There are a lot of small business owners that are careful with every cent, especially with subscription software like CRM. Rightfully so – a brand-new small business lives or dies on cash flow. But sometimes relying on “free stuff” is a false economy. Remember the saying, “If something seems too good to be true…”?

Why are they even giving you a freebie?

I am a massive fan of the free trial. Downloading some software and playing around is by far the best way to determine whether it will work for you. However, that is not what I am talking about here, although some of the same rules apply.

The examples I’m talking about here are not just short-term free trials but “starter editions” of software. In software sales, this is called a “freemium” product. It starts free (or cheap)… but then you start paying a much more premium price!

The reason it works for the software folks is that you get locked in with their product, setting up all your branding and templates, and of course housing all your customers and history. And then you start to grow, beyond the limits of the “free” constraints and suddenly you are paying a LOT more than you expected and contributing nicely to the software company’s revenue line.

When should you use the “free” version?

There are definitely times when you should be looking at free versions:

  • To do a test run: Absolutely download 1, 2 or even 3 free trials, make sure you are happy with your selected CRM and you can make it cover the important things you need.
  • You really can’t afford a CRM but need the capability: This is an unusual case. I recommend doing things manually in most situations and holding off on the purchase instead.
  • You are sure that you are getting the product you want: In some cases, if you are sure that you will want an integrated CRM and will be prepared to pay for it as you grow, you might want to start with the free (or low-cost) versions of a product like Hubspot. In other cases, you might be sure that you will stay in the limits for a very long time, if not forever.

A client is paying $150 monthly for Mailchimp as they blew past the “free” limits. And now they don’t have the resources to change to something cheap and cheerful like MailerLite. They will move eventually but have wasted thousands of dollars when they finally make the move, it is very frustrating for all of us.

What to do instead?

When you are considering your CRM options, make sure to look at versions of your future. Is there an optimistic future when you have a mailing list of 20,000 email addresses for your newsletter? When you will double the size of the team working with your customers? Or when you will be selling online courses as well as consulting? Ensure your evaluation includes looking at what will happen when you have more customers, a bigger team (and more CRM users) or other integrations. Will you be happy with your selection then?

You have a few options when this way of thinking is giving you a difficult choice:

  • Delay the investment, until you can afford the choice that will take your further
  • Choose a mid-range product that will take you further, until your business has really grown and has the resources to level up again
  • Go for the free or very cheap option, factoring in the cost of change in the mid-term. I encourage you to remember that your own time is not free, even though it might feel like the least valuable resource when you are starting a business.

As with so many business decisions, I am reminded of the great truth-tellers, the Rolling Stones. “You can’t always get what you want… but if you try sometimes, you just might find you get what you need”.

Are you struggling with this dilemma for yourself, a client or a friend? Or have you had this struggle in the past? I’d love to hear your story. If you want some ideas on how to make the right CRM choice, try here.