An Easy, Fast, Personal CRM for Making and Maintaining Friendships

By Nat Eliason in Social

Making and maintaining friends after college is hard.

For many, their employer becomes their new “dorm,” with all of the gossip, politicking, romancing, and drama that they miss from their college years.

But if you don’t work a normal job, say by being a freelancer, working at a small startup, or being on a remote team, you don’t even have the water cooler to fall back on. You’ll have your friends from college, and might meet some people at WeWork, but meeting new people and maintaining connection with the people you’ve met is challenging.

Social media promised to deliver a more connected world, but instead we got a firehose of outrage and privacy violations that’d make a stalker squirm. And besides, seeing what someone is doing on Instagram is not the same as staying in touch with them. It’s a passive process, devoid of any real connection, that fills the terrifyingly empty moments between activities or while pooping.

I’ve always wanted a system where:

  1. I could keep track of new people I was meeting.
  2. I could quickly see who was in any new city I was visiting.
  3. I could organize people, or reach out to people, with common interests.
  4. It wouldn’t take a huge amount of work to maintain.

A few weeks ago, I stumbled on this post by Khe Hy about creating a personal CRM and loved the idea. I’d toyed with a personal CRM (contact relationship management) system in the past, but it has always felt too clunky to use a tool like Contactually, HubSpot, Cloze, god forbid SalesForce, to manage friendships. Khe’s system looked like a great, lightweight way to accomplish the same goals using a simple tool (Sheets in his case).

Like Khe, I wanted something cloud based I could easily update on the go. This is where Evernote has failed me in the past: it’s cloud based, but navigating through a notebook of people’s names to add information is a mess of an experience.

That’s also a limitation of Google Sheets, though, which is why I ultimately went with Airtable.

airtable personal crm database example

The main benefit of Airtable (besides the pretty colors) is how easy it is to update on the go, and how well it handles long multi-select lists. It’s a little slower in other areas than Google Sheets, but being able to pop open a screen like this after a coffee or dinner and quickly add or update someone’s info is a game changer:

airtable personal data crm entry fields

Here are the fields I have on the personal CRM right now:

Personal CRM Fields

If you want a copy of my CRM layout, you can get one here.

First & Last Name

Self explanatory. I separate it into two different columns in case I want to do a mail-merge to a bunch of people at once (this gets a much better response rate than emailing a mass of people).

Email

Self explanatory again. I could just let Gmail autofill this for me, but it’s useful in case I want to email a bunch of people at once.

Industry / Skills

I decided to focus more on “what someone is good at” than what level of a company they work in. Director of Marketing tells me very little, I’d rather just know that someone is good at Marketing, regardless of if they’re a freelance SEO or a CMO at a Fortune 500.

These are the “things you would want to hire this person for.” So when I want an expert opinion, or need an intro, I can filter by this list and find someone who would be good to reach out to.

Interests

This is anything I might talk with someone about. It naturally revolves around many of the things I’m interested in, but it’s also a great reminder of things to catch up on with people I don’t talk to as much. And if I start to get more interested in something I’ve had a passing interest before, I know exactly who to reach out to about it.

Location

The main value here is for whenever I’m traveling. I’ll know exactly who is in that city so I can email them to meet up, or to get some recommendations.

Company

This is just where someone works. I’d like to find a way to better organize this than just text notes in the future, but for now it works well. Position could be useful as well, but I can always go to LinkedIn if I want to be that in-depth.

How We Met

I like keeping track of how I met people because that can bring up a bunch of memories on its own, and saves you the awkward “how did we meet?” with people you don’t talk to as much. Plus, if I got intro’d to them by a friend, this is a great way to track who the big connectors in my life are.

Notes

And then the notes are just a catch-all of random other info I might want to keep track of, like if they came on a podcast, if we worked on something together, if they’re working on something cool, and so on.

Check-Ins?

One thing I left out that many other CRMs like this have is a “last contacted” column. I deliberately didn’t include it because I hate forced check-ins. I’d rather stay in touch with people organically, when there’s a good reason or trigger for talking to each other, than send emails saying “hey how’s it going” at set quarterly intervals.

Future Versions

Right now, my CRM has 150 people in it (right at Dunbar’s number, coincidentally). I think that as it grows I’ll need to add other fields to manage it better. It feels like I can easily sort through and parse the information as it is, but I can see how in a few years as it grows, I’d need more ways to categorize and track the different contacts in there.

I’m not sure what those changes are, but it’s helpful to see articles like Khe’s on how he manages his information (he tracks personal attributes as well, for example) to get ideas. If you end up making something like this yourself, definitely let me know what you did differently on Twitter.

Footnotes

Did You Enjoy This?

Then consider signing up for my Monday Medley newsletter. It's a collection of fascinating finds from my week, usually about psychology, technology, health, philosophy, and whatever else catches my interest. I also include new articles, book notes, and podcast episodes.

Thank you! Your submission has been received!
Oops! Something went wrong while submitting the form.