If you keep an eye on Twitter, Quora or other online forums, you regularly see requests for free CRM, generally coming from small businesses that are looking to make an entry into the CRM market. The free availability of information on the Internet nowadays and the plethora of free apps in the wild makes requests like these reasonable.
When I say reasonable, I really compare that with other types of requests for “free cars”, “free houses”, “free tangible assets”. You don’t see those very often and those would be unreasonable in my book.
Producing software can be done effectively and the cost can be kept low or, if done by enthusiasts, then the cost is not even an issue (see open source). You can get really good open source CRM like SugarCRM and not pay a penny if that’s your goal.
Of course, that brings other challenges with it, as you’d essentially be on your own or have to pay for support, custom development for customizing the CRM to meet your business objectives.
But it is an option and we should all be grateful that we have it. Imagine a world controlled by a few powerful software houses (that shouldn’t be too difficult!).
The problem with free CRM or free anything really is that nothing is free. Someone else has to pay for it, in one way or another. The open source enthusiasts absorb the cost by putting in their time because they enjoy it. Companies offer CRM for free or other services for free either as a “freemium model”, to get their foot in the door and hopefully entice customers to upgrade to paid plans, at some point. Other companies give it away for free in order to get consultancy or professional services business from their “free customers”.
And others do it to get exposure, get the word out, compete differently in a very competitive market.
The point is, someone else is subsidizing your free services.
Why should you care?
Generally, as a consumer, you should not care. Every once in a while you get to read in the press about a scandalous invasion of privacy from big companies like Facebook, Twitter, etc. trying to monetize their services at the expense of their users’ privacy. Yes, they are trying to monetize their “free services”. Are you more eager to pay with your money or with your privacy?
As a business, you probably care more, as some of the services you use are vital to you. It’s not just a matter of stop using Instagram and going on with your life. Many times, the free services make the difference between being in the business or not. A life and death situation, to put it slightly melodramatically (after all, I don’t want you fall asleep reading this).
So the problems with free services tend to affect you more. As a business owner, free services concern me because I know they’re not sustainable so:
- The companies can go under as they do not have the means to continue. I’m left committed to the services but on my own. If you’re dealing with a SaaS company (hosted CRM, software as a service CRM, that kinda thing), then the whole application goes away when the company goes away as they cannot host it anymore. Ensuring your suppliers stay afloat is a BIG BIG issue for businesses.
- The companies can always stop giving away the services for free or change their business model dramatically which puts me, as a small business owner, at risk as I cannot plan. Going for a sustainable business model and paying for it gives me peace of mind.
- The companies supporting free services do not have an incentive to provide free support or enhance the product further. Not for free. In a few years time, you can end up with an outdated product on your hands. Then what?
If you have problems with the product, what do you do then? Do you pay someone for support? Paid support can be more expensive than the original software
Don’t get me wrong.
I still think free is good, I think open source is fantastic and we use open source software here at Clevertim.
As a startup, especially if you’re bootstrapping, free can be an essential lifeline for your business. But, as your business grows, you should try to revisit the issue of free, just to reassess whether you’re exposed to too much risk, needlessly.
At Clevertim, we do have a free CRM plan for the customers looking for free CRM. We do subsidize it and this free plan will never go away. But it is limited in terms of functionality and what’s available to it. You get a limited number of contacts and opportunities and no files. If that’s not enough, have a look at our other CRM plans.