A business’ most valuable asset is its customers. This holds true for the largest enterprises to the smallest home offices operated by a sole proprietor. CRM (Customer Relationship Management) is software specifically for managing customer activity. As a business grows, maintaining contact information in a spreadsheet can become inefficient. That’s where CRM comes in handy as a platform for managing your clients and business contacts.
In some ways, an efficient CRM solution is even more critical for the small or solo business owner who typically wears many hats when running a business. Since there is usually no assistant to help manage customers and contact information, the small-business owner must depend on CRM.
Salesforce.com is the leader in the CRM industry. It’s a big company with a slew of product offerings. Its small-business CRM product is Sales Cloud, at a starting price of $25 per user, per month. Clearly, as a market leader, Salesforce is attractive to many businesses looking for a solid CRM solution. However, there are other CRM services available that are free-to-very low cost and let's face it, Salesforce may be “too much” CRM for a very small business especially one that’s self-operated.
What does the lone entrepreneur running her own business need in a CRM solution? First, many small-business owners are looking for affordability. As mentioned, free or low-cost CRM is available, and some of them are surprisingly feature-rich, such as Insightly and Zoho.
A solo business owner also can’t afford to spend precious time downloading and installing CRM software. Many CRM solutions—if not most—for small businesses, are cloud-based. Just sign up and start using.
Another time-suck is data entry. Particularly if you are running a business by yourself. Who can afford to sit and enter contact information: birthdays, follow-up reminders…etc. when they have a business to run? A good CRM solution for a sole proprietor will have some data automation so that a lot of excessive data entry is avoided.
When you operate your own business, you often do so on the go. A must for solo businesses is CRM that runs on mobile devices. A good CRM mobile app is one that allows you to access and perform the same tasks as if you were logged in via a desktop browser.
You want a CRM that integrates with other business apps. Your CRM should let you import contacts from external sources such as email, your mobile contacts, or spreadsheets. Social media is critical to running a business, so CRM should also integrate at least with Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn. Ideally, CRM will also tie in to many of the accounting, marketing and other business apps available.
Finally, a CRM service should offer ample support options. Free or low-cost CRM should provide access to an online knowledge base to search for help, and offer email support.
The 10 CRM services listed here adequately cover these requirements. They’re affordable; integrate with many third-party apps; offer some data automation via importing contacts and all have support options.
Act! Essentials is a good CRM solution for the small startup looking for time-management capabilities. For $10 per user, per month, Act! is cloud-based, can run on iOS and Android and is accessible via a desktop browser. Act! offers email campaign creation, allows you to add up to 500 contacts per month, provides call lists, time management capabilities and email campaign reporting. It integrates with both Google and iCloud.
Best for: The small start-up where time management is critical. Ideal for those looking to create email campaigns and those who don’t need to manage over 500 contacts on any given month.
2. Capsule CRM
A simple CRM solution with sales pipeline features, Capsule CRM is ideal for a solo business owner just starting out. You can use the free, entry-level service which supports up to 250 contacts and then use the next tier of service as your business grows. Features include sales pipeline, calendar, to-do lists, filtering and unlimited opportunities. The free subscription is cloud-based, accessible via browser or iOS and Android. Capsule integrates with a bevy of third-party apps including Google Apps, FreshBooks, MailChimp, NinjaForms and more. Support options include support by email and online help.
Best for: A small, sales-oriented business with a select customer set that requires a lot of opportunity tracking.
If your business’ survival depends on maintaining contacts and sales (think real estate agent or a baker looking to sell their culinary creations), a CRM solution loaded with features such as Insightly, is worth considering. It’s free for up to two users, supports up to 2500 records and has many of the capabilities of the pay-for level of subscriptions. Insightly offers five email templates and lets you send 10 mass emails per day. You can customize the interface with 10 custom fields (two per contact record). Other features include a calendar, event tracking, auto address book, notes, search, filtering, file sharing, notifications and much more. Data is secured with AES 256-bit encryption and automatically backed up. This cloud-based CRM is also available for iOS and Android. Insightly integrates with Google Apps, Evernote, Box, Dropbox, Google Drive, Microsoft OneDrive, Outlook, Office 365 and the free level of service provides 200MB of storage.
Best for: The small business owner who heavily relies on email marketing. Also ideal for those who require certain business data security standards and those wanting included, automated backup of data.
For the entrepreneur looking for automated integration between contacts and social media (think marketers, PR people and other social media stars), Nimble may be the perfect CRM fit. A key feature is Signals Tab (currently in beta), which presents notifications across LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter and automates contact reminders with important details.
Nimble also tracks contact history, auto-fills contact records from emails, and analyzes shared interests using keywords and topics to tell you why any contact is of interest and relevance. Pricing is $15 per user, per month and versions are available on iOS and Android. Nimble integrates with Google, HootSuite, FreshBooks, Evernote, MailChimp and more. Users receive 5GB of cloud storage space and additional space is available in 25GB increments for another $25 per account, per month.
Best for: The business owner who uses social media often for customer communications and marketing. Ideal for those with a business that has a lot of web presence.
5. Nutshell CRM
At $20 per user, per month, Nutshell CRM is the priciest pick of our choices for CRM solutions for solo businesses. However, if your business contact management focus is on leads, you may want to consider Nutshell. With it, you can set individual lead confidence. Nutshell also lets you place calls right from a contact’s information with a click. It also has task management, bulk email templates, sales process views, activity reports and contact importing. Nutshell provides unlimited cloud storage. It runs on iOS and Android and integrates with third-party services including Google Apps, Microsoft Exchange, Twitter, RingCentral, ZenDesk and more.
Best for: Business that require a very end-to-end way to track deals from leads to closing.
OnePage CRM is quite a deal at $12 per user, per month (or $11 per user, per month, annually, with one month free) for its capabilities. It’s ideal CRM if your focus is organizing and collecting a lot of contacts because it supports an unlimited amount. While it’s fairly simple and not as feature-packed as Insightly or some other CRM services, it still has all the main components of CRM including sales pipeline, activity and marketing insight, note-taking and reporting. OnePageCRM is available in iOS and Android versions and integrates with MailChimp, Xero, Skype, Twitter, Evernote and more apps.
Best for: A small business on a budget with the primary goal of organizing hundreds or thousands of contacts.
One of the more expensive CRM offerings listed here at $19 per user, per month (but that’s for 1-5 users!), Prosperworks provides some unique CRM tools including a highly-visual sales pipeline and automated customer research. This app searches the cloud for information on contacts such as their name, titles, social media profiles and more. In addition, Prosperworks lets you add up to 30,000 records; conducts sales forecasting; and gives the ability to create five custom fields in records. There are versions for iOS and Android and it integrates with a host of other apps including MailChimp, Gmail and Dropbox.
Best for: Business owners who prefer very visual tools to track sales and opportunities. Also ideal for those who need to do sales projections.
Streak is a free, lightweight CRM plug-in for Gmail that supports up to five users. If you tend to conduct most of your business from your Inbox and are looking for more powerful contact management then email extends, Streak may be of interest.
There are different packages available to add to Gmail all correlated with CRM: Sales, Product Development, Deal Flow, Fundraising, Support, Hiring and Real Estate. Streak also has several tools including View Tracking, Send Later and Mail Merge to add for a richer email experience. Streak also lets you share contacts, emails and files with others.
Best for: The small business owner who prefers to work from email and does not want to implement a lot of third-party apps to run a business.
9. Vtiger CRM
For the more technical user looking for a customizable CRM app, open-source Vtiger CRM is an option. Pricing is $12 per user, per month (or $10, annually). Vtiger delivers contact and pipeline management; leads and opportunities; Web-to-lead forms; document management; a quote builder; email campaigns (10,000 emails per month) and reporting. It integrates with Outlook, Microsoft Exchange, Google, Quickbooks, Asterisk, PayPal, MailChimp, DropBox, DocuSign, Office 365, Zapier and more. There are versions for both iOS and Android.
Best for: The more technical business owner looking for a free and highly-customizable CRM solution.
10. Zoho CRM
Zoho has made quite a name in the CRM industry and is emerging as a leader in the space. That is because it is very feature-rich competing with other heavyweights such as Insightly and Salesforce. The lowest-tier of service is still at a very approachable price point for a small business; $15 per user, per month (or $12 annually).
Zoho offers sales forecasting; reports & dashboards; a document library; marketing campaigns; mass email and product customization. Users can add up to 10,000 records. Zoho is available for iOS and Android and integrates with almost any other business app you can think of including Wordpress, Gmail, Zendesk and so many more.
Best for: The business owner looking for a very feature-heavy CRM or an alternative to Salesforce.