by Michele Nachum
Published on 12 December 2011
Apollo - an online project management software and customer relationship management solution (CRM) does have a rather "other worldy" graphic interface - but ultimately is a down-to-earth, user-friendly solution for small businesses to centrally manage several of their basic business needs. Today we will review this CRM tool for small businesses that provides tools to help small businesses keep their projects on track as well as correspond and manage their clients and customers.
What Does it Look Like?
Not to overuse puns and play on words, but this cloud-based project management solution has capabilities that will help you "launch" and "steer" your project through to completion. The solution works well on Mozilla/Firefox, Google Chrome and all versions of Internet Explorer and in mid-December 2011, the solution will also work with IE9.
Apollo does have a user-friendly interface which is easy to follow and has just a touch of futuristic design without it becoming overwhelmingly like Tomorrowland.
Regardless of the space motifs, like many project management applications, Apollo gives you a dashboard that will provide you with an overview of all the projects you are managing. This is also the area where you can communicate with your team. The solution is divided into several tabs: Overview (your dashboard), Tasks, Calendar, Project and Contacts. Within each tab, you can add and create tasks, projects, milestones and input all of your customer and employee information. As you add tasks, meetings, projects and more, your dashboard will become more populated and offer you a complete overview of your deadlines, tasks and daily "to dos."
I should mention here that this is a solution that really provides critical but basic CRM solutions. If your needs are more about tracking your clients and posting notes to their contact information, then Apollo does an excellent job. But the solution is not a deep CRM application with email marketing capabilities, SEO, research and other CRM-focused tasks. Apollo is about getting organized and doing your best to keep ahead of the game.
Like many of these project management and CRM apps, upon sign up, Apollo gives you a dashboard that as the administrator will offer you a high level view of all of the projects, tasks, meetings and deadlines. You will also be able to view upcoming events and meetings you enter into the Apollo calendar tool as well as any team status reports from your colleagues. Basically anything that you do in the program will be updated in the dashboard so you can keep track of the comings and goings of your projects and customers.
This is the CRM portion of the solution that allows you to either manually enter in your customer and colleague information or import your lists from a CSV format. In addition to adding a photo, email, address and phone information, you can also add in Tasks, Cases and Deals related to each client or contact. This provides a more robust way to manage your contacts, for if you are dedicated to entering in meeting notes, the particulars of a deal for instance, you will have a way to track every action with important customers.
Before you start to input tasks and projects, take some time to enter in client/customer information either. Once this information is in the system, it will be easy to invite customers and fellow employees to a project or task that will allow them to view the dashboard and the any notes, documents, milestones related to the project or task.
The Calendar is a drop and drag function where you can record all appointments and milestones. Filling in your calendar will enable you to get a highlevel overview of your schedule as upcoming meetings and project and task milestones will be present on your dashboard.
Apollo does something a little different that I have not seen in other project management applications - it offers you the opportunity to differentiate your tasks between work-related ones or personal tasks. When you click on Tasks, you can click on Add Task and Apollo will ask you to determine what type of task it is. Your personal tasks such as paying bills or personal meetings will remain private. Any task related to a customer or your or project, will be available to those you have invited to the Project or Task.
What I think is especially helpful is that Apollo will email you reminders about upcoming task deadlines and calendar events. So if you are not in your dashboard or in the program at that moment, you can still get a reminder that a milestone is looming.
Next to each task there is a little clock icon - press on it and you have your own instant stop watch to keep track of how long you spend on each task. I am always impressed with this feature. There was a time when billing by the hour was only done in a few select industries, but now-a-days consultants, marketing firms, accounting offices and others implement time-based billing. Therefore, Apollo offers you this feature to help you keep track of how much time you are spending on each task, not just for billing purposes, but also for time management.
Like the Task tab, the Project tab allows you to create projects, add team members to be a part of that project and basically manage all of your project in one central place. While you are in the Projects tab, you can add tasks that are specific to your project - and these tasks are different from the ones you enter in the Task tab. At first I was a bit confused about this but then realized that many of our day to day tasks are one-offs and not part of an actual project. So for one-off or recurring tasks, you use the Task tab, but for Projects, you can create a long list of tasks and milestones related to that specific project. Also in the Project tab you can add notes for your team, time your tasks, attach relevant documents and more.
Apollo now supports Writeboard - an app that allows you to draft text documents related to your project. You can draft as many documents as you like in a format called Markdown. Like many collaborative document spaces, Writeboard allows you to share out your drafts, view your colleague's edits, changes and the bonus - get rid of the version control nightmare that exists when you try to email out various drafts to client. Best of all, the documents are stored in one place and therefore you won't have issues of people trying to find the docs in various folders and drives.
Cases and Deals:
Wouldn't it be great to have one place to store all the notes of a project under a specific heading? Anytime you pulled up the project, all the notes and ideas related to the topic would be there. No more hunting through notebooks and email files to find information. That is what Cases and Deals allow you to do - store all notes, ideas and more under a project heading.
Apollow allows you to import information from a number of places so you don't have to start from scratch. You can import from Basecamp, Highrise and Capsule. In addition any XML format files can be imported as well.
Is it for you?
Apollo is an easy-to-use solution that can affordably help any small business manage both basic CRM and project management functions. For people looking for a more robust CRM solution with email marketing and other search engine optimization capabilities - this is probably not your solution. If you are looking for a web-based project management software that can also help you invoice and provide estimates to clients as well as manage your projects - this is not that type of solution either. Apollo does a great job doing what it does best - providing a solution to organize your tasks and projects, and centrally manage clients, colleagues and other contacts. The solution is fluid and seamless and a good start for any small business looking to better organize their projects and interactions with clients and colleagues. The fact that it allows you to import documents and other information from solutions like Basecamp is a real plus as well.
Ratings: ease of use 5/5, features 3.5/5, value 4.5/5 and ease of deployment 5/5