A CRM for One

I am always influenced by Federico Viticci’s excellent end of year iPad app review and this year has been no exception, I have been turned on to new apps, and rediscovered some ones I had left unloved for a while.

Now I had always struggled with Ulysses app, the stellar writing tool from the Soulmen, I have used it on and off since it came out and even signed up for the subscription model even though I really was not using it to anywhere near its full potential. To be honest I planned not to renew the subscription and had removed it from the iPad. However all the glowing reviews are hard to ignore (plus my partner Mandy loves it) and I decided as part of the review to find a use for it in a way that justified the subscription given I am anything but a professional writer.

At the same time during the review I decided there was really a need to find a better way to manage clients overall. I currently have sixty plus active clients, where we manage the domain renewals, host their sites, and generally look after their online presence. I have looked at various ways to do this, using at different times Airtable,  DEVONthink, Gmail and even tried Highrise as a fully fledged Client Relationship Manager (CRM). None felt exactly right. I work mainly alone, my partner helps with some admin and social media stuff but the nitty gritty work comes back to me.

After a lot of reading I came to the conclusion a stand alone CRM was overkill, I really do not need a sales pipeline deals or collaboration, and managing another set of client info in another app seemed more overhead than benefit even with automation. I also knew that whatever I decided, must work primarily on iOS, and not in a browser window, not online and not with yet another subscription to add to the ever growing list.

Enter Ulysses (again) coupled with OmniFocus and Workflow, all on iOS and able to link together using xcallback URLs and a bit of automation.

A couple of months ago I completely reset OmniFocus adding one “project” per client, sometimes this only holds the domain renewal task, other times any change requests or other work. I decided to mirror these projects in Ulysses, one sheet per client, the sheets external reference link is held in the notes section of each OF project, and is also held in the standard Apple contacts app notes field for each client.

Then each Ulysses client sheet is tagged, with for example the CMS used, whether they have a blog, and other information which can be used to inform or contact. This allows me to easily filter sales or upgrade opportunities.

The magic, well for me anyway, is the Workflow app which binds all this together, I have a widget which firstly makes me choose a contact, (pulling the noted field sheet reference into a variable) then lets me set a note type, (SMS in, SMS out, Call in, Call out etc etc). It then presents me with a text box pre-formatted with the date and note type and a prompt where I can add the note body. This is then appended to the clients individual sheet.

The result a nicely formatted note, dated, categorised and easily accessible in OmniFocus when needed.

This system is really only possible because of the pro grade apps now available on iOS, OmniFocus and Ulysses are among the best there is and with apps like these the future looks bright for iPad computing. I still use Gmail for storing mail, DEVONthink for PDF’s and Invoices and Bear for personal notes and code snippets, but now I have a perfectly usable CRM which meets my exact needs without a dedicated and probably bloated app. I guess this would also work using Bear, but I did not want to clog Bear up as it does not have support for folders to organise/hide things, and the tagging I already use would conflict with what I needed for clients.

The system took me less than a day to set up which quite surprised me, it’s easily extensible with additional tags, and best of all it’s designed by me for me. 

If it helps grab the workflow here