When you start your small business, your customer list may be a handful of business cards from people you've worked with before. You may have even written down a few referrals or added some names to your smartphone. Some contacts might have called you on the phone, while others you might have met on Facebook, LinkedIn, or Twitter. You hope to transform this disparate list of names into a growing group of people who want your services. How do you keep track of these people? What do you need to know about these potential customers?
What Do You Need In Your Database?
When you keep track of your contacts, you want not only names but also other information such as:
Where the lead came from
What the person is interested in
What you have sold them in the past
And what their potential might be for the future.
Why do you need all this? That information you noted on a slip of paper or in your phone can offer you valuable business information. Especially when you're starting out as a small business, when you are still defining your niche, knowing your customers' needs can help you make smart business decisions. Knowing where your leads came from can help you plan your marketing and advertising, and knowing what they have bought in the past might give you an idea of future demand.
Your Growing Contact Management System
Your initial needs for a CMS will grow along with your business.
As you collect names, you might want to contact potential customers through e-mail, Facebook ads, or a newsletter. To do this effectively, you need to have the same information on each contact,in the same order.
Given the gold mine your contact list holds, how you keep your names together matters. You need more than just a simple list of names and addresses in Word or Excel. The best way to organize your contacts is to use database software that allows you to enter customer information and manipulate it in such a way that you can extract other useful information from it.
Convenient Database Software
Appropriate database products range in price from no money at all to thousands of dollars. You can set up a database of your own in Excel or Microsoft Access, but the advantage of using actual contact management software is that many of the fields that you need for customer tracking, sales, marketing, and project management are already set up for you. Here are a few you might consider:
Capsule is simple contact management software that captures customer information, manages sales information about each person, and keeps your projects on track. You can try a free version that holds up to 250 contacts. The paid version at $12 per month per user can be integrated with free or low-cost accounting applications such as FreeAgent or FreshBooks, with Google Apps, Mail Chimp e-mail software, and much more.
Sage ACT is a popular contact management software that now bills itself as a “business command center” which organizes customer information and integrates with Microsoft Outlook, Google, LinkedIn, and other popular software that might be a point of contact for potential customers. Should your needs grow, Sage ACT is part of a large family of business software that can meet your current and future needs. You can find a single user version for about $100 with coupons, but there are many add-ons available that add to the price.
Made especially for the home improvement contracting and remodeling business, ImproveIt! 360 manages customers, tracks leads, records appointments, notes job quotes, and plans sales and marketing campaigns. This software even integrates with Microsoft Office applications, Microsoft Outlook, QuickBooks, Zillow and Google Maps. Priced at $65 a month per user, this software centralizes information that you'll need. It's particularly appropriate for the home improvement industry as the fields are already customized for you.
Whichever one you choose should be intuitive and easy to use. You don't need to start out with an expensive product with capabilities you are not yet ready for, so choose one that meets your current needs and offers some room to grow.
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