Technology

A Project Management Solution for Consultants

Mavenlink Project Collaboration Software

Mavenlink Project Collaboration SoftwareThere are three kinds of projects. The ones you can do on your own, the ones that you can pay someone else to handle for you, and the ones that you need to collaborate with others on. Project management software is for the third kind.

I recently discovered Mavenlink, a cloud-based project management application that is similar to Basecamp, but with a focus on the needs of consultants and freelancers. Mavenlink lets you create projects, invite clients, and assign tasks with the intent toward better collaboration and communication, just like Basecamp. What sets Mavenlink apart is the addition of billing management features.

Create a project in Mavenlink and you can assign a budget. In planning the project, you establish tasks and deliverables. Then you can track expenses and time on each project by task, and if the time is billable, set the hourly rate. As billings accumulate, the project dashboard shows you and the client where you stand on the budget.

I find the billing aspect to be the key ingredient missing from other collaboration apps. Freelancers and consultants tend to work with clients on a project basis, and it can be difficult to capture and report all of the time spent. Providing a mechanism for budget tracking and reporting is an asset to both the vendor and the client. There are fewer surprises, and it will be apparent when expectations differ or a project change needs to be reflected in a budget change. Mavenlink makes the budget a part of the conversation.

At various points during the project you can generate invoices and accept payment via PayPal integration. Mavenlink negotiated a special rate with PayPal that discounts their normal merchant charge. There is also integration with your Google account, enabling calendar syncing, document sharing, and contact invitations.

Online collaboration tools are worth the small investment in time it takes to set them up. Basecamp continues to be popular for small organizations who are large enough to manage projects separate from their invoicing and billing. Organizations with complex, or multiple concurrent projects might be better off implementing a server-based solution like ActiveCollab. If you are a consultant, web developer or freelance designer, Mavenlink might be the right fit for you.

12 Comments

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      Doug, I actually had you in mind when I was composing my post. I knew you had walked away from Basecamp and wondered if Mavenlink would be more to your liking. Interestingly enough, Mavenlink is much easier on the wallet. You wouldn’t even have to cut back on your coffee from that shop downstairs. 🙂

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      I haven’t… until just now. It appears to me that PBworks functions more like a social network-project management mashup. My 5,280′ view is that it works better for larger organizations where you get everyone set up on the system, and then you pull them into your projects to gather opinions, facts. This wouldn’t necessarily work for the consultant/client scenario.

      I would be very interested in hearing your views on PBworks, and where you think it fits best.

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    Tim,

    I really appreciate the post and the perspective you brought to your evaluation of Mavenlink. While I of course am a little biased (as a founder of Mavenlink), and might wonder why you would ever use ActiveCollab :), I think you did a great job of evaluating the space and the strengths of the participants.

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      Thank you, Sean. I used ActiveCollab as VP of New Media at an advertising agency. With dozens of internal stakeholders and hundreds of external stakeholders, we wanted a self-hosted solution that we could customize and integrate with other custom apps.

      But truth be told, ActiveCollab was a bit cumbersome and a headache to train/support. I don’t think Mavenlink was available at the time. 🙂

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    Sounds a bit like Onit. It will be interesting to see if Mavinlink is something that would appeal to lawyers. Thanks for bringing it to my attention. I’ve tried the PBworks Legal edition and was impressed with it for general content collaboration, but it still feels like PM slapped on a wiki. That said, it has been a while since I’ve looked at PBworks.

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      Hmm, that is an interesting thought, Paul. I may easily be wrong about this, but it seems that lawyers would be particularly sensitive to the risks of putting client information in a “cloud service” environment. You could argue that the cloud is probably more secure than the private network inside a law firm, but the problem is that if there was an adverse exposure of client data, who would be responsible, the law firm or the cloud?

      You seem to be much more familiar with this space. What is your take on this? How are members of the legal profession mitigating their risk when operating in the cloud?

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    Have you had a look at LumoFlow (http://www.lumoflow.com)?

    It offers a very affordable alternative to Basecamp and is very easy to use, especially for first time users so it’s perfect for customer collaboration. There is no billing functionality yet as the focus is on creating an active collaboration environment (not project management as with Basecamp).

    Cheers!

    Bart

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    I found your blog post via Google search… Are you still using Mavenlink?  Thoughts?  While I’m a one man operation (web marketing), I’m in desperate need of a good PM tool. I’ve been using WorkETC, but am not really pleased with it.  Basecamp seems like it’s not a good fit for a single user.

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    I also recommend you to try Comindware, more flexible solution than Basecamp, with great feature of real-time reporting.

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