20 November 2010 · About 3 minutes read

Clarity: An internal app for managing leads, clients, and projects.

As Plymouth Software is getting increasing projects and leads, I’m finding it more difficult to keep track of work I’ve quoted, new contacts, active tasks, and so on. To begin with, I’d just been using Gmail, labels and Google Docs to keep tabs on things, but this became increasingly cumbersome.

I had a look at various off-the-shelf CRM solutions, such as Highrise, FatFreeCRM, and so on, but wasn’t comfortable trying to fit my workflow into their approach. I’d also noticed that Claire was looking for something to manage client leads and follow-ups for ExpressVA Services.

Clarity Screenshot

With a night of heavy rain pounding, I gave up trying to sleep and cracked out Rails to have a go at building a CRM app that fits my needs. The result is Clarity, an internal app that I’m using to manage quotes, current and potential projects.

A CRM in a few hours.

The first usable release of Clarity was put together in a few hours (a testament to the power of Rails 3!) and I’ve now been using it for a week, gradually adding data and tweaking the app as needed. The current release of Clarity is fairly limited, but solves my initial problem. Clarity can currently:

  • Maintain a list of companies and contacts.
  • Manage contacts’ projects, keeping track of their status (prospect, quote, active, complete, etc).
  • Keep a history of notes on contacts and projects.
  • Attach relevant files to notes, such as quotes in PDFs, received documents, and so on. Paperclip is awesome for handling attachments in Rails.
  • Maintain a list of tasks to complete on contacts and projects. The task list is compiled on the dashboard.
  • See a summary of the current and potential business, showing total quotes versus accepted quotes and completed projects.
  • Get a list of next tasks that I need to complete for each active (or potential) project.

Avoiding Bloat

It’s early days, but already Clarity is making my business simpler. I’m concious of avoiding feature bloat, and keeping the app focussed on managing contacts, leads and projects.

Having said that, I have experimented building simple invoicing into Clarity to track invoiced projects against quotes. Rather than a full billing and payments system though, which brings with it several complications, Clarity just records the date, project and invoice total. I can then attach the full invoice as a PDF. I’m not sure how this will work out yet, so have kept the feature in its own git branch while I try it out over the coming weeks.

I’ll keep posting updates on Clarity’s progress here, and any interesting things I learn building an app to scratch your own itch.

Chris Blunt
Chris Blunt @cblunt
Chris is the founder of Plymouth Software. As well as code and business, he enjoys being a Dad, swimming, and the fine art of drinking tea.