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Welcome! and Online Contact Management with HighRise

Welcome to Web Technology for Entrepreneurs! The goal of this category is to bring entrepreneurs news of web applications and technology that they can start using today to help their businesses. I'll bring you the latest and greatest from the internet world, and break it down for you in terms of what you need to know and what you can do with this technology. My name is Nikole Gipps, and I am the founder of a web design and marketing firm called NHG Consulting. My goal is to help you savvy StartupNation entrepreneurs overcome the technology barrier and learn to use technology to further your business.

Enough with the introduction, and on with today's application:

HighRise from 37signals!

Why do you need an online, centralized contact manager?

Picture this: You are the typical startup, with partners in different locations and on different schedules while you are trying to launch your next big idea. A vendor calls you in California, looking for your partner in New York to get a final sign-off on a prototype. Your partner is nowhere to be found, and the vendor needs an answer in the next hour.

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What do you do? This is where an online contact manager comes in handy. With HighRise, a new product from the developers at 37signals, you can log into your account, look at the case page, and realize that your partner made a note stating that the final prototype was approved that morning. A couple of clicks, a short read, and your vendor can get started making your widgets!

Need another example? Currently I have 1,556 e-mails in my company inbox. This doesn't even count towards the average of a few hundred e-mails I have in each of my 30 current client inboxes. So when a client calls and I need to find the paper trail of our last conversation … well, you can imagine it takes me a while. Having a paper trail presented to me with an easy graphical interface and categorization for all of my contact communications streamlines this process greatly.

The bottom line is this: Improving our communication efficiency gives us more time to spend on actual production, thereby increasing our income! By using an online contact manager, we can

  • skip frequent e-mail updates. The current status with each client is easily viewable by the whole team.
  • access our client database from anywhere, without having to sync up. There's no more wishing you had your computer with you or being disappointed because you forgot to sync your address book before leaving on a trip.
  • organize our client communications. Knowing the status of each client instantly will help you look a lot more professional when you pick up the phone. It also helps to establish personal service, as clients don't like to think that you have 30 other projects going on and don't have their exact details on the top of your head.
  • attach files and e-mails to the client. It saves time when you don't have to forward every e-mail to your entire team or dig through your inbox looking for an attachment.
  • record every communication, with every contact, by everyone on the team. This eliminates a lot of confusion and reduces mistakes.

Getting Started

It took me less than 10 minutes to sign up for a free account, enter in 5 contacts, and invite my employee to join my account. Within a few minutes more, I was figuring out how to make cases, track conversations, and add to-do lists. What really makes this a quality web application, in my opinion, is the sheer simplicity of it. (If you have ever tried to set up something like an Act! Database, and then you try HighRise, you will know exactly what I am talking about.) HighRise offers both free accounts and paid accounts, depending on your needs. If you don't have a need for larger capacity, their free account is not just a trial – it works indefinitely!

What an Online CRM is Not

What can't HighRise do? HighRise is not an all-in-one solution. For example, you can't manage a mailing list with it or do some fancy newslettering functions. I do still have to maintain my contacts in Address Book on my Mac, because I use iBiz and iBank to track invoices and cashflow, and these things require Address Book contacts to store their information. So even if you use HighRise, you will still need to keep your contacts in your accounting program when needed. (HighRise does offer a handy vCard exporting function to make this double-entry problem easier though!)

Results

Overall, I would say that our production efficiency and my personal organizational habbits have greatly improved in the past month. We started with project collaboration in BackPack and have now moved on to contact management with HighRise. For more information about the benefits HighRise (as I just didn't have enough space to list them all), go take the tour here.

What do you use for your CRM solution, and has it helped the efficiency and response of your business?

Nikole Gipps is the principal of NHG Consulting, a web design and marketing firm. She can be reached through her StartupNation profile, her company website, or her Small Business Essentials blog.

About the Author: Nikole Gipps

Nikole Gipps is the face behind the superhero character at That PHP Girl, a web development company that specializes in Wordpress, Premium Wordpress Themes, and PHP Programming. She posts non-tech small business tips over at her blog, Small Business Essentials. [...]

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