Most financial advisors are so busy dealing with pressing problems that pop up each day that they do not have the time to spend learning technology tricks that, ironically, will save them time. It's totally myopic. It's like a fireman saying that he is so busy putting out fires with buckets of water that he has no time to learn how to use a hose. As a result, I think most advisors are technology nincompoops.
So here's some help: Starting with this column, I'm going to give you a homework assignment every month. I'll suggest a software download, a trick you can use, or recommend a Web site that will teach you some practical tech trick that you can use in your practice. Some assignments will take you 15 minutes, others an hour or two. Please feel free to e-mail me to let me know how you're doing with these homework assignments (email@example.com).
This month's assignment is about a piece of software that you can download for free and use for 14 days, at which point you'll have to plunk down the $50 purchase price. It's money well spent. You see, every once in a rare while you come across a technology product that works great and can really help you conduct business more efficiently. I know it is rare and there is a lot of hype in technology reviews about products, but this is the real stuff. It's called GoodContacts and is put out by an Ottawa, Ontario-based company also called GoodContacts, Inc. (www.goodcontacts.com, 613-831-0653).
GoodContacts is the best contact manager add-on product that I've ever seen. It's cheap and is so simple that even a financial advisor can figure out how to use it. If your attention deficit in technology is preventing you from serving clients better and growing your business, GoodContacts can help you.
For any small business, keeping your address book accurate is a pain in the neck. When I input a new contact in Outlook, I usually don't have the time or patience to input the person's title, company, address, and other details. (Read below to learn about a little shortcut using Microsoft Clipboard that I occasionally use to complete this pesky task.) As a result, most of the contact information I have collected is incomplete. Plus, a lot of my contacts have changed companies, addresses, phone numbers, and other details since I originally entered their data months or years ago.
GoodContacts automatically updates your contact list. It does this by sending an e-mail to your contacts asking them to update the contact information you have in your electronic address book, and shows them the information you currently have for them. Using GoodContacts, I was able to easily update contact information--new phone numbers, addresses, cell-phone numbers, and other details--on dozens of people at once.
Plug and Play
The software is like a plug-in for Outlook. As soon as you download it from the Web, GoodContacts examines your entire address book. In my case, for instance, I have four different contact lists in Outlook. GoodContacts found that my main contact list had about 1,000 entries, and that's the list that I wanted to work with. However, only about 400 of those 1,000 entries had e-mail addresses. (That's because at first I used Outlook only for phone numbers and only began a year ago to use Outlook to manage e-mails as well as phone numbers and addresses.)
GoodContacts displays each contact's name and lets you check off which of them you want to send an e-mail to requesting updated information. It listed all of my 1,000 contacts, and I could obviously send e-mails requesting updates only to the 400 or so that I had e-mail addresses for. I checked off 315 e-mail contacts to request their updated information.
GoodContacts uses a wizard to walk you through sending a friendly "Keep in Touch" e-mail to all your contacts. It shows you the text of the e-mail it is about to send your contacts and you can modify it. I did not.
Within an hour or so of sending my Keep In Touch request, I started to get replies to my e-mail. GoodContacts sends you a receipt informing you that your e-mail was read by your contact. The other thing that happens is that a little icon appears in your "systray."
Let's just a take a minute to talk about systray. Systray (short for system tray) is the rectangular box in the bottom right corner of your Microsoft Windows screen, and it shows you what programs are set up to run all the time on your computer.
Many programs, including Good- Contacts, automatically install themselves in your systray or ask you during installation if you want to install them there. It's convenient having programs running whenever Windows runs but they do take up resources, so you don't want to have programs in your systray that are unnecessary. You can usually right-click on any systray program and change its setup. For instance, if America Online is in your systray but you don't use it very often, right-click on it and change the settings to tell it to stop loading in your systray. You can still always start the program by clicking on your "Start" button and then choosing the application under "Programs."
To get back to GoodContacts, when you click on its icon in the systray, it lets you open the GoodContacts program. The screen that pops up shows you "Things That Require Your Action."
This Is Exciting
The action item that's most exciting about this program is accepting juicy new details about your contacts. In other words, all the people who replied to your Keep In Touch E-mail and sent you back a new phone number or address are listed on this screen. You can click on a button to "review differences," between your old contact information and the new one.
You can see all the new information the contact has given you, which gave me a really satisfied feeling. In the case above, for instance (Figure 2), I had spelled Jerry Wagner's name incorrectly, I had his company name wrong, I had an old address for him (not shown), and no cell phone number. By sending him the Keep In Touch e-mail, I got him to key in all the correct data for me, which saved me time. Plus I now have updated information for him.
Requesting updated data on your clients, prospects, vendors, and other contacts is good for business. It shows all these people that you are thinking of them. Invariably, some will e-mail you and tell you how nice it is to hear from you. Moreover, you now have data that will let you conduct e-mail marketing campaigns to those contacts.
You can update all the new data on your contacts in one mouse click or review each of them individually. And you don't have to worry that updating your contacts will make you lose valuable data. GoodContacts deposits the old data in the "notes" field of each Outlook contact entry.
I sent out my first Keep In Touch mailing to 315 contacts at 9 A.M. on December 12. Seventy-two hours later, I received updated details from 149 of them and they were still trickling in.
I also learned that 61 of those 315 contacts contained bad e-mail addresses. GoodContacts has a service that will try to get a good e-mail address for these people for $5 for each good address obtained. David Caughey, founder and chief operating officer of GoodContacts Inc., says the company will call your contact for you for the $5 fee, assuming you have a phone number for that contact, and get the contact's current e-mail address. Before trying that, however, GoodContacts will try ReturnPath.com, a Web company that has a database of 11 million pairs of old and new e-mail addresses (available at www.returnpath.com).
If your only contact information for a prospect or an old friend is a bad e-mail address, it may be worth trying this database yourself and not paying the $5. Alternatively, you can input your bad e-mail addresses yourself in minutes. I tried it with about 10 bad e-mail addresses, however, and had no luck.
In contrast, a very useful feature in GoodContacts is "Build Your Contact List." The software will examine all the e-mail addresses in your inbox and compare them to the e-mail addresses in your address book. When GoodContacts finds an address in your inbox that is not in your address book, it lists the address in a report. I used that report to send out about 50 Keep In Touch e-mails. Since they were handpicked by me, most of those people responded immediately by sending me their full contact information, which then was automatically imported into my Outlook address book.
GoodContacts offers some other bells and whistles. For a one-time fee of $50, you can upgrade your licenses to a version that lets you put your own banner across your Keep In Touch e-mail so that you can accent it with your logo and corporate colors. In addition, you can back up your contacts to the GoodContacts server in case your computer is stolen or you suffer a disk failure. That feature costs $24.95 a year.
GoodContacts works with Outlook, Outlook Express, ACT! 2000, Peachtree Contact Manager, Microsoft Exchange, or an open database such as Access, SQLServer, or Excel. Even if you are using a different contact manager, such as ProTracker, Junxure, or Junxure-i, you should be able to get the program to work. GoodContacts sells a $400 open database add-on that lets you map your contact database's fields to GoodContacts. In addition, Ken Golding, the programmer behind Junxure-i, is writing an interface to automatically map to GoodContacts so that Junxure-i users can avoid the $400 database add-on. ProTracker is also considering such an interface.
Speaking of saving time, I'm willing to bet that one of the most underutilized tools in Microsoft Office is Clipboard. Pretty much everyone is familiar with how you can cut and paste text and pictures in Word, Excel, and Outlook. But what people often don't realize is that you can cut up to a dozen items in separate pieces and then paste them individually; this is a feature that I use quite a bit when I'm putting contacts into my contact manager database.
Many people send e-mails with a "Signature." If you use Outlook to receive and send e-mail, you can create a signature by pulling down the Tools menu and choosing Options. Then choose Mail Format and you'll see a button that is called Signature Picker. You can create a new signature that will go out with all your e-mails in seconds. This way, at the bottom of all e-mails you send, you'll have your name, company name, address, phone number, e-mail address, and other contact information, and you can add your company slogan.
People appreciate getting this information because it makes it easy for them to call you when you send them an e-mail without having to look up your phone number. You can create a second signature, by the way, and easily switch from the primary to the secondary signature from the "Insert" menu of any e-mail you are composing.
With a lot of people now sending e-mails with signatures, Clipboard has another useful function. Clipboard lets you copy the first line of a signature containing someone's name separately from the second line of someone's signature containing their street address. Since you are copying the signature in individual pieces, it's easy to paste it directly into an Outlook contact card. In fact, most signatures now being sent follow the order of fields in an Outlook entry: name, title, company name, address, business phone, and so on, which makes it easier to copy someone's contact information from an e-mail and paste it in pieces using clipboard into an Outlook contact form.
To start Clipboard, open Word, pull down the "View" menu, and choose "Toolbars." You'll see that when you copy a name in a signature in Outlook, the clipboard appears, showing you have one item in the clipboard. Then, if you copy a second item, say, an address, the clipboard toolbar will show that you now have two items clipped. When you then switch to Outlook, you don't have to type in the contact's name and address. You can just cut and paste them. When you hover over a clipped item, you can preview the beginning of the text and rest assured you are pasting the right text in the right field.