Last week I wrote that “Free is Not Always Good for Business”. In general I believe that good desktop or online business applications require paid employees behind the scenes making sure the software is safe, secure, and top-notch quality. 37signals is a great example of a business whose users pay for the great online productivity applications and services they provide. They offer 4 online applications: Highrise (contact management), Basecamp (project management), Backpack (information management), and Campfire (secured chat). All these types of applications have desktop competitors; however, using an online version of these types of productivity software has several advantages. Read “5 Reasons I Use Online Business Applications” to learn some. At Chaos To Clarity we use Highrise and Basecamp. We consider our contact and project management data mission critical and therefore are unwilling to compromise on quality. 37signals provides the quality we demand.
Highrise allows us to:
1. Track email exchanges. When we email contacts (or clients) we bcc Highrise allowing all in our company to see the email exchanges. 2. Enter notes. We enter notes about relevant phone conversations and meetings associated with a specific contact. When we view a contact in detail, their entire history of emails and notes are there along with their contact information. This minimizes time spent getting everyone up-to-date and we can focus our meetings on other matters. 3. Track deals. We create deals for every estimate and associate relevant emails to it. We also create notes and add relevant files (like a response to our questionnaire). If were hired then we move the project over to Basecamp.
Basecamp allows us to:
1. Upload files. Clients can upload all files associated with their project. There is even an image view of files. This comes in handy when we work with photographers’ websites. The ability to see thumbnails of all the images without downloading them is a great timesaver. 2. Message board. We use the message board for all communications for client projects so that everything is in one place—not in different employees inboxes. 3. Track milestones. For web design projects we add all due dates so everyone, including the client, knows what’s due when. 4. To-do list. We create to-do list and link them to a specific milestone. 5. Time tracking. We track all our time on client projects even if its fixed-price. Knowing what time we spent on past projects helps us to create better estimates. 6. Limit client access. We can add clients as users to specific projects and control what level off access they have to the project, down to individual messages and to-do lists. The only feature we’re missing is a group calendar. Backpack comes with one at the $24 price point, but we don’t require the other features. This leads me to one of the two criticisms I have of 37signal—the lack of package pricing. It would be great if they bundle the most common application combinations together at a discount. My second complaint is that SSL security is only available at the $49 price point (except for Campfire). In this day and age of security concerns, I think SSL should be a given or, at least, have a lower price point. Despite these 2 pricing issues, 37signals products are top-notch in quality and are feature-rich. If you’re thinking of changing your business productivity applications (or starting to use them) consider 37signals applications. They provide trials and free versions of their applications so you can give their products a spin before you commit monetarily.