Why you should use a CRM (no matter the size of your business)

By | April 13, 2017

Customer Relationship Manager

I’ve always wanted to do my own thing. I think there’s a natural route to becoming a modern entrepreneur. Unless you’re born that way, the following is what I’d say is the route to being an entrepreneur:

  • Start a side project (on the side of a 9-5 job)
  • Become a Freelancer (and be CEO of your own company – quitting the 9-5)
  • Hire, outsource and step away from being 100% involved
  • Grow your small business and scale it to many users and income levels way above what would have been capable in “9-5” employment
  • Start another business, and do it all over again 🙂

You may have jumped straight into being a Freelancer, or into running your own small business but either way there’s one thing which I wished I did when I started back in 2011.

Start using a CRM straight away

No matter what stage of your business you’re at you should start using a CRM (Customer Relationship Manager). When I launched Epic Plugins in 2012 and Epic Themes in 2014 I followed the advice I was reading at the time from Internet Marketers.

Grow your Email List. Emails are opened way more than other advertising means. Grow your list and then launch new products or services to your list.

So I did. I signed up for Mailchimp and started growing my list. This still rings true even today. Growing your list is something which can really help your business. If I was to turn the clock back I would have started growing my list in a CRM.

What made me realise?

In early 2016, my email list was sitting at about 1,500 subscribers. I had subscribers tagged whether they had purchased from me or not and I thought everything was going great.

Then I started working on a product called Zero BS CRM as a joint venture, following on from the requirements for a CRM for a family business.  One of the first things I built was a PayPal data importer. This let me import my customers into my CRM from my PayPal history (spanning back to 2011).When the import had finished I could see I had almost 2,000 customers imported into my CRM as customers (not just leads, but as customers). These customers had spent money with me before and I wasn’t giving them any attention.

They may have chosen not to be on a generic email list, but that doesn’t mean you can’t check in with them as a person, every now and then. They may even not be aware that you have a mailing list and would love to be on it.

With a CRM I could send all customers a quick note along the lines of ‘Hey there, just checking in, I see you bought {product / service} and I wanted to check how it’s all going’.

But a lot of my customers spanned back a few years, and it was a bit late to hit them with that kind of message.

If I was using a CRM from day 1, these customers could have been better looked after and developed into higher value assets to my business.

Why a CRM makes sense

A CRM makes sense no matter what stage of business you’re at and I’ll go into each area and touch on why the Zero BS CRM makes sense for each stage. The common stages of a growing entrepreneurial cycle is:

  • Side Project
  • Freelance
  • Small Business (run by you)
  • Growing Business (with team members)
  • Scaling that business

Side Projects

You’re starting a side project. This might be an e-book launch or a new WordPress plugin or theme. I started off with building a simple plugin and if I was using a CRM back then I could have done things like the following:

  • Captured admin emails (with permission) into the CRM of the ‘Lite’ version as ‘Leads’ for the Premium Version
  • Sent tailored communications to the Lite / Pro plugin customers depending on their status
  • Kept notes about support tickets and interactions between leads and customers

Instead, I had email sign up opt-ins and couldn’t easily tell if they had purchased the Pro version of the plugin.

When it came around to launching my second WordPress plugin, I could have seen all the leads in my CRM and let them know that I’m building a new plugin. I could have asked if they wanted to hear about it when it was released.

Sure, I could have done that with a mailing list… but the added bonus of the CRM is I can see that they are Dilemma Lite users who have been using the plugin for 30 days or more for example, and email them based on that. This kind of segmentation is a lot harder to do using something like Mailchimp.

As things started to grow for me and I launched more plugins, this process could have been repeated and my list of potential contacts could have been a lot larger.

Freelance Work

I also started to take on Freelance work over the years. From custom plugin builds using systems like People Per Hour or Upwork to custom website development.

I always managed this either via the respective platforms or via email. Turning the clock back (and doing what I do now) I would use a CRM for this.

Freelance clients are part of my overall customer list. They’re tagged based on the project I’ve worked with them on and through using the CRM I can do things like:

  • Ping all my clients an email inviting them to special events
  • Let them know about my availability for more work (if I’m running low)
  • Give them special offers off new plugins or themes (depending on the type of work)

I can also see at a glance, the total value of a particular client and know which clients are pure gold to the business. I can also:

All central to growing a Freelance business into a Small Business.

Starting a Small Business

This sort of just happened for me. Through developing WordPress plugins I launched a new plugin every couple of months. This grew my portfolio and I officially “launched” Epic Plugins Limited as my small business.

At this point, the CRM just evolved with me. I had my past plugin customers (from the PayPal import) as well as the email list subscribers (from my mailing list) so I had a combination of Leads and Customers in my database.

I also had my Freelance clients and my Outreach Partners. These are all tagged within my CRM as contacts and I’m able to use my Zero BS CRM to manage and search through customers based on their tags.

I can also create Mail Campaigns based on customer metrics and see all the history of my contacts and notes I’ve made in the past.

One of my Freelance clients had a baby boy a couple of years back and had told me the baby’s name in conversation. I made a customer note about this in the CRM. A few months passed and I got another email from the client asking for some more work.

I replied saying sure, I can fit this in in a couple of weeks, I hope all is going well and Barry is settling in OK.

Needless to say he was chuffed I could remember the name of his baby and that strengthened the relationship between me and the client. All because of the ability to add a note to the client record.

If you’re at the Small Business Stage then again I would recommend using Zero BS CRM. I may be a little biased here of course but The Entrepreneur’s Bundle is a clear choice and comes with access to all extensions. With it you get access to all the extensions and all the future extensions for Zero BS CRM.

The Sales Dashboard is really easy to use and has saved me countless hours when it comes to preparing the transparency reports on the blog. I just change the dates and have a view of the sales performance over any period (compared the the period prior).


Growing Business (with Team members)

This is the stage I’m at now. The business is growing (but revenue is still volatile due to its nature). I’m lucky in being in a position of being the Co-Founder of Zero BS CRM and therefore able to develop features which fit each stage of my business.

At this stage I have the following team setup:

  • Myself – leading the strategy of the business
  • Support team – who help customers with queries
  • Business relationship manager – who deals with freelance clients and sorts invoices

In my CRM I simply give them specific user roles.  I can assign people roles that

  • Can only view + manage customers (adding and managing leads)
  • Can only view + manage quotes
  • Can only view + manage invoices
  • Have full Zero BS CRM admin capability (but not full WordPress admin)

I also like to report on the progress of the business growth and for the past year I’ve been writing transparency reports over at the Epic Plugins blog. For these I use the Sales Dashboard extension and continue to use this to check in on my sales performance.

Why choose Zero BS CRM

Zero BS CRM is a WordPress ‘Plugin’ which we have developed which installs a CRM on your own server. This is great as it gives you full control over the data for starters. In my opinion it’s also the most feature packed (and simple to use) CRM out there (check out the comparison of features).

WordPress is self-hosted and I can be in full control. I can also be in complete control over exactly what features I want in my CRM and who has access. If somewhere like Agile CRM has their database hacked I’d be one of the casualties.

With my own CRM hosted on my own servers I can be directly responsible for the security of the data (and run various plugins like limit login attempts, and WordFence to name a few).

I’m also not stuck paying for features I don’t use (like an appointment scheduler) or even a task manager. If I want to start using features like this I can install something like Bookly Lite which lets me manage my appointments (and sits alongside my CRM).

I can also expand my team and grant them access to the CRM without having to pay an extra $15 per month each time I add someone. There’s also no limits when it comes to the number of customers I can add.

The latest addition to the Zero BS CRM gives the ability to connect to Zapier via the Zero BS CRM API. This really widens up the connections which Zero BS can make, for example you can:

  • Add new customers to your mailing list (Mailchimp, ConvertKit, aWeber) with particular tags
  • Add new Gmail email messages (sender email) to your CRM as a contact
  • Plus more more through their integrations

The introduction of an API really makes running your own CRM at any stage of your business super flexible and something every modern entrepreneur at whatever stage of their business should be seriously considering.

In Summary

Whether you’re a budding entrepreneur or an established one, using a CRM should be high on the list of must-do’s with your business and aspirations. Self hosting your own CRM saves you thousands of $$ a year which can be used in better places (such as expanding your team).

As your business grows, something like Zero BS CRM grows with you and is flexible enough through the modularised features, extensions and the new API that once you’ve started to use it you won’t want to use anything else.

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