What Is The Best CRM For Startups, Freelancers, and Agencies?

Having a good CRM in place for your business is extremely crucial, especially when you begin your outbound process and start to hire out the sales team.

Even if you’re just a freelancer or a one-man agency, you will eventually need some sort of CRM to keep all your contacts in place.

Personally, in the past, I’ve used a CRM for my past startups that suit a team setting more. Then I used a separate CRM for my personal growth consulting business.

Most people think of SalesForce when they think of CRM, but there’s actually a lot of alternatives out there that can work well with you from the beginning and will cost much less.

I’ve used Salesforce and boy was the learning curve high, but it was necessary because, at the time that I used it, I was employed as Head of Growth at a bigger startup. They had a big sales team and it was necessary for all the integrations, reporting, and more.

But hell, I would NEVER use Salesforce for any of my startups if it was any less than 20 people.

I’ve personally tried most of the well known CRMs out there and can honestly say that there are pros and cons for everyone of them. I’ll try to make the best recommendation based on your needs below.

Quick note: NONE of the following CRMs that I mention are affiliate links of any sort. I am not affiliated with any of the companies. All reviews are from my own experience.

1. Cloze

I recently just started to use Cloze for my own freelance and growth consulting business and I LOVE it. It’s a new discovery, but hey we’re in tech, we need to always be keeping up.

I think of Cloze as an AI supercharged CRM on steroids.

Cloze is the no-work way to see everything about your contacts in one place. Email, phone calls, meetings, notes, follow-ups and social.

It’s a “smart” CRM where they show auto reminders for people that you need to follow up on etc. You don’t really need to do much on your own and they handle all the automation for you.

Now, I do have to say that this isn’t necessarily the best CRM for bigger sales teams, but it works well as a personal CRM for me.

For example, it reminded me to follow up with a potential client that I totally forgot about from a few months back.

Price: Free ; has paid packages

2. Streak CRM

One of my most favorite CRM out there. Streak integrates directly into your Gmail’s inbox, so that you don’t have to keep switching back and forth between different external tools.

I’ve used this for my small sales team at my previous startup and it works well. The only thing I didn’t like about Streak is that their UX/UI is kind of janky, however the benefit of not having to navigate across multiple tabs or send email from another app makes it a blessing.

Collaborate with a single click. Share contacts, email, files, and anything else needed to get the job done. With Streak, you could also set pipelines and share them with your teammates.

In addition to that, Streak also comes with mail merge for bulk mailing, email trackers to see if your invoices are being opened :), as well as an easy note taking sidebar all within your gmail.

One thing I was really amazed with Streak is how they allow you to integrate with almost anything you can think of. You can integrate with stuff like Pandadoc to see when your documents and proposals are open.

Price: Free; has paid packages

3. Hubspot

A lot of people didn’t know that Hubspot actually has a free CRM. Their full suite product may be a little bit too pricey for the average startup, but their CRM is free and works really well.

The thing I like the most about Hubspot’s CRM is that it is a full suite CRM that comes with all the features that you need to get things rolling for your sales team.

The Hubspot CRM allows you to control your content, channels and marketing performance while getting a 360 degree view of the people who matter most to your company from your dashboard. It also comes with the the funnels mappings, pipelines, task, company information and many more.

You can add custom fields, filter records, select and organize columns, and save different views easily.

The most powerful thing is that HubSpot CRM is closely integrated with the HubSpot Marketing Platform. Effortlessly capture, score, and hand off leads to your sales team.

Now there’s a big downside to Hubspot that I dont like. First of all, customising everything is very difficult because Hubspot does not allow you to do a lot of customizations.

You can’t change the lifecycle tags and a lot of other things, so it can get clunky.

It’s a VERY BASIC CRM that you can scale with, but don’t rely too much on it unless you’re planning to sign up for their marketing suite as well.

It’s also somewhat a “freemium” kind of thing where you only get a certain number of free email tracking per month.

Personally, I wouldn’t use it again as my main CRM for both personal or company use.

Price: FREE

4. Close.io

I had to add Close to the list.

Just getting started and looking for a robust CRM with phone systems integrated?

Then Close.io is the best way to go. With Close.io, you can make and receive calls with just 1-click.

All calls are logged automatically (no manual data entry!). Lead activity information pops up as soon as the phone rings so the data you need is always at your finger tips.

I personally think it’s a quick and simple alternative to SalesForce, so perfect for startups. It’s not free but comes with all the stuff that is necessary to get things rolling, like email tracking, bulk mailing etc.

It’s actually a quite robust platform and they have a good dedicated onboarding team that can help you set things up.

Now, I’ve tested it and personally didn’t feel comfortable with it. It felt quite overwhelming and a lot of features were all over the place. Nothing was really straight-forward, but I guess that’s why they have an onboarding team.

Aside from the fact that they have the phone features, I don’t see a reason for me to personally use Close.io when there are better and cheaper alternatives.

Price: $59/user/month

5. PipeDrive

Pipedrive is what I mainly used when my sales team for GrowthOK had 3 people. We relied on Pipedrive to track all the engagements. You can find most of their features on their website, but let me list out what I loved about them.

  • Really damn simple to use; It was so simple to the point where I questioned if I was missing something while setting it up.
  • Get up and running in minutes.
  • Really easy to customize and set pipelines. Looks similar to a Kaban board.
  • Awesome chrome extension for you to add contacts within your Gmail.
  • Very affordable – happy to pay more
  • Very nice integration with Slack.

Now nothing is perfect. The downside is that it is still a CRM that you have to use in another tab and you still have to set up the task etc.

Aside from that, it is the perfect CRM for a smaller sized team or freelancer to keep track of their projects and clients.

In a way, Pipedrive felt like a sales version of the task management app Trello.

Price: $12/User/Month

6. Bootstrapper style!

What if you don’t have any cash or don’t have enough customers to start using a CRM? You can always start with something dead simple like an excel sheet.

We did this with our first 5 customers!! haha. What happens if you have more than 10–15 customers, but still don’t want to use a CRM yet? You can use Trello! Assign task to each project and get creative with the funnels.

If you’re a freelancer, using a free system like Trello is a great way to manage your client’s work as well as use it as a CRM.

Don’t overthink things!

7. Airtable

Now Airtable isn’t meant to be a CRM at all. Matter of fact it is a very powerful app that I love. I just wish that it was more than just a spreadsheet, but you can do SO MUCH with it.

It’s also free and I would use it over Trello. There is a slight learning curve, but it’s not that overwhelming at all.

You can use it for content planning, tracking analytics, ad spent, managing payroll, whatever you can think of.

It’s a supercharged version of Google sheets.

But I’ve personally used it as a CRM for CryptoMeNow to track sponsorship deals and to manage the ad calendar for sponsors.

It worked really well and they have a lot of default templates for you to use including a CRM one.

If you’re in the market for something super basic, yet more powerful than Google sheets/Trello, then Airtable might be a good option for you!

Conclusion

I started off with just a spreadsheet and a note pad to track my leads.

Yeah, never again, but it was budget-friendly and I didn’t have to pay a cent, plus it got the job done so why not?

Use what works for you and your situation. You can always upgrade later on.

Would love to hear from you guys as well. What CRM are you guys using now for your projects? Did I miss anything on this list that you think should be on here? Reach out to me anytime @itswilson8 or wilsonpeng23@gmail.com

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