If you'd like to listen to a recording instead of reading, you can do that here.
Your CRM system is like the lungs of your business. Data should flow in and out, keeping your business moving. There are so many systems out there, with a range of features and levels of complexity, that it can be hard to know which to use.
I’m often asked whether there are any good, free CRM systems for small businesses. Yes, there are, but you get what you (don’t) pay for and each works better for a slightly different use case. So here are a few free CRM systems you can start using straight away, albeit with basic features.
Free CRM systems tend to limit:
- the number of records you can store
- the number of people that can access the system
- how much automation is available
- whether you can track correspondence or not
Airtable is an online database that may be configured as a CRM system. It’s not designed with CRM as its core focus but it’s very flexible and there are lots of free CRM templates you can use. At the time of writing it’s free up to about 1200 records, which is probably enough for a very small business. You’ll need to do some setup with a “moderate” learning curve, depending on how technical you are.
Coda is very similar to Airtable but with, arguably, more flexibility. You can use it to create a range of business tools, including a CRM system. Like Airtable there are a load of CRM templates you can copy. Again, it’ll need some setup which may put off the less technically-minded but you get to customise it to your needs. The limitations are the number of records and automation you can have running.
Zoho has a set of commercial applications that tightly integrate with each other, so it’s possible to run your entire business using their tools. However, you end up paying for them all separately and it can get expensive. It’s a dedicated CRM system though, so, while there’s a bit of configuration to get started, it has many of the features small businesses need. They have a free forever version for up to 3 team members. It’s got the basics like lead, deal and contact tracking, but be prepared for the upsell ;)
These guys are pretty aggressive with the upsell but it’s a solid CRM system with deal management, sales workflows, some marketing automation and more. The free version is limited to 15 users, which is quite a lot for smaller businesses. I don’t particularly like the user interface, but it’s not to be sniffed at as a free CRM system.
HubSpot is without doubt a leader in the category. Their dedicated CRM systems range up to enterprise support. The free version is pretty powerful, supporting deal tracking, sales pipeline, up to 1M contacts, unlimited users, email tracking, live chat and reporting. However, I’m often asked to help people with their HubSpot setup because it can be complicated to change something seemingly simple. It’s not quite Microsoft in its level of intentional obfuscation, but it’s close. Customisation on the free version is pretty limited. Worth noting, too, that the free version gives you about 80% of what you want, with the other 20% being in their increasingly expensive paid-for add-ons. They’re not a charity.
I like Capsule. I like it so much I'm an affiliate. I’ve tried zillions of CRM systems and I find Capsule gives me the features I need for my business. It might not suit your needs but they’re worth trying out. I love the email tracking, deal pipeline, contact management, social profile research for contacts and the overall interface for web and apps just works for me. The integration with my accounting software is great too. They’ve just added Projects so you can use it as a project management tool too. Nice. There’s a free version for 2 users and a rather paltry 250 contacts, but that might be enough for a really small business.
There are more CRM systems out there. Sooo many more, but of the ones I’ve used, these have the best free offer.
Setup and Configuration
I’m a CRM system geek, so if you need help getting set up, just let me know.
Here are some things you might find interesting...
Stagetimer is a remote-controlled countdown timer. If you’re doing public speaking or need to give speakers a visible countdown, you can set it up in your browser and the speaker can see the countdown on their phone or tablet. It’s good for virtual conferences too - just upload the agenda.
Enter your domain and see if there are any potential issues with your email deliverability.
ConvertKit Automation to Manage Newsletter Subscribers
If you’re running a newsletter it’s good practice to use double opt-in to keep the list clean and bot-free. This approach from Jason Resnick explains how to use ConvertKit to automate the process of managing new and cold subscribers.
Thanks for reading. If you're happy with your existing free CRM system I'd love to know what it is, so please get in touch.