool and project tracking tool, but it lacks as a task scheduling tool.
    I found as a team manager that Basecamp couldn’t give me a team overview so I tended to use the Workstack (www.workstack.me) addon as that gave me an overview of the work flow of my entire team.

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  10. 460

    Apart from these web applications I recommend proofhub.com to manage your projects for proper work flow. It has all the latest features like time tracking, proofing, gantt chart etc.

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  11. 511

    Basecamp is just a hack not a helpful tool. If you need a best project management tool then go for proofhub.com.

    0
  12. 562

    Great list. Very helpful.

    1

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