I run Initech, an Israeli software development company. We have established it more than 10 years ago. Now our company has more than 20 team members, so a lot of internal and external communication comes through the managers first, and only then through me and my co-founder.
Even though we are delegating the responsibilities, it still costs us a lot of time to make sure there are no unexpected changes in the flow that was agreed with our clients.
Ideally, every move, request, and change of plans must be documented, so you can just review the summary, issue instructions and move on.
But in the real world, most of the business decisions are approved informally. More often than not it happens via e-mails, messages, meetings and alarm calls. Forwarding messages back and forth only creates additional confusion, and if such informal approval gets lost or forgotten by your client, claiming the unpaid hours may become an impossible task.
This problem was not as tangible when Initech was a small team consisting of only me and Igor, my technical co-founder and CTO. But since the company grew with clients, developers, project managers, suppliers, and contractors, our time became too scarce to manage that on our own.
As a result, it takes a lot of time and effort just to stay in the loop. How do you stay updated about the situational agreements and change of plans without sinking into micromanagement as your company grows?
Bear with me, and you’ll find out why we have developed Timelines – an app that stores the insights from your business makes them accessible by your team or clients on demand. You may also sign up to use it completely for free.
Gain easy access to messages from your clients and make sure it’s never lost
The story began 5 years ago. We lost ~$5K and several workdays to miscellaneous operations as we had to go through a litigation process. The main problem was a huge waste of time and attention that doesn’t allow you to focus on the main business.
You almost feel how your money is burning up when you waste your time manually collecting messages, documents, and building a visual timeline so the lawyer can better understand the case and present it in court. My co-founder Igor had to spend several days manually copy/pasting every single message… if we were able to find it. Our time spent on looking for several-year-old messages was valued in thousands of $ per day, not including the loss of new opportunities we were unable to pursue.
Moreover, a significant part of that communication went through the inbox of our project manager, who had already quit the company by that time. Oops, right?
There is no easy way to transfer the information that concerns the history of your business accounting across the team. And if it’s lost, it’s lost forever. Besides, sometimes our clients forget they have approved additional work, so having their message at hand as a proof is useful for getting paid.
That’s how we got an idea for a tool that would store business-related communication in one place, with messages organized around a certain topic or project. Such a system would enable you to get into the context of any discussion at a glance and share the information with your teammates or clients on demand.
The vision quickly grew into something more than just being prepared for any future litigation.
It is always better to maintain good relations with your clients, contractors, and long-term partners firsthand. To achieve it, Timelines enables your team to make informed decisions, as everything that you’ve discussed with your partners is stored and easily shareable on demand.
Put the information about the recent negotiations and project updates into action
It would seem that implementing a CRM would address the client management issue, right? We thought so too. We tried using ZohoCRM and later PipeDrive to manage our clients. Neither has really helped our situation.
We learned that CRMs are better suited for organizing well structured and repeatable sales cycles. But if you need to view and share specific messages in the context of live projects quickly, CRMs don’t meet your goals.
CRMs usually cover only the first steps in communication. So when leads become clients and even long-term partners, the ticket is usually a long time closed. But ironically, the long-term partnerships also have the richest history of negotiations, nuances, fine-tuned deals, and personal discounts, so burying this information under a pile of years of back and forth messaging would be a huge loss, right?
For us, Timelines became the optimal solution. At Initech, we use it to store and exchange the most important messages from our clients, partners, and suppliers. We pay special attention to ensure it can be transferred easily between team members and even 3rd parties with granular control over the access. To our delight, it has come in handy more often than we expected.
For instance, we feel secure in case anyone from our team quits, takes sick days and vacation or if someone else stands in for the project. We may easily flick the Timeline over to the appropriate team member and he’ll know as much as if he was working on the case for years.
Besides, you’re not the only side who may lose information that’s vital for your operations.
Last week our client had fired his project manager and stepped in to run business directly with us. He was completely out of the loop of the workflow and his payment obligations to Initech. When we issued unpaid work hours, the client asked for proof. The good thing is we were already using Timelines, so finding and sharing the whole bunch of appropriate messages from his project manager in one neat Timeline was simple. We got paid with no objections.
Besides that, it saves me and Igor a lot of time in planning projects and developing cooperation with our clients. Every week we have a meeting with our project managers to keep us updated and learn if there are any inputs required from our side.
Before we introduced Timelines into our routine, such meetings could easily take a couple of hours. We could occasionally ask for details of how and why something was agreed on, and our managers wouldn’t have the answers at hand. In such case, they would shuffle through emails as we waited. I get it, it happens to the best of us, but pauses to look for stuff are just too awkward, long and cost everyone’s time. Chances are you don’t find the right message either, so you’re prone to reviewing a bunch of forwarded emails after the meeting has already ended… and what if the matter was discussed in Messenger or Slack?
With Timelines, you may just ask a colleague to create and share the appropriate Timeline with you. It can be done retroactively, and you can always revert to it later as there is the convenience it will be there for you.
It helps us to reduce management overhead from two meetings per week to just a one-hour meeting. So considering that we have doubled the number of projects that we run from 7-8 to 15 it’s a huge time saver!
As a result, everyone in our management team is always updated on the recent changes that happen to our projects. We ourselves know the status of every account without the need to be directly involved in every conversation.
It is impressive when I cite some important project details word for word, even though my clients have shared it only to the project manager before. And all I need to do is open the appropriate Timeline.
Here’s how it works for me now:
- When I need to learn the details of what was discussed with a client, I just ask my teammate to share it via Timelines.
- Any team member that has had an important discussion usually leaves a brief summary note inside Timelines (unless there’s a written summary forwarded to a client, which also goes to Timelines)
- Messages get chronologically organized and deduplicated automatically. The app supports e-mail clients and messages from WhatsApp, with more integrations like Slack to come soon.
- I get to view a message and may expand to the entire conversation if I feel like I need more details. All the attachments get imported as well, so I always have them at hand.
So if you want to significantly reduce the time spent reviewing and discussing messages on meetings, try using Timelines.
Use TimelinesAI as it evolves and brings additional value to businesses that have a lot of negotiations in their workflow
My team and I use Timelines ourselves, so we know the pain it relieves firsthand and strive to make it even more valuable for businesses. We have a solid vision of the value that Timelines brings to a company. In two words, TimelinesAI enables you to own your business communication.
The app stores information about your accounts, agreements and the history of project negotiations. Timelines makes it easy to share this information across the whole team, in a way that ensures this knowledge will never be lost. It helps you to make informed decisions and improve your relations with your clients. As a bonus, you may share these messages as evidence in the exceptional case of disagreements.
In the not too distant future, we’re going to add more integrations with channels where your business communication takes place. Slack is the obvious one (we are already testing it internally), but maybe we should consider other channels that are vital for your business?
What else should we add? It is completely up to you because we are ready to listen.
Our goal is to make the app provides a level of value for which you’d be happy to pay. That’s why it is completely free now: we are offering our effort and resources for your feedback.
Try Timelines yourself and let me know what you think!