Best CRM for solo business?

Best CRM for solo business?

[Note: Post updated at bottom]

Do you use Customer Relationship Management software, like Salesforce.com?

When I was a cubicle dweller, of course, I used Outlook, but as a solo Web designer and copywriter, it seemed like overkill.

Besides, although I own Outlook (and the rest of the MS Office suite) I prefer web-based and preferably open source solutions. Because I use multiple computers and multiple operating systems (Windows, Linux), a Web-based solution seemed ideal.

I’ve long used Highrise from 37Signals, and it’s fine — for what it is. But it’s not really CRM, and I’ve never been able to make it an intrinsic part of my workflow. It doesnt have an inbox, and I often forget to BCC client emails to my dropbox, so I end up without records of what I’ve done or said to a client. So what’s the point?

Relenta CRM

This weekend, I spent hours scouring search engines, small-biz websites and dozens of reviews looking for a better CRM solution.

I eliminated lots of them for lots of reasons, then spent hours torture-testing what seemed to be the best Web-based CRM solutions for small and solo businesses like mine.

The surviving candidates include Relenta, Capsule CRM, and Tactile CRM. I¬†signed up for free trial accounts for all three. I’m still testing them, but so far my favorite is Relenta.

Email-oriented CRM

It’s not perfect by any means, but I think they’re on the right track. Or at least, their orientation (prejudices?) match mine.

First, Relenta is email-oriented. I live in my Inbox, and often use it as a de facto to-do list, flagging and starring messages as reminders. So far, it doesn’t appear Relenta lets me color-code or flag messages, although there’s something called¬†“Filters” that I still haven’t explored which might do the trick.

But it might not matter, because Relenta puts my to-do list (“Activities”) just one click away. In fact, their whole ethos is for everything to be just one click away: Inbox, Contacts, Activities (To-dos) and files (both email attachments and uploads).

Activities can be viewed as a complete list by date, today’s only, or on a monthly calendar. The calendar design won’t keep Google’s people awake at night, but at least Relenta has one — unlike a lot of so-called CRMs.

Also one click away is your contact list. Like all CRMs, Relenta makes it easy to import existing lists as CSV files.

But here’s a real treat:

Every time an email arrives, it offers to create a new contact using info from the email (left). Very slick! If the email is from someone already in your address book, it can automatically assign it to that contact.

When you click on a contact, that person’s entire “activity stream” appears: emails, notes, to-dos,file attachments, everything. Excellent!

As the screenshot also shows, you can also create an activity (i.e., a to-do) right from the guts of the email — another very handy feature.

Another benefit: it integrates beautifully with Google Apps email.

Too expensive?

This isn’t a full review, of course — just a first impression. But so far I’m really pleased to have found a streamlined CRM that works the way I do, with (almost) everything I need, and boats an attractive interface, too.

On the down side, Relenta is more expensive than Capsule or Tactile CRM. At $25/month it costs less a Highrise solo account, but does much, much more. You could even cancel your AWeber or Constant Contact account and use Relenta to send out your e-newsletters (although I wouldn’t advise it, for fear of getting your personal email address blacklisted).

Besides, if your business can’t afford $25/month, you don’t really have a business.

Well, that’s my take so far. If you’re a small or solo biz, what’s your choice for CRM? Tell me in the comments.

Update:

After almost three full days of use, I’m giving up on Relenta.

The main culprit, imho, is Relenta’s email client. It’s OK for the basics, but not for business use. You can’t create bullet lists, even in the rich text/html version? Seriously? Also no threaded conversations.

My conclusion: if Relenta’s email client is so limited that I can’t use it for my client communications, then for me its overall usefulness falls apart. So for now I’m back to switching back and forth between Gmail and Nirvana for my to-dos.

That’s my take. Your mileage may vary. Hey, you may find it perfect.

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