The Top 5 CRMs for Small Businesses in 2021

Discover the top 5 best CRM small business options & find the right one for you. Learn how a CRM can help you stay organized & grow your business.

client relationship management

Whether you’ve been in business for years or you’re about to launch a new brand, you’ve likely heard a lot about the importance of customer experience.

And for good reason. Customer expectations are rising dramatically, and at least 66% of customers expect businesses to understand their needs and expectations. They’re demanding better, faster and more personalized attention from the businesses they buy from.

As a result, small businesses are feeling the pressure to perform – to deliver positive, tailor-made experiences for each of their leads and customers.

But with limited resources and small teams, there’s really only one way for small businesses to meet this demand without facing burnout. They have to incorporate a robust customer relationship management (CRM) solution into their business processes to keep track of their pipeline and ensure they’re communicating with customers at every step of the journey.

Learn why you should add a CRM to your toolstack, look at the best CRMs for small business and dig into exactly what makes each CRM a powerful option.

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What Is a CRM?

Customer relationship management solutions, or CRMs, are tools designed to help business owners do three things: keep track of their contacts, nurture their leads and build relationships with their customers. 

They work as you might expect – by collecting lead data, organizing leads and customers into a digital sales pipeline, and providing you with a set of tools to streamline and up-level your marketing campaigns.

Even if your business is just starting out, you’ll want to onboard a CRM as soon as possible so it can help you scale up as your business grows.


Why Do Small Businesses Need a CRM?

The fact is, running a small business is a massive undertaking. It requires a lot of time, energy and ingenuity. And it only gets harder as you scale. 

Think about it. The more leads you have in your pipeline, the more emails you have to write and the more contact information you have to store in a spreadsheet. And the longer your client list, the more invoices you have to create and payments you have to process. 

More = More. Though more clients means more money, more recognition and more opportunities, it also means more work.

This might not be a problem for big businesses, who have massive amounts of capital and large sales teams. But when you’re a small business, you’re dealing with finite time and resources. You can’t afford to write hundreds of personalized emails or create dozens of invoice documents from scratch every week. If you did, you’d have no time left for client projects or for your personal life.


What Do CRMs Do? 

CRM solutions make it possible for small businesses to manage their customer relationships as efficiently as large businesses.They take a significant amount of work off your plate by automating repetitive tasks, keeping track of important details, and streamlining different customer-facing activities like communication, invoice generation and billing.  

And the CRMs that consistently rank among the best CRMs for small business also offer a few unique bells and whistles of their own.


Non-Negotiable CRM Features 

When looking for a CRM, it’s easy to get caught up in flashy features and cutting-edge intelligence functionalities. But it’s important to remember that there’s a lot more to a CRM than that. 

Let’s quickly highlight a few must-have features that businesses (large and small) should look for in a CRM solution.

  1. Lead Capture –  One of the most tedious tasks small businesses deal with is lead and customer data entry. Luckily, most CRMs have the capacity to capture leads from different digital spaces, like web forms, live chat conversations and social platforms. The lead management tools built into most CRMS can do it all without manual entry or editing, helping you store data more easily.
  2. Contact Management – You shouldn’t have to constantly be checking customer profiles to make sure they’re up-to-date. If you are, your CRM is saving you little to no time. A well-built CRM offers automatic updates to contact profiles when new information is made available. But these profiles will always be easy to edit manually, if you do have something to add.
  3. Pipeline Management – Every lead counts. You can’t afford to have any slip through the cracks. Whether it’s automated or managed by hand, your CRM solution should make it easy to move clients through your pipeline, and keep track of account statuses, so no one is missed or forgotten. The best CRM will let you view your pipeline in real time so you always have a birds-eye view of project statuses.
  4. Task Automation – The point of a CRM is to make your workday easier by eliminating mundane tasks from your to-do list and ensuring everything is accurate and complete. Therefore, the best CRM for small business owners will be able to manage important tasks on its own, without any hand-holding.
  5. Customization  – No company is exactly the same. Processes differ, if only just slightly, from business to business. And no matter how good a CRM is, its default settings and core functionality will not perfectly meet your needs. But, top CRMs will allow you to customize your options, making sure the software can perform your desired tasks.
  6. Affordability – The reality is, there are a lot of great tools out there. But not all cater to the budget constraints of small businesses. That doesn’t mean you can’t find a good option, though. The tools that truly are the best CRM for small business owners offer all the features you need (plus a few extra tools to support your processes) at a price point you can afford.


The Key to Choosing the Right CRM: Try Before You Buy

Let’s face it: the way you run your business is somewhat unique, and every platform may not be a perfect fit. Don’t forget to take advantage of free trial periods when looking for the right CRM for your small business.

With a free plan, you can pay attention to the core functionality of the CRM while also seeing what sets it apart. Before you try, document your processes ahead of time and consider how you could do things faster or differently. That way, you can better evaluate each CRM as your trying it for your business.

The 5 Best CRMs for Small Business

Even with all these criteria in mind, there are still dozens of CRMs to choose from. So the question is: what is the best CRM for small business?

The truth is, it depends on your business model and needs. But to help you narrow it down, here are 5 top-rated CRMs for small business.


1. HoneyBook

Best For: All-in-One Small Business CRM

HoneyBook is an all-in-one business solution that doesn’t quite fit the mold of a traditional CRM. That’s because HoneyBook isn’t designed for massive corporations. It’s built specifically for small business owners, and specifically those that run Independent businesses with personalized services.

Using HoneyBook, you can capture leads from your web forms, inbox, social media accounts and more and the CRM system will automatically save their information to your account. 

HoneyBook has several key features that make it one of the best options for freelancers and small business owners. It organizes everything in projects that you can title on your own to make sure they match your core services. Within each project, you have the ability to house timelines, notes, contracts, invoices, payments and more. 

Beyond its simple organization, it also makes it easier to communicate with clients. HoneyBook Automations keep leads from falling through cracks over time since you can respond to inquiries automatically and send follow-up messages when the leads gets quiet. Using HoneyBook’s unique online proposals, you can also send contracts and invoices at the same time to move your booking process forward faster and make it a more airtight process as well. 

To make everything more simple, HoneyBook also offers file and email templates to keep your business moving forward regardless of your experience. So you don’t have the perfect language down for a follow-up email? No worries – HoneyBook will get you there faster. In essence, you can automate or streamline virutally everything in your workflow.

You don’t have to sit around and wonder if your clients have opened your emails either. HoneyBook sends you read receipts and real-time status updates to show you when clients open files, sign contracts and make payments. And HoneyBook isn’t just for you. Your clients can also access all of this information from HoneyBook’s centralized client portal.

But what really sets HoneyBook apart as the best CRM for small businesses is its online payment software. Unlike many of its competitors, HoneyBook enables you to invoice clients directly and accept payments via credit cards, debit cards and direct deposit once a project has wrapped. This means you can manage the customer experience from end-to-end all in one place.

This mix of contact management, project management, communication and payment features provides business owners with the toolset they need to effectively manage their customer relationships. So it’s no surprise that many consider HoneyBook to be the best CRM for small business owners. 

You can get started with a 7-day free CRM plan that doesn’t require a credit card, so it’s a zero-risk way to try before you buy.


2. Copper

Best For: Email-Focused CRM

If you’re particularly attached to using your inbox for any and all business communication, Copper was built specifically for you. Designed to integrate seamlessly with Gmail, Copper can both pull customer data from your inbox and be used in a pop-up form in your Gmail account. 

But its automation capabilities don’t stop with contact profile creation. With Copper, you can also create triggers for virtually anything in your workflow, like updating contact information, moving leads through your pipeline and scheduling meetings with clients. 

Beyond that, Copper offers robust reporting features that make it possible for you to stay up-to-date on your sales performance. You can change parameters of reports to see specific segments of data and track individual marketing processes to see what’s working best. And the reports themselves are designed in such a way that even novices can analyze the numerical data efficiently. 

So, if you’re intrigued by the concept of a CRM, but you really only want to work in your email account, Copper might just be the best CRM for your small business.


3. HubSpot

Best For: Small Business Sales

HubSpot is nearly always listed on a “best CRM for small business” list. And we’d certainly be remiss if we didn’t include it on ours, as well. Being the top marketing-based CRM on the market, it’s a great option for a lot of small businesses. 

HubSpot CRM doesn’t just offer marketing tools, though. It also covers sales and customer support in a really genius way. By saving contact profiles in a single dashboard and saving all future communication with that contact to the same profile, all three teams (marketing, sales and customer support) can access the same information. HubSpot also scores leads based on your own pre-defined criteria to help you prioritize the most important clients in your pipeline. 

At the same time, team members can communicate with leads from a universal inbox, no matter where the communication comes from. This minimizes the time that might have been spent toggling between your Instagram account, inbox and live chat platform. 

If you don’t have a lot of time to send emails or communicate with clients, you can also automate much of your marketing, by triggering certain actions to happen (like a confirmation email being sent) when leads take specific actions (like signing a contract). 

However, there are some drawbacks to having such a robust set of tools at your disposal. Namely, it can drastically overcomplicate things, especially during the launch and set up phase. Especially for small business owners, it can be confusing to have a tool built for customer service and marketing versus the streamlined booking process that most would perefer. So, if you’re considering HubSpot, think about whether you have the time and bandwidth to navigate the onboarding process. 

It’s also important to note that HubSpot CRM is free forever, which means you can use the basic, core functionality of the CRM without paying anything, ever. But you’ll still need a paid plan if you’reinterested in tapping into all the features that make HubSpot one the best CRM tools for small business.


4. Zoho CRM

Best For: Small Business Customer Service

While Zoho is a great option for most large businesses, it was actually designed for the small business.

With standard lead capture, pipeline managementand contact management tools – it has all the good stuff that small businesses need. But Zoho isn’t your run-of-the-mill CRM. It’s actually one of the only omnichannel CRMs on the market. 

What does that mean? It means that in addition to live chat, email, phone and web form lead capture, Zoho can pull data from social media channels to populate contact profiles. 

It also allows you to communicate with leads in real-time across all of these channels (and host meetings and webinars) all from the CRM. That means you can effectively say goodbye to all the extra apps and tabs that are draining your battery (and your sanity).  

And believe it or not, that’s just scratching the surface with Zoho. But again, keep in mind that more doesn’t necessarily mean better. Zoho’s massive library of features can create more confusion and increase your need for customer support, if you don’t have the bandwidth to use them. Zoho’s personalization capabilities also lack other versions, so you won’t have as much opportunity to create and send branded assets. 

But, if you use lots of different communication tools to connect with your audience and you’re willing to sink the time into learning Zoho, it’s probably the best CRM for your small business.


5. Freshworks

Best For: Growing Businesses Focused on Customer Support

Freshworks is a unique Saas (software as a service) that provides solutions for both big and small businesses. For the small businesses, it has a suite of tools for customer support, sales and marketing – much like HubSpot and Zoho. 

Freshworks’ strong suit is really in customer support, and it offers tools for business owners who work internationally so you can access different currencies and languages as well as territory management. 

Freshworks also boasts its robust AI capabilities to put your lead managment on auto pilot. One noteworthy aspect is its predictive lead scoring that’s especially helpful for businesses who get a significant amount of leads per month and need a better way to manage them without a full-size sales team. 

Overall, Freshworks is a good investment for growing small businesses looking for a bit more capabilities focused toward clients.

Create an Outstanding Client Experience with the Right CRM

Regardless of the type of business you run, it’s important to create a great customer experience from the first meeting to the close of the contract and beyond. 

Consider your current clients and the parts of your process they appreciate the most as well as the parts that are lacking. If your clients love personalized experiences and more efficient ways to communicate with you, HoneyBook is the best CRM to make them enjoy working with you even more. Other CRMs won’t provide as much for the client experience, but they may fill the gaps you have in your sales or marketing processes.

When you find the right CRM system for your business, make the most out of it by taking the time to necessary for set up. The more information you provide at the start, the more powerul your CRM will be as it works for you.




This post was updated in August 2021 when the HoneyBook Workflow tool was renamed to Automations. The HoneyBook Automations tool maintains the same functionality with the ability to automate communications, tasks and more. For more information about the Automations update, check our August 2021 Release Notes.