Can Trello keep your freelance work organised?
Many freelancers use an online project management app called Trello to keep their client work organised. Could it also stop you from getting behind or overlooking important tasks? Take a deep-dive into Trello from a freelancer’s perspective, to help you decide whether Trello is right for you.
What is Trello?
Trello is an online project management app. You use it through a web browser, via the internet. There are also mobile phone apps available for iPhone and Android.
Under the hood, Trello organises your work into boards (think of these as projects), lists (think of these as stages of a project) and cards (think of these as individual tasks).
This is what Trello looks like out of the box:
This is what it can look like fully pimped, with custom backgrounds, colored labels and image attachments:
Is Trello free?
Trello is free, forever. Many (perhaps most?) people only use the free version and get everything they need done. For more fun and fancy tweaks, you can pay for Trello Gold. For more serious functionality, especially integration with other software, you can pay for Trello Business Class. A good overview is on the Trello pricing page.
I am a photographer/programmer/writer/motion graphics designer/……, is Trello for me?
Trello was not designed for a particular user group. In the real world, it is used by over 10 million people who are active in different fields. Some use it to organise their personal lives, others to run their small business, others to manage their freelance client work. So the short answer here is ‘yes, Trello will work for you’.
What’s good about Trello?
- Trello is known and loved for its ease of use and it’s simple, graphical user interface. This is the area where it scores most highly against other project management software.
- There is almost no learning curve. Due to its simplicity, you can start using Trello in almost no time at all.
- It’s free and very simple to get started. Although you can pay for extra features, many freelancers and even large businesses get by using only the free version. This stands in strong contrast to other software that forces you to pay after 30 days or limits the amount of projects you can manage.
- The mobile apps are also highly rated, work extremely well and are regularly updated. Both the iPhone app and the Android app currently has 4.5 stars out of thousands of reviews.
- You are not forced to use a particular workflow or productivity method. Instead, you can manage your projects in a way that works best for you and your clients. This freedom is very powerful – you don’t need to adapt to the software, the software adapts to you. Perhaps you’ve heard of terminology such as Kanban, or agile project management. Trello can do all of these and much more. This might sound daunting but the drag-and-drop interface makes it all very easy. You can get started using a very simple approach and develop it further as you go along. The active user community and great Trello website offer lots of advice and inspiration how to set up your Trello board – take a look at the Inspiring Boards web page (also created in Trello!) for some examples.
- There is tons of online documentation available to help you get started, first and foremost the excellent official Trello Guide. In addition, many people post examples of how they use Trello to organise their work. From editorial calendars, to agile Scrum boards, to planning a wedding. In practice you probably know someone in your network who already uses Trello. You’re not alone and can easily find help if you get stuck.
- It’s easy to use Trello as a team. You can share and discuss project details with your clients, co-workers or contractors (although client’s don’t always keep using it – read more below!).
- Trello integrates well with other software, including Slack (another popular tool used by teams to collaborate online). You can also automate it with IFTTT and Zapier.
- Trello has been going since 2011 and is used by over 10 million people. It consistently shows up at the top of lists of project management tools and personal “How I run my life” stories. Perhaps more importantly, it’s well established and shouldn’t disappear any time soon. In a world where online project management tools pop up and cease to exist again at a rate of 2 a week, this longevity gives a lot of re-assurance. The last thing you want is to move all your client work online, only to see it disappear weeks later because a startup couldn’t make any money.
What’s bad about Trello?
While most people seem to love Trello, there are a few complaints that come up again and again.
- There is no built-in function to mark tasks as dependent on each other. If you deal with projects that have a lot of ‘do this after doing that’ type of tasks, you might struggle or need to find a workaround. There are also paid-for third-party extensions such as Elegantt that try to solve this problem – but you do have to pay extra and an extension is never as smooth as an in-built feature.
- Trello has a built-in calendar, however integration with other calendars such as Google or Outlook is almost non-existent. If you practically live your life in a calendar, this could be a show-stopper for you.
- Some people report that it’s difficult to keep track of a large number of projects and to see what your co-workers are doing. Trello is very much project based and there are only minimal tools to get an overview across your entire business. To some extent the community comes to the rescue here – there are tips on how to see all your tasks in one place and how to manage your team with Trello.
- Trello makes it easy to share projects with your clients. Personally, I’ve had a lot of success getting clients to use Trello but not all freelancers have the same experience. Some clients revert back to sending requests by email. Success largely depends on how well you know your clients and how much you encourage / help them to use the tool. If online client collaboration is important to you, then perhaps try it out with a single client first before moving all your project management across to Trello.
Trello is a long established market leader and has many millions of fans across a wide variety of different skill sets and markets. There is no doubt that it can help you keep track of 100s of client tasks and make sure that work is completed on time, no matter what freelance work you do. It’s free, easy to use and has good mobile support. Overall it’s a fantastic tool to support you and your freelance business and is well worth giving a try.
On the flip side, Trello’s weakest points are the handling of task dependencies and its lack of strong calendar integration. If your projects depend on this functionality, you may struggle or need to find some clever workarounds.
Have you used Trello or other software? Share your tips and recommendations in the comments!