How Using a CRM Can Help Grow Your Freelance Business
By Maddy Osman on May 29, 2018
Have you ever felt completely disorganized when it comes to client communications and the various stages of prospecting new clients?
Without some level of organization it’s not uncommon to:
- Forget to follow up with a prospective client who’s not ready now, but has indicated their interest at a later date.
- Forget who you’ve already pitched. Or forget to add relevant details related to expectations, pricing, or even mutual interests.
- Forget to follow up with a promising prospective client while getting lost in day to day client work and other business activities.
- Have zero understanding of how much prospective business is in your pipeline of possibilities, which can affect how much of your day you should spend on business development, and how much of your day you spend executing client work.
Can you identify with any of the aforementioned situations? If so, there’s an impossibly easy solution to your problems: a CRM.
What is Customer Relationship Management (CRM) Software?
Anyone who deals with more than one client, or who is actively looking for more, should be using Customer Relationship Management (CRM) software to keep track of their efforts.
Though every business (and even every department) uses this software in their own unique way, a common application is salespeople who use CRM software to understand what deal stages they’re currently at with each prospect.
Any good salesperson knows that there’s a big difference between giving a presentation and getting a verbal (or preferably, signed) agreement.
As a freelancer who is managing many clients and who is constantly pitching for new business, you are the salesperson for your services. So adapt the tools of organization available to you by using a CRM to make sure you never miss out on, or completely botch, an excellent freelance opportunity.
Here’s how a CRM can help grow your freelance business.
Identify Your CRM Perfect Fit
The sales CRM industry has seen a lot of new entries in the past few years. The number one player, Salesforce, only has 19.6% of the market. With innumerable third-party integrations (like Adobe Sign for online contracts, and Mailchimp for email campaigns), continuous software improvements/investments, and the ability to easily scale for new hires, Salesforce connects with a lot of apps and therefore has a broad range of functionality.
That said, a top player comes with a top price tag, which can be hard for freelance writers to stomach. For bare-bones access to this cloud-based CRM, you can expect to pay $25/month/user (upfront, as an annual charge—but there’s a free trial available before committing completely).
There are many benefits to sticking with, Salesforce. When using Cirrus Insight’s sales productivity tools, you’ll be able to easily sync email activity to Salesforce, schedule follow up activity with Flight Plans, and view prospect data at-a-glance so you never forget anything important.
If you don’t need Salesforce integration, there is also a Cirrus Insight product for you. Cirrus Insight’s sales productivity tools also include meeting scheduling capabilities, email tracking tools, and attachment tracking. You’ll also be able to use Flight Plans to help automate follow up activity with prospects. With all this actionable data at your fingertips, the prospect of business development may seem a little less intimidating.
If you’re just getting started with freelancing and have to justify every penny spent on tools, know that there are plenty of free/cheap options that will get the job done in accordance with your unique needs.
A few additional CRM options worth your consideration:
- Hubspot’s Sales CRM: Free with no record (contacts) restrictions, with some paid add-ons (that you probably don’t need as a freelancer just getting started). Hubspot gets pretty pricey once you get into the paid options.
- Insightly: Free with a large number of records, but it’s not unlimited. Additional users require a $12/month upgrade.
- Zoho CRM: Free tool from a company known for offering great business software. This specific offering is more suitable for small business than a large organization. An upgrade with additional features is available at $12/month.
Besides price considerations, you’ll also want to keep in mind various CRM features that may or may not be relevant to your freelance business, including:
- Multiple users (do you have a virtual assistant who helps with scheduling?)
- Ability to capture leads from your website
- Custom reports
- Integrated email tracking
- Customer support (phone and email)
Do a little research and create accounts for multiple CRMs that hit all your must-haves before deciding on the one. Although most CRMs have data export features, it can be hard to get the exact same setup that you know and love when switching from one to another.
Setup Your CRM for Your Unique Business Goals
Once you’ve found your perfect CRM, most of the hard work is over. The next step is to familiarize yourself with this new business software tool, and set it up in a way that will help you accomplish important business objectives.
Connect with Your Business Email
A good CRM will help you automatically log and act on email conversations with clients and prospective clients.
Before you carry on with your regular business communications, make sure that your CRM has been successfully integrated with your business email. Usually, a Gmail account is most compatible with various CRM software options, but many CRMs have also integrated functionality with Outlook.
Once the email integration step is completed, depending on your chosen tool/integrations, you’ll be able to:
- Track email conversations (a great way to judge interest/whether or not a client has received an important message)
- Easily implement customizable email templates, such as pitches or standard responses
- Easily/automatically log conversations with prospects and clients, so you have documentation of the last time you’ve connected with them (and determine when to follow up)
Cirrus Insight does all these things when integrated with Salesforce, and many as a standalone product for Gmail without Salesforce.
Set up/Fill up Your Sales Pipeline
Your sales pipeline is composed of the various prospects you’re currently pitching, and how far along you are in getting their business (usually represented by a named deal stage or percentage possibility of getting their business), in addition to the estimated monetary amount that business is worth.
Consult 4 Sales provides a basic structure for understanding the complete sales process, that you can adapt to use when constructing your own deal stages:
Your deal stages may look different than these, based on your own process, and that’s ok! Set them up according to what makes sense to you. But before making a permanent decision, check your CRM to see how the naming of deal stages is handled—it might be inflexible without paying for more customization.
Once you’ve decided on your personal deal stages (don’t worry, you can always change these later), start logging client contacts, and determining the associated deal stages with each party.
The effect of using a CRM to help grow your freelance business is as much relief in having a sense of organization as it is reassurance that even if a prospective client hasn’t hired you yet, you’ve got a lot of irons in the fire.
Looking at your prospects across all of these different stages can reassure you in a tough month, so long as you’re actively working to move each prospect along to the next deal stage. On that note, it also serves as a reminder to follow up with a potential client that you haven’t chatted with recently.
Final Thoughts: How a CRM Can Help Grow Your Freelance Business
The hardest parts of using a CRM to grow your freelance business are:
- Picking one that fits your needs and budget and
- Understanding how best to use it
Once you’ve completed these two important steps, there are so many benefits to be gained.
Will you be using a CRM to grow your freelance business? What CRM usage tips would you add to this list? And what questions do you have? Have a CRM you like to use? Sound off on Twitter by tweeting at @CirrusInsight!