Every now and then we come across a business tool that's so incredibly helpful and beautifully easy to use that after about 30 minutes we start to wonder how we ever managed without it. Basecamp, the online project collaboration tool by 37Signals, is one of those things we wish we had found out about a long time ago. (So, we're saving you some time and sharing it with you now! :)
(By the way, Basecamp is perfect if you're working with a partner or a team, but the 37Signals website also has 3 other programs to suit other needs, including the Backpack information organizer and calendar for individuals. And, each one of these has a free option so you can try them out first.)
And as a disclaimer, we reluctantly have to acknowledge that Basecamp is so simple to use, and yet can do so much, that we're probably going to not be able to do it justice here - so please visit the site and give it a shot yourself. But here's our rundown:
Simply put, Basecamp allows you to simply and easily manage your client projects online. You can post projects, assign tasks for each one to people in your team (or allow them to assign tasks to themselves, or to you), and then monitor exactly who did what, and who talked to whom, when.
For example, you might call one project "Home Listings". Under the To-Do list for that project, you might name one "Miller Home Listing Presentation." Then you can create items in the To-Do list, and assign them to various people.
You might create an item that says "Compile comparables to use in Miller market analysis", and assign that to yourself. Then you might create these items: "Create printed market analysis for Millers using the comparables", and "Schedule photographer to shoot Miller photos by Tuesday", and assign those to your assistant.
All of these would be listed under "Miller Home Listing Presentation". When your assistant logs in, he can choose to see all to-dos, or just the ones assigned to him. When a to-do is completed, simply check a box and that item slips down into the "done" list - greyed out, but still visible for reference.
Each project has a Messages section, where you can list who spoke to whom. For example, you could name a Messages section "Miller Communications", and make an entry whenever you get important information from the Millers. This would then be visible to anyone on your team who checked the Messages section.
There's also a Writeboard feature, where you can post and edit different versions of your documents. For example, you might post a paragraph called "Miller Listing Description", that you'd like to use as the property description in the newspaper ad. Your business partner can log in, make edits, then save that as a new version for you to see. And here' what's really neat: Writeboard lets you compare the two versions together, showing the edits made in the last version while still saving the original.
Depending on what level of Basecamp you sign up for, you can have multiple projects, each with their own To-Do List, Messages, Writeboard, Milestones, Chat, and uploaded Files sections. (Yes, we know we didn't talk about some of this stuff - but ultimately you just need to get in there and poke around.)
37Signals says that they believe most software is too complex, and that they're focused on executing the basics beautifully. We agree!