When it comes down to it, a successful personal concierge is truly a master at managing projects.

Before I reduced my business down to my few favorite (and highest paying) clients so I could pursue other businesses and hobbies (like this site), I had about 65 clients that I personally managed. That means 65 different stories to keep straight in my mind, not to mention the variety of projects I was working on with each client. Some were occasional clients so I just needed to remember specifics like their kids names, what groceries brands they prefer, and any other lessons I needed to remember so my work would be consistent when they called me for new jobs. Then there were the more regular clients who had me so involved in their family lives that I felt like I knew more about their households than I did my own home.

Knowing all this about my clients was, of course, only a portion of my business as it didn’t include basic business management such as tracking hours, employee oversight, marketing, and accounting.

How do we provide excellent service and stay on top of all these details? By having a great arsenal of project management tools.

These are the tools I have used or have had clients (other concierges I’ve consulted for) use successfully. The secret to a successful project management tool is that it manages what you need in the simplest form possible without any extra bells or whistles. Any extra steps you must take to, for example, enter a task make the tool more of a pain than a benefit and those extra steps or the tracking of uneccesary information may lead you to use the tool inconsistently. If you don’t use your management tools consistently, they won’t provide the benefits you need. Benefits can include being able to pull up client information (including history) quickly and easily, tracking time painlessly, and the piece of mind in knowing that everything is being remembered and tracked for you so you don’t have to. With that, here are the tools:

 

OmniFocus - Mac and Mac mobile devices only – OmniFocus is a truly fantastic GTD (Getting Things Done) project management solution. In a clean format, you can have folders for each of your client projects with tasks within those folders. The folders and tasks have a variety of options including keeping notes and related documents, start and due dates, review dates (if it is something tabled to approach again later), contexts, estimated time, and assignments to employees. It also has a very nice iPhone/iPad app that will cross sync with the desktop version. While it frustrates me that it is not online and is designed more for personal use, I’ve always come back to it and been the most productive when I use it solely.

Pros: simple interface with excellent archive feature. Cons: Mac only without a purely online solution, which limits who can access it.

 

Highrise - While I love 37Signals’ Basecamp for large projects, it isn’t an ideal fit for a personal concierge. Highrise, however, can be quite useful. As a CRM solution, Highrise will not only track all information on your clients but also gives you the opportunity to manage projects (aka opportunies) within it. While not exactly designed for this, you can add tasks to projects and track projects within Highrise. However, the best use of Highrise is going to be for tracking and managing your network (clients, vendors, and other networking partners). Not only can you keep records of your interactions with all individuals (will automatically pull emails if you would like it to), but Highrise also integrates with eNewsletters such as MailChimp so you can keep your online marketing endeavors up-to-date.

Pros: excellent online tracking of individuals and businesses with nice integration with various other tools. Cons: Is more a CRM solution than a project management solution. If you wanted to stay super simple, you could link it with the free Ta-da List also by 37Signals.

Remember The Milk - In the end, much of it comes down to finding a to-do list that tracks just what you need. Some may just use their email program to-do list, but I find that the best to-do lists are the ones that your employees can access too. Remember the Milk is also based off the GTD concept and is a very simple, but very useful online task list. Not only does it let you organize tasks however you want, have due dates, track locations, and assign employees to tasks, but it’s only $25 a year. Not bad! It may be too simplistic for many, but is a great way to track things simply.

Pros: tracks just what you need and is accessible wherever you are. Cons: may be too simplistic for many businesses.

Freshbooks - I’ve brought up Fresbooks before for being an excellent system to track time and invoice clients. It creates great invoices, accepts credit card payments, and has a nice client portal if you want to give your clients access to their billing history. I really love this well-priced solution. The part I may not have mentioned is that you can also give your employees limited access so that they can enter their hours and purchases directly into Freshbooks. Why is this such a big deal? It will save you a great deal of time at the end of the month as Freshbooks will automatically pull hours and expenses into the invoices for the clients without you having to re-enter anything. LOVE IT!

Pros: clean interface with great tracking features and lovely invoices. Cons: Is not a full accounting solution, but could work for small businesses. Disclaimer: While I’d recommend Freshbooks no matter what, they do have an affiliate deal for me if you sign up. Since I give away my advice for free, I hope you don’t mind if I get a few bucks from Freshbooks if you end up loving this service as much as I do!


TeamLab
 - So TeamLab is relatively new to the scene and I’m not as experienced with it, but I already love it. It’s opensource and, as long as you don’t store massive files online, totally free. Not only is it free, but it is a comprehensive solution. It will manage your CRM (tracking not only individuals, but particular leads), manage all of your projects (with to-do lists, discussion boards, time tracking, and anything else you might need), has an online document repository for docs your employees may need access to, and has a full online community section for you to keep up with your employees through. Did I mention that all this is free? I’m not sure how long it will remain free, but it is a great service nonetheless as it will give you everything you need to manage your business (just create projects for marketing and other business tasks), your clients, and your staff. The only thing it doesn’t do is manage your accounting!

Pros: All-in-one solution at an unbeatable price. Cons: none unless I compare it to Basecamp…which has more features than a personal concierge would probably need anyway.

Overall, whether the solutions are separate or combined, you’ll likely want a CRM solution, project management solution, and accounting system. Taking the time to find the right fits for you and your business model will save you a great deal of time, stress, and loss productivity.

One thing to keep in mind with any solution you decide upon is how you handle personal client information such as credit cards and social security numbers. If you’re client gives you this kind of information, be absolutely sure it is secure. Not much would be worse for your business if someone used your client files to get private information on all of your clients and it was tracked back to you. Not only would it be an enormous blow to your reputation and probably would lose you a great deal of business, but there could be some legal and financial repercussions as well.

I hope some of these solutions are new and exciting to you. If anyone else has found a great solution that works well for them, please share!

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5 Responses to Project Management Tools for the Ultimate Project Manager

  1. Jeanette Albert says:

    Cameron,

    This post could not have come at a better time. I just asked my other entrepreneur friends this past week which CRM and project management programs would be best for my business. SugarCRM was mentioned but I used them in the past briefly and was not impressed. They also went from being freeware to be quite costly.

    I was going to resort to using a program specifically created for DJ’s to track clients and projects. I have used it in the past for my event planning and was very comfortable with it. While it is meant for DJ’s a concierge could change things up a bit and customize it, however this option is not ideal.

    I am going to compare the programs that you suggested! Thank you so much!

  2. Christopher Billiau says:

    Cameron,
    I am having a hard time reconciling the need for a separate invoicing program then accounting program then project management program. Hw do you work with all three?

    • Cameron says:

      Hello Christopher. I’m trying to find where you see me recommending that one would use three separate programs. This post is intended to be a list of different programs that I or others have had success with at different times. For me, I want my system of managing CRM, projects, and finances to be as simple as possible and that means the less programs the better. That said, every program has weaknesses and, depending on your wants and needs for the programs you use to run your business, you may find you need more or less programs than other personal concierge businesses. My current setup is using OmniFocus to track my existing clients, projects, marketing, etc. and then using Freshbooks for time-tracking, expense tracking, invoicing, tax reporting, etc. Before I cut my business down to a few favorite clients, I used Quickbooks instead of Freshbooks because it is so much more robust. Hope this helps.

      • Christopher Billiau says:

        Thanks Cameron,
        I didn’t mean to insinuate you were recommending three. I just wanted to know what someone like you used. My wife and I starting our service and we are now trying to figure out the jungle of options when it comes to managing projects, invoicing, and tax info.

        I am strongly leaning towards Freshbooks as it is very intuitive and I like how it integrates with all my mobile devices in real time. I’m trying out quick books as well and it doesn’t seem as well suited for this type of work but I am sure my accountant would prefer it.

        • Cameron says:

          Thank you for clarifying. It is quite a jungle of options. I’m sure your accountant would vote for Quickbooks as well. If you think you’ll want or need something more robust out of the gate than Freshbooks for the accounting portion, Freshbook can automatically sync with some third-party online accounting options. You may have already looked at these, but I tried IAC-EZ and Outright back when they first started. It was rough back then, but the concept was great and it’s been 6 years so I’m sure they’ve improved quite a bit. Perhaps something else to look at that could save you from redundant work? Here are the add-on options: http://community.freshbooks.com/addons/

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