I’ve Come a Long Way Babe!
When I started freelancing in the (gulp!) early 1980s, I had only a Smith Corona electric typewriter to ply my trade. To those of you too young to know, this was the Cadillac of typewriters. To those of you really too young, a typewriter is a mechanical or electromechanical device with keys that, when pressed, cause characters to be printed on a medium, usually paper, according to Wikipedia.
This means there were no personal computers or software — of any kind to help manage a home business. As a result, I tracked everything on paper, including my client prospect list. It was really primitive, I know.
On each piece of notepad paper, I drew a line down the middle of the page. On the left-hand side, I would list the name of a prospective client and their contact information. I would call those companies to see if they needed a freelance writer. If they were not a “hot lead” I would cross them off. If they were a hot lead, on the right-hand side of the page, I would log the date I contacted the company and whatever follow-up action I needed to take.
Everyday I would review my paper pages to see who needed a follow-up action. As you can imagine, this was a tedious process. It was also highly prone to errors, such as missing a to-do in the sea of ink, which often ended up getting very convoluted when I would run out of room and have to draw asterisks and arrows to add more information on a blank part of the page. But it was the best I could at the time.
Enter the Computer Age — And My Savior, FileMaker Pro!
By the late 1980s, I had purchased my first personal computer. But it was basically just a typewriter with a large memory. There was still very little software for technology challenged personal computer users, like me.
By the early 1990s, I purchased my first Apple computer (and never looked back, by the way — I was an Apple fan before Apple was as cool as it is today). By 1994, I was introduced to a program that changed my life: FileMaker Pro. I feel like celebratory music should play and confetti should fall as I type those words, because FileMaker Pro allowed me to organize my prospect list in a plethora of highly productive ways.
FileMaker Pro is a powerful program that automates many business tasks and allows optimum customization. It’s particularly valuable for small companies, who can’t afford and don’t need enterprise-level business management systems. While it has a wide range of features, I used only the contact management functionality.
Instead of writing and tracking everything by hand, I could now enter in prospective clients’ complete contact information, including address, phone, email, and website. I could keep a contact log with every interaction I had with them. I could note down important idiosyncrasies about the company or my contact person. I could schedule my next contact with the company. I could sort my contact lists by any variable, such as by industry, contact date, or alphabetically. I could print address labels for direct mail campaigns.
I was in heaven! Each day all I had to do was log into the program and click a few buttons to find out who I had to follow up with that day. If I had prospects I hadn’t called yet, I could easily click through the accounts and make my calls.
My New Prospect Management Software
As I mentioned in my last post, I am embarking on a new search for clients after a five-year break. Five years is a long time in today’s technology world, and suffice to say that my old version of FileMaker pro was not going to work for me now. For starters, it wasn’t even compatible with the new computer I purchased last year.
So I began looking for a new version of the program, and quickly realized it was cost prohibitive. While the program is only $300, I would have to hire a FileMaker Pro expert to format it for me to operate the way I needed it to work. On my previous version, a programmer friend and I traded services. I don’t know anyone now who would barter with me.
So I continued searching online for other contact management solution options. I kept coming back to one of the biggest sales management platforms available today — Salesforce.com. With this service, you don’t own the software; you just use the application online. This offers several benefits, including the fact that you don’t have to worry about the technical side of the application.
Plus, the price was right. For a single small business user, it’s only $5 a month. For my needs, this basic level is perfect. Salesforce is not only convenient and affordable, it’s a great program, because it’s been well thought out for use by all kinds of salespeople over the past several years.
For that small investment, I get all of the capabilities I need to track my contacts automatically. I just started using the program this week to begin creating my new prospect list. So far, so good.
I’ll keep you posted. This week I started building my contact list. Next week I start the cold calls.
Do you have a contact automation program that you love?
UPDATE: From comments I’ve received, I realize that I have left out a step in my client search process. Before I begin entering in my prospects, I have to gather up my leads. Next week I’ll discuss where I get my leads for my freelance writing prospect list.