Proper management is key to running any kind of business. Without it, you can miss deadlines, waste time and money, or simply not reach your full potential. The right project management (PM) software can help you achieve your short- and long-term goals by, for example, helping you to communicate better with your team and keep better track of your finances.
Sounds like a lot for a single program to do, right? Well, it can be. Some project management tools don’t have what it takes to handle a whole business. Others do, but they’re often too complicated and expensive. Striking the right balance can be hard.
I’ve tested the best project management software myself to help you find a tool that your small business can actually benefit from. Every option on this list will help you communicate with your teams, manage your finances, and plan for upcoming projects.
With that being said, the tool that most impressed me was monday.com. It offers a huge library of well-designed project templates, so you’re bound to find something that fits the project you’re working on. It also provides a vast number of customization options, allowing you to set up projects that are as simple or as complex as you like. But above all, it’s monday.com’s ability to somehow combine all of this in a beginner-friendly user interface that earned it the top spot of this list.
What We Look For in the Best Project Management Software for Small Businesses
There are plenty of things to consider when it comes to project management. For small businesses in particular, some features are more important than others. I made sure that the options on this list included the following:
Good value for money. Small businesses need to make smart investments. These project management tools strike a good balance between cost and features.
Ease of use. Even if you have experience with project management software, you can’t be sure that everyone on your team does. The software on this list offers things like an intuitive user interface (UI), clearly labeled sections and features, and plenty of learning resources.
Communication features. Good communication is extremely important for small businesses. I’ve chosen software that gives you tools such as built-in chat messaging, easy task assignments, and @ tagging on comments.
Financial features. Though some offer more advanced functionality than others, most of these tools come with finance management features like invoice creation, billable time tracking, and budgeting templates.
Quality templates. In PM software, templates are pre-built documents or document collections that come with the necessary structure for certain projects, such as budgeting, event planning, or social media calendars. This last one’s optional, but it helps if the software helps you get a quicker start.
Contrary to what some TikTok gurus would have you believe, not every business needs a comprehensive five-year growth plan. Some small businesses are just looking to offer a good service to their local communities, and that’s great. That being said, if you are planning to grow your business over time, you need project management software that can grow with you.monday.com offers fantastic value for its price at all tiers. Its friendly user interface (UI) and intuitive design make it a particularly great tool if you’re just starting out with project management. Each plan offers over 200 useful templates covering every kind of project, such as a marketing strategy tracker, a product release schedule, a construction roadmap, and more. Overall, monday.com offers the best balance of features and ease of use.
If you decide that monday.com is the software for you, I’d recommend the Standard plan. It includes a hefty 20GB of storage, unlimited boards, and 250 automations per month (for, say, sending an email whenever a specific kind of task is finished, or for updating a document whenever you make changes to another).
As your business grows, you might want to upgrade to the Pro plan to unlock more advanced features like unlimited guest users, time-tracking, and dependency columns.
11 essential views. You can visualize your project using 11 different views, from the classic Kanban and Gantt, to file galleries and workload management.
Over 20 column types. You can add 20+ columns in table view, which helps you easily combine detailed information in a single document.
Advanced dashboard widgets. You can customize your project dashboards to a ridiculous degree. There are widgets for adding everything from data charts to custom Spotify playlists.
App marketplace. The monday.com marketplace includes hundreds of apps that can help you increase your productivity and customize the software so that it works for your business. This includes Let’s Chat for instant messaging, Analytics & Reports for getting in-depth information on your business, and TaskMagic for letting your employees gamify their work progress.
Small businesses start with small investments, which is why ClickUp might be the right project management software for you. It’s more affordable than monday.com and almost as customizable. ClickUp has hundreds of project templates, many of them tailored for businesses. Whether you want to have a clear view over your customers or need help with finance management, ClickUp has the perfect template for it.
ClickUp’s Whiteboard feature is particularly useful for organizing and visualizing even the most complex (or simple) projects. It lets you create comprehensive mind maps and organize tasks, files, and decisions in one place. Whiteboards are flexible, with plenty of templates to choose from or the option to create one from scratch. Plus, you can add sticky notes, files, and even create new tasks directly from your whiteboard.
ClickUp’s built-in chat feature makes collaboration within the platform pretty effortless. You’re free to create a chat view for each project dashboard, which ClickUp calls Spaces, and in the Everything space that displays all your projects. With the chat feature, you can tag team members with @, task mentions with @@, share files, and record screen and voice clips.
The only possible downside to consider is that ClickUp does come with a learning curve. Don’t get me wrong, it’s easy to use once you get the hang of it. But the wide range of features and customizable elements can be a bit overwhelming for beginners.
11 available views. ClickUp allows you to visualize your project in 11 different views, including the most popular ones like Gantt, Board, Timeline, and Workload.
Time tracking. This built-in feature allows you to track time across the entire workspace or specific spaces. While available on all plans, the Business plan has additional time-tracking features such as marking time entries as billable and adding time entry descriptions.
Automations. Depending on which plan you opt for, you’ll get access to up to 250k automations per month. It’s super simple to create one using one of the available templates, but you can also create entirely custom automations if you prefer.
Impressive range of integrations. ClickUp has over 50 native integrations for popular business and productivity apps like Slack, GitHub, Google Drive, Dropbox, OneDrive, Zoom, and even YouTube (video embedding). Best of all, most of these are available on the free forever plan.
Don’t be fooled by the name. Smartsheet offers more than just excellent spreadsheets (but it does offer some pretty excellent spreadsheets). In fact, Smartsheet is one of the most feature-packed options out there.
With Smartsheet, you can manage a project over time, handle invoices, collect forms, and display your business’ data using custom dashboards. Think of it like the Swiss Army knife of project management software. Now imagine that Swiss Army knives are actually useful in the real world.
The gray and outdated design might alienate some users, and I must admit that there is a learning curve to Smartsheet. It’s simple enough once you’re used to it, but some things are a bit tricky at first, like dealing with massive template sets with dozens of interconnected documents.
For these reasons, I’d recommend Smartsheet to teams that work with huge amounts of information, such as legal and healthcare businesses. If you do work with a lot of data, however, there’s no better option than Smartsheet.
Reports. Reports are a great way to summarize data from several grids (which is what Smartsheet calls its spreadsheets). Each report can show specific information from grids of your choosing. When you update a report, the corresponding grid is updated automatically.
Powerful workflows. Workflows let you automate processes within grids or outside of them. This can help you streamline processes within your business and save you time. What’s more, the visual editor is intuitive and simple to use.
Custom forms. You can create and send custom forms with Smartsheet. You attach forms to specific grids, so that any information you input into a form gets added automatically.
Over 480 templates and template sets. Smartsheet template sets come with hundreds of pre-made grids, reports, and dashboards. Each is made with a specific purpose in mind that can help you get to work quickly.
Jira Work Management is a user-friendly project management tool that’s perfect for beginners. Its intuitive interface and helpful Quickstart guides make setting up your first project a breeze. Additionally, teams with fewer than 10 members can probably make do with Jira’s free forever plan. Unlike many other similar tools, Jira doesn’t reserve its best features for its paid plans.
While potent on its own, if you pair Jira Work Management with Jira Confluence, you’ll get even more benefits. For instance, Work Management has only 23 project templates covering the most common project types. However, if you pair it with Jira Confluence, you get access to 75+ highly customizable templates.
If that wasn’t enough, Jira has a massive app marketplace with over 3000 integrations designed to improve your workflow and collaborate across platforms. Most are free, but you’ll have to filter through them because, while a hefty chunk are designed for Jira Work Management and Jira Confluence, many are for Atlassian’s other tools.
5 project views. Jira offers 5 project visualization options – including Kanban (or “board”), List, Calendar and Timeline – all of which are available on the free forever plan.
Automations. The number of automations you get is limited with the Free and Standard plans, but there are still enough to take some tasks off your hands.
Versatile user permissions. Managers or admins can control what users can access and make changes to existing projects across your Atlassian tools. Also, you can establish global permissions before inviting new users to a specific project. If you combine Jira Work Management with Confluence, you can set even stricter rules by setting individual permissions.
Customizable reporting. Jira lets you customize your reports by allowing you to choose what data is displayed. You have the option to view data on a daily, weekly, monthly, quarterly, or yearly basis, and you can include or exclude sub-tasks and statistics. The only downside is that reports can’t be exported.
Not every business will need the same things from project management software. Brick-and-mortar stores, pet services, and more hands-on businesses might not need the most advanced functionalities, just easy-to-use software that can help them achieve their mid-term goals. That’s where Teamwork comes in.Teamwork is one of the simplest PM solutions out there, without being limited on features. Its intuitive design makes it incredibly easy to start using, and the pleasant UI doesn’t hurt either. I recommend starting with the Deliver plan, which includes 20 templates, basic invoicing, and a built-in chat feature. You can also try it for free with a 30-day trial.
Just keep in mind that Teamwork’s simplicity means it can’t always meet the needs of larger, multi-disciplinary businesses. If you just need a simple tool to help keep your projects organized, however, Teamwork is unlikely to disappoint.
Built-in time-tracking. Teamwork offers built-in time-tracking on all plans, including the free one.
Notebooks. Notebooks are text documents that let you record any relevant information for your team. You can create notebooks in different categories and update them to new versions.
Various user types. Besides the standard users, you can add clients and collaborators to your Teamwork team. Clients have limited access to your project but can make important changes, whereas only collaborators can create and complete tasks.
Bulk task editing. You can edit a group of tasks at once with bulk editing. This feature is especially useful for quickly adapting to major changes to your business plan.
Zoho Projects is an extremely competent project management software. It comes with every basic project-tracking feature you could need, including task creation, dependencies, and dashboards. What really makes Zoho Projects stand out, however, is its excellent communication features.
You can attach files just about anywhere, whether in tasks, projects, comments – you name it. The built-in chat feature is great for getting in touch with team members right away, while the forums allow for more in-depth discussions. What’s more, the pages feature can help you keep an up-to-date record of all the information your team might need. It’s like an exclusive Wikipedia page for your business.
Zoho can get a little hard to navigate at times, as some of the most interesting features are hidden behind hard-to-find tabs and unnecessary submenus. But if you’re in a business that requires constant, clear communication, Zoho is the ideal choice. I especially recommend it for software developers, web designers, and content creation teams.
Issue tracking. Zoho Projects lets you assign specific issues to tasks. You can assign an issue to any task and then assign users to solve it, register it as a template, and share files within this template.
Forums and pages. Forums and pages are a great resource to keep communication flowing throughout your entire team.
Task hierarchy. In a project, you can create milestones, tasks, subtasks, and issues. Thanks to this level of detail, you can always monitor the specifics of your business and how these are affecting the bigger picture.
Zoho integrations. If you’re already a Zoho user (Zoho offers a variety of software for CRM, marketing, business analytics, and more), the integrations you’ll have access to will help make managing every aspect of your business as seamless as possible.
Conclusion: Your Business Is Unique. Your Project Management Software Should Be Too.
“Small business” is a broad term. The needs of software developers will differ from those of advertising studios or legal teams. There is one thing all small businesses have in common, though: they have to make the most out of their resources to succeed.
If you’re looking to expand your business over time, monday.com would be my go-to PM software. It has the perfect balance of ease of use and powerful features to help you get started quickly and grow your business.
Businesses that handle loads of data might need something more robust. If you need to handle large amounts of information, Smartsheet is your best choice. Its powerful spreadsheets and useful reports are great for keeping track of every little detail.
If you’re looking for something more affordable but nearly as rich in features and customizable options, I recommend ClickUp. It also shines in the collaboration department, with a built-in chat tool and versatile options for tagging members, projects, and files.
Check out the comparison table below to find the best option for you.
What is the best project management software for a small business?
There is no single “best” project management software for every small business. The right software for you will depend on your industry, your experience with project management, and your personal preferences.
This article can help you decide what’s the best project management software for your small business. If you need more information, feel free to check out our list of the best project management software for 2023.
Do I need project management software for my business?
Not every business needs project management software, but it can help a lot, especially if you work in a remote team or handle complex operations.
As a general rule, it’s a good idea to have some sort of project management system for your business. Project management software can help you streamline this process, get a better picture of all your business operations, and generally make your life a lot easier.
Can I use project management software for free?
Of course! There’s plenty of free project management software available. monday.com offers a fantastic free plan for personal organization. Teamwork’s free forever plan is a great way to get started using project management software, and there are many more options.
That being said, though the free plans aren’t bad by any stretch, they are often limited in terms of features. A free plan might not work for many small businesses due to user limitations. If this applies to you, a premium plan like monday.com’s Standard plan will definitely be worth the investment.
What are the principles of project management?
Though the exact number of principles varies depending on the source, most agree on these six fundamentals:
– Project mission. What are you trying to achieve, both practically and more generally?
– Strategy. How are you planning to achieve your objectives?
– Structure. How will your team be organized?
– Systems. What resources and tactics will you use?
– Values. What values is your team or business aligned with?
– Accountability. Who will do what and who’s responsible for making sure team members stay on track?
Andrés Gánem is a Colorado-born, Mexico-City-raised freelance writer and content creator. He’s been doing that for a while. When he’s not writing, he should be, but you can find him reading adventure novels, playing video games, or drinking frankly unhealthy amounts of coffee. If you see him, tell him to put down that coffee. He’s shaky enough as it is.