Stay on Top and In Control with the Best Project Management Tools for Small Business

March 13, 2017 • 6 min read
Ahmad El-Najjar

Ahmad El-Najjar


If you run a business, congratulations—you’re a project manager! Project management may not be the first descriptor that comes to mind for what you do day in and day out—after all, you’re running a business, not building a power plant. But you might be surprised to learn just how much of the work you do falls under the label of project management. The good news is that there are great project management tools for small businesses to help you get things done.

Projects differ from the business operations that you repeat, like accounting or ordering inventory, as a regular aspect of running the business. More specifically, a project is an endeavor that has a definite beginning and ending and involves initiating, planning, executing, monitoring, and closing the project. For example, doing your payroll is not a project because it’s a recurring organizational process that unfortunately will never end. However, tracking restaurant trends to implement a new menu? Expanding your retail space? Working on a marketing plan to attract new clients for your accounting firm? Implementing a new point-of-sale system? Yes, indeed, these are all projects and, as the boss of a small business, you’re likely going to be the de facto project manager for each and every one.

Project management sounds like it ought to be a matter of common sense. But, as anybody who’s tried to manage a project with more than two moving parts or staff members knows, it’s a skill set unto itself. In fact, it’s a technical specialization that many individuals pursue as a career choice. So, how do you, the small business owner, ensure the smooth operation of each of your many, and often simultaneous, projects? Easy! There’s an app for that.

The best project management tools for small business can help you complete a project like opening your expanded retail space, say, within the constraints of a particular scope, time frame, and budget. Project management software offers you a ready-made structure for keeping track of each aspect of your project, without losing sight of any of them.

Whether it’s a physical project like expanded retail space that entails wrangling city inspectors and permits, a general contractor, choosing and acquiring paint, lighting, and other construction materials on a tight schedule and with limited funds, or designing a holiday marketing plan that requires market and demographic research, choosing a platform, outlining a budget, hiring a content creator, and determining how to track the return on investment, all on a deadline, having all the moving parts in one place that everyone involved can access can be the difference between a resounding success and a costly disaster.

A project management tool that’s a feast for the eyes

First on our list is a Townsquared favorite: every team here uses Trello. Trello is a project management solution that focuses on visualizing ideas, plans, deliverables, and milestones. And, it has a powerful free version that will meet the needs of most small business owners.

It’s simple to use. Each project is a “board,” and each stage of the project is a list you create. Lists can include labels, members, due dates, even a functioning checklist. Each item on the list is a “card,” which can include attachments, notes, and assignment of duties.

Each card can be placed where it belongs within the scope of your project, depending on how you prefer to define the various phases—for example, idea, planning, execution, and closing. As a card moves along the path from start to finish, you simply drag and drop the card in the proper list along the project funnel toward completion or elimination.

For example, let’s say you wanted to switch to a new merchant services provider because the fees your current company charges are too high. You could easily map out your process and track your progress in Trello:

Trello exampleFirst, I started with researching four merchant service providers. I found two of the four met my criteria and followed up by speaking with the representatives from those two companies. After speaking with two representatives, I preferred one of them and decided to go ahead with a contract. After that decision, I wanted to be be sure I was available for the setup of the new machine and to be trained on the product. Next, I needed to be sure my staff understood the new machine. So, I set up a training day and adjusted my payroll to accommodate the extra staff hours. After the machine is completely setup and my staff trained, I can close the project New Merchant Services Provider. Pretty simple all in all.

Pretty nifty, with the added benefit of being a visual representation of the project that you and your staff can easily follow.

Oh, and did I mention it’s free? Trello has a powerful and fully-functional free version that will meet most of your project management needs.

The project management tool that prefers words to pictures

For those who can more easily track a project the more visually it’s represented with color coding and iconography, Trello works very well. But, not everyone is a visual person and many of us prefer text as a primary mode of organizing information. (Yes, I’m one of those people—give me a Word doc over a PowerPoint Presentation any day.) For those small business owners who prefer an uncluttered, text-based view of ongoing projects, Asana is the tool for you…and yes, it’s also free, so long as you have fewer than 15 employees working on your project.

Asana is similar to Trello in that you’re able to create “tasks” similar to Trello’s “cards,” and manage them throughout the lifecycle of a project. Asana also, like Trello, makes it easy to attach documents or images from other free tools you may already be using, like Google Drive and Dropbox.

Asana exampleAsana is the better tool to utilize when the details of dates, responsibilities, and tracking communications are the most important aspects of the project. Another way to look at it is to think of Trello as your go-to tool for projects where you (or a very small team) are the only one(s) working on the project, while Asana is a solid choice for those projects involving multiple staff and clear accountability.

Master your tasks with MeisterTask

Because we know small business owners run the gamut of personalities and management styles, our last entry is a bit of a hybrid of Trello and Asana, as well as a personal favorite among the free project management tools: MeisterTask.

MeisterTask falls somewhere in between Trello and Asana without sacrificing functionality for either the visual or the text-oriented project manager. The biggest advantage of MeisterTask is a highly intuitive interface that couples the tool with powerful native apps available for both iOS and Android. So, you can take your project on the go while communicating in real time with your various stakeholders.

Meister exampleMeisterTask has functionalities similar to both Trello and Asana. Not only are you able to anchor the stages of your project around strong visuals, you’re also able to manage multiple team members as you see your project to completion. The best part of MeisterTask’s communication style is that all your conversations with team members occur in real time with auto-saved updates.

This tool also allows you to do something that’s often overlooked in project management tools. Team members can “like” and comment on the work that’s being done by the team, and as every professional project manager knows, communication is 90 percent of effective project management.

Want more project management tools?

There really is no shortage of project management tools out there but—when it comes to free, powerful, simple, and great for small business—these three tools come out on top. Nonetheless, the best tool is always going to be the one that’s right for your business, so be sure to do your research and find the right fit (free or paid) to accomplish your projects.

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