How To Successfully Implement A Freelance CRM Program
Freelancing isn’t easy: you’re the only person around to do all the administration, finance, and the actual work you’re contracted to do. It can be very daunting when you start out wearing so many hats. It’s very tempting to make decisions that are short term – like recording your hours by hand in a notebook, or creating an invoice in Word, but as you build your business, these decisions don’t scale. You also don’t have the ability to get a top-line view of your accounts to see the cadence each client might have, and you definitely won’t be able to proactively upsell your clients on new work.
The solution is as old as sales itself: Customer Relationship Management. Regardless of what your business is, having as many notes and details about your clients as possible and being able to anticipate client needs is paramount to client retention and satisfaction. By being meticulous, you can grow your client base faster and easier through positive word-of-mouth and deepening relationships with existing clients.
The most important thing to keeping your CRM initiatives up-to-date and easily accessible (thus promoting regular use) is to make sure your software or services all sync to the cloud, so you’re never without the most current information.
Though your mileage may vary, here’s a list of the best free or no-cost apps to help you handle CRM tasks easily.
For Prospecting/Contact List Generation: Highrise
When you’re starting out, it’s easy to keep in touch with a handful of clients, but as you grow, you’ll amass a list of additional stakeholders for projects and new business. It helps to keep everyone organized and connected to one another in one place. That place is a content management app like Highrise. Highrise lets you import contact information to “cards” in the database where you can add pertinent additional information like “Executive assistant’s name is Sandy. Doesn’t work on Fridays. Prefers reports in PowerPoint.” or anything else you can think of that’s relevant. You can also log any contacts you have with these clients in case you need to know what their contact cadence is (or how long it takes for them to get back to you on average). Highrise has a free tier available.
For Proposals And Templates: Google Documents
Google Documents is 100% free and 100% cloud-based, allowing you to build templates for documents that you can edit and send from anywhere at any time, from virtually any device. What’s nice about Google Documents is that if you share Documents directly from your Document Drive, you can see when someone opens your files.
For Project Management and Approvals: Basecamp
Basecamp changed the project management game in great ways. Moving away from Gantt charts and unwieldy project documents, Basecamp focuses on deliverables and approvals. Because it’s 100% in the cloud, all you need are client email addresses to share projects with, and to solicit approvals right from email.
For Estimates, Time Tracking and Invoices: FreshBooks
One of the biggest chores when you start freelancing is getting paid. Do not buy into the temptation of just making invoices in Excel or Word. Freshbooks is one of a few great cloud-based options for managing books that is fairly seamless once you set up your client information in the service. Freshbooks partially automates time tracking, invoicing, and payment (you can set up being paid by PayPal, if you choose). You’ll be able to see easily what you have outstanding and by how many days, which helps immensely when you’re starting out. It also helps if you ever have to deal with an accounting department – everything is timestamped.
For Meeting Notes: Evernote
Any time you sit down with a client, whether over the phone or in person, you should be taking notes. It’s important to have everyone on the same page. Evernote syncs in real time and you can share notes easily.
For Day-to-Day Communication: Boomerang
Lastly, to make sure you’re effectively communicating, consider a service like Boomerang to help you track your conversations. It’s a simple plug-in for the most commonly used email programs to help you remind yourself if you haven’t heard back from a client in a specific amount of time, tell you whether a client has opened an email, or let you send emails later. This helps keep project momentum going and makes sure clients feel taken care of.
It’s important to have the correct administrative procedures in place if you’re a one-person-show. These tasks can take valuable time away from you building a business if you don’t have an organized, easy, readily accessible plan in place to keep your projects in motion, stay in contact with stakeholders, and get paid on time.