The hardest part of interactive projects is not the coding or ideation, its working efficiently as a collaborative team. There are ways to spend a ton of hours & money on your infrastructure, and then invest hours of maintenance every month, all on tools that don’t directly make you money.
Project Management, Version Control & More for $3.95 / mo
The best value with the ugliest website on the web. SourceRepo.com combines project management, version control, & one click backups into a easy to use interface, starting at $3.95 a month.
For project management you get a choice of the simple & effective Trac, or the more feature rich Redmine (my preference). In comparison, 37 Signals Basecamp product is oustanding, & free for the first project, but after that goes to $24 / mo & up to $150 / mo without version control as well as many of the features offered by Redmine.
SourceRepo.com can can host your version control system, wich choices of Git, Subversion, or Mercurial. SourceRepo.com automagically integrates your version control system with your Trac or Redmine install. Alternatives include GitHub.com, which is free for public repositories that anyone can see an download, or $7 / mo for up to 5 private repositories. BeanStalkApp.com is another good choice for $15 / mo.
Project Documentation: Scope docs, Wireframes, & Flowcharts $0
Seriously $0, but there are a few limitations.
Google Docs is a adequate tool for word processing, and it’s online collaboration tools are very cool. However if you’ve got a Mac & $20 bucks to spare I strongly recommend Pages it makes creating a professional looking document more than $20 easier than Google Docs.
Wire-framing is an essential tool for getting all your stakeholders on the same page, even better are wire-frames your clients can click through. GoMockingbird.com delivers wire-frames with limited interactivity that can be reviewed in browser or shared in multiple formats. Even better is the ability to collaborate online. Pricing starts at Free for our first project then $9 for 2 and up to $85 / mo for an unlimited account, & you only have to pay for the months you use the service. There are other alternatives, Balsamq Mockups has a very generous free trial, & a $79 price tag. Axure is an amazing interactive prototype builder but it runs $589.
Flowcharts have a bad reputation for not being actual work, but they do a great job of describing processes. Also for free Gliffy.com will allow you to create up to 5 flowcharts, which should get the average developer through their first year of consulting. After your first 5 charts it’s only $5 / mo. There are alternatives, I don’t do enough charting to recommend alternatives.
Development & Staging Hosting $20 / mo
I’ll only be addressing PHP hosting because it is what I know best.
If your comfortable doing some basic server work developing your PHP web application on your own computer is ideal. Free tools to make this easy are MAMP & XAMP, both of these tools allow you to easily get started with developing PHP base web applications on your local machine. If do have a team that includes anyone that does not think server maintenance is fun, a proper development environment with a Samba share will save you time and headaches by making linux home directory appear as a hard drive on a local machine.
A staging server is where you test your teams code in a production environment prior to putting it on the production server. It should be as similar as possible to your production environment. My preferences, if you are comfortable working on the linux command line through SSH, are ServerGrove & RackSpace Cloud. However, if working on the command line is not your thing, take a look at the Dreamhost.com’s VPS it uses the same great interface they have for their shared hosting. One thing to remember about Dreamhost’s VPS is that you’ll need 2 $15 /mo servers, one for your web application and one for your database.
Time Tracking & Invoicing $0
I am in passionate love with Freshbooks.com. I hate tracking my time, accounting, & invoicing which is what Freshbooks.com makes nearly painless. It’s free for your first 3 project, then between $19.95 & $39.95 after that. Features include the ability invoice in less than 3 minutes, mobile apps, a time that enables time tracking down to the hundredth of an hour, online payments, & contractors. The only thing it does not include is Quickbooks export, which is drag come tax time. Quickbooks is an alternative, but it does not look fun at all. A viable alternative that I should consider is Harvest which does include Quickbooks export, as well as some solid Redmine integration, it’s also cheaper at between $12 & $90 a month. On second thought I may not be in as deep of love with Freshbooks.com as I thought…
What about office space?
A home office is a great way to save money, but I’m not not half as productive as I am at the CoWorking space I purchase for $150 / mo at CoCoMsp.com in lowertown St. Paul, MN. Most major metropolitan areas have at least one. In the Twin Cities we have 3, CoCo, The 3rd Place in the MidTown / Como area, and CoJoule in Minneapolis.
All the options I’ve suggested have pricing structures that increase the more you use them, but they’re all reasonable. So if you grow to be big enough to need them, your infrastructure costs will scale at a lower pace.
Truth be told I’m spending more like $200 a month for my infrastructure, but I could easily scale it down to $25 a month if I made some sacrifices.
With all these solutions your mileage may vary. These work for me and my little Web Development consultancy. If you have better options, comments, or corrections let me know in the comments below 🙂