A Project Management Solution for Consultants

There 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.

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