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 System
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
SalesForce.com 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.

How To Get More Clients

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Comments

  1. says

    If you don’t like online CRM apps to much because of privaicy concerns, you should check out DAISHO (www.daisho-blacksmith.com), an integrated goal-, time and conatct management solution, developed with the self-employed professional in mind.

    It has some neat features such as a contact radar, which shows you based on your conatct history which clients or simply people in your personal network need some attention…

  2. says

    I checked out Highrise their free version and I came to the same conclusion that I had with Salesforce is that I will be a bother to sync all the contact information I have in Gmail and LinkedIn. I like the Cases concept to group an event, group or a sales quote.

  3. says

    GREAT tips. Thanks so much for the info. I actually hate to admit I was keeping client info in Excel, updating everything manually, sad I know. I think I’ll go with Zoho.

    Thanks again!

    Rebekah

  4. says

    Fantastic post :-)

    I’ve tried every CRM solution on the planet (at least it seems that way) and I agree with all of your points here.

    The real trick is to find a solution that is robust enough to meet your needs, cheap enough to be affordable, and easy enough that you will be happy using it. It takes a lot of hard work to find a solution that meets those requirements.

  5. says

    I, too, tried out everything from Highrise to Salesforce for Google Apps. I finally re-settled on Zoho CRM and just about everything else in their suite. I am just a one-person business, although my husband does some of the writing along with his full-time job.

    Highrise has great ideas, but just isn’t enough…I need more than just a contact manager. Salesforce is way past overkill for a 1 1/2 person shop; plus you have to buy any other complimentary programs you might want.

    Zoho is perfectly in the middle; plus it’s FREE for three users or less. I just sent a quote to a client this morning; he accepted it and paid me this afternoon! I also got my first overseas client about a month or so; I am sure that “looking professional” has helped me land some clients. Plus, I also use Zoho Invoice…I love the way my clients can just click and the money’s in my Paypal account! It works like a dream for my UK client!

    If I sound like a commercial for Zoho, it’s on purpose: since I pay so little to use the Zoho Suite, I might as well help them get more (and hopefully larger) customers! If you’re a little bit or more larger than me, Zoho’s still really cost-effective. The time I spend on the CRM seems like a lot, but it keeps me focused and everything’s connected and all in the same place.

  6. says

    @waterprise — I’ve looked at ZOHO crm before and was turned off by the somewhat-strict system they have for leads.

    It seems like it needs to be lead — prospect — client — account, and there are no other options. In your usage, have you just stuck with their system or have you found another way?

    – Mason

  7. says

    This is an excellent article which I believe will help a lot of people out there better manage their operations. The points mentioned are great, a CRM Software Solution offers its users a single place to store all information whether it is contact info, notes, opportunities or anything else. One vendor not mentioned here that I believe is worth mention is Salesboom.com. I came across their site doing a search for freelance CRM where I found an entire page dedicated to freelance CRM Software. Still which ever vendor someone chooses they will wonder how they ever survived without it before.

  8. says

    Great post !

    I am just starting out and i am slowly piecing together the required systems and processes to start my freelance business.

    I have taken the davice of waterprise2 and i am currently trialling ZOHO CRM. I have to say that it looks really good but very complicated, Once i get my head around all the terminology I’m sure it will be fine.

    @waterprise2 You said that you use “ZOHO invoice” to invoice clients ? does this integrate well into CRM ? why don’t you use the invoicing features in CRM ?

    Thanks for all your efforts

    Shane

    and looks extremely similar to sales force (which my company use), but its free!

    I

  9. says

    A new alternative to check out is Jexxe Freelancer, designed specifically for freelancers and small business, it covers invoicing, project management and simple CRM from both an admin and client perspective. Its also integrated with PayPal and supports easy setup of PayPal subscriptions.
    Its a downloadable product that you can host on your own website so its also completely re-brandable. Its not free but is pretty cheap and you only have to pay once, no monthly subscriptions :-)
    http://www.jexxe.com

  10. says

    Thanks for this helpful post. I checked out all three you mentioned, and a few others, but have decided to start with Zoho CRM. Free version has just the right amount for a one-person freelance operation, as far as I can tell so far. (I do website content writing and optimization which means I’m juggling many clients and prospects at once.)

    I also looked at sugarcrm, bigcontacts, and jexxe. All have something good to offer but Zoho seemed to fit just right for now. I sound like Goldilocks.

    Good luck everyone. Thanks again.

  11. Sarah Laycock says

    Great post – oh so true :)

    We have been using a new CRM solution – http://www.s3crm.com
    It provides us with basic contact management, calendar, project management and also helps us provide quotes and invocies to our customers.
    You don’t have to download any software as it is all web-based, you can access from internet enable devices – it has been great with the iphone :)

    We have been using the free trial – I would recommend it.

    Sarah

  12. says

    Capsule CRM – it’s cheap and without doubt the best investment I made when I started a business. I recommend it to all my contractors who I believe would make good use of it.

  13. says

    I can recommend you to visit the Workfocetrack. We started using this about 1 and a half years ago and I can surely say that software developers are improving the system and apps all the time. And one of the advantages is that their software is also available for iPhones.

    If you are interested in it, you should visit Workfocetrack

  14. says

    I’ve worked for a few companies before I started my own and they implemented CRM systems that were either never used or used improperly. That seems to be the biggest challenge with these things.

  15. says

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  16. says

    While I think most companies could benefit from using a CRM system for managing sales leads, the degree to which you integrate it with your website will depend on how many online conversion points exist on your site and how much you rely on the web to generate new business. Likewise, not every company needs to build in a lead management automation system in conjunction with their CRM system.

  17. says

    Amazing blog! Do you have any helpful hints for aspiring writers?

    I’m planning to start my own blog soon but I’m a little lost
    on everything. Would you suggest starting with a free platform like WordPress or go for a paid option?
    There are so many options out there that I’m completely overwhelmed .. Any tips? Thank you!

  18. Krystian says

    Excellent site you have here.. It’s hard to find high quality writing like yours nowadays. I seriously appreciate individuals like you! Take care!!

  19. says

    Look at Clevertim CRM (www.clevertim.com), it’s a quick CRM app – one page app. When you have to update your CRM every day, all those server refreshes are really slowing you down.

  20. says

    Hey there,

    Great post. I’m actually currently looking for a CRM and I could not believe how many exist. I think I’m going to just go with one of the ones you mentioned and hope that one of them works out best.

    It helps to know that I may be shopping around for a little bit before find the right one. That helps me pick one now and simply select another if I feel my needs aren’t being met.

    Thanks for the great post!
    Tony @ InboundMastery.com

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