10 Ways to Make the Cloud Work for You

Keep Your Friends (and Enemies) Close
Having trouble keeping track of all your adoring (and not so adoring) fans? You might like cloud-based customer relationship management. Ingram Publishing/Thinkstock

As your digital universe expands, you accumulate friends, followers and fanatics who love to visit your site and comment on your blog. Cloud-based services have emerged as viable alternatives for freelancers, small businesses or anyone looking to manage their growing list of contacts, a process sometimes known as CRM, or customer relationship management. If you want to experiment with one of these services, you'll have to invest some up-front time getting your contacts loaded into the system.

Where they really shine is how well they integrate with other popular Web applications. For example, they let you import and consolidate all of your contacts from the likes of Gmail, Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter and MailChimp. Once you have the contact database populated, you can add tags and other relevant information, then sort, segment and filter to understand who you know and how they relate to each other. Even more helpful, especially if you're running a business, you can keep track of conversations, set up reminders to follow up, attach e-mails or assign task lists to yourself or to team members.

If you're already using a Web-based e-mail system, such as Gmail, then you probably have access to a modest contact manager. But if you want to do some serious CRM, then you'll need to graduate to something more robust. Many people consider Salesforce to be the gold standard in CRM solutions, although it's overkill for most small business owners. Other options include Highrise, from the makers of Basecamp, and Batchbook. Both of these offer a free trial but no free service plans.