Freelance service providers and small business owners know full well just how challenging it can be to attract clients, fulfill orders and get paid efficiently and scalably. It’s unfortunate, but the extent to which you’re good at your job has little correlation with effective management of the customer life cycle.
From finding your prospects to capturing leads and building relationships with them, all the way to writing up your proposals for the work and issuing them, and then doing the work itself, creating and sending an invoice, and following up to get paid, it’s a lot to stay on top of. Along the way, you may be subject to scrambling to maintain the ongoing flow of your project and client intake pipeline, keep your client relationships warm and, of course, get paid for your work.
When you lose track of these activities, you end up missing out on important opportunities, bungling gigs and following up about payments months after relationships have gone cold – definitely situations to avoid.
SaaS Changes the Game
Thankfully, there are plenty of digital tools to help streamline and automate your client lifecycle management. When you create workflow systems for yourself that leverage apps like these, you can sleep soundly with the knowledge that everything is under control.
This is, of course, one of the key advantages associated with cloud-based business apps, also known as Software as a Service (SaaS). With subscription-based, browser-accessed apps, there’s nothing to install, store or sync with – it’s just an instant working environment. What’s more, because app developers want to gain exposure for their SaaS tools, and because the application market is highly saturated and competitive, you, the small business owner, are in a position to take advantage of free products and zealously attentive support.
Here are six SaaS products that make managing your client lifecycles easier and also happen to be 100% free.
Reputation Monitoring with Mention
Mention monitors social posts and content published across the web to track and email you any time your brand name is, yes, mentioned. The app allows you to immediately know what others are saying about you online, which can help you both to compete and to partner with those who will be helped by your services.
The free version of the app is limited only by the volume of mentions captured – 250 per month should be plenty for any company of one to five people – while premium upgrades allow for more logins, searches and mentions, along with sentiment reporting and managed accounts.
Opportunity Alerts with Warble
Warble allows you to turn any advanced Twitter search into an email alert. Hashtags, retweets, negative searches, tweets from specific accounts, geographic locations – you name it. Once a day, you’ll receive an email digest with the search results.
One of the best aspects of using Twitter for client acquisition is that as long as you do so courteously and cautiously, it’s acceptable for anyone to jump in on anyone else’s conversations. So all you need to do is set up some searches for keywords and other parameters that are common among people looking to source business solutions like yours, keep an eye out for your daily Warble digests, and engage. This is a valuable, time-saving organizer with a narrow focus.
Lead Capture with Google Forms
Part of the Google Docs suite of tools powered by Google Drive, Google Forms are easy to set up, can be embedded anywhere, support somewhat sophisticated logic and integrate seamlessly with Google Spreadsheets.
For the purposes of this discussion, though, the exciting thing about Google Forms is that you can use them as a lead capture mechanism. Simply create a form that your website’s audience can use to get in touch with you for free advice, opt in to offers, request a proposal or whatever, and embed it on your site. Then enable email notifications for responses, which will automatically be logged in a dedicated spreadsheet, and you’re good to go.
Lead Nurture Tracking with HubSpot CRM
A robust customer relationship management platform (CRM) that also happens to be free, the HubSpot CRM makes it easy to track lead nurture progress.
This product supports custom views and fields, it pulls in information about contacts from trusted third-party sources, and it integrates seamlessly with email for automated logging of all correspondence.
Proposal Building with Beagle
Sometimes the best way to close with a sales prospect is to wow him or her with a comprehensive proposal that features rich content about your offer, its various components and the advantages of doing business with you over anyone else. With Beagle, compiling, customizing, designing and deploying these types of proposals is easy.
Beagle’s drag-and-drop editor works with libraries of saved boilerplate sections that you can tweak as you need to for the specifics of each situation. It features a powerful chart builder and supports cross-team collaboration as well as electronic signing for clients who convert. You can even publish web-based versions of your proposals that are mobile friendly and support animated gifs. A business unit of Citrix Systems, Beagle is 100% free while in public beta, which is open to everyone.
Billing with Invoice Ninja
As the name suggests, Invoice Ninja dramatically cuts the time you need to put into tasks surrounding your accounts receivable. An open-source product with a particularly full-featured free plan, Invoice Ninja is an elegant and intuitively designed app.
Whatever your invoicing and billing needs, you are able to tailor this app to help you out – custom designs and fields, converting quotes to invoices, receiving online payments with dozens of processors, setting recurring invoices for subscription service customers, automated follow-ups on unpaid bills and more.
360 Degrees of Free Business Apps
It’s a brave new world, where your every task can be accomplished more beautifully, more efficiently and more or less for free – simply by using the technologies designed to help you manage your business’s customer lifecycle processes.
By spending less time finding, nurturing, onboarding and billing your clients, you’ll be able to spend more time delivering value with your actual work.