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The best project management software for small businesses in 2021

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The best project management software for small businesses in 2021

By Maria Myre · November 16, 2020
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Managing projects in a small business setting can be deceptively challenging. Sure, there are fewer people involved and fewer processes to navigate. But big businesses often have a dedicated project manager for marketing, another for sales, and another for product development. The small business project manager, on the other hand, oversees multiple departments and likely wears lots of other hats.

It's important to find project management software that can help you maximize output while juggling everything else on your plate. We waded through over 75 project management software solutions to find tools that have a feature set specifically designed to work for small businesses. Here, we'll present the best of the best.

Once you've found the project management app that works for you, think about how you can make the most of the software you chose. Here are 4 ways project management automation makes your job easier.

The 8 best project management apps for small businesses 

  • Asana for ultimate project flexibility 

  • Airtable for spreadsheet fanatics

  • Trello for visually managing projects 

  • AND.CO for freelancers 

  • Paymo for complex projects that require invoices

  • Wrike for managing projects via email 

  • Yodiz for Agile and Scrum teams

  • Basecamp for automating team check-ins

What makes great project management software for small businesses?

Despite all the hype about popular project methodologies (Scrum, Lean, Agile—you name it), there's no real one-size-fits-all solution. Every team is different: workflows, resources, and workday demands differ greatly from one company to the next. So how did we pick the best project management apps?

We started by ensuring that each app met some basic criteria we felt were indispensable.

  • Collaboration for teams and/or clients. Successful projects don't happen in a vortex. All apps that made the list offer some level of in-app collaboration, like built-in chat or file sharing, or a trusted integration with a tool like Slack.

  • Integration possibilities. Your project management workflows are at the heart of your company, so all of the apps need to integrate with the other apps in your tech stack.

  • Mobile app. You shouldn't have to be sitting in your office on your desktop to post a quick comment or question on a project. We picked project management apps that also offer a mobile app.

  • Pure project management apps. There are many software options that include project or task management as a small subset of features, but for this article, we only considered apps that were primarily focused on project management. 

  • Robust team roles and permissions. The more people you involve in a project, the more important it is to set customizable project permissions. Some people may simply need view-only access, while others need full admin rights. 

In addition to those dealbreakers, we asked ourselves a number of questions while testing the apps:

  • Is there an active development team behind the software keeping it up-to-date and bug-free?

  • Is the interface intuitive, or do you need to spend a significant amount of time reading through tutorials just to utilize basic features?

  • Does the app offer some flexibility so that you can create your own project management methodology, or does it try to force you into an inflexible flow?

From there, we arrived at a final list of eight project management apps that provide powerful support to small businesses. 

Best project management software for ultimate project flexibility

Asana (Web, iOS, Android)

Asana screenshot

In a cluttered world of modern project management software, Asana stands out as a profoundly effective tool that supports multiple project management styles, giving you full control over how you want to visualize and organize your work. 

Its interface is intuitive and well-designed, with an easy hierarchy of elements. On the far left is the navigation sidebar, where you can access the various projects, stats, message inbox, and your personal task list. The main area displays a list of tasks, their due dates, and who each task is assigned to. Each task can be assigned to multiple projects in case of overlap and can have an infinite number of subtasks.

Where Asana shines most is in its flexibility: there's no right or wrong way to create your project, project sections, or tasks. The default view is the list format, which is clean and easy to scan for due dates and assignees. But you can also switch to a board, timeline, calendar, or dashboard layout. 

Asana allows you to create task and project templates, but its default setup is completely open-ended: the only required part of any task is a title. After that, you're free to add a description, organizational tags, custom fields (available with paid plans), due dates, assignees, and more. Still, with all the possibilities for adding information to your tasks, Asana's interface is relatively clean. This helps to keep the focus off the project management tool and on the work itself. 

For even more flexibility, use Asana's Zapier integrations to connect Asana with your favorite apps, like Gmail and Slack. For inspiration, take a look at how other teams are integrating Asana into their workflows.

Asana Price: Free for up to 15 team members and basic features; from $10.99/user/month (billed annually) for the Premium plan that includes additional features like the admin console, advanced reporting, custom fields, and more.

If you don't like the Asana interface, try Zoho Projects or Freedcamp, both of which offer flexible project formats.

Best project management software for spreadsheet fanatics

Airtable (Web, macOS, iOS, Windows, Android)

Airtable screenshot

If you love the clean, ordered appearance of a spreadsheet but wish it had a little more power, try Airtable. It's a versatile spreadsheet-style database app that can help you manage any project, from editorial calendars to Scrum sprints for your product development projects.

Airtable projects are managed in bases. To create a base, you can choose from dozens of premade templates, import an existing spreadsheet, or start from scratch. The premade templates are well organized by project type, and are pre-filled with sample content so you can easily visualize how to run your project. Each row in a base constitutes a record, which can include any kind of customized field you can dream up.

Airtable offers all the things you love about spreadsheets (filters, equations, and pulling in data from other sources, to name a few) but in a format that's much easier to navigate. Each column has a specific designation, whether that's short or long text, file attachments, multi-selection tags, or checkboxes. 

The best part for project management is that you can add multiple views, so you can toggle between the spreadsheet and other formats like a Kanban board or calendar. That means you can put all your detailed project data in the records and still view that information in several easy-to-scan formats.

With Airtable's Zapier integrations, you can connect Airtable with your favorite apps, so you can do things like automatically send form responses to a project management table. Try one of the automations below, or read about 3 workflows that will help you be an Airtable expert.

Airtable Price: Free for unlimited users and up to 1,200 records per base; from $10/user/month for the Plus plan with up to 5,000 records per base and 5GB attachments.  

Best project management software for visually managing projects 

Trello (Web, macOS, Windows, iOS, Android)

Trello screenshot

Trello is a simple, visual way to organize your projects with kanban boards. And, unlike most project management software, Trello doesn't have the same learning curve: your team will be able to quickly get up and running thanks to its intuitive, drag-and-drop interface. 

Start by creating a new board from scratch or choosing a template from dozens of options across marketing, sales, design, team management, and more. Each Kanban board can be set up to mimic the standard Agile format: the backlog, in-progress, and completed lists. Or, you might get imaginative and use the boards as ideation or collaboration tools, where team ideas are compiled, then sorted and approved as needed. Cards (i.e., tasks) can include checklists, due dates, tags, attachments, images, comments, and more. 

As you start completing tasks, simply drag the cards to the appropriate list. You can keep track of all comments and tasks that mention you—or that you're watching—from the activity menu.   

Trello is the master of Kanban simplicity and has gained a positive reputation for that reason. But therein also lies its greatest weakness: If you have complex tasks with multiple dependencies, for example, Trello's features fall short. (Yes, there are workarounds, but they're not built in and can be complicated to configure.) 

To help augment Trello's functionality, use Trello's Zapier integrations to connect Trello with your favorite apps, like Google Calendar and Slack, so no tasks fall through the cracks. Here's some inspiration for how to integrate Trello with your other tools.

Trello Price: The free plan includes unlimited boards and users, 10 team boards, one Power-Up per board, and attachments up to 10MB in size; upgrade for $9.99/user/month (billed annually) to the Business Class plan that includes unlimited team boards and Power-Ups, attachments up to 250MB in size, and more granular permissions controls.

If you love Kanban lists but find Trello a little too simple, check out MeisterTask, which offers valuable features for multi-person projects (like task dependencies). 

Best project management software for freelancers

AND.CO (Web, macOS, iOS, Android)

AND CO screenshot

As a freelancer, you may have the same needs as a larger business (contracts, invoices, complex projects, and documentation), but you almost certainly don't have the same budget. AND.CO is an all-in-one tool that provides a lot of value for a reasonable investment. 

While AND.CO does offer all the standard project management features you'd expect, it also offers a lot more, like the ability to create proposals and contracts, send invoices, and collect payments. Even with all these features, the interface itself is clean and easy to navigate, with the left sidebar providing easy access to your clients, projects, invoices, and more. Upon creation, all projects are assigned to a particular client in your account and include billable items. You have total flexibility as to how you bill your clients, whether you have a single invoice due at the end of the project, or recurring invoices throughout. 

AND.CO also includes a built-in time tracking tool, which means it will take care of the hourly rates and math for you. When it's time to invoice the client, you simply review the time spent and click send.

Of all the project management apps featured here, AND.CO is the least focused on pure project management functionality. You won't miss any core project management features, but you won't be able to manage complex projects from end to end as efficiently as other apps. However, the benefit of having all your client paperwork, invoicing, projects, and payments in one place makes up for it. 

If you're looking to do more with AND.CO, you can use AND.CO's Zapier integrations: save new AND.CO contracts to Dropbox, add new Google Contacts as clients, and more.

AND.CO Price: Free for one active client; $18/month for the Pro plan for unlimited active clients and editable contracts.  

Best project management software for projects that require invoices

Paymo (Web, iOS, Android)

Paymo screenshot

If you need to invoice clients, but have more complex projects than the AND.CO task format can support, Paymo will do the trick. 

With its billing-centric format, projects are set up per client, and you can decide whether the project is billable based on hourly rates or a flat fee (or not at all). Since a timer is built into the interface, you can track the time spent on each task and project, and Paymo will automatically create the invoice based on that information.

Each project houses its associated tasks and subtasks, with three options for how to view work: as a list, in a Kanban board, or on a calendar. You can also use Paymo's filter to sort all of your tasks for every client and project by status, due dates, priorities, and more. Within each project, you can view timesheets, communicate with teammates, and save all related files for the project. 

If the majority of your projects are services for clients that require billing and invoicing, Paymo stands out as an affordable but robust enough option to handle task lists for multiple team members. 

You can also use Paymo's Zapier integrations to connect your freelance projects with other workflows, like your accounting or calendar apps.

Paymo Price: The free plan includes one user, unlimited projects, 1GB of storage, and up to three invoices; upgrade for $8.95/user/month for the Small Office plan that includes unlimited invoices, 50GB of storage, and project templates.

Best project management software for managing projects via email

Wrike (Web, iOS, Android)

Wrike screenshot

No matter how powerful your project management app is, you'll inevitably continue to manage some aspect of your projects via email. Wrike makes this super simple with a built-in email integration that allows you to connect your inbox activity to Wrike. 

This email integration is different from the Gmail or Outlook integrations in the app directory. Instead, this native email integration is set up within your profile, and all you need to do is add and confirm one or more "from" email addresses. Any message addressed to wrike@wrike.com and sent from one of those emails will automatically populate in Wrike.

You can create a new Wrike task, assign a task, add attachments, schedule a task, update the task status, designate task priority, add a comment, or add a task to a subfolder or several folders—all via email.   

While you can accomplish a lot without ever leaving your inbox, you'll eventually log into Wrike and manage projects from there. At first glance, the layout of Wrike projects is similar to Asana. But where Asana's flexibility comes from an open-ended structure, Wrike offers a more structured flexibility, enabling you to customize (and standardize) what information is a required part of each task. 

For example, you can add multiple custom fields to each task (e.g., numerical priority level, currency, percentage, etc.). Once each task is set up, it appears in a multi-column list view, where each column represents a category of information in the tasks. For a development project, you might care more about priority levels and progress percentage, making the corresponding columns more prominent than others; for marketing, due dates might be most important. In either case, your team members will always know what information is required with every task assigned to them. 

Want to do even more with Wrike? Wrike's Zapier integrations let you automate your work and connect with apps like Google Sheets and Evernote.

Wrike Price: The free plan includes unlimited projects and tasks for up to five users; upgrade for $9.80/user/month (billed annually) to the Professional plan that includes Gantt charts and shareable dashboards for five, 10, or 15 users.

Best project management software for Agile and Scrum teams 

Yodiz (Web, iOS, Android)

Yodiz screenshot

Yodiz is a powerful tool for teams that use Agile and Scrum methods. It lets you do everything you need to plan your projects, releases, and sprints: create user stories, nest user stories within epics, create sprints and set sprint dates, add estimates in both story points and hours, and view sprint progress on a sprint board.

Yodiz isn't as simple as Trello or Asana—it'll take you a bit to get used to the layout and learn everything you can do with the tool. And there is a lot you can do with Yodiz, with dedicated tabs for a to-do list, issue tracker, sprints, releases, epics, backlog, planning board, and flex board. If you get overwhelmed, the To Do tab is a great place to start, offering an overall view of in-progress tasks, open user stories, and open issues on the project, sprint, and release level. 

Want to do even more with Yodiz? Yodiz's Zapier integrations let you connect your project management tasks with your other apps like GitHub and Slack.

Yodiz Price: Free for the Starter plan that includes unlimited projects for up to three users; for more than three users, upgrade to the Issue Tracker plan for $3/user/month.

For more project management apps designed to solve the most complex project management required of developers, take a look at Jira, Aha!, or Taiga

Best project management software for automating team check-ins

Basecamp (Web, iOS, MacOS, Android, Windows)

Basecamp screenshot

Project management can sometimes feel like an endless amount of emails, meetings, stand-ups, and pings to track down daily or weekly status updates. Basecamp helps your team save time and increase productivity by automating these check-ins, allowing you to ask your team questions on a regular basis with all the replies rolled up in one easy-to-digest thread. 

You get an open-ended text field to ask any question you want, from "What's everyone working on?" to "What did you accomplish today?" You can then schedule the question on a daily, weekly, bi-weekly, or monthly cadence, customize the exact time it's asked, and select who receives it. Team members get a notification when it's time to answer and all questions appear on your Team view. 

You can stay even more connected with your team by using Basecamp's Zapier integrations, connecting Basecamp to your other favorite apps like Slack or Dropbox. 

Basecamp Price: Free for up to three projects and 20 users. Upgrade to Basecamp Business for $99/month for unlimited projects and users, 500GB of storage, and more.

Which project management software should you use?

As you select a project management app, ask yourself a few questions: Do you value flexibility or structure? Do you need detailed metrics on your projects? What type of data do you need to store about your projects?

Each app on this list offers a free version that lets you test it out. We suggest you pick the one that seems the most suited to you and give it a try. If it doesn't work for you, move along to the next tool. 

Just remember that the best methodology is the one that gives you the structure and mental support you need to get your projects out the door efficiently, with quality output. 

Originally published in April 2019, this article has since been updated with contributions from Emily Esposito.

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Maria Myre picture

Maria Myre

Maria Myre is a copywriter and content strategist. She helps businesses develop an unforgettable brand voice, so they can connect with their audience on a deeper level. Maria also loves Italian espresso, fall weather, and horseback riding.

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