It is impossible to run consulting business without tools for customer relationship management, project management, time tracking, collaboration and invoicing. Some freelancers and agencies use a separate service for each of those tasks, for example FreshBooks for invoicing, Trello or Wrike for task management and so on. But ideally it should all-in-one solution to reduce time and effort integrating multiple services together.
I prefer self-hosted solution over cloud-based solution primarily because I would like to have a complete control and own my data.
Until recently I have been using free and open-source FengOffice 1.7.5. However it lacks some important features and is no longer developed and supported. The company behind FengOffice released version 2.0 offering both free community edition and paid professional edition. However some features has been removed in the free version and paid self-hosted version was somewhat expensive considering other products on the market.
Setting up software on your own server and maintaining it requires a bit more work but benefits may outweigh the extra time needed.
- Control: Complete control over website and service.
- Privacy: Nobody except you will have access to the data.
- Resources: You are free to use all of the system resources.
- Domain: You can use your domain name, for example gyrocode.com/clients or clients.gyrocode.com.
Self-hosted project management software
Most companies deliver project management software using SaaS model, for example Basecamp. Luckily there are some that offer self-hosted product that could be installed on your own server.
Below is a list of the best customer relationship and project management software for freelancers and agencies that I have reviewed.
In the end I have decided to choose Perfex. It was very close to being the ideal tool and I will explain below why.
- Customer Relationship Management
- Project Management (Projects, Tasks)
- Sales (Proposals, Estimates, Invoices, Payments)
- Support System
- Knowledge Base
- Tools (Surveys, Calendar, Company Newsfeed, Goals Tracking)
I immediately fell in love with Perfex. User interface is very clean and polished. It shows that developers took great care when designing and planning all features.
It was important to me to be able to track billable hours, assign notes to tasks and timesheet entries and easily generate professional looking estimates and invoices. Perfex does all that and a lot more.
One of the greatest strength of the product is the ability to customize almost every aspect of it – from theme colors and images, permissions for customers and team members to projects, tasks, invoices and payments. You can add custom fields to every entity to adapt it to your business process.
- Allow customers to register/login into their own portal for viewing projects, tasks, invoices, tickets and other sections
Projects and tasks
- Manage and invoice projects easily
- Project can have fixed cost, billed based on project hourly rate or hourly rate of each individual task
- Assign tasks to multiple staff members, attach files and add comments
- Organize tasks using Kanban view
- Track time spent on tasks
- Assign multiple staff members to a task and track time spent by each member individually
Estimates, invoices and payments
- Create professional looking proposals, estimates and invoices in seconds with lots of customization options
- Convert estimate to invoice after customer accepts it
- Create recurring invoices
- Record and receive payments in different currencies
- Customers can pay you via multiple payment gateways: Paypal, Stripe, Authorize.net, Mollie, Braintree, 2Checkout
Indication of a good product is the number of times you need to access the documentation to figure out how things work. I only had to read Quick Installation & Getting Started Tutorial which was also included in the distribution in order to install the product.
Author provides support via ticketing system and replied within a day to all of my requests. There is also community forum where you can communicate with other users.
In one of the support tickets created in March, 2017 I asked whether it would be possible to add support for notes on timesheet entries. Two month later author releases version 1.7.0 adding the requested feature among other improvements.
As of May, 2017 Perfex is offered for $54.00 which includes 6 months of support. Optionally you can extend support during checkout or at later time.