If you ask ten people how they manage their contacts and stay connected to their personal networks you will get ten different responses. These vary from using Outlook contacts to some elaborate Evernote scheme combining tags, notebooks, reminders, and search.
It is a guiding philosophy of mine to stay connected with my network of friends by making mutually beneficial introductions and sharing usual information on a regular basis. Furthermore, as the network grows, I feel like I have a “LIFO” problem – I can only stay relevant to the last 50 or so people with whom I crossed paths.
While logical to try to use existing social media, the functionality is lacking (and will likely never get there as the aspirations are larger) – Facebook (too much noise in the activity feed), Twitter (not “personal” enough; limited by 140 char limit), and LinkedIn (generally difficult for sharing.) And more traditional CRMs (SalesForce and Zoho) were aimed towards businesses, costly, and either lack/require too much customization.
What need was I trying to solve?
- Identifying someone with a particular skill/expertise (i.e. “Do you know any angels?” or “Do you know anyone who has built a team of Data Scientists?” or “I need to hire a lawyer”)
- Finding groups of individuals with shared interests, to disseminate very targeted articles (i.e. “Who would be interested in reading a blog post about FinTech?”)
- Helping likeminded individuals meet at social events that I hosted (i.e. “Who are all the folks who are sneakerheads”)
As you can see – most of these queries revolve simple tags that span a person’s industry/job function/passions/attributes.
I am not particularly tech savvy, so the goal was to leverage my basic spreadsheet skills. The CRM tool needed to have the following attributes:
- Easy to update and to query (i.e. good type-ahead functionality)
I started with an Excel document on DropBox but quickly realized that Excel failed in each category to varying degrees. Ideally, this would be in a database, but that was beyond the scope of my technical capacities.
As a result, I fortuitously ended up on Google Sheets, and very quickly this CRM became something I used multiple times a day, and even more, enjoyed updating, I knew I was onto something and wanted to share with you all.
How does it work?
The crux of the system is 4 category tagging system. As I meet new people, I use four tag families to describe their attributes:
- Job function
- Personal Attributes
The first two are pretty straightforward (and very similar to LinkedIn); however, much of the magic occurs when you understand and connect upon an individual’s passions and personality traits. Quite simply, people connect more deeply over their personal commonalities than the information on their business cards.
Here are a few representative tags in each category:
The most “controversial” part of this system is that the tags are hard-coded. The reason I did this was to enforce some self discipline on the user (and to make things searchable). As most Evernote users know, the free form nature of tags makes it very hard for them to be effective. The example that I give is say you were using “Crossfit” as a tag – one day while updating you may type in “Xfit” and you would immediately have duplicates.
The tags should be customized based on the user’s network. For me, my day job in finance and my passion around startups (as advisor and investor) lead my “tag set” to be pretty specific in those two areas; I would think that the tags in categories 3 and 4 would remain pretty constant across industries.
So how do I use this thing?
Step 0 — Copy the File
Copy the CRM Google Sheet file to your own drive so that you can edit it.
Step 1 – Update your tags
On the tab entitled “Tags,” I’ve put in a representative set of tags for each section. Keep in mind that anything outside of Column C (Highlighted in Yellow) is just informative, as Column C is the only one used in the validation. I find it helpful to comment tags (Column D), particularly when there could be overlap (i.e. “Fashion vs. FashionTech”)
Step 2 – Input new individuals
Adding a new individual is easy. First, switch to the tab called CRM. Simply add their name, email, and up to 10 tags that describe them. You don’t need to overthink the 4 major categories, and one of the key features of Google Sheets is the awesome typeahead function. I’ve left Column Q blank as a “notes field” in the event that the tags are too rigid or as a last ditch effort I want to search for a very specific attribute.
Step 3 – Search
The structured nature of the text makes a spreadsheet-based search pretty easy, using a few logical operators hidden in Column A. To search do the following:
Type in the attribute you want to search for in Cell A1 (and again, bless the typeahead)
Click on Filters -> “Search”…
And this custom filter will select all the individuals who match your field. If you need to, copy the email addresses from Column C and email away! To return to the original sheet, just clear out the filters by clicking on the toolbar.
A few more tips
If you’ve made it this far, you must be wondering if creating these tags, updating individuals, filtering, etc is worth all the work. I would say that this tool becomes pretty powerful as the number of individuals increases. I currently have 500 people in mine and I believe that it enables me to really surpass Dunbar’s Number as I try to make myself as helpful as possible to my network of friends. I’ve added fields to help manage small mailing lists and to also keep track of attendance to the various events that I host.
A few notes on tags
Here are a few tips on tags to ensure the smooth operation of your own Personal CRM
- Don’t get too granular in industries outside of your own. If you are in Tech, don’t worry about the sub-industries for, say, fashion. Unless you know thousands of people, you can probably sort quickly off of one tag Fashion versus 10 subsectors (accessories, menswear, footwear, beauty products)
- Try to pick tags which are mutually exclusive. This gets tricky in the personal attributes section. For example Leadership, usually includes empathy, generosity, storyteller. I don’t have a solution here, but I’ve gone with more tags in this specific instance.
- Resist the habit of adding new tags right away. Start by adding them in the Free form field (Column Q) and making a habit of scanning those every month or so.
- Comment your tags – this can help resist the temptation of adding new ones too quickly or dealing with those that are not mutually exclusive
There are a few improvements I’d like to make while the tool still easy to manage and update. These include:
- Adding a second logical operator to create an “and” or “or” functionality.
- Create macros to find “all overlapping individuals who match on 2 [or 3] tags
- Create a form-based entry to make it more accessible via mobile (I struggled with this because Google Sheets doesn’t allow validation to reference specific cells)
- Exploring a migration to SmartSheet, which I’ve just recently discovered
But most importantly, once I hit publish, I’m going to send it to all of my connectors! Yes, all 58 of them!