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

If you enjoy what I’m writing or need help with growth/content consulting reach out to me and subscribe to my newsletter below!

 

These Are Some of The Worst Cold Emails I’ve Ever Received

Cold emailing is an art. Just like martial arts it takes a lot of practice, a lot of grinding, and a lot of trial and error.

Cold emailing receives a lot of bad rep, but it’s still the most efficient and cost-effective way for accomplishing anything in life.

You can use it to follow up with job offers. You can use it to gain early traction for your business and you can use it for networking. Your options are endless.

Cold emailing isn’t the most “fun” thing to do, but it works. Most people still check their emails on a day to day basis and it’s the most efficient way of contacting a lead.

The thing is that most people aren’t cold emailing correctly. The worst part is that 85% of the people that are cold emailing are using long sales templates and screwing up poorly crafted mail merges.

With that said, this article will showcase some of the WORST cold emails I’ve ever received.

Bad cold email #1

         

 Why is it bad???

This email starts good. It addressed me by name with proper capitalization.

Now that we covered everything this email did right let’s jump into it:

Things wrong with this email:

• Email address is from a masked domain – check out that notice on the top near the email address section. Sending through a mass mailer is an easy way to get your domain globally marked as spam.

• Opens with a standard “I hope you are doing well” with no personalization.

• The email has a complex chart in it, not something a person would add to a manual email that makes me think this is spam, and ignore it immediately.

• The background is grey meaning they used HTML to send this out which breaks in a lot of mailing clients and is also unnecessary. Stick to the default backgrounds.

Bad Email #2

Following up is great practice when sending emails. This is not how you follow up. Things wrong in this email:

•  It’s the same message copied twice word for word. No indication that this is a reply.

•  Sent via a masked domain which is why it ended up in spam.

•  The call to action on this email is “let me know when you’re free for a few minutes this week” no question mark or reason for the reader to respond.

Bad Email #3

                         

Got this one in my LinkedIn inbox and promptly ignored it. On the surface this seems like a good email – she’s got a solid pitch and is offering (what seems like) value.

The main issue is personalization.

She could have gone over to my profile, which she had to glance at to send this message – and easily be able to infer some goals or people to introduce me to, rather than sending that general opener. All she needs to do in the future is spend an extra 30-45 seconds per message to customize that first sentence and she’ll get a much higher response rate.

Bad email #4

This email does a few things right: it uses my correct information and has what seems like a solid pitch.

So why did this email end up in the spam box? It’s being sent through spammy mail servers again (gibasbc.onmicrosoft.com).

Gmail is getting great at filtering out emails when they’re seen in multiple email addresses. This email has no personalization and so it got flagged.

The worst part about this email is the grammar and spelling. Normally I wouldn’t hound on them for it but, if you’re going to be sending out a spammy template to what I’m assuming is thousands of people, at least take a few minutes and make sure the template is in readable english.

Bad Email #5

                              

I barely want to write a review of this one because having this email on my screen to critique is hurting my eyes. Here’s what this message gets wrong, starting from the top:                                          

• Subject line “App Developers Contact List” is super general, and tells very little about what’s going to be in the email.

• Starts with “Hello” with no name – clearly, this is a spam message.

• The first sentence of the email calls out the fact that we do “UX and Web Developers” – not only is this poor grammar, these bullets were pulled directly from a database. Not good for a company hoping to sell leads.                

The email is in BOLD ITALICS – that’s never a good idea and a big reason why this email ended up in spam.

Reasons for bad cold emails:

When it comes to outbound sales and cold emailing, you want to first ensure that you have high quality leads. If you aren’t emailing the correct person, then your emails won’t work no matter how great they are.

Let’s say you know that you do have high quality leads and that they fit your product really well, but you’re still not receiving any response, then you know there is something wrong with your cold emails.

A great way is to keep track of your open rates to see if people are even opening your email to start with. Think outside the box and narrow down the issue. Is it the subject line?

Is it the quality of leads? Is it bad timing.

After you’ve narrowed it down, you can focus on improving your cold emails and testing different context to ensure that you are writing the best emails ever.

I’m just using sales as an example, of course the same concepts can be applied to whatever purpose you’re using the cold emails for.

Here are some more reasons for bad emails:

1. Too long – No one wants to read a mini ebook in an email.

2. Too many ideas – Although the company had an amazing product, they were highlighting too many value props in their emails, which confused readers.

3.Too much about themselves – Their emails talked way too much about why they were awesome, and listed their company’s features instead of putting it in terms of value for the customer.

4. Your Questions Are Hard To Answer – If they don’t know you, people aren’t going to give you much mental energy. They won’t bother answering “too open-ended” questions like “What are your key marketing challenges this year?”

Why should they?

The easier you make questions to answer (“How many salespeople do you have?”)

More reasons why your cold emails are bad

Bad subject lines – If you have a misleading subject line or subject line that is too generic and not relevant to the lead, then the cold email will go straight to the trash. It’s a harsh thing to say, but that’s the way it goes.

Your Emails Are Confusing – Don’t list more than one or two features / offers / benefits / ways you can help. Avoid jargon – how SIMPLE can you make your language? Try for 3rd grade reading comprehension.

Timing is off – Don’t email someone at 2am in the middle of the night (unless that’s when they usually check). You want to catch them first thing when they check their email. Use tools to keep track of their open patterns

Your Calls To Action Are Vague – ”Let me know if I can help.” Don’t beat around the bush. Be clear & direct about what you’re asking for. Instead of “I’d love your feedback,” ask “When’s a good day this week for a 15min call to discuss…?” And no more than one question or call to action!

Mail Merge gone wrong – This is a funny one because one of our customers came to us with the need to improve his emails. When I looked into it, I realize that the list that they were using mail merge on was all wrong. The names didn’t match the people at the company, so instead of saying “Hey Wilson”, it said “Hey John”. There’s nobody named John in that company, so obviously you’re not going to get a good response with an incorrect canned email like that. Lesson learned, make sure you double check your information.

To sum it up

Cold email is a craft. I love and breathe it, but it takes A TON of practice. Make sure you ask yourself after you send out a cold email, “What can I do better next time?” Make sure you write it down and improve it in your next email.

Want to see some of the BEST cold emails I’ve ever received? Subscribe to the blog below and I’ll update you when that article is out.

You can follow me on Twitter @itswilson8

Cheers!