CRM for Small Personal Service Companies

Posted July 10, 2015

By Aleksandr Peterson

A lot of people still think customer relationship management (CRM) software is only something used by the sales department at large corporations. Those people base this perception on the first generation of clunky, expensive, enterprise CRM systems that don't represent the lightweight options available today. Thanks to a growing segment of affordable, cloud-based CRM platforms, businesses of every size can store contacts, manage administrative tasks, and strengthen their stake in the market.

Small personal service companies, in particular, stand to gain from using CRM. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, there are more than 4 million U.S. workers in "personal care and service" occupations, and the industry itself produced $92 billion last year. Professionals in this industry include wedding planners, nannies, personal chefs, photographers, dog-walkers, DJs, tutors, maids, massage therapists, personal trainers, and life coaches.

 CRM for personal service businesses

How CRM Can Help Small Business

The growing demand for personal services has outstripped supply and workers' capacities. Sites like Craigslist are riddled with desperate ads for cheap labor. Employee-owners struggle to defend their niche in an increasingly crowded market, all the while managing their own accounting, billing, marketing, dispute resolution, record-keeping, booking, and so on.

Many of these same businesses aren't equipped to handle a higher volume of clients. How will they bill everyone, remember names, personal details, and special requests? How will they stay in contact with customers? By some estimates, a business loses 10 percent of its customer influence for every month that customer doesn't hear from the business. All of this adds up to a huge opportunity to leverage software tools for growth and competitive advantage.

Most personal service companies consist of one or two people who focus more on the practical application of trade skills (i.e. photography, cooking, childcare) than they do on strategic business management. These factors, plus the additional pressure of a tight budget, mean that employee-owners spend most of their time in survival mode, not in buy-new-software mode. Those that do implement CRM solutions will be in a minority of top-performers, equipped to deliver high-quality service to higher volumes of customers.

Here are some areas where personal service companies can expect strong return-on-investment from CRM software:

  • Scaling up: You might have a small operation now, but as your client base grows, you'll need to be smart about storing documents, contact information, managing accounts, and logging communications. CRM software provides a win-win, since it both stimulates growth and expands to accommodate it by bringing these functions into a centralized system.
  • Schedule appointments and reminders: Instead of trying to remember which clients you served recently and which are due for another visit, CRM can help you manage your schedule according to account data and set up automated reminder and notifications. Many CRMs can help you book appointments using emails and custom triggers—for example, to remind a client that it's been two months since his last service date. Being consistent in this area will help lower your attrition rate and keep current clients happier.
  • Work on the go: According to IT analytics firm IDC, the world's mobile worker population is on track to hit 1.3 billion this year. Undoubtedly, a large percentage of personal service workers regularly travel to meet with clients and to prospect for new ones. Without a mobile business management tool, workers must resort to scribbling notes in planners, tearing off carbon copy receipts, and mixing work appointments in with their personal calendars. Many modern CRMs provide anywhere access to customer accounts and to back-end systems through native apps for mobile devices or a mobile Web interface. This lets mobile workers update accounts, log calls, and receive updates in real-time, no matter where they are.
  • More accurate accounting: CRM software can help personal service companies practice accurate accounting. Not just in the financial sense, but in the sense of creating a clear audit trail—through billing and invoicing—tied directly to customer accounts (whether it's through an accounting module built in to the CRM software, or a native integration with your favorite accounting tool). That's especially valuable, considering almost half of all small business owners say they don't work with a dedicated accountant.

The Top Four CRM Platforms

In general, personal service companies should only consider CRMs that are low-cost, easy to use, and require little to no IT maintenance. These help small companies stick to their budgets and avoid overhead costs. Some vendors may even offer free versions for a limited number of users.

To get you started, here are four multi-purpose CRMs that would work well for any personal service company.

Zoho

This cloud-based solution for small-to-medium businesses is extendable through an online suite of Zoho productivity apps; priced monthly per user in three tiers; additional invoicing module free for up to five customers.

Main Features:

  • Account management
  • Sales tracking
  • Reports and dashboards
  • Marketing campaigns
  • Product customization
  • Calendars and task management
  • Email integration
  • Social CRM
  • Workflow automation
  • Inventory management
  • Native mobile apps         

Insightly

This cloud-based CRM offers a built-in project management module; free version available for up to two users, then priced monthly per user in four tiers.

Main Features:

  • Contact/account management
  • Project management
  • Lead management
  • Calendars and task management
  • Sales opportunities
  • Mass emailing and templates
  • Reports
  • Native mobile apps
  • Custom pipelines and activity sets

Nimble

This "intelligent relationship platform" brings social data and engagement to traditional customer management; priced monthly per user in a single tier for all business types.

Main Features:

  • Contact/account management
  • Email integration
  • Social CRM and social listening
  • Reporting/analytics Daily newsfeed
  • Task management
  • Sales pipelines
  • Native mobile apps         

JobNimbus

CRM and project management tool designed to help small businesses track jobs, contacts, and tasks. A free version available for personal use; otherwise the software is priced monthly per user, with additional features available.

Main Features:

  • Contact management
  • Estimating and invoicing
  • Products and services tracking
  • Lead management
  • Workflow customization
  • Reporting Job sharing (email)
  • Project/job management
  • Native mobile apps
  • Time tracking
  • Google maps integration
  • Shared calendar

The low cost of modern software has made CRM affordable (and sometimes free) for businesses of every size. Are you struggling to manage appointments, accounts, and clerical tasks with paper-based methods and disparate systems? A reliable CRM will help you spend less time on menial tasks and more time delivering excellent service—whether it be a $40,000 wedding on the beach or making sure Bailey the Boston Terrier gets his exercise.

Aleksandr Peterson is a technology analyst at TechnologyAdvice. He covers marketing automation, CRMs, project management, and other emerging business technology.

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