Freelancing Fundamentals: Contact Relationship Management

What the heck is CRM and, as a freelancer or small business, do you even need it? Yes.

This post is part of a series called Freelancing Fundamentals: How to Take a Project from Cradle to Launch.

CRM for Freelancers

What is CRM anyway?

The acronym CRM traditionally stands for customer relationship management, which is the process of managing all aspects of customer interactions from first contact through the life-cycle of your relationship with that customer.

CRM is a big umbrella term that covers your business relationships with your clients, all the information associated with them, and the way you manage those relationships and their surrounding data.

And I think the term is kind of outdated.

Do you really need contact relationship management?

At its core, CRM is actually relationship management in general; it doesn’t just refer to customer interaction. Because of that, I think it should be called contact relationship management instead.

For a small-scale job, you may only have one contact: the client, but if your aim is growth and a steady influx of business, your projects won’t always simply consist of you, the customer, and the work.

You may have to bring on outside vendors to partner with you and do some of the tasks that you either can’t or don’t want to do. That introduces another contact into the client-freelancer relationship.

Or you might want to set up a paid plugin or integration specific to the job at hand. The company that provides the needed solution — their billing department and support staff — is now another point of contact.

The more factors there are at play, the more bits of information need to be managed. Don’t wait until you feel like you’re behind the eight-ball: The time to start thinking about a broader CRM solution is before you really need one.

But, my CRM is my brain!

If you’re anything like me, then your brain is a terribly inefficient filing cabinet. You can’t possibly keep track of all the moving parts and tiny bits around a client relationship in a meaningful and streamlined way.

Once your freelance pursuits grow to a certain point, doing CRM manually is a waste of your most valuable resource: You. Your time, your brainpower, and your focus should be hoarded up for the things that only you can do.

Successful contact resource management for freelancers eventually requires outsourcing. Whether it’s another pair of hands and eyes or a piece of software tied to several automation tasks, you’ll need a solution to help you make sure all the trains are running on time.

You’ll want to think about formalizing things a bit.

Which CRM option is right for freelancers?

When discussing CRM, we’re not just referring to the management of these data points. CRM is also a nod to the central location for all that information — the stuff about all the key players related to your business — you and your team need to have a handle on.

So then, the backbone of contact relationship management (for even you, freelancer!) is actual CRM software.

Any sort of system you set up is going to cost you time on the front end, which might feel like a pain if you’re already strapped for that particular resource. Once you get things rolling, though, that time will be paid back in spades on the back end.

I know it might be overwhelming to think about in a big-picture sense, so don’t do that.

Start bare-bones. You want to think of this as the foundation for things to come. No need to get fancy with your foundation. It just needs to be solid, comfortable enough to use, and enable you to build out — or easily move to a more meaty solution — as you notice any emerging needs.

There are a lot of platforms out there (both free and paid) – here’s a nice rundown of options. Of course, there’s always Google! Before you go down that rabbit hole, though, let’s talk about what a minimum viable solution for CRM looks like.

Getting started with a CRM

Setting up a CRM system: the basics

You need CRM software that:

  • Can manage different types of contacts
  • Sorts contacts by various characteristics
  • Contains customizable fields
  • Offers simple options for exporting data
  • Has a comfortable interface (do you like visuals? lists? tags?)
  • Integrates with your preferred tools (email, scheduling)

Start with these basics and evaluate as you go. Is this solution meshing well with your workflow? Is it fairly easy to use and freeing up valuable blocks of time?

To find the right software for you, you’ll need to poke around in the dark a little. Don’t be afraid to experiment with more than one. Ask around and see what others are using.

Don’t forget, though, that your freelance business is as individual as you are, and to get the most out of a CRM you have to be motivated to use it. Choose something that feels comfortable to you, no matter what ‘experts’ have to say on the matter.

Next-level CRM

One of the coolest aspects of having a CRM system in place is that you adapt it over time, as your goals for your business and servicing clients evolves.

Your CRM setup has the potential to go from something you did to stay organized and make your life easier to a more proactive solution: It’s way to make points of information you collect and track work for you. For instance, you’ll be able to use the data about how people are interacting with you online to make good decisions for reaching out to clients at the right time and with the right focus.

Which, you know, is really, really sexy.

I recently had a conversation about contact resource management with Heather Steele of Blue Steele Solutions. We discussed the basics, but then explored the use of CRM software for more advanced solutions like lead scoring and targeting. Heather is savvy and shared a lot of good information on the subject, so be sure to check out that podcast episode.

Stay tuned, y’all

This post is one in a series about the fundamentals of the freelance puzzle, and how they fit together to take your projects from cradle to completion. I’m also exploring each topic in greater depth with industry experts over on the OfficeHours podcast, so I hope you’ll take a listen to those, too.

Previously I covered lead generation tactics, and in the next installment of this series, I’ll be giving you the lowdown on client onboarding.

If you have any questions or thoughts, don’t hesitate to drop them into the comments below.

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