By Claire Cocks, Catch the Sun’s Operations and Workflow Manager.
From little things, big things grow. Well, at least that’s what you hope when you start a business. And when you’re starting out it seems there’s not much that can’t be handled with some nifty Excel spreadsheets and your Outlook calendar. But then things start rolling and, before you know it, there are too many balls in the air to manage. Quite simply, you need help! You need an all-in-one system that will help you do it all… and so starts the search for the best project management and resource planning software out there.
At Catch the Sun Communications, we’ve been growing and the time came to head down the software solution path. Here we share some of the considerations and discoveries we made in our recent journey which could be useful if you’re a creative (or creative services) SME in a similar boat.
Know your project management requirements
Before you start your quest, set a firm monthly/annual budget and be realistic about how many people will need to use the system, and in what capacity. Many of the software options out there operate on a cost-per-user licence basis. Some provide differing levels of access, where users utilising all functionality will pay more compared to those who don’t. Many also have a minimum number of users, which can jack the cost up if you’re a small outfit, although you’d have room to grow.
It’s also important to have a clear idea about what is ‘must-have’ versus ‘nice-to-have’ functionality for your business. What do you really need it for? If what you’re after is something to help you manage your projects and your people, there are lots of great project and resource planning tools available, such as Teamwork, Plutio, Basecamp, Asana and Monday. These all allow users to create jobs or projects with assigned staff, schedule and manage resource for the project, timesheet against them, and get an overview of resource capacity and basic time utilisation, with varying degrees of user-friendliness.
However, what these solutions don’t offer is much, if anything, in the way of finance management. If you need to be producing project estimates for clients, invoicing and running job cost reports (JCRs) and other financial or profitability reports, then Streamtime, Briefcase, Paymo, Paprika or Workamajig would be better options. Depending on your business requirements, you may also need to consider integrating with an accounting system. Paymo integrates with Xero, Briefcase with Xero and QuickBooks, and Streamtime with Xero, QuickBooks and MYOB.
Workamajig is an all-singing, all-dancing system with extensive project resource management, as well as financial capability and accounting and reporting functionality. However, with a minimum subscription of five users at $50 per user per month, plus a set-up fee, it may be cost prohibitive for smaller businesses.
Paprika is more finance focused, with their project management tools secondary to the money side of things, from a UX point of view at least. Having said that, it’s a complete account management and accounting system with full reporting capability and, as such, is quite pricey ($150 per user per month for full access) and perhaps better suited to medium-sized businesses.
Paymo is an economical option at $20 per user per month for their business package. It has decent project and resource management functionality – including some great stacking and topline tracking features, as well as estimating and invoicing – in a really clean and intuitive interface, but it’s let down on the reporting front. It only offers basic time reports which need to be reconciled manually with invoices to get an idea of actual profitability, although increased reporting functions are due in the not-too-distant future.
Briefcase is also fairly affordable at $40 per user per month, and has all the standard job and finance management tools, albeit in a very ‘beige’ interface. The main sticking point, however, is that it’s currently a computer-based piece of software that you have to download. There’s a web-based variant due but, unfortunately, it’s set to be a ‘Briefcase Lite’ version.
Streamtime is an antipodean company (New Zealand) designed especially for use by creative agencies. It is around $50 per user per month on a PAYG plan, or you can negotiate a fixed fee with them based on your unique agency set-up. It has comprehensive project and resource management tools in a simple, clean and intuitive interface. It offers standard financial management tools, such as estimating and invoicing, as well as timesheets and basic reporting including JCRs, with profit margin reporting currently in testing. Overall, it’s one-stop shop nature has proved to be the perfect agency job management system for Catch the Sun Communications.