CRM For Small Business Owners… and Virtual Assistants

CRM for Small BusinessesI’ve been looking around for a simple, online Customer Relationship Management (CRM) solution to help organise my contacts (both clients and my network of fellow virtual assistants and freelancers). I use SugarCRM for some of my clients but for my own needs it’s far too advanced.

What I need is something I can access both from the office and online when I’m travelling. It has to be secure; it has to be easy to use, and capable of scaling up with my business and ever-growing list of contacts; and it has to have a dedicated and proud team of developers behind it, because with that comes good support, an interest in their customers’ feedback, and the desire to continue developing the product in order to stay competitive — all of which are good things.

And so I came across BatchBook (by BatchBlue Software) on Chris Brogan’s blog. BatchBook is a secure, easy-to-use, online CRM solution with a free account for one user and up to 200 contacts — ideal for a freelancer or virtual assistant to get started.

All BatchBook accounts use SSL encryption, include To-Do email reminders, have mega storage and are month-to-month with no contracts or long-term commitment. Should you need to, you can always change your account level at any time via the “Your Plan” tab in the “Your Account” section.

I’ve just signed up for a free account at BatchBook to keep track of business and networking contacts — so far it seems straightforward enough.

The BatchBook site states: “You can create a flexible, easy-to-use contact database from scratch, or import your contacts from an existing system….” I’m looking forward to testing this out.

You can log phone calls and email, and add notes to a record in the Communications section, or schedule calls. You can sync these and your To-Do lists with your calendar software (iCal, for example) by subscribing to them via the iCal icon. You can create a list to generate labels (Christmas list anyone?), or export lists of email addresses to send messages using your email program (Outlook, Gmail, Entourage, etc) — such as, ‘I’ve managed to tear myself away from the Internet and have gone on holiday to do some real surfing. Please contact my very capable Virtual Assistant in my absence.’

A particularly nifty feature I’ve seen so far is BatchBox email forwarding:

With BatchBox email forwarding, you can send emails directly to BatchBook. BatchBook will automatically store the email as a Communication, attach it to the relevant contacts (and create a new contact, if needed), and retain any attachments.

Bloggers and Social Networking site users will be aware of the usefulness of ‘tags’ when it comes to linking posts, discussions, photographs, etc with keywords. These tags (keywords) are a powerful way of grouping related items together and make it easier to find things. So I was happy to see that BatchBook made use of tags for it’s contacts, communications, and To-Do notes.

Using these tags or keywords, you can search through your contacts and the body text of communications. There is also an advanced search which allows you to search by name, email, phone, etc.

With BatchBook you get the ‘SuperTag’. By converting a tag to a SuperTag you can add custom fields to a particular category of contact. For example, I could create a SuperTag called magazine client and add the fields: 1) Service; 2) Rate; 3) Publishing Schedule; 4) Sector; etc. When I add a new contact and tag it with magazine client, these new fields will be added to the contact and I can add 1) proofreading; 2) £17.00 per hour; 3) monthly; 4) Health.

Virtual Assistants can use tags in BatchBook to denote different types of client, ie transcription, proofreading, PA services, etc, then use these tags to make emailing lists for sending news relating to these services.

Overall, BatchBook appears to be a simple and effective way to keep track of clients and contacts when an online service is required. For those who need something a bit more in-depth, such as tracking projects, marketing campaigns, etc, I highly recommend SugarCRM.

I’d be interested to hear from our readers about services similar to BatchBook which they have tried and tested, so please feel free to comment [all comments are held for approval by the editors before being released into the wild. Ed-in-Chief].

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