The countless hours you’ve devoted to developing your abilities as a graphic, web, or print designer have rewarded you with marketable skills. You’ve honed your chops to compete with the big dogs and have hung your shingle out for business.

Mad skills are great, but investing in the business of your business is no less crucial to your overall success. Honor all that time you’ve spent sharpening your design acumen by putting into place systems that will support, sustain, and grow your enterprise.

Critical to any business’ success is the maintenance and growth of client relationships. Clients are a freelancer’s bread and butter; happy clients make a business flourish. Grooming potential leads and following up with previous clients are vital tasks to the health of a business, but the process can seem dauntingly time-consuming. All of it takes precious time away from what you’re born to be doing: designing. But you won’t be needing to design anything if you don’t nurture and grow your clientele.

The solution for this dilemma between working and supporting your work is to adopt the use of a CRM (Client Relationship Management) system to lessen some of the burden for you.

CRM Systems

Whether you have a couple of years under your belt as a freelancer, or you’re taking your first solo steps into the world of freelancing, now is the time to integrate a CRM system into your business model, if you haven’t yet done so.

Think of a CRM system as a concierge that helps you achieve your goals in retaining business relationships, enhancing your interactions with clients, and effectively grooming leads into new clients. CRM systems automate a great deal of the legwork you’d otherwise be doing manually. A measure of time is required to initially choose and optimize a system that suits your needs, but the time spent in setting up your system now will prove invaluable in the future.

The process of vetting leads will remain in your hands, but CRM analyses can help you make smarter, quicker, and more efficient decisions on leads. Determining from the outset whether a lead can reasonably be converted into a client still depends on your own assessment skills. That discovery process alone can save you hours of wasted time later, by quickly weeding out less promising leads. It’s therefore important to create a vetting script of questions and topics to discuss with each lead. Plug your script’s talking points into data fields within your CRM system, and fill in the fields with your contact’s responses while you chat. At the close of your conversation, you’ll have almost painlessly completed a comprehensive profile on your lead.

Get this process down to an art: make it as succinct as possible (since time is money), but also ensure the vetting experience is as valuable as possible. A few quality minutes spent with the right lead can translate into a long, happy, and mutually beneficial relationship.

What a CRM System Can Do For You

The value of a CRM system quickly proves itself once it’s set up. It helps keep you on top of your game by generating reports that deliver deeper insights into how your business relationships are doing at any given point in time.

The data management provided by a CRM system effectively builds you a pipeline that pays dividends on an ongoing basis, and as a legacy producer of return business. This is because, after the initial setup, you simply build onto the database as you go along acquiring new leads and new clients, and the system will continually track and analyze your data. Enter data points to track leads, cite their sources, note whether leads from those sources tend to result in sales, note whether repeat sales arise from those sources and/or leads, and follow other factors relating to your leads or clients, such as exhibits and conferences. Virtually anything associated with clients that impacts your business, you can track and analyze with a CRM system.

Besides determining which sources produce the best leads, a CRM system can also identify which practices have proven less worthy of your time and energies, and can therefore be dropped. Additionally, a CRM system can help you craft business proposals and strategies, jump on opportunities to branch out your business, and automate the process of assembling little bits of data into comprehensive documents that you can have ready in an instant.

A CRM system can help you follow up with thank you messages, make requests for reviews or feedback on your website, alert previous clients about a new product or service you’re offering, ask for a referral, or just stay in touch to keep your business’ name foremost in the minds of clients.

Which CRM System is Right For You?

Thousands of CRM systems exist, reflecting all price points and varieties of features. The priciest system may or may not be the best choice for your business. The cheapest system could end up costing you dearly in the long run; yet, a basic free solution beats having none at all. Choose the most robust CRM system that fits your budget while providing the features you need. Ensure that it exports CSV files, to allow for future flexibility, should you later choose to switch systems.

A Pipeline to Prosperity

A CRM system keeps all of your important client information readily at hand, and uses automation to maintain professional connections with your clients, while helping you keep your finger on the pulse of your business. Using the tools provided by a client relationship management system will effectively help support and grow your independent freelance business into a healthy cottage industry and pave the way for a pipeline to prosperity for years to come.