Thursday, April 26, 2007

Highrise: A new way to keep up with opportunities

Even if you have a good basic organizational system for maintaining contact with your candidacy opportunities, keeping the system going can be part of the difficulty. A new option has recently become a great solution: Highrise, a new web application.

Web-based applications are the "next big thing" in computer technology-- in fact, they are already the big thing. If you've heard of "Web 2.0" then what you've heard about is, among other things, web-based applications. (Blogger, which publishes this blog, is a prime example of these.)

One of the companies doing a great job of developing these "web apps" is 37Signals, who also put together several other very useful applications. Their latest offering, Highrise, is sort of a "CRM" (Customer Relations Management) application: when large enterprise companies need to manage thousands of sales contacts, vendors, wholesalers, etc., they employ CRM solutions of enormous scale. While useful for the data tracking they offer, most of them are kludgy (i.e., not easy to use), far too big/powerful/feature-filled, and costly for small-scale (read: individual and church/small non-profit) usage.

Enter Highrise: it is something like CRM for the rest of us. You can "manage relationships" just like big business, but with an easy interface and no unnecessary functions.

Here's how I have used Highrise to track candidacy opportunities:
  • Each new opportunity becomes a "Case"-- think of this as a collection of contacts and actions.
  • Each contact related to that new opportunity is entered as a new contact (self-explanatory).
  • Just like with my paper-based system, I set up tasks for following up with these cases and contacts.
Highrise keeps a single, distinct web page for each contact; every note, task, or file that I attach to that contact is visible on that page as a history of my communications with them. When more than one contact is associated with a case, the combined history is displayed on each case's distinct web page. In effect, my file folders for each candidacy opportunity are replaced by an attractive website that is easy to use and add information to. If I wanted to, I could maintain redundant systems.

With Highrise, however, some substantial differences emerge: I can set up reminders for tasks that will trigger automatically, for example. I can have an e-mail of today's tasks sent to me every morning, and/or when tasks are due. I can also have reminders sent via SMS (text) message to my mobile phone.

Highrise also works well in conjunction with e-mail. For example, I do a lot (a majority) of my correspondence by e-mail, and I can forward e-mails to a "drop-box" e-mail address that will then add each e-mail to the appropriate contact page. (I can also blind-copy-- using the BCC field-- each e-mail I send to this dropbox.) For that matter, you can build Rules in your mail client that will automatically forward incoming e-mails from certain addresses-- and you can set it to forward them to the dropbox. No work necessary!

It is easy to set up an account with Highrise, and also easy to add new contacts and cases. If you have it available, you can upload contact information via vCard and

The real benefits are that Highrise keeps a running account of what follow-up needs to happen, and keeps me informed of that. It also streamlines the process of keeping notes and information about opportunities, since it has ready-made fields for these.

Like all of 37Signals' applications, Highrise has a free level available. With the free level, only one case is possible, so you can't set it up exactly as I described here. If you want to set things up as described, I recommend the $29-per-month "Solo" plan (remember, expenses for job searches are tax-deductible, a few pennies of this will come back to you!). Otherwise, you can simply use it to manage the contacts you have-- you may not frequently have multiple contacts per opportunity anyway.

A further benefit: getting familiar with Highrise during candidacy means that you'll already know how to use it when you need similar relationship management for ministry-- to track visitation, etc. (By the way, you'll probably find that Backpack or Basecamp-- two of 37Signals' other offerings-- are useful in ministry for group projects and such.)

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