Turning WordPress into a Self-Hosted Business PowerhouseBy Charles Costa
As a web developer, chances are you have a mid to high end hosting plan with a large amount of resources you probably don’t come close to using.
You might also be using customer relationship management (CRM) software, invoicing suites, project management portals and much more which could be burning a hole in your wallet.
While managed cloud services are convenient, self-hosted solutions can be just as easy to use. By finding the right tools for your company, you can slash costs while still being productive.
Below is a small sampling of the different self-hosted business solutions out there which stand out from the crowd.
Rolling out your own project management solution can lead to significant savings since many hosted suites bill based on user count or number of projects. Even for a small freelance shop the costs can add up, especially if you need to purchase extra storage or users. Fortunately the tools below allow you to turn almost any self-hosted WordPress installation into a robust project management suite:
Panorama is an easy to use WordPress project management platform which comes with numerous features such as project discussion sections, project breakdowns into key phases, automatic project progress adjustments and much more. Panorama comes with a sleek interface which is easy to use, plus it is responsive so that it can be accessed on mobile websites.
A useful feature from the suite is the ability to use shortcodes to embed pieces of the software into different parts of your WordPress theme, allowing you to tailor Panorama to fit your brand. The ability to clone projects is another helpful tool which allows you to simplify the creation of projects for routine matters.
Panorama is available in free, individual and professional editions. If you plan to give clients access to their own portals, you will need a paid version of Panorama because the free version does not support restricting logins to specific projects. Currently a single license of Panorama is priced at $45 and an unlimited license is $70.
WP Project Manager
WP Project Manager is a project management suite with a variety of features to make your job as a developer or designer a bit easier. Key functionality includes: internal discussion boards, file management tools, task lists and much more.
WP Project Manager comes in both free and paid versions. The biggest limitation in the free software is that it lacks fine-grained access control.
Even with a paid license, WP Project Manager lacks basic project management features such as a time tracker or invoicing within the suite. These features are available as add-ons for an extra fee.
The pro edition of WP Project Manager comes in three tiers. The biggest difference between them is the number of websites they can be installed with. The single site license costs $59 while an unlimited license (including all add-ons) is $199.
WP-Invoice is one of the most popular WordPress based invoicing solutions available to users.
This solution allows users to split payments, customize the invoice template, view cash flow reports and also accept payments online, all from an easy to use interface. The plugin also includes shortcodes to integrate invoice lookups and other functionality anywhere in your existing WordPress setup.
Keep in mind that if you want to be able to import or export your invoices, or have advanced visualizations of your sales pipe, you will need to pay around $50 for the Power Tools add-on. Additional functionality also is included in other plugins ranging from $50 – $75 each. You can buy the full bundle for around $200.
Shaken Invoice is a little different than most of the solutions mentioned in this article because it is a WordPress theme rather than a plugin.
In this case, Shaken Invoice turns your entire WordPress Install into a billing platform rather than it working within an existing site.
Although setting up a dedicated WordPress install for your system might be a hassle, having a dedicated interface to manage client billing can give a more professional image while also helping to simplify the workflow at your end.
Since ShakenPress is a full WordPress theme, customization is slightly easier and more robust than most plugins. It currently is available for around $40 and includes updates for life.
Contact Relationship Management
Despite WordPress being a versatile platform, there isn’t a solid WordPress based Customer Relationship Management (CRM) platform available to users.
Fortunately the solutions below are quality CRM solutions which can be installed on most standard servers without issue.
SugarCRM is one of the largest open source CRM products on the market, making it an ideal solution for freelancers who are looking for an affordable solution.
Although the software has a slight learning curve and the interface is a bit clunky, SugarCRM is a reliable package. The popularity of the platform also makes getting community support a simple task.
You can integrate SugarCRM into WordPress website by using an automation service such as Zapier – a tool which offers a variety of ways to link data between the two packages. The only caveat is that you would need a premium Zapier plan which starts at around $15 per month.
SuiteCRM is a popular fork of SugarCRM, the former comes with extra functionality such as: quotes, invoicing, reporting, events and more.
SuiteCRM is best summed up as an Open Source edition of SugarCRM Professional edition. Since SuiteCRM is built on SugarCRM, your company can still use SugarCRM developers to customize the suite to suit your needs. The interface is much cleaner than SugarCRM and extra features also are a great asset for many freelancers.
Although using forked code carries some reliability risks, SuiteCRM is built on SugarCRM providing it with a solid foundation.
If you feel you’ll need professional support, SugarCRM probably is the solution for you. On the other hand, if you don’t need software backed by a large entity, SuiteCRM can be a good fit.
Know Your Strengths
Although it can be tempting to splurge on hosted solutions because they provide you with powerful tools at a relatively low price, remember that monthly subscription costs do add up over time and can significantly cut into your margins.
While rolling out your own hosted solutions might have a slight learning curve, self-hosted solutions allow you to make good use of your server resources. Don’t forget to have a solid backup system in place to ensure you’re protected when disaster strikes.
Despite the cost savings, managed solutions can make sense depending on your needs. Ultimately, if you find that managing self-hosted solutions is cutting into your billable hours, then you might be better off outsourcing your CRM, invoicing, and project management suites.