I'm looking for a decent option to organize freelance projects.
- Reduce the total number of programs and apps I need to organize projects and data.
- Securely communicate with individual clients with complete separation between client projects.
- Store all relevant data including secure info, account access, files, notes, etc
- Ease of use for clients with as painless onboarding as possible.
- Robust archiving and backing up of project data.
Some typical features I don't really need:
- Due dates and calendaring stuff. It's rare to deal with deadlines and due dates, I don't want to waste UI on date based tools.
- Invoicing, estimates, payments.
- Conferencing, video chat, screen share, etc.
To list specific features, I'll describe a typical project life cycle.
New client comes onboard. I need to start gathering information. This could be described as CRM type stuff. Record the client, their details, start a new project file, etc. We are typically communicating over email, but it's important early on to establish secure communication before we start sharing passwords and so forth.
Project scoping. We start defining the project, what needs to be done, project specs or standards, whatever. This may involve both text and files. You might even describe this as wiki-like and could be written by both the client and myself collaboratively. Often it will just be them sending me Word files and PDFs, mockups, etc.
Store secure information. I need passwords, FTP, SSH, key files, maybe even credit card info. While most every online tool will be over HTTPS, they are rarely "trust no one". All I have to do is get on live chat or something, and within a couple seconds the tech is inside my account browsing around my data. I've even asked a couple tools I use, if they are safe to store passwords and credit cards, and they said no.
Finally the project starts and I begin work. Organizing work into sub projects and tasks and subtasks is perfectly fine, using typical styles found in today's software. Chat, inline file uploads that remain contextual, file upload revisions, task assigning, etc. I don't have a preference for whether it's list style or kanban style or whatever. What IS important is that it's easy for myself and clients to stay on top of everything.
What I find often happens is there is too much activity, thus too much notification. So and so commented, so and so uploaded file, so and so commented on uploaded file. You being to lose track on what activity is important. For example someone commenting on a file may or may not be a brand new task. "I like this logo, but make it green". This is an actual task, not just a comment on a file. The ability to micro-manage communications is a very difficult problem, and keeping notifications in check while also being notified of everything important.
File storage can get out of hand. Tools often pool all files uploaded from any context, into a single file storage, and lose all context. I'll end up with a folder with 12 different version of a logo but not really knowing which is the latest, or why it was uploaded in the first place or what I was supposed to do with the file etc. For example "here is the new header image for XY page". Typically people can upload a file, but the file storage system doesn't keep track that the file was meant for that purpose, or connected to a task.
Public verses private notes. I do my own time tracking, I also need to keep notes about my work and research during the project. Not everything should be visible to the client. I may want to store code snippets or tools, keep a sideline commentary for myself, etc. There is very much a public and private world during a project. And this needs to be very easy to distinguish in the interface. I need a private notes section connected to tasks or files, private files, private documents/wiki/pages whatever.
Sharing. I need to be able to always link a client directly to specific projects, tasks, subtasks, files, conversations etc. And to some degree, if possible, publicly share things like work progress (screenshots) mockups with other people without having to invite them in the project.
An easy way for the client to create tasks. I'm talking more like a ticketing system here. Something looks off, a bug is found, they can quickly just shoot an email or something and it auto-generates a task in the project.
Keep in mind here that one client may have many projects, new and old or archived projects etc. So sending in a "ticket" would be connected to the client themselves, not necessarily any particular project. I feel like if I have a good project management tool with this kind of bug reporting/ticketing, then a separate ticketing system would be unnecessary. Clients I've once worked for should be able to submit a ticket and then I can attach it to a project or not or handle as an independent issue.
The bottom line is I'm trying to find a tool that can replace needing to use 3 or 4 tools. I.e. Slack, email, OneNote, FreshDesk, CRM, Trello.
I don't need every feature of all those, I just need a general mixing of them. We can "chat" about projects, send messages and have "threads" about topics, write documents, store files, submit tickets, manage tasks and notes, and keep everything contextualized with very smart notifications and managing of activities. Store public and private information, share stuff, and be secure.
Is it too much to ask? Probably. A typical "all in one" service generally lacks one or two very important features, or is just ridiculously expensive, like add $10/m for every single person! Yeah, not as a freelancer, I don't have thousands a month to communicate with everybody!
I could do a self-hosted solution but it needs to be very robust. The whole point of consolidating services is to same time. It takes a lot of time to communicate over email, copy stuff to notes, copy notes to tasks manager, get incoming tickets, copy to tasks, save to notes, prepare my private notes into public notes to send back to client, gather files incoming from emails into file service, handle revisions manually.
Passing data all around various services takes a metric ton of time when multiplied by even a handful of clients and active projects.
I'm just looking for recommendations beyond the top google results. I know about Asana, Basecamp, Trello, etc.