We recommend HubSpot as our 2018 pick for the best CRM software for very small businesses. For independent contractors and owners of tiny businesses, this software offers an easy entry into the world of CRM solutions. The free version of HubSpot is a must-try for very small businesses, because in some cases, it may offer enough functionality to improve processes and organization at zero cost.
HubSpot has been around since 2006, but the company released its first free CRM solution in 2014. Like other large SaaS providers competing for attention from small businesses, HubSpot is focused on offering a suite of sales and marketing related tools. The free CRM can be paired with HubSpot's Marketing Hub, Sales Hub, and (coming soon) Customer Hub, to increase the functionality of the system and build out a one-stop-shop for all things marketing and sales related. Of course, as you add more software products to your ecosystem, the price increases, so if you plan on building out a full solution that extends beyond the free CRM, make sure you understand the costs involved.
To understand how we selected our best picks, you can view our methodology, as well as a comprehensive list of CRM software, on our best picks page.
Why HubSpot CRM?
Great for microbusinesses, but still scalable
HubSpot is excellent for tiny businesses and startups, because the free version of the customer relationship management software offers surprisingly robust features. For sole proprietorships, side hustlers and microbusinesses, HubSpot provides an incredible alternative to handling customer relationship management the old-fashioned way.
While many CRMs offer a free trial version, or even a free subscription level, there are usually lots of limitations and caveats involved. HubSpot is unique – it offers a completely free CRM, with no expiration date, for unlimited users and up to a million contacts. There's also a great click-to-sync setup built in for Gmail and Outlook, which makes integrating your existing email with HubSpot super simple.
The uncluttered visual design is easy to navigate without a tech pro showing you the ropes. HubSpot's free CRM also includes a task dashboard (to boost productivity and organization), automatic sales logging, contact and lead management, and sales pipeline management. Plus, the online library of learning guides, invoice template generators, email signature generators, and marketing plan template generators offer motivated users a great DIY buffet of options – without the need to spend money on development and training.
The free version of HubSpot CRM is excellent, but most small businesses don't want to invest a lot of energy into implementing something that isn't scalable. Luckily, HubSpot's offering of SaaS products extends far beyond the free CRM, and since even the free version allows for unlimited users and up to a million contacts, it's not a system most SMBs will outgrow quickly.
To add functionality as time goes on, users can upgrade to paid subscriptions to HubSpot's specialized marketing and sales tools. Tiered subscription levels, which aren't affected by the number of users, make it easy to scale up as you expand your ecosystem and prevent you from being forced to upgrade due to hiring staff, which is a boon for tiny businesses that are bound to grow. Plus, HubSpot spends a lot of time creating tools and resources for startups and small operations. Through HubSpot Academy, the SaaS company provides users with dozens of online classes and certification programs on topics as varied as sales software, design and marketing. This, combined with the higher-level features bundled into the paid subscription levels, makes HubSpot a system that can grow with your business.
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HubSpot CRM is 100 percent free for as many users as you want and up to a million contacts. And while it is possible to remain a non-paying user indefinitely, there's a needlessly complicated charging method for paid features and subscription tiers you should be aware of.
For example, let's say you decide to use some of the free features in the Marketing Hub. If you do that, the contacts saved in your free CRM will be applied to the marketing hub, and in the Marketing Hub, the number of contacts directly influences which pricing tier you must purchase.
Unfortunately, if you want information more specific than that, regarding how and when you'll have to upgrade on the Sales and Marketing front, you must inquire directly. HubSpot also isn't upfront about listing exactly what's included in each tier and what isn't. There's a lot of ambiguity, and any small businesses signing a contract with the SaaS provider should make sure they understand the fine print.
In general, though, HubSpot offers two tracks of tiered plans (Marketing and Sales), one of which is charged on a per-user basis and one that isn't, which is a bit bizarre. Here's how it breaks down:
- Marketing Pricing: The Starter Marketing hub starts at $50 per month, Basic is $200 a month, Professional is $800 a month and Enterprise is $2,400 a month. Subscriptions are billed and paid annually, and there are no minimums or maximums when it comes to the number of users, as user number does not impact price.
- Sales Pricing: The Sales hub is billed separately and may be purchased with Marketing or as a stand-alone product. Sales pricing is based on user number. So, for Sales the Starter subscription is $50 a month, but that's per user, and if you add more users, it will get more expensive. The next level, Professional, is a whopping $400 per month but includes five user subscriptions. If you go beyond five users, you must reach out to HubSpot to request the price.
This means Starter-level Sales and Marketing for just one user will cost $100 a month, which is far higher than the entry subscription level for any other CRM we reviewed. It's tough to say whether HubSpot's method of pricing will save SMBs money or not, because it's dependent on so many factors, but you should reach out for clarification on pricing prior to making a final decision.
Ease of Use
HubSpot is a powerful inbound-marketing focused CRM that's easy to get up and running and quick to start using; it is without a doubt one of the best-designed customer relationship management solutions available.
HubSpot's design is easy to navigate and includes exactly what you'd expect in a tidy SaaS CRM. The upper menu bar includes options like Dashboard, Contacts, Companies, Deals, Tasks, Sales Tools and Settings. There's also a window for communication, including writing notes and emails and making calls as well as task creation and log activity. One of the best features of the free CRM is the contact filtering and view customization, which allows users to filter all contacts based on custom sets of criteria and then view only certain information for each contact that's within the parameters set.
The view for each contact is also expertly executed. When a user opens a contact, they'll see the relevant contact information on a card on the left side of the screen, and on the right side, they'll see a timeline, much like a Facebook timeline, which outlines every past communication with that client, including calls and emails.
This social media styling is becoming increasingly popular across business SaaS products, and it makes sense. Business users who have any previous experience with other SaaS products, customer relationship management software, or popular social media and cloud products should be able to navigate HubSpot CRM with ease.
HubSpot's customer service is solid. The chat function on the main website is better than most, but asking questions that go beyond sales information can get dicey. It's clear that HubSpot tries to push users to consult resources rather than reach out to support, which may be fine for tech-savvy users with plenty of time, but could prove frustrating for those who want a more direct line of communication. That said, the overall ticketing system gets the job done.
When users are logged into their accounts, they can press the Help button at any time. At first glance, this appears to just reroute you to the HubSpot community and online knowledge base, but you can opt to create a ticket. There is an option to connect to HubSpot support and select your preferred form of communication (call, email, chat), and then submit a ticket with optional attachments.
Like any help desk style ticketing system, however, a lot of the efficiency lies on the side of the user, and specificity is key. HubSpot makes it easy to attach screenshots, which is great, but users who have difficulty describing technical problems or questions in writing may find response times to be on the slow side.
HubSpot's best features are heavy on the sales and marketing side, which makes sense since the company started with those areas as the focus, but it also offers some real benefits to users wanting to take advantage of the free CRM exclusively. These are a mix of paid and free features that differentiate HubSpot from other customer relationship management systems.
- Quick setup, great interface: While there's always more you can do and customize within HubSpot, the SaaS provider makes it easy to get the essentials set up. No code integration with Outlook and Gmail is available at even the free level, and click-to-install template add-ons couldn't be an easier to use. Even the tiniest business should be able to navigate the process of inputting or importing contacts and setting up users, thanks not only to easy syncing but also to the stellar UI.
- Click-to-call and call recording: As part of the HubSpot CRM, users can call clients directly in the system and record the entire call. The call then automatically gets placed in the client's timeline, which is accessible and searchable for future reference.
- HubSpot Academy: HubSpot Academy is filled with resources that are ideal for industrious DIY-capable businesses. From the HubSpot Academy portal, users can access an extensive catalog of training materials, technical documentation, certification overviews, and courses as well as community user groups and discussions.
- HubSpot for Startups: HubSpot makes a concerted effort to appeal to startups, and one major way they do that is through the HubSpot for Startups program. While the application standards, qualifications, and acceptance rates are not publicly listed, HubSpot advertises that eligible startups may receive deep discounts on SaaS solutions. The numbers advertised are, "90% off HubSpot Software for eligible Seed-stage and 50% off HubSpot Software for eligible Series A startups."
- HubSpot Templates: The HubSpot Marketplace is a repository for free templates that can be added for use across HubSpot's product line. Popular add-ons include landing page templates, blog templates, email templates and bundled packages of templates that are ideal for new businesses. While templates like this may seem like a minor feature, other CRMs offer limited templates, even at paid CRM subscription levels, and SMBs without in-house design teams rely on time-saving templates.
- Marketing Hub: The Marketing Hub is an optional add-on to the free CRM, and it has a tiered pricing structure like HubSpot's other paid SaaS solutions. The Marketing Hub is where users can access the lead analytics dashboard and attribution reports as blog and content creation tools. Marketing Hub is home to plenty of email marketing and social media tools, admin user roles, calls to action, marketing automation, and Salesforce integration. For companies wanting to adopt a CRM that has lots of marketing potential, HubSpot's inbound marketing features are worth a look.
- Sales Hub: Users who opt to use Sales Hub can effectively round out their CRM solutions and streamline every aspect of the sales, marketing, and customer relationship management process. The Sales Hub makes it possible to track and sort prospects (and create custom views of that information), send automated emails regarding prospects to the sales team, and gain insights through advanced email tracking and targeted email sequencing. There's also built-in reporting and predictive lead scoring, which is ideal for companies that have limited in-house data expertise.
The highly functional free version of HubSpot makes it a risk-free option for very small business owners, but HubSpot's paid services like the Marketing Hub and the Sales Hub, and programs like HubSpot for Startups, means this CRM can take you from a one-person operation through the startup process and into the growing business stage.
The biggest issue with HubSpot is its pricing structure. At the free level, this solution is a fantastic option for tiny businesses that want an upgrade from tracking things the old-fashioned way.
Once you venture into paid tiers, though, things get pricey and unclear. Additionally, one gets the sense that HubSpot documentation was written for a fairly tech-savvy audience, and when you pair that with the somewhat irregular customer service, it could make for a frustrating experience for business owners requiring additional guidance and tech support.
Ready to choose a CRM solution? Here's a breakdown of our full coverage: