I remember when Basecamp first came out. It was a brand new, innovative way to manage projects for pretty much any size team – including a company of one. I can’t say I jumped on the bandwagon immediately, but it didn’t take too long.
Both Basecamp 1 and 2 were great. Then Basecamp 3 came along and I absolutely hated it. I hated the UI – it was too cartoon-like for my taste and the way you navigated through the different areas was annoying to me. But the worst part? Clientside. It turned me off in a major way. And, like so many project management and productivity apps back then and (worse) today, it felt like the team behind Basecamp was catering to actual teams with zero regard for the solo operator such as myself. Plus, it was just confusing to me. 🤷♀️
It took a while, if I recall correctly, but the Basecamp team got rid of Clientside. Still, it took a few years for me to 1) notice that they got rid of it and 2) look at Basecamp again after getting fed up with other project management systems and plain ol’ email for PM. The switch back came a little over a year ago.
So why did I switch?
The short version: I got tired of sub-par or overkill solutions.
In the years between ditching Basecamp and coming back to Basecamp, I stuck with email for the longest while trying out other tools. My reasoning for using email was simple: everyone, including clients, uses email and it costs practically nothing. Honestly, it wasn’t the worst thing in the world. Until it was. Email just got overwhelming, particularly on projects with multiple stakeholders. And if I brought in anyone to help me with a project, that further complicated things.
As I worked through email for project management, I looked for and tried various other PM tools; Asana, Trello, Wrike, Monday.com (for about 3 days), ActiveCollab, and others I barely remember. Asana stuck for a while, but only when I had someone working with me; it was never something I used with clients. The underlying issues for most of these products revolved around being overkill (i.e. too many features I wasn’t going to ever use) or simply were meant for teams and not one-person studios.
It finally got to the point where email was so painful for project management that I finally decided to take the time to sit down and figure out what I really needed. Here’s what I came up with:
- A client communication tool above all else that acts as a central communication hub so messages are easy to reference later
- A central place to store project notes and files
- Ability to create and assign tasks to myself, my colleagues (when I brought them on), and to clients
- A timeline or calendar of some sort to show project milestones and progress
- Something that was lightweight enough to handle a solo designer/dev but flexible enough to grow if I needed an expanded team for a project
- Easy enough for clients to use without a ton of training or explaining from me
Basecamp fit the bill closest to any other PM solution I found and tried. The only feature I feel that it doesn’t truly have is the timeline. There’s a scheduling feature in Basecamp, but it just doesn’t quite work the way I’d like it to. It was the one item I was willing to compromise on because it's easy enough to work around. Plus, for better or worse, timelines are constantly shifting and in my experience, the vast majority of my client projects aren't as dependent on timelines as we think from the get-go.
Has it been worth it and how do I use it?
The short answer: yes, it has absolutely been worth it. The key, I’ve found, is to provide clients with as much info on how to use Basecamp as possible. I do that by posting a welcome message that I direct clients to. That has the core information on how to use Basecamp and how the project is going to go.
I use Basecamp for two types of “projects”: on-going website support/maintenance and design/development projects. I can’t say I put every little project in Basecamp because I don’t. I’ve found that being intentional about what goes into Basecamp helps quite a bit. For example, a full web design and development project, which has several phases, makes absolute sense to put into Basecamp. But a site that I only touch a few times a year at the client’s request doesn’t make sense to put in Basecamp.
For on-going website support and maintenance, Basecamp acts as a support portal. The to-dos act as support tickets. Clients post their requests as a to-do and we go back and forth until that request is completed by one of us checking the task as complete. This method keeps a better record of tasks than email. Plus, I can simply grab the task/support request URL and stick it in my time tracking app (Harvest, by the way). That gives my clients a reference point in case they ever wonder why a support request was billed the way it was.
For full design and/or development projects, I list tasks by phase. This keeps things organized, sure, but it helps clients to see where we are in a project. In this way, Basecamp becomes a central hub so a client can log in and quickly see where we are with a project. To help further with that, I provide updates on tasks as we work through them. Some weeks are quieter than others so I aim to provide at least one update message on those weeks.
Would I recommend it?
Basecamp works great for teams, which may be weird to read since I was harping on the focus on teams in other apps. The thing is, I’ve been hired by agencies over the years that use Basecamp for internal and client communication. And what I've found is that it’s a great tool for teams. I have noticed that it helps if a team has solid Project Manager that keeps everyone – client included – updated on a regular, consistent basis.
It also works great for solo designers and devs like myself. It keeps me super organized and easily lets me add other pros to my team for particular projects.
So yeah, I definitely would recommend Basecamp.