Help me pick the best business producitivity management tool(s) for my consulting practice! (Not Daylite)
December 19, 2007 11:14 AM   Subscribe

Hello MeFi peoples, I am trying to find the tool or tools to run my sustainable business consulting practice, which I started in August, and I've been going a bit nuts with too many choices. I've been looking all over, and am getting near hits, but all "not quite there"s. Highrise sort of works, but has some quirks that that it doesn't hit the mark, and it's missing some of what I want to do. Daylite looks interesting, but no...well I'll explain below. Basecamp, same thing. Copper, ditto. Help me find the needle(s) in the haystack!

To give some background, I am a sustainable business consultant who at the moment works solo. I imagine I'll be collaborating with others on some projects, but not necessarily regularly, not as the same company, and definitely not in the same office. I work on a Mac, from my home office. I imagine in my business I'll be working on site at some places.

I asked a friend who knows me well for advice. They said get a tool that works for the near future, that as my business unfolds, it will become clearer what the needs are then, and that I’ll have the funds to take action on any new tools needed. I asked about Daylite, and they said it would be ok, but their sense is there’s something that will work even better, last me longer. I named off others, like Basecamp (doesn’t work enough how I think/work, they said) Copper Project, Contactizer. All No.

They’re bad with names sometimes, but she said she got the hit that it might be something/some company that starts with “Ser...” she also got that it may be a series of interlocking tools, rather then one. She had me search on the web, name off what I saw, and these were the maybes, that I in looking at them didn’t get that they would be it:

Zoho 1st Manager Teamspace Goplan Vertabase

When I told her this, she said that Daylite might be it, that there is the possibility that what they may have in mind isn’t something that I’ll recognize/believe I’m capable of using yet.


That said, I'm looking for some thing or things to do the following:

Manage my contacts, and be able to associate emails, files, and tasks with them, make them actionable, rather then just another name/company I have on file.

Have a calendar that I can visually see what I (and future collaborators) are up to

Organize tasks and steps around projects

Day to day tasks, not necessarily around a project (as in not all geared to group collaboration, projects. It covers the “me” things.)

Invoicing, time tracking

Something to associate the various components of my business together, so information doesn't just get lost in the void, in a place where it's not going to get action taken on it.

Be able to collaborate with others on projects, but not require them to have a specific computer platform, or buy expensive software, since we may not work together more then once.


That's what I want to do, and here's the qualities I want in the tool(s) I use:

Computer based (no handwriting for me)

Friendly, human interface, rather then cold, hard, mechanical

Geared to the creative/business minded, but works on a practical level

Preferably web based (to allow easier, more malleable collaboration, without need for others to have the same software/platform)

If software based, still allows for others in projects that don't have software to get meaningful, actionable information to work on the project.

Mac style interface, as in well designed aesthetically and functionally, intuitive to use, robust in features, and useful ones at that.

Mac tool integrated, or at least open to any mail client, not Outlook/MS Project/etc linked/dependent. I do have MS Office (Word, Excel) so that’s fine.


So that’s what I’m looking for, I look forward to your suggestions! I imagine for invoicing that I could use Billings, but if your suggestions incorporate it in some other tool, fantastic!
posted by healthyliving to Computers & Internet (14 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
I got it! My spirit guide Mahatma contacted me shortly after your post, and here is the rest of your psychic's message:

"Ser....iously, why are you asking a psychic about productivity management tools?"
posted by waraw at 11:40 AM on December 19, 2007

Response by poster: Ha ha, thanks for the useful reply. Because they've been right on many other things, including the best tool to create my website with, that would work will with how I do work.

On another note, one feature from Highrise that I'd definitely like to see in what I use is smooth integration with email, like this:
posted by healthyliving at 11:49 AM on December 19, 2007

SugarCRM was recommended to me by my neighbor's cat (who is actually a reincarnation of Richard Feynmann, go figure).
posted by jenkinsEar at 11:50 AM on December 19, 2007

take another look at highrise/basecamp -- it hits probably 75% of your requirements, and I think that's pretty good. I'm not psychic, but I think you're going to have difficulty finding something that'll do everything you want: most project management and CRM software still needs to evolve a bit before it is useful. There are some downsides to Basecamp (and I imagine, Highrise, which I haven't used) -- it can be a little *overly* simplistic at times due to 37signals approach to software. Still, for just a single person starting out who doesn't have time to waste on learning curves for software products, 37signals is a good choice.

I wouldn't recommend SugarCRM at all for someone in your position -- it's very powerful, but it's stock install is not even close to intuitive.

fwiw, it sounds like you want BOTH project management software AND CRM: the big commercial players in this field are Microsoft Project for the former, and* for the latter. Maybe see what you like about those two products (which again, I think are too complex for your needs) and then look for other stuff like it?

* SugarCRM is often looked at as the open source clone of's functionality.
posted by fishfucker at 12:08 PM on December 19, 2007

"most project management and CRM software still needs to evolve a bit before it is useful" should probably read "most project management and CRM software still needs to evolve a bit before it is useful to MOST small businesses". I have no doubts that a lot of the CRM/PM stuff that's out there is useful
posted by fishfucker at 12:10 PM on December 19, 2007

ActiveCollab is an open-source, self-hosted basecamp clone, except without 37Signals standing there refusing to add features because it interferes with their 'vision'.
posted by Happy Dave at 12:23 PM on December 19, 2007 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Thanks, this is a start. FF, you're right, Basecamp et al are in some ways too simple in the function set, and have some just plain dumb flaws (ie not being able to calendar tasks more then a day away, on a specific day, and not have them be time specific, tasks are based only on completion time, not start time, etc) I'm not afraid of something being complex and feature rich, as long as I can make use of some of its capability early on, and grow into it as my practice grows.

And yes, you're right, I do want project management and CRM in one tool. Daylite seems to be most of the way there, but I'm concerned about its Mac only and software based (as in every user needs to buy it, at $185 a pop) model. If only there were something like it, that was web based. Anybody?
posted by healthyliving at 12:59 PM on December 19, 2007

Mod note: question edited slightly at poster's request
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 1:04 PM on December 19, 2007

You might take a look at ContactOffice.
posted by Gerard Sorme at 1:52 PM on December 19, 2007

I used Daylite and abandoned it--it was too complex & rigid. Highrise is a little *too* simple for a few things, but it's far easier to use than Daylite was and is now central to my business. It's super easy to attach emails & very easy to attach files and notes. The free-form fields make it easy to capture all the "soft" info about a person or company. It's feasible (though I haven't done it yet) to have a virtual assistant go in and do whatever you don't want to do.

I don't think you're going to find one tool to do everything. I run an online business using mostly an iMac. My tools:

Highrise for contact management, the mundane tasks like "Call Gheeta today," and ongoing notes about a project or prospect.

Life Balance for big-picture planning, project tasks, and personal goals--very useful.

iCal for calendary stuff and daily timed reminders to work out, etc.

TimeEqualsMoney for time tracking. It also creates basic invoices. Super easy: just hit "start," work for awhile, and hit "stop."

Of these, only Highrise is web based. The kind of collaboration I do can be done on my company wiki or over Skype, so I don't need third-party collaboration engines.

I'm looking for web-based money & invoicing management and like Xero the best so far, though it's currently focused on the New Zealand market and I bank in the US.
posted by PatoPata at 2:26 PM on December 19, 2007

Response by poster: Thank you Gerard. Have you used this yourself?

PatoPata, in reading Daylite's site, it sounds like something that one can grow into, starting at just contacts and tasks, expanding out. Yes I too like Highrise for the smooth integration of information like that. But yes, it's missing what I want to do as far as having a calendar, and the other things mentioned. What I'm trying to do is keep tasks/events from having redundancy, places I'll need to put the info in two places, or put it in one, thinking I only need it there, only to forget it when I'm in another app, thinking it should be in the 2nd app. I'm checking out Life Balance, the site doesn't show screen shots, which is peculiar. DL'd it anyway, to have a look. Do you use this for yourself, or for your work? Or both.
posted by healthyliving at 3:20 PM on December 19, 2007

I use Life Balance for work and personal stuff.

I should mention that one reason I quit using Daylite is that it quit working when I upgraded my OS a year or so ago and I couldn't figure out how to resurrect it. I decided it wasn't worth the trouble.
posted by PatoPata at 7:43 AM on December 20, 2007

As for ContactOffice, I have used it for about 6 years. It is an excellent service - very nice to have so many useful applications for my home office in one place. Support is good, though I have rarely needed it. I used another similar kind of online groupware and this is so much snappier - the pages load super-fast and many of the web-based groupware sites bog down and are slow. I highly recommend it for what it is. It obviously can't do everything you need, but it's amazing what all is there once you get into it.
posted by Gerard Sorme at 11:13 AM on December 20, 2007

Response by poster: Thanks PP and Gerard, I appreciate the feedback. I'll definitely investigate these options. PP, it was interesting, last night I went back on Daylite, and having used HighRise for the past month, entering tasks just felt so labor intensive in comparison. But I keep hearing that you grow into Daylite. But I would be concerned, depending on your own server, to run it. We shall see...
posted by healthyliving at 12:00 PM on December 20, 2007

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