January 12, 2009

I’ve just spent the weekend deciding on a CRM solution for my business.

That’s a lie.

I started out trying to setup a simple client database, but then decided – “Wouldn’t it be nice if this was online?” and then “OOh, OOh, what about integration with Thunderbird!” and “But it’ll need to be run on my own server…” or “Maybe it’d be better being hosted…” what about “A system that is hosted but with the option to move to my server in the future should the need arise!”

Well, there are hundreds of choices out there. But most of them are far to complex for my needs.

I eventually opted for SugarCRM. It got the best reviews, and seemed like a very nice, capable, web-based app (that runs on my server), and it’s free (community edition). But it doesn’t play well with Thunderbird, is very complex¬† and won’t even export your calendar.

So, I ended up spending half of the day today finding an alternative and finally returned to one of my earlier choices – Highrise by 37Signals. An excellent web app but at $29/month for the personal edition I decided against it.

I have to say it wasn’t the best online solution though. That goes to WBP System’s HEAP CRM. Not as good looking or intuitive as Highrise, but priced right ($9/month) and lots of cool features. My favourite being the Event Template, would be handy for billing letters and reminders about client contact.

Ultimately though I wasn’t happy. HEAP CRM’s interface is clunky in comparison to Highrise. They do offer a “Host-You-Own” option, but at $1000 I probably would never be able to justify buying it.

I’ve settled on Thunderbird with Lightning and a few other extensions. A few features are missing like linking mails and contacts to events but it plays well with Google Calendar and Remember The Milk and it’s fully under my control.

Maybe I’ll try and write an addon to allow categories in Lightning be used to categorise contacts or messages but I neither have the skills or the time to learn the skills. If someone is feeling generous out there and would like to develop a very useful feature for this app I’d be eternally grateful. Until then I might try and cobble together something with Open Office Base and Thunderbird. If that’s even possible!