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I'm a solo business owner. I regularly have to talk to business partners on the phone for my business, and need to keep track of what we've talked about and what to do next.

Right now I just write little reports which I keep on my computer, and I try to keep an eye on them. Sometimes I put something in my calendar to remind me to work on it.

The problem is that in each conversation topics come up which have to do with certain projects and activities (e.g. we have to get this software done this month, after which we have to get a video done, and then we have to create a site around it, blabla ...).

I might have multiple conversation with different people around the same topics, projects, activities ... and I have to keep track of what different people are saying about the same thing.

I'm not sure how to keep track of all this in a very simple fashion, without using complicated CRM and ticketing systems, all of which would require me to input issues seperately and keep it all updated and in sync.

Does anyone have any ideas?

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3 Answers

You are right that most large organisations use a CRM system for this sort of interaction, and this works well - I have used this solution when I have worked for global firms.

When I have run my own small consultancies, I have simply used excel spreadsheets with columns for individual, topic, follow up, date and other information.

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thanks - the problem is that once you start having conversations about the same topics with multiple people, a CRM or excel sheet won't cut it ... for example when you talk about a specific marketing issue with several partners and they have an opinion and you need to group the related opinions together so you can look at them across different conversations with different contacts... –  b20000 Apr 23 '13 at 5:39
    
Yep, excel makes this quite easy. If you have a column for topic you can use pivot tables to view on a per conversation basis if you want. –  Rory Alsop Apr 23 '13 at 6:23
    
@b20000 - most CRM systems are capable of this, but they're not easy to use. –  JeffO Apr 29 '13 at 11:36
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You can still use something simpler than a full CRM system like Outlook or Gmail. There are scaled down CRM systems like Highrise by 37signals.com.

The main thing for you is the search functionality. Not only do you need to research these products to find out which ones work for you, but then you need to become proficient at them.

I'm a big fan of Evernote. Not only does it have great search features, but it also has tag that you can create and attach to any message. Along with different folders, there are plenty of features to create (works on almost any device), organize and search. You can use this as the one place to store just about everything digital. It has always been free and has additional features (more space) on the paid versions.

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Upvote for mentioning Evernote - it's great –  GrahamMc Apr 24 '13 at 18:33
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I think a classical GTD approach could help. It sounds like you're doing the first processing step now by taking notes during the conversation. The next, critical step, which it sounds like you're not doing, is to process those notes into projects and next actions and then putting those actions in a trusted system where you won't forget to act on them. (I explain how I've implemented a GTD system in RTM in another answer.)

For example, in a phone conversation with Bob several topics might have come up:

  • lunch next Tuesday with Beth (potential new client!)
  • need to see preview of promo video you're doing for his company
  • coordinate main dishes for church potluck next weekend
  • Bob said to remind him in a week if you haven't received his payment for your last invoice

Let's presume these are your notes from the meeting and use them as an example for how you'd process them into a system.

lunch next Tuesday with Beth (potential new client!)

  • Put a meeting on your calendar for next Tuesday for 2 hours at the trendy new Thai place on 4th.
  • Put a task to vacuum your car that will pop up in your @home context list since you know you're going to pick up Bob on the way there
  • Spend less than 2 minutes writing a quick email to Beth and Bob thanking Bob for making the introduction, telling her you looking forward to the meeting, and providing information on the restaurant

need to see preview of promo video you're doing for his company

  • Review the project you have set up for the promo video to make sure next actions are identified
  • If there is someone you need to follow-up with send a quick email or add a task to your @call context to call them about the task they are working in support of the video

coordinate main dishes for church potluck next weekend

  • Add an @home task to check the pantry for the ingredients you need to make your favorite brownies
  • Add a task to send Bob's wife (as Bob cannot cook and his task was a passive-aggressive means of asking you to coordinate with his better half) an email letting her know you're bringing a dessert

Bob said to remind him in a week if you haven't received his payment for your last invoice

  • Put a task in your tickler file (or that will pop up in one week) to remind you to check on the status of an invoice and call Bob if it hasn't cleared

These tasks are obviously all made up, but the point is that the key step is processing your notes into actionable things you need to be doing and putting these actions in a system that will remind you that they need to be done when you're actually able to do something about them and at the appropriate time.

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