Starting a business involves keeping on top of a lot of competing priorities. With so much going on – from planning marketing activities to meeting with suppliers – it can quickly feel overwhelming and leave you feeling no longer in control of your start-up journey.
Fortunately, there are a number of simple-to-use project management tools that can help you focus on genuine priorities and keep ahead of deadlines.
Even better, most of them have free-to-use basic versions that offer plenty of functionality for new business owners.
We’ve rounded up a few highlights from the many online project management tools available.
We selected tools that offer free versions so you can try different ones without the expense, before purchasing as your business needs grow.
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What is project management?
Project management is the process of breaking down activities into small, manageable tasks.
Tasks can be prioritised to help time-pressed business owners quickly spot what they should be concentrating on, along with deadlines for when tasks need to be completed by.
Tasks can be allocated to other people in the team, with the project owner able to see an overview of who is doing what, and when tasks need to be completed.
Not all project management approaches are the same.
Different tools use a range of project management techniques, from simple ‘to do’ lists to systems such as Kanban opens in new window and Gantt opens in new window charts that show how different tasks impact each other.
How to choose a project management tool
Different solutions have their own, unique workflow and approach to project management.
Some use more visual card-based Kanban systems, while others take a more collaborative approach.
While there are lots of features to choose from, the following may be useful for Start-Ups:
- Tasks and subtasks – tasks can be broken into small subtasks, making them easier to complete.
- Users and roles – the ability to assign people to different tasks and give them different levels of access to projects.
- Time and resource tracking – the ability to log time spent on activities, which can be handy for billing clients.
- Calendar views – overview of all tasks with users so you can see what needs to be done and by when.
- Document storage – many tools allow you to upload and store files related to a project.
- Mobile app – view tasks, deadlines and make comments on-the-go on your smartphone.
Free versus paid project management tools
Most project management tools charge an annual fee to use.
This can be set as an expense against profits, reducing the amount of corporation tax your business needs to pay.
Many tools offer free, basic or light versions.
These are usually limited, such as to a single project or the number of team members that you can add.
A free version can, however, be ideal when you’re first starting out.
It gives you a chance to learn the software and see if the project workflow fits your business.
Project management and collaboration tools
There are hundreds of project management tools.
We’ve selected a few to try that have free versions.
While these are not endorsed, they are examples of some of the more popular tools used by businesses at all stages of development.
More suited to small teams, Basecamp allows teams to set up projects and tasks, use online messaging to collaborate and upload and share files.
It includes features such as a message board, calendar, task list, whiteboard and chat room, as well as a timeline of activity.
Basecamp offers a free version that is limited to three projects and 20 users.
Trello uses a Kanban-style of project management, where cards representing tasks can be moved through various stages to chart their progress.
The interface also allows for tasks to be dragged and dropped when being actioned.
Collaborative tools such as chat and file storage make it suitable for small businesses, but it lacks more advanced features such as Gantt charts and reporting.
A free version offers unlimited cards, members and up to 10 boards per workspace.
Slack works primarily as a centralised communication hub, pulling team messages, files and work together into one place, rather than primarily as a project management tool – though it is popular with many start-ups in the technology sector.
Files can be commented on and the platform integrates with other tools such as Google Drive and Office 365.
A free version offers basic functionality with limited customisation, including one-to-one video calling.
Covering a number of bases, Freedcamp brings a dashboard overview for individuals to see their tasks and projects.
Advanced functionality includes time-tracking, event scheduling and discussion boards.
The free version offers tasks, calendar, discussions, and file sharing with unlimited users.
Teamwork is a suite of five applications including a CRM, project management tool and chat platform to keep teams working together.
Tasks can be quickly and easily created, and a handy time management feature keeps a tab on how long is being spent on tasks.
The free version includes basic project and task management tools, team messaging, and milestones.
Zoho Projects has built a reputation as a comprehensive project management tool and is part of a wider group of tools from Zoho covering most small business tasks such as email, HR, bookkeeping and marketing.
Projects is its task management software which includes Gantt charts, timesheets, calendars and collaboration tools.
The free version offers simple task tracking over two projects for up to three users and the use of its mobile apps.
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Please note that these tools are in no way endorsed by the British Business Bank or the UK Government and we have selected examples of some tools that offer free versions so you can try different ones without expense. Other project management tools are available. The examples are for informative purposes only and are not reflective of all online project management tools available. Whilst we make reasonable efforts to keep the information on this page up to date, we do not guarantee or warrant (implied or otherwise) that it is current, accurate or complete. The information is intended for general information purposes only and does not take into account your personal situation, nor does it constitute legal, financial, tax or other professional advice. You should always consider whether the information is applicable to your particular circumstances and, where appropriate, seek professional or specialist advice or support.