Tag Archives: joomla

Open Source & Free CRM

I’m connected to Jodie Benveniste of Parent Wellbeing via LinkedIn . I’m not exactly sure how we met (She’s in Adelaide, I’m in Melbourne) , but I think it was because she read some of my articles and liked them. And because I have kids, I read some of hers. Anyway, she sent me an email, the other day about CRM systems. CRM stands for Customer Relationship Management.  Basically contact systems on steroids. Although I’m not an expert, I have deployed 6 or 7 different systems, so decided to share my (slightly fleshed out) answer on free systems to a slightly wider audience.

You’ve been blogging about freeware, webbased software on smartcompany – which is great! Just wondering whether you’ve found any decent CRM solutions?   Look forward to hearing your thoughts!

Cheers, Jodie.

Hi Jodie,

I have been using Maximiser on the desktop for the last couple of years in the past, to keep a record of contacts, event attendance and newsletter mailouts. But as part of my new cloud computing push, I am evaluating new CRM solutions. And being me, I wanted to look at the free versions first.

In the Open Source space I am currently having a look at vTiger CRM . Previously I had a look at Sugar CRM (the other main player), which didn’t necessarily impress me (as it was a bit pseudo Open Source, with the yummy bits unavailable).

The Web 2.0 interface of vTiger appears to be nice as it speeds things up. It runs on my standard software configuration (LAMP Stack ) and seems to have all the bells and whistles
– Sales force automation
– Customer support & service
– Marketing automation
– Inventory management
– Activity management
– Security management
– Calendaring
– E-mail integration

It also plugs into Outlook, Microsoft Office and Thunderbird (my email client).

I have also tried FreeCRM , which is a hosted solution with the lite (bannered) version being free. Banners irritate me though.

Its hard to make recommendations on CRM though, as my experience is that every business runs in a unique manner (other than franchises), and that CRM systems tend to be configured uniquely to each business. Therefore everyone will have a different opinion on what is best and a different solution will be best for them.

For instance, I am separating the Churchill Club CRM solution out from my general Brendan Lewis solution.  I have completely different needs from the Churchill Club.

The Churchill Club’s new ( Joomla based) website will use a CRM solution integrated into it, combining a couple of free modules. On the Joomla platform I have added the Community Builder module to store information, the JEvents Module for running events, and the AcaJoom module for sending out newsletters. I have also integrated some eCommerce into the mix so the whole thing will be one, stand alone system.

Personally, I have different needs. I have a couple of thousand contacts that need to be:
– Categorised

– Available to me in all three offices
– Integrate with other bits of technology I use
– Can export all records easily if I get bored with it.

Hope this helps.


Everyone can be in business

About once a month I go to the movies with a mate of mine, a kind of very tame boys night out.  Anyway, whilst we were having a beer after the movie he mentioned to me that he had run into a women who owns a couple of hair dressing salons in the UK.  Apparently she is able to travel around as much as she likes, but still has a vice like grip on her businesses.  Using webcams, a web integrated accounting system and Skype, she’s able to monitor almost every aspect of her salons in real time from her home, or from a hotel room from another country.  How cool is that?

Which got me thinking about how virtual I could make a business, and here’s what I came up with.  A business setup for under $1,000 , that can be created without leaving the house, and run from anywhere I have an internet connection.

My products will be the books that I am currently writing on business development. If my product was soft toys or say specialized lamps, I would change the warehousing arrangements.

Firstly I am going to buy a domain name to develop my own brand and make it easy for people to find my products, something like www.brendans-brilliant-business-books.com.au (maybe not that one actually). I can buy the domain name on the cheap at Intaserv or a bit more expensively at Melbourne IT .  Intaserv,  is the cheapest for com.au domain names but their domain name management tools are no where near as easy to use as Melbourne IT.   You get what you pay for, no surprises there.

The products will be advertised online using campaigns purchased from Google Adwords and via the Sensis site .  Of course my online shop will be Search Engine Optimised so it can be found easily.

I will keep a record of what’s happing and run email campaigns using a web based CRM (Customer Relationship Management) system.  The one I have chosen in SugarCRM as; Its Open Source, which for me means its more robust and free.  The trade-off though is that the documentation can be crappy.  SugarCRM requires the same supporting technical environment as my shop.

For the online shop, I am going to use OSCommerce.  This is another Open Source product available at Source Forge or at www.oscommerce.com Again its powerful, robust and free.  It also uses the LAMP stack (Linux operating system, Apache webserver, Mysql database & Php language) as its operating environment.  I will connect the shop to my bank account using a merchant account I will setup at paypal

I going to create the company online at a company registration site such as www.incorporate.com.au  Sites such as this have a web based wizard that walks you through all the steps required then sends you the company register as a pdf document once the bill is paid.   The end result is a not big sexy leather look binder, but I’m not looking for that anyway.

The shop and CRM system need to be hosted somewhere.  I’m going to choose someone like Quadrahosting Which have customer control panels to make life easier.  For around $150 a year I can get around 20 websites hosted and my email chucked in as well.

Since I have purchased some web hosting that comes with email, I can use the control panel at Quadrahosting to setup a whole lot of email addresses that forward email to my gmail account.  I can then get my email, anywhere in the world, that is sent to addresses such as accounts@brendans-brilliant-business-books.com.au and sales@brendans-brilliant-business-books.com.au

Now since I want to be as virtual as possible, I don’t particularly want to hold stock.  I’ve decide to use an online book sales site called www.lulu.com to layout and print my book on demand.  I simply (warning : loose use of the word simple) upload a word file, and select the design and title.  I believe a 100 page hardback will cost about US$16 to produce for a
print run of one.  Lulu will effectively become my on-demand warehouse, printing and sending out books as I want.

My banking is of course easy to setup online.  Many companies now have the internet only account.  Its normally an interest paying, zero fees account that you can tack onto another fee paying account you have.   I tend to use The CBA as my other accounts are there and I like suing the one net banking interface to manage my affairs.  And as mentioned before I will also setup a paypal account that will be the gateway between my bank account and my shop.

Since I want to have a local landline number (rather than giving out my mobile) I am going to use skypeIn .  I can have a local landline number that I can forward to my mobile, or simply leave it as an internet based voice mail system.

Now I can simply have my home as the postal address or the traditional Post Office Box.  However there is now a large number of virtual office suppliers in the market.  I can have a Collins St address for as little as $10 per week.  Companies such as Silent Partner offer you the ability to have that address and rent meeting rooms on as ad needed basis.

To keep track of what’s going on I need a good Accounting System that I can create GST compliant invoices with.  A quick search reveals a number of Open Source (free and configurable) web based (accessible anywhere) solutions, including  SQL Ledger .  There are also some interesting paid solutions for nominal amounts such as SAASU at around $250 per year.

Finally since things are now working well and my overheads are minimal, I am profitable.  Therefore I need to be paying tax (both income and my GST). Just as well that he ATO allows me to do everything online at www.ato.gov.au

My estimate is that I have invested about $800 (before marketing) to get the virtual business up and running and worked for maybe 2 days in total over an elapsed time of 2 weeks.


There are lots of other options for doing all of this.  For instance if I was selling art or t-shirts I would probably use Red Bubble as my shop and warehouse, if I was selling services I probably wouldn’t use a shop,  maybe I would use a free online content management system such as Joomla to run the website.  The principle is the same though, there is now no reason (investment, physical space or time available) why every technically literate Australian can’t be an entrepreneur on the side.

Square Rooted

Sometimes little bits of ubiquitous technology are much more useful than meets the eye, sometimes not.

Consider the square root key on a calculator. Outside of high school, only a handful of engineers seem to use it. But it’s on every single calculator despite the fact that 99% of the population isn’t actually sure what they would use it for. The real estate on the surface of the calculator is quite limited, so I’m thinking that the Square Root button must have had good PR people originally. Personally I would much rather prefer a button that lets me know I am dealing with money and therefore rounds everything up or down to two decimal places.

Anyway, enough square root bashing – I thought I would mention a tiny bit of technology that’s often overlooked but which I use every day.

Windows Notepad.

In my life I have a number of web based content management systems, using free platforms such as Drupal and Joomla , as well as a variety of systems both such as Google Calendar and the proprietary system behind the Churchill Club website. However the majority of information I own is stored in PDF’s, emails, Microsoft Word and Open Office Write Documents.

When I simply cut and paste information (such as a speaker bio) I often get unexpected and undesired formatting that was hidden inside the source document. This can be quite a pain to remove as it often involves messing around in a HTML encoded view of my information.

This is where Notepad comes in.

Every time I transfer information from one system to another I paste it into Notepad, then copy it and paste into the system I am using. The beauty of Notepad is that because it is only a primitive text editor, it simply can’t handle any hidden formatting information, and strips out things such as font types, sizes and carriage returns. And because Notepad is such a primitive application, it runs almost instantly and never crashes.

In real terms I reckon that on an average day by doing this I save myself 15 minutes that I would spend (very frustrated) trying to alter paragraphs I have pasted into a Content Management System that looks wrong.