Small business owners: how do you keep track of contacts,leads,etc.?
March 14, 2014 8:46 AM   Subscribe

Do you have suggestions for a system that will help me track the many new contacts I'm making as I start up my business? At the moment it's a mish-mash of notebooks, my phone, email, google docs and my (increasingly full) memory of conversations and phone calls. These might be people who've contacted me for a proposal, or it could be someone who says 'You should talk to my friend who does X - I'll put you in touch' and I want to remember to follow up with them later.

This may be one of those 'unknown unknown' situations where there's some great system that already exists, or it might be I need to make a personalized spreadsheet and I just need advice on what information I should be capturing (apart from the obvious name, date, phone, email etc.) and suggestions on how to structure it, so I don't wasting time on it rather than making money.

Cash flow is tight so I'm looking for free systems and/or templates. Also I'd really like something that could automatically prompt me to follow up with a person a week after I sent a proposal, for example. Hit me with your suggestions!

Things I like to use: gmail, google docs, Excel, iPhone
Things I don't like to use: Evernote.
posted by atlantica to Work & Money (11 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
Your keyword here is "CRM," or Contact Management System. You can do this with the right spreadsheet but can and should are very different animals, and if you're serious about it, specialized software is definitely the way to go. I don't have enough firsthand experience to go making recommendations, but there are definitely good small-business oriented CRM solutions that will suit your needs.
posted by Tomorrowful at 8:49 AM on March 14, 2014

I think there's a typo in Tomorrowful's comment.

CRM = customer relationship management
CMS = contact management system

I can see how this distinction could be meaningless in many but not all contexts.
posted by paper chromatographologist at 8:55 AM on March 14, 2014 [1 favorite]

Yeah - my bad. I swim in a lot of waters where "CMS" by default means Content Management System, and I forgot there's another use for that acronym.

Let me try again:

There's specialized software for this and someone who actually knows about it will hopefully be along shortly to make real recommendations instead of me muddying the waters.
posted by Tomorrowful at 9:00 AM on March 14, 2014

I'm thinking a CRM can help you here.

Customer Relationship Manager., Microsoft Dynamics, Sage are all examples. My preference is It's cloud based and you pay by the license. It's VERY easy to learn and intuitive. Great community and customer support. (Group or Professional should work for you.)

You feed in all of your customers, you can attach documents, set tasks, create stages in your process, and extract data.

Feel free to memail me with your specifics and I can tell you what questions to ask. But the site is pretty great, including putting the price per seat right there.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 9:02 AM on March 14, 2014

I used to use SugarCRM for this. Now I keep everything in my contacts on my phone.
posted by annathea at 9:18 AM on March 14, 2014

Yeah you want a CRM. I'm a freelancer and I found the amount of options kind of overwhelming, and most of them are geared toward groups/small biz with multiple employees. For me Highrise works really well.
posted by bradbane at 9:22 AM on March 14, 2014

CRM tools like are popular, but the flip side of the benefits is that you have to spend time inputting information, and that's time taken away from closing a deal and working on producing your product or service. So a lot of people like myself try a CRM system and then revert back to a more basic system like using a calendar, or a spreadsheet, or just pen and paper to-do lists. Once the 80/20 rule kicks in and you are getting 80% of your revenue or profit from 20% of your customers, you might find that managing information related to that relatively small number of most important customers doesn't require a very elaborate CRM system.
posted by Dansaman at 9:39 AM on March 14, 2014

Response by poster: Ah-hah, CRM was indeed the magic word, thank you!

Dansaman, great points to keep in mind. Especially since right now it's just me and doesn't look like I need all the features of the big, premium systems. And I agree I don't want to be duplicating typing stuff I already have in an email or form response spreadsheet.

Through googling CRM+gmail I have found Streak which looks promising. Going to have a play around with it - has anyone here used it?
posted by atlantica at 10:16 AM on March 14, 2014

Salesforce is a pretty good crm but its main target are large corporations. You may find it overly complicated for your needs. If you can ignore its features and just focus in inputting prospects' contact details it will work well for you. But don't get bogged down in all the extra features that would just be a time sink for you.
posted by dfriedman at 11:35 AM on March 14, 2014

We used Highrise at my last job. I'm using Trello (it's free) to manage a job search and finding it very handy for CRM functions as well.
posted by Sweetie Darling at 11:42 AM on March 14, 2014

PipeDrive worked great for us for managing the sales pipeline. Specifically it gives in one screen a clear overview of everything in the pipeline (details) and it takes the minimum amount of clicks and complexity to do anything.
posted by Sharcho at 7:16 AM on March 15, 2014

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