The Freelancer’s Introduction to CRM

Managing Contacts with CRMIt’s a freelancer’s worst nightmare: losing the contact information of a potential customer worth thousands of dollars. No matter how the situation happened, you’ll wind up going crazy trying to track down that info.

It can get worse, too: maybe you had made some notes about the specifics of the project. Maybe they were on the back of the business card you can’t find, but, wherever you are, you’re going to look disorganized when you ask for those details again.

Want to wake up from this nightmare? Want an easy way to keep track of your customers and their information? You need a CRM system — aka Customer Relationship Management.

What is CRM?

Usually software-based, CRM systems allow you to store all your information on current and prospective customers in one place. While you can go old school with a Rolodex or set of folders, there are thousands of software options available in varying price ranges.

There are a number of approaches to CRM, depending on which software package you decide on. All of them, even creating a manual system, can significantly improve the way you manage your clients.

Types and Terminology of CRM Systems

CRM systems can be complicated, and that’s not a good thing. For a freelancer who just wants to make life a little easier, these difficulties are often enough to kill the deal.

In an effort to help you make sense of all things CRM, we’ve broken down the most common terms and types of CRM systems. When you’re out shopping for CRM, you can refer back to here for these quick definitions of which things do what.

  • Contact Management is the most basic form of CRM. Simply, contact management means keeping track of customer information. There are some systems that are dedicated only to this, but generally it is something that’s included in all types of CRM systems.
  • Operational CRM helps support anyone involved in sales, marketing and service providing— these systems record interactions with customers, such as products sold and support calls, and basically help you keep track of day-to-day interactions and plans.
  • Sales Force Automation provides the ability to track leads, schedule sales calls and record interactions. This sort of software is especially crucial if more than one person handles sales for a business, so that each sales person knows the status with each client.
  • Analytical CRM is primarily for designing and carrying through on targeted marketing campaigns. If, for instance, you wanted to sell a certain upgrade to all of the customers that bought a product from you in the last year, this data can help you create a marketing campaign. It’s also used for management decisions, like determining how profitable certain customers are.
  • Sales Intelligence CRM is similar to Analytical CRM, although the reports generated by such software programs focus more on predicting customer trends and sales performance. This is typically a feature included in the more expensive and robust systems.
  • Campaign Management is a subset of Operational and Analytical CRM. This feature has a narrow focus that includes creating lists of contacts for marketing campaigns (such as newsletters and mass mailings). Campaign management programs can also help track and analyze customer responses.
  • Collaborative CRM is honestly a bit overkill for most freelancers — it’s a system set up for companies where clients have contact with multiple departments, such as sales and technical support, to make sure that everyone in the company knows how to handle a given client.
  • Geographic CRM combines Analytical CRM with geographic information to narrow down regional information. Geographic CRM is another variety that isn’t especially useful for most freelancers.

While your freelance business probably won’t need many of these features, some of them are useful for businesses of every size. Campaign Management, Analytical CRM, and Operational CRM can all be very useful to freelancers.

3 CRM Systems for Freelancers

Highrise CRM
Highrise is a CRM system that focuses entirely on contact management. You can store contact information such as phone numbers, emails, addresses, etc… There are basic task capabilities, a basic calendar, and the ability to keep notes for each client. Many freelancers will find this to be the best solution to start with, since it is both cheap and easy to use, but for those who are looking for a fully featured system this might not be right for you.

Zoho CRM is one product that combines many of the most useful aspects of CRM. It’s a web-based application with a free version, perfect for freelancers just starting on CRM. Zoho also offers a Professional Edition at $12 per month and an Enterprise Edition at $25 per month. Zoho CRM has the sales and marketing tools, as well as functions for customer support and service. It also has an integrated inventory management system, although that may not be a tool that many freelancers find useful. The application can also generate a variety of reports and help you to analyze your sales and marketing information.

SalesForce - Complete CRM is a CRM program that some larger freelancers might find useful. It has every feature you can think of, and represents one of the top methods for tracking and automating sales. While many freelancers will find it overkill and expensive, for some who are in the right position it could make a world of difference.

The above 3 systems are only a small portion of the options available in the market. CRM systems come in every flavor from small to large and from free to really expensive. The only real way to find the system that works for you is to go out and try a few.

The Bottom Line

For any CRM software to be worth your while, you need to use it. It’s just like bookkeeping: ignore it and you’ll wind up with a mess on your hands. While messing up your CRM isn’t quite as dire as bad accounting procedures — the IRS doesn’t really care about your Rolodex — ignoring the issue can cost you potential clients and new contracts. But if you find a solid CRM solution, even one of your own devising, you can simplify the work you put into marketing your business and finding new clients.