The best free project management tools for freelancers

As a freelancer, you know that communicating with your clients is critical to your project’s — and business — success. After all, you want to be reassured that you’re both on the same page. One of the best ways to do that is by tracking your project’s progress. If you don’t want to be caught in a vicious cycle of email chains, trails and a groaning inbox, the best thing to do is to use project management (PM) tools.

If you’re not familiar with them, in a nutshell, they make your life easier, and in some cases, can even eliminate the need for emails between you and your client when working on a project.

Your clients can track their project’s progress, and every conversation, task and responsibility is captured in the tool itself, so there is no room for misunderstanding or confusion.

Here we review three of the most popular project management tools.

Asana

Probably one of the most well-known and popular PM tools in the industry. Many freelancers swear by this, as do I. You can create projects, assign tasks, milestones, and deadlines. Heck, you can even use Asana for your personal projects — I do.

You get a notification each time a milestone or task is due, and you can have conversations about the projects without leaving the tool itself.

Registration is free, so your clients can sign up. Most of your clients will say yes to this, but for those who insist on using email (and with it, the likelihood of you having a heart attack during the project as a result of email/unwieldy information overload), this is what you tell them:

This is our preferred PM tool. It’s easy to use and we’ve found that our clients prefer it, because they can track their projects, and most importantly, prevent project creep, so you actually end up saving money, time and resources.

At this point, your clients will sign up to use the tool, after all, which business doesn’t want to save time, money and resources?

Asana’s dashboard is clear and intuitive, which of course means that you can be up and running in no time at all.

Here’s what it looks like:

Asana, project management tool dashboard

In the left-hand column, you can see the tasks you’ve created, assigned to others and track your team conversations.

Registration for Asana is free.

Trello

This is more of visual tool and preferred by developers (usually). If you’re working on a software development project, chances are that your developers will be using this tool.

Project tasks are divided into cards and moved along a virtual board until they are completed.

Here’s an example of Trello virtual board (they’re usually more colourful than this. Mine looks rather bare, because I signed up for the service to research this post).

You can see a project task (which is a card) in the second column:

And here’s how you fill in an individual card

As you can see in the right-hand column, you can add members to the card, labels (great for categorising the task), checklists, deadlines and more to the task card.

Trello visual card

However, just because Trello is mostly used by developers doesn’t mean that freelance writers can’t use it too. When I worked on website projects (managing the creation and delivery of content), I worked with developers using this tool.

Tom’s Planner

Tom’s Planner is not so much of a PM tool than it is a Gantt chart. It may have different functionalities from Asana and Trello, but I think the overall goal is the same as those two PM tools: to help teams collaborate and share tasks.

Tom's Planner

Here’s how I used it for one of our flash sales:

Trello demo

If you can’t be bothered with fancy PM tools, then Tom’s Planner is probably for you. It’s a functional tool that can help you keep on track with your project, particularly if you’re working alone. If anything, the sense of accomplishment you get from ticking off the tasks as you progress with your project should keep you motivated.

And if you can’t be bothered with all the above you could always use your Excel spreadsheet, because people haven’t had their fill of Excel or PowerPoint (and yes, that was a snarky comment) — Abidemi Sanusi (tweet this — just highlight the text)

In conclusion

PM tools are a great, but they are only as great as you use them. You can sign up for all three tools to determine the best one for you. I’ll say this: clients like freelancers who use PM tools. It makes you look professional, which means that you can always charge more for your services (ahem, you have to do a good job first, obviously).

That’s not such a bad thing, is it?

Do you use PM tools? Which do you prefer and why?