This post was originally written in February 2009, when 7 River Systems was known as Etnacom. Over the years many have come to our site to view it, and after we took it down in 2013 I noticed that many are still trying to find it. Although we don’t use Highrise anymore (we use Basecamp instead), many of the concepts and methodologies still apply. There are a lot of new CRM products out there, so if you’re in the market for a new solution, you should do some additional research and not limit yourself to the software discussed here. For your enjoyment, I’ve reposted the entire (mostly unedited) blog post below.
Organizing business projects is a challenging task. Organizing your personal life can sometimes be even more challenging. Perhaps you’re like me and own a business. Put it all together, and your life can run away from you! So, how do you keep track of everything and control what’s going on without feeling overwhelmed?
Personally, I tend to follow the Getting Things Done (GTD) approach fostered by David Allen. There are many other strategies that can be just as successful. If you’re an app junkie like me, you may find yourself struggling to find software that best fits your personal organization scheme. I’ve been struggling with that question for a long time, and I finally found a solution. I call it “life by CRM”. CRM, which stands for Customer Relationship Management, is a big business buzzword these days, mostly because CRM software is widely available and relatively inexpensive. It’s popular among sales teams and project managers for its strength in measuring customer requirements, tasks and interactions. SalesForce.com is one example of CRM software – other examples include Microsoft Dynamics and my personal and professional favorite, Highrise.
Let’s back up to how businesses use CRM. It’s strengths are in tracking contacts, interactions and tasks, to keep it simple. Isn’t that how personal life is structured as well? When running personal errands, there’s usually something to do, something that happens and someone to do it for. Many people like to keep track of their personal errands in some sort of journal or diary. CRM is a journal in electronic form and tailored to help you get things done. Since Highrise is my CRM tool of choice, I can share my strategy for keeping my life organized.
Here’s a screenshot of what my Highrise looks like (with some proprietary data conspicuously hidden – click to enlarge):
When I sign in to the app, I see a journal of recent entries, including my notes, e-mails, tasks and so on. I can also see upcoming tasks, which I can complete and assign categories to. At the top of the page, I can view my contacts, tasks, cases, deals and tags. Cases and Deals are great. They are special groupings of notes, e-mails and tasks that pertain to one particular initiative. Cases and Deals are very similar, but Deals pertain to initiatives when there is an associated sale. You can keep track of bid information and whether or not the deal was won. Tags allow you to assign categories to various people, companies, cases, and so on. This is all set on top of a pretty powerful set of permissions, if you’re going to allow multiple users to access the system. I’m not going to go into too much detail about the product – you can access a tour on the Highrise website.
What’s important to me is that I can use this Web-based contact / case / task / sales / Rolodex manager to help me stay on top of everything that I need to do. While running 7 River Systems, I am constantly tracking multiple requirements, changing priorities, and updates from clients and vendors on a variety of issues. Highrise is uncanny in it’s ability to help any kind of professional like myself stay on top of this and update case files easily. When I need to fulfill a request, I add a task and categorize it. When I receive new information or have an interaction with someone, I can add notes or forward e-mails. At the end of the day, Highrise is the best tool for me and helps me to stay agile.
This doesn’t just translate to my professional work, either. Highrise’s features help in my personal life, too. My fiancé and I are planning our wedding (post script: wedding was great and went off without a hitch!) and this tool helps us keep on top of our vendors, financials, and everything that we need to do before the big day. Being able to search for a receipt or for conversations from a specific person or company works great! It is especially useful when something doesn’t go as planned and need to go back to a previous conversation to verify what was said. I’m sure many of you have been in a situation like that.
Although I strongly advocate Highrise, please understand that I have some specific needs and operate in a specific way. Highrise is a perfect fit for a small company with many different things going on – most of them short-term. If you are a larger organization or operate in a different manner, different software might work better for you. I’ve worked for medium-sized businesses that have used Microsoft Dynamics with great success. I’ve worked with startups who use SalesForce.com and it is a disaster, while other startups wouldn’t want to use anything else. It is all about finding a solution that meets your needs. I can certainly assist anyone looking to determine how to leverage the benefits of CRM software or just boost productivity.