Hi Bonnie. First of all, I want to say I love your weekly column. I am a Chicago actress and implement your tips wherever applicable in our market.

My current dilemma is spending too much time keeping multiple contact lists. I currently maintain an Excel spreadsheet that I use for mail merges I create in Word. I also have a Palm Pilot filled with contacts, which doesn’t currently sync to my PC. In addition, I have many emails saved in my Yahoo! address book. I know there is a better way to do all this, but I’m just not being smart about it. Any ideas to streamline my efforts?

Boy, do I ever feel you on this issue! I have close to 8000 contacts in my database. I am not kidding. And last year, I started “losing” contacts in the process of syncing my Palm OS device to Entourage on my Mac. Yeah, there were some tricks I could use to keep it all together, but even so, I would lose contact info on a couple of fields on a couple of profiles here and there and I’m anal-retentive enough to really hate that.

When I was acting, I used Microsoft Access to create a database of my casting contacts, after having used File Maker Pro for years before that. Neither really made me happy, basically because of the expense of the software and the rigidity in trying to do data merges like the kind you’re talking about between Excel and Word. The problem is, the more information you have, the more unwieldy this task is going to be. And, as I’m sure you’ve noticed, casting directors move around a lot. *sigh*

Just last week, I moved over to a BlackBerry handheld after eight years on Palm OS devices. I still sync with Entourage on my Mac (this would be equivalent to Outlook on non-Macs) and have been pretty happy with the lack of data loss, comparatively (but notice I didn’t say absence of data loss. It’s still not a perfect system). A friend and I were talking about options and revealed that we both still do hard-copy printouts of our contact files (she, quarterly. Me, annually) so that we have backups “just in case.” But that doesn’t help your data merge issues.

As I’ve mentioned in previous columns, I’ve really fallen in love with a Wiki-based database lately. This also doesn’t solve the data merge for label printing, but I’m betting it won’t be long before the Wiki-based system works exactly the way I need it to, while being an awesomely robust tool for managing scads of information, sorting in infinite ways (which I really value). I’d say we’re still in the alpha stages of this, though.

Now, here in LA, I know that most actors keep up with those nomadic casting folks through subscriptions to the Breakdown ServicesCD Directory, Acting World Books‘ guides (for agents and managers), and websites like CastingAbout.com (for TV series casting directors). While I’m not sure how easy any of that data is to get into your database (whatever software you may prefer) or to manage for mailing labels, I do know that some actors choose to simply “reinvent the wheel” with each new version, while using their own database for their more intimate contacts within the industry (read: people with whom they have a tighter relationship than the other 90% of folks in an industry mailing list or guide book). I’ve seen a couple of interesting threads recently at the Showfax message board and the PARF message board as well about actor organizational systems.

But, since I too struggle with “the ultimate record-keeping/contact management system,” I’m going to put out another call for readers to email me at the address below with their suggestions. Perhaps there is something really outstanding out there that isn’t on our radar yet! Believe me, if I had the time, I’d design a system tomorrow and sell it to the world. Heck, I’m already working on a little something like that with one of the five Wikis I own (details later this year), but that still doesn’t answer your question right now. So, let’s hear from you, actors of the world! How do you efficiently manage your industry contacts and, if you could have “the ultimate record-keeping/contact management system,” what features would it include? We’re standing by!

Bonnie Gillespie is living her dreams by helping others figure out how to live theirs. Wanna work with Bon? Start here. Thanks!

Originally published by Actors Access at http://more.showfax.com/columns/avoice/archives/000660.html. Please support the many wonderful resources provided by the Breakdown Services family. This posting is the author’s personal archive.

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