Over the years, I’ve become completely dependent on a few software tools – some of which are free – that I use to effectively to support my clients. Without these tools, I’d be lost keeping track of websites, logins, passwords, and other relevant data. There are lots of options out there, and I’ve used many of them, but the tools I’ll discuss in this article are ones that have withstood the test of time and ones I use every day to keep me on track. I’ve broken them down into six categories:
- Customer relationship management (CRM)
- Project management
- Password management
- Note taking
- Appointment scheduling
- Remote access
By far, the most widely used application I use is email. I probably spend a majority of my time living inside of Microsoft Outlook, which satisfies my needs for tracking email, maintaining contact information, and calendaring. I keep all of my emails stored in folders by client and project for easy reference. For the things that Outlook isn’t able to do well, I’ve tried using just about all the major CRM software packages in this market space, e.g., Salesforce, Method:CRM, and several others, but the one I’ve had the most success with is Zoho CRM.
The things that Zoho does well are tracking contacts, accounts, and the sales cycle from a lead to a potential client as well as linking with Outlook and Zoho Projects (see next section). I keep my Outlook contacts and calendar synchronized using Google Apps, which in turn synchronizes with Zoho, so I don’t have to enter the data in two places. I also have a website entry form that brings in the data automatically to Zoho as a new lead and sends me an email to let me know I have a new inquiry. It also synchronizes with QuickBooks.
Another tool I can’t live without is Zoho Projects. I’ve tried other project management apps, most notably Mavenlink, which is also a great application (see also Stacy Kildal’s article “Get More Work Done with QuickBooks and Mavenlink”), but I’ve found Zoho works best for my specific needs. I can track all of my tasks and milestones as well as keep notes, attach documents, and time track all my customer projects. I can invite users who are specific to each project to collaborate and share information on their projects.
It’s impossible to keep track of all of my passwords, not to mention all the passwords of my customers. There are a lot of utilities out there to securely keep track of passwords, like RoboForm, SplashID Safe, and others. The one I use and couldn’t live without is LastPass. It keeps track of all of my logins and passwords and stores them securely. It makes them accessible from any browser and has a mobile version, so I always have access to the information and never have to scramble to find a password.
For information other than passwords for each client, such as serial numbers, license codes, and other things specific to that client, I use Evernote. It keeps all my information synchronized across all my devices – PC, Mac, tablet, and phone – in one account. I keep a client notebook with notes for each client. I also use it for a number of other things where I just need to keep a list of something. It’s a great tool, and I would be lost without it!
One of the things I found was taking a huge amount of time was scheduling meetings, including one-on-one meetings and group meetings. It normally takes three or four emails back and forth to schedule a meeting, getting everyone’s available times and finding times that work. I do a lot of client consultations too, so just scheduling a one-hour meeting with one client can take a few emails or phone calls. One of the biggest things I’ve done to save time is to begin utilizing an online scheduling tool. There are a lot of them out there, but the one I use is ScheduleOnce. It allows me to send a link via email or send someone to my website to choose a couple of times based on the open times that are synchronized with my Outlook calendar. I can then approve that time, schedule the meeting, and have a confirmation sent to the client. This app in itself has saved me countless hours.
Up until about a month ago, I used LogMeIn to access a lot my clients’ computers, but they recently did away with the free version, so I’ve had to rethink the method I use for unattended access. Many of my clients utilize cloud hosting, so I can use a remote desktop connection to get to them. I currently have most of my clients on Trapp Online, which allows me to have all my clients available to me with one login and password. For online meetings, I use GoToMeeting. If I need to access the client’s computer, I can do so with the click of a button by making the client the “presenter.” I use GoToMeeting all the time and find it indispensable.
As you can see, there numerous customer support technology tools available. The products and applications I use are by no means the only ones out there, but they’re the ones I’ve found I can’t possibly run my business without. I’d love to hear your feedback on the software tools you use.