Ok party people, hold on to your knickers because this is going to be a long one - but that's because there's a LOAD of info to get through. It's all dead helpful though, I promise.
Before I get going, I want to let you know that I've created a Helpful CRM Chooser Pack Thing (naming stuff is not my strong point 😂) which accompanies this blog/magnum opus. It is a walk-through of choosing a CRM with helpful lists and bits to fill out to see you through it. I'd heartily recommend it (but then again I would because I spent AGES in Canva making the bloody thing 😋).
You can find it....here!
So, you’ve set up your business, you’ve done all the social marketing bits and bats, you’ve bought your contracts and you’ve heard on the grapevine that a CRM is going to turn you into a kick-ass VA.
Sorry, chuckles, a decent CRM does not a kick-ass VA make, but it can help, as long as you choose the right one. First thing’s first, I don’t recommend that you leap up this instant and go out and get one, especially if you’re just starting out. The fact is that for the first few clients, you can make use of free software trials and Gmail to get you going, and it’s often useful to do so, because in doing that you will start to get a good picture of exactly what it is you want a CRM to do – what takes up time, what’s annoying and could be smoothed out, and how exactly you want your business processes to run.
That said, once you’re two or three clients in, you’ll probably have a better idea of what it is that you’d like, and in my opinion, it’s a good idea to get something off the ground and running at around about this point before you get so busy that you simply ain’t got the time to put into considering CRM options.
And so, VAs of the world, I give you…a guide to finding a ball-blastingly brilliant CRM with minimum risk of effing it up.
Here we go.
What’s a CRM?
If you don’t know then you probably won’t be reading the article, to be fair, but for the sake of clarity let’s define what a CRM is.
CRM stands for Customer Relationship Manager, and they pretty much do what they say on the tin.
CRM’s are designed to hold customer data. Beyond this they can be wildly different, so let’s take a look at what a CRM *might* offer.
What can a CRM do?
In no particular order, they can…
Manage customer contact information. Duh.
Keep track of all your interactions with said clients.
Manage your leads – track pipeline activities.
Sales forecasting – great for sales managers. (Handy hint – we aren’t sales managers)
Email tracking – centralising your emailing needs
Communication between users.
Pretty much anything else to do with clients that your little heart desires.
So, looking at the list you can probably already see that there are some features on that list that you have little need of. For me, sales forecasting strikes a big fat nope – I’m good, y’all, but there are a limited number of hours in a day that I can package up and sell and I don’t think I will ever get to the stage where I need to make that process data-driven.
Already our little cogs are whirring, but to choose a really good CRM we need to look not only at what CRM’s can offer, but at what is important to us – and this is where it gets really individual because us VAs are as different from each other as two very different things.
What do I need a CRM to do?
The pack I mentioned up above? This is where it comes in handy for listing all the stuff you need.
The trick here is to write down everything you’d like a CRM to do for you – essentially that’s going to be anything to do with clients in your business that could be centralised/automated. Don’t discount things, this is a true brain dump, the sky’s the limit!
I would definitely be considering things like: onboarding, offboarding, invoicing, updating, file sharing, password sharing, time tracking, lead generation, social media, emails… the list is probably longer than that but these spring immediately to mind when I do a swift ‘week in the life’ on myself (I ignore all the bits where I hang out in the fridge looking for stuff to shove in my pie hole).
Now it’s time to narrow them down. In whatever way makes the most sense to you (I rewrite the list and use highlighters because I used to be a teacher and highlighters please my soul), take all the stuff on your list and divide it into 3 columns; “deal-breaker”, “pretty important” and “ would be nice”.
How are you getting on? I feel like Kirsty Alsop helping a pair of feckless house buyers narrow their choices between Clapham and Greenwich.
Alright. Now you’ve got your priorities straight, time to go on a CRM hunt. For each of the CRMs that you look at, see which features they have that you’d like. You can get as geeky about this as you want. I love a good database, and Airtable is perfect for this kinda thing because you can then filter your views by cost, by feature, or whatever you like.
Unless your expectations are higher than a Kardashian on Christmas day, you should be able to find a few CRM’s that tick all of your deal-breaker options, most of your important ones, and perhaps a few of your ‘would be nices’.
Make your final choice
Hopefully, by this stage, you’ve narrowed your choices down significantly. This is the point where I bring cost into the equation. Cost is pretty handy when it comes to making decisions. If all of the CRM’s on your final list are too expensive, you’re doing a Kardashian – back to the drawing board, and time to drop a few of those ‘would be nices’.
Time to make your choice!
Don’t worry, I’m not going to leave you swinging – there are a huge number of CRM’s available, but only a narrow list of them that are popular with VAs, so below, as a starter, is a handy list of all the CRM’s that I see coming up for VA’s time and time again (along with an opinion where I have one).
Hubspot – I heartily dislike this one, but it is popular. The free version is really good for someone starting out, but for me, it felt like it was aimed at a much bigger business. I don’t need to track leads, cold calls, and sales – my needs are customer service-based, and honestly, there are better CRM’s out there for that (though not necessarily as free as Hubspot).
Dubsado – I mean, you all know I use Dubsado, so obviously I like it. It has weaknesses which I’ll go into in another blog, but for me, the strong points outweigh the weak. Workflows take a lot of busy work out of my business, but the high level of customisability means I don’t lose the personal touch which is such an important part of my business. I write a blog about whether a VA needs Dubsado which you can find here.
Honeybook – I don’t have an opinion to offer as I’ve never used it. They market themselves as an alternative to Dubsado so I’d better take a peek, I suppose. I hear rumours that they aren’t GDPR compliant in the U.K. though.
17Hats – More popular in the U.S. than the U.K. I recently got the chance to have a peek around inside courtesy of a client and I have to say that in terms of customisability it seriously doesn't touch Dubsado. You can't even customise your forms!
Capsule – nothing fancy, but does what it does well.
Active Campaign – for me this is more a marketing tool than a CRM but it does have the capability. It’s hugely powerful but expensive and can suffer from frustratingly long loading times between screens!
The end (finally)
Well - if you made it through all that congratulations! You must be super-serious about finding a decent CRM, and that's the first step. The next step is to go and download my Helpful CRM Chooser Pack Thing (seriously, if anyone can think of a decent name for it PLEASE help me out!). Work your way through it and see what comes out the other side!
And if you need any help at all, don't forget to ping me on Facebook or, if you decide that Dubsado is the CRM for you and you need some support in getting it all set up, join our lovely Facebook group, VAs Who Do Dubsado and we'll be happy to help you out!