Choosing the Best Customer Management System for your Small Business

Choosing the Best Customer Management System for your Small Business

As previously guest posted on Honestly Able

As business owners, customer management is the name of the game.

Whether you run a brick and mortar business or an online one, getting to know your customers and making sure they’re taken care of is likely your highest priority.

For many of us, the first step in tackling this challenge is a Google session or getting some recommendations from friends and colleagues. Unfortunately (or fortunately), no two businesses are alike and often the needs of one don’t necessarily line up with what you’re looking for. More often than not, you’ll end up with a ton of new websites to check out and immediately get overwhelmed by the vast number of options and customizations that are available. Before long, you’re seeing dollar signs piling up and you’ll quickly price yourself out of your first few choices and want to throw your hands up in exasperation. Sound familiar?

Before you dig in, there are a few things you’ll want to think about:

  1. What is your single most important MUST HAVE requirement for a customer management system? Beyond recording customer details (names, addresses and phone numbers, notes etc.), do you need an all in one system to track work orders, invoicing and payments? Are you looking for something specific to your industry?

For me, I needed a way to track customer details and conversations from start to finish and work with our accounting program. In a straight CRM, this can be a very costly endeavor. However, once I narrowed down my search to “business management systems”, I found more choices that were within my budget. Some of the enterprise level companies just aren’t cut out for small business and that’s ok. Just make sure you don’t overpay for the features you need when a smaller, lesser known company might be a better fit. As an added bonus, a smaller company is likely to be more willing to listen to your feature requests and make sure the product keeps you happy!

  1. What are you willing to pay? Do you need something free for now and scalable in future? Many solutions are paid monthly or on a subscription basis, so it’s easy to add/remove features as necessary. There are also a number of free solutions that you can pay to add additional functionality or integrations like bookkeeping software, scheduling, inventory management, etc.

I really thought a free solution was going to be the way to go for us. I found one that I could tailor to do about 75% of what we needed and thought I could add the rest with integrations. Yet, I kept coming across the same roadblocks and when I jotted down the things I was compromising on, they were the same things I’d listed in step #1…the must-haves. Instead, we found a great solution and compromised by not adding all of our people at once to help keep costs down. Not everyone is very tech savvy so a few employees were going to be hard sells anyway. This way, we keep everyone happy AND keep our costs from skyrocketing. As we prove the benefits of the system, we can add more accounts as we need them.

  1. Start small. If you’re not sure a  paid solution is exactly right, ask for a demo. Many offer demos for a certain length of time and will often extend them if you ask nicely. Arrange some time to let them show off their features too, you never know what you might discover that could be useful to you.

More often than not, you’ll want the company who goes the extra mile to prove that their system is right for you. Chances are, they also don’t want customers who will constantly complain because they can’t make things work properly for their business. A good company will give you some leads on other programs that you could try if they feel theirs isn’t the best fit.

  1. Still not sure? Try out some task management or communication programs first and get your system in place before you move forward.

Long before we paid for a solution we went through a variety of other “systems” as we honed in on our process. There are lots of fancy programs out there that seem amazing, but if they aren’t intuitive and easy for you to use…you won’t use them. Start out with a spreadsheet (heck, we started on paper *gasp*), a Trello board, an Asana checklist or maybe just a Slack conversation. Figure out what you need to track and how it makes sense to track it. Do you have multiple steps to your customer interactions? Do you need to exchange information with another program in order to invoice/email customers? What information are you constantly typing over and over as you move a client from a potential customer to a fully paid, happy customer? This information will be invaluable as you start making your list of Must Haves for your future customer management system.

Bottom line, don’t sell yourself short. Stick to your Must Have items and keep looking for what you need. It’s out there, even if you have to spend some time trying a few other solutions before you hit on the right customer management system for your business.

Struggling to a CRM that FITS your business?

Are you struggling with choosing a customer management system for your small business? Feel like you’re spending too much time managing your current CRM? Download my worksheet and make sure your systems are working FOR you, not making you work overtime to keep your company moving forward.

How to Build your Knowledge Base as Painlessly as Possible

How to Build your Knowledge Base as Painlessly as Possible

What do you think when you hear “Knowledge Base”? I don’t have time for that! Sounds like a lot of work for very little benefit. My team has higher priorities than that right now. Maybe once things slow down…

If you’re not familiar, a knowledge base is simply a repository for all the information you need to run your business. Onboarding a new client? Hiring a new receptionist? Finishing up a project and need to review everything that was completed? As business owners, these types of scenarios are extremely common and they can eat up a ton of your time. Most of this knowledge is stored in your brain and is theoretically available any time you need it. But what happens when you need someone else to share to load? Or worse, what happens when you bring on a new client and halfway through the project realize you forgot a crucial step?

Mistakes happen. Heck, if you’re building a successful business you’re bound to make more mistakes than wins. Instead of spending your time searching through your sent items for the latest client onboarding email, why not have a central depository where all this information is stored for when you need it? With a few simple steps, you can set yourself up to create your knowledge base and gradually add to it over time.

Choose your weapon: G-Suite (Google) is an obvious choice because it’s free, accessible from anywhere and has a ton of functionality. Office 360, Apple iCloud, CRM programs, Trello, Asana, Slack, Wikis or intranet site are all great options as well. The trick is, pick something that you use almost every day to begin with. If you’re not using it currently or have no future plans to incorporate it into your workflow, chances are…you won’t succeed.

Brainstorm your Structure: This doesn’t have to be a time suck. Just take a few minutes to think about the things that drive you crazy or take up the most amount of time. Email templates, Checklists for common projects/tasks, Customer Interactions/Upselling, Marking/Promotional Material, Employee Job Descriptions/Manuals to name a few. Chances are, if you’ve been in business for a little while, you already have working versions of many of these. Make a list of the overarching categories and create some folders to correspond to these. Don’t worry too much, this can evolve over time as needs change or you learn more about how you want things organized.

Add your Content: If you can dedicate some time to this at the beginning, amazing. If not, don’t panic. Just add as you go. The trick is, setting yourself some sort of trigger so that you remember to add the content when you’re finished with it and happy with the end product. Sent an awesome customer welcome letter? Add to your Email Template folder. Whether you do this in the moment or set a reminder for yourself at the end of your work session to review, it doesn’t matter. Just keep on reminding yourself to check in with your knowledge base and keep it current.

Reap the Time Savings: There’s no question that good organization can be a huge time saver. When you’re running the business, you want to spend the least amount of time on the busy work and get back to doing what you love. Whether that’s speaking directly to clients or spending time with your family, the better your knowledge base the easier those goals will be to achieve. Then, the next time you’re wondering how you vetted your last vendor you can pull up your handy checklist and be confident you have all the questions you need answered at your fingertips.

I’m not going to lie. This process can be somewhat time consuming. Yet, not only will you save yourself time in the long run, you’ll also be unconsciously honing your business practices and finding ways to better your business thriving and your customers coming back for more.

Getting Your Business Online: A Step by Step Guide

Getting Your Business Online: A Step by Step Guide

WWpve  Create your business name.

A few things to keep in mind:
1. It should be fairly easy to remember and translate into a logo or recognizable symbol in some way. No need to decide on       this now, just keep it in mind.

Keep it simple, relevant and understandable.

2. It should also be usable as a domain name (think a website and email address). Google search your potential business name to make sure the domain is available. (Don’t search for it in a domain purchasing site just yet or you’ll drive the price up.)
3. It should usable as the title of your Facebook page, Instagram account or whatever social media is applicable to your business.
4. Try to keep it simple, you don’t want to force your customers to type out an insanely long email address every time they want to contact you.

Create a Facebook Page:

This is a non-personal page where you can promote your new business without having to rely on your personal Facebook page. It is much more professional looking and gives you more options for customer interaction and follow-up. I would recommend this for almost any new (or existing) business. It’s a fast way to free advertising and customer contact.

Grow your business without totally annoying your current friend base.

Facebook gives some handy instructions.

Secure your domain name:
Find a relatively cheap web-hosting service and sign up for your chosen domain name. Most will offer a very competitive pricing option for the initial sign up. Typically, you are paying for three years of the domain name, website and email hosting up to a certain volume of storage capacity.

If you are not setting up a stand alone website right now, you may not need a web host. However, you DO still need a domain. You can go ahead and purchase the domain name from one of the registrars, like or A simple domain purchase can be very inexpensive ($5-$30 for 3 years).

A few hosts I’ve used:
Host Gator
Blue Host

You can always google “top web hosts” and choose a reputable website that ranks them for you, they sometimes also provide pricing info so you can make a good comparison.

Set up your email address(es):
Many web hosts will offer this service. However, I would recommend signing up for a Google business account (G-Suite). You get a lot more functionality, it’s familiar to most people, and a relatively low cost per month (about $6 per user). This bags you all of the online programs like Docs, Sheets & Slides too. Google also offers a ton of other features you can add as necessary (Adwords, Adsense, Analytics, etc.) so this keeps it all in one place. Easy peasy.

Set up G-Suite here.


If you don’t think you’ll need all the bells and whistles, then by all means stick with the email provided by your web host! Most can now be configured to easily be synced to your phone or other device so they’re not quite as difficult to use as in years past.

When in doubt, stick with the FREE option. Don’t pay for what you don’t need. 

Set up your website:
There are a few things to consider here. More often than not, most people assume they need a standalone website, but it really depends on the nature of your business. A photographer or home decorator may invest a lot of time in a photo gallery through Picasa or Houzz and not need another web address. For these types of business, social media and the appropriate external site may be more than sufficient. For someone like a chef or an educator trying to sell their own content or services, a website might be beneficial so that they can offer their potential customers a snippet of the content for free (via blogging or sneak peaks, etc.) and then give the customers ways to learn or purchase more.

Think about the sites you love, then build your version of that.

There’s a reason you love them.

I always recommend for a new website. It is infinitely customizable and you can hire people (via, and other sites) very reasonably to make it look or do exactly what you want. If you’re a bit techy, you can do most of it on your own and not spend a dime. As your business grows, so does WordPress. Other options may be easier to get moving at the outset but an complicate things as you want to add features and customization later on.

All that best said, there is a reason there are incredibly well designed websites out there and it’s worth finding someone who designs templates or even hire a custom designer to make your website not only gorgeous, but also draw your visitors eyes to to things you’re trying to market. The sky is the limit, so as your business grows, don’t be afraid to revisit your site, branding, logos and adapt as you are able.

First steps:
1. Log into your web host and they will likely have a portal. Go ahead and set up your account. You may be prompted to install WordPress into your site, that’s fine.
2. Take a look around the “Dashboard”. This is where you’ll go to make any changes to your site.
3. Choose a Theme (lots of free ones available or you can pay for a premium theme).
4. Add your content (even if it’s just some basics for now).
5. Think about what sort of functionality you want. (Contact form, photo display, landing page, email collection, etc.). These are added through plugins, so take a look through what is available. Google searches are also a good way to start. Just keep in mind you don’t want to overload your site with plugins or it’ll slow everything down.

If you’re not entirely sure about the whole blog/website vs. social media thing, you can always set up a no cost site. There are fewer options, themes and customization, but it’s a quick and easy way to get a feel for WordPress before you decide where you want to spend your time.

Here’s a quick guide.

How to Curb Parenting Frustration and Find More Patience

How to Curb Parenting Frustration and Find More Patience

Parenting frustration is real and it’s here to stay. We can only work on how we cope with it. How many times have you gotten crazy frustrated with your kids lately? Have they asked the same question incessantly? Have they pushed your buttons one too many times? Are they poking and prodding endlessly about the same topic? Do you wonder how they forgot your instructions from 30 seconds before?

It’s a common story and a huge point of frustration in parenting, especially of small children. You are not alone! We love our kids, even at their most annoying. We are incredibly busy with work and home lives and just trying to get through the day unscathed can seem like a monumental task.

Putting all that aside for a moment, take a little journey with me. I’d say “close your eyes” but that would be problematic. Imagine for a few minutes, that you’re on vacation in a totally unfamiliar country where you don’t speak the language. You somehow got separated from the people you’re traveling with and find yourself in a part of the city you’ve never been before. It is amazing and beautiful and you are completely enamored. Walking onward, you try to keep your eyes open for something familiar as you explore, hoping to spot a restaurant or store where you could ask for a phone. Everything from the customs, the food, the clothing, the buildings are completely unfamiliar and you don’t even know where to begin. Hunger begins to make itself known as you walk onward, night is falling. Do you have that anxious feeling creeping into your belly? A stranger approaches and starts speaking rapidly to you, seemingly alarmed and anxious, gesticulating in an incomprehensible fashion. Looking around for assistance, you see only disapproving and unfriendly stares. You attempt to speak calmly and mime that you are lost and need help. But your every effort is met with more disapproval and confusion. You attempt all familiar ways to communicate but are rebuffed at every turn. Clearly, your efforts to be appeasing are only adding to the stranger’s negative view of you. That anxious feeling is quickly mounting into panic as the stranger begins to get angry and moves toward you. How do you feel now? Are you thinking clearly?

“If I could wish for one thing for my children, it’s patience.”Tweet This!

Ok, I get that this is an extreme example but is it so different from how young children see the world? They are bombarded from all sides with new information, rules, experiences, and sensations that they are attempting to process. Even when they begin to find understanding, inevitably, the circumstances change or a new element forces them back to the beginning. As they grow and learn, we are imposing new layers of rules and expectations upon them. We are by nature, contrary and inconsistent. It stands to reason that we don’t always correct, encourage or guide our children in the exact same way every time. There are also hugely varied circumstances that can affect our interactions with our children, yet we often expect them to read between the lines or understand us to an exacting degree. The cues and expressions we rely upon as adults to assess a situation are completely foreign to our children. They haven’t yet built up their knowledge bank of clues that they can draw upon.

Can you think of a time when you were in unfamiliar territory and suddenly grasped something that made sense? What was your first instinct? Most likely, it was to repeat that action over and over and over again until something new clicked. Then we repeat the next action ad nauseum until we find something else that works. This should some incredibly familiar if you think about it in relation to your children’s actions.

There is no miracle method or proven strategy for moving this process along and creating better listeners who don’t annoy us so often. What we are witnessing is a miracle of self discovery and self worth. We are instrumental in shaping their view of this world and while completely overwhelming, that’s an awesome responsibility. I mean awesome in its true sense, not the overused off-hand way we usually apply it. These kids are getting up every day with a huge sense of optimism, hope, love and energy that they are just aching to send into the world. They fail thousands of times, every day. With barely a blink, they get back up ready to try another thousand times. Their capacity for learning is incredible and they are using every second of their existence to make an impression on their surrounding and the people around them.

“Children fail thousands of times, every day. With barely a blink, they get back up ready to try another thousand times.” Tweet This!

So while parents are frustrated and exhausted by the world in all its mundanity, I challenge you to try to walk a minute in your child’s shoes. Take even a few seconds to look at the world in wonder and awe. Remember that they’re still developing their bearings on EVERYTHING and while they are certainly learning to manipulate us, it doesn’t often come from a place of deliberate disobedience. More often than not, they’re simply looking for love, reassurance and structure. They want to know the rules to this game we’re all playing and they want to excel at it! I realize this is an idealistic expectation, but even if we can put this in action once in a day that’s a huge accomplishment! More often than not, we’ll still find ourselves in that place of frustration but it is worth the effort to invest in ourselves and in our children.

If I could wish for one thing for my children, it’s patience. Modern life has this way of pushing us along at a furious pace and our gut reaction is to race along without question. But what are we rushing toward? I see people all around me from various walks of life, varying ages and backgrounds. Is any one group happier than the next? Does any one person have all the answers? The more I learn and understand, the more I am certain that what matters most is today. THIS moment in time. THIS experience. I have friends of all income brackets with the exact same insecurities everyone else has. I see baby boomers FINALLY getting to retire and then wondering, what now? Their health isn’t the best or they’re so stuck in “work” mode that they can’t or won’t relearn how to just live and enjoy being present.

This is nothing new or revolutionary. Many others have explained this more eloquently and more powerfully than I can. Yet, I think it too important to not repeat from my own perspective in hopes that it might strike a chord with someone. Even one person. Our children are embracing this very concept even as they race ahead into the school years, the teen years and soon adulthood. If we can’t enjoy life as much as possible in the now, then what’s the point?

“Find joy in the details.”Tweet This!

Life is made to be lived, in all its mundane and boring detail. Find joy in the details.