Clients are the life of any freelancer’s business. You should always be marketing to and talking to possible new clients to keep your pipeline full of work.

Let it drop off and you’d better go find a fridge box to live in.

Enter the CRM

If you don’t know what a CRM is lets get a definition from Wikipedia

Customer relationship management (CRM) is a model for managing a company’s interactions with current and future customers.

So it’s a system to help you interact with customers and leads easily.

For a while I used Trello to manage incoming clients. I simply created a card for each client with their contact information on it and moved it along a set of lists.

My Trello lists were:

  1. Prospects
  2. Meeting Scheduled
  3. Estimated
  4. Follow Up
  5. Won
  6. Lost
  7. When it’s slow

Most of those are pretty obvious so I’ll just mention the ‘When it’s slow’ list. That was longer term clients that often have work when I approach them or agencies that might be in the same boat.

Cards get due dates so I’d be notified when it was time to deal with the lead and that was about it.

A simple system.

I found a few problems with my Trello system though.

Problem 1: No centralized contact management

Getting a new customer means recording their contact information in my Mac Contacts book. Then I’d need to transfer the pertinent information to Trello.

Bah to repeated work.

I hate repeating myself. I hate repeating myself.

Problem 2: A lead is worth????

What is a lead worth and how much time have I spent on it? Is Client A worth $1000 but I’ve spent 10 hours on them? That means I’m loosing money if I figure my client acquisition at my effective hourly rate of $150.

Trello doesn’t provide a great way to list how much a lead is worth or to track how much time I’ve spent on a lead.

Problem 3: Analytics

This is a fault of Trello in general, it doesn’t have any analytics at all. Sure it has that gold feature that fades a card as it gets ‘old’ but that’s it.

I’d love to see all cards that I lost because I was priced too high. Or how about prospects that simply stopped replying. Maybe I thought the project was a bad fit and I backed out?

I tried to apply labels for these scenarios and yes it works but there are no views to really dive in to the data.

Problem 4: Lead Source Tracking

Yes this is still an analytics problem but it’s one that has weight on it’s own.

I want to know where my leads come from. Did I get $2k worth of work from one referral source or $20k? That makes a big difference and I want to know about it.

Maybe interviews on other sites/podcasts are the best lead source and I should work for more of those?

The thing is I just don’t know with Trello unless I dig through each card and pull the data into a spreadsheet.

Ugh spreadsheets.

Ugh 2x data entry.

So my Trello system ended up rotting away in favour of OmniFocus tasks that linked back to MailPlane. Using those 2 things meant that I didn’t have to double enter addresses since they were already on my Mac.

No it didn’t solve any of the other issues but I’m already invested in OmniFocus and GTD so it makes sense to stick with what you know till you find something better.

That quest to find something better is why I started trying other CRM tools.

In a few days we’ll be taking a good look at OnePageCRM which was my first stop of note in my look for a CRM solution.

6 responses to “Some initial thoughts on CRM tools”

  1. Glen Scott Avatar

    I use Base ( Simple to pick up, syncs contacts with Google Apps and isn’t overloaded with complicated features.

    1. Curtis McHale Avatar
      Curtis McHale

      OOooo I haven’t seen that one before. On my list to check out now.

  2. Jared Avatar

    I’ve had the same problems with CRMs – nothing fits the bill well.

    I ended up creating my own in WordPress, which works, but isn’t that great.

    The problem is they are all oriented for larger businesses. Finding a solution geared to sole owners/feeelancers would be ideal solution.

    1. Curtis McHale Avatar
      Curtis McHale

      I’ve started to build my own in WordPress and plan to get back to it at some point. I’d really like to move my whole PM system in to a WordPress plugin and even charge for parts. You know with all the free time I end up having.

  3. Shane Avatar

    Why don’t you use free next gen CRM solutions, like Bitrix24? Or Nimble?

    1. Curtis McHale Avatar
      Curtis McHale

      For starters, I’ve never heard of them till you just mentioned it.

      Another ‘hold’ for me is that they are ‘next generation’ apps. Seems like a great buzzword to apply to things that take the next logical step.

      Out of the 2 Bitrix24 looks like the most interesting since it integrates PM/Task functions in to the system. I hate going to 2 spots to see my things to do for the day.