Why would a freelancer need a CRM anyway?

After wasting time with a cowboy recruiter, and then realizing he was the same person I promised myself I would never deal with again when he was at another agency, it become obvious I needed a better system to handle this. Spreadsheets and email only go that far - and that is not very far. I heard of Capsule on a PHP blog where they were discussing ways to access their free API, so I thought I’d give it a shot.

The good parts: the dropbox. And the API

The API is a nice to have which to be honest I have never got around using - I may when I need to migrate my stuff out. In other words, useless to me.

What I really like about Capsule is how you can forward any email you get to your dropbox, and it will do a good job of scanning it for names and match it up to a contact, or creating a new contact if it’s new. The same when you bcc the dropbox in any mail you send. You need to create the company manually, but once you do that it then shows you all mails related to that company.

The calendar and custom milestones are also a good feature. A sequence of milestones is a called a “pipeline”, and It’s good to be able to create your own. For a freelancer, for example, it could be something like: send cv; get CV feedback; 1st interview; get 1st interview feedback; 2nd interview; get offer. What’s useful is that you can decide how far apart the steps are,. Then you get an alert if, for example, you didn’t get feedback on your 1st interview after 3 days, so you can chase it up.

So far so useful, but that, in a nutshell is all Capsule has got to offer a freelancer.

The not so good: too much clicking. It’s a sales tool

The first disappointment comes when you try to import legacy data, and you realise the dropbox doesn’t scan dates of incoming emails, so they all appear to have happened the day you import them. I have raised the issue in a feature request, they claim dates are too complex to scan. Excuse me?

Organisations are also not recognised - you’d think if two people have an email from the same domain they work for the same company. Of corse there’ll be false positives (gmail, hotmail, and so on), but surely they can be handled automatically. But they aren’t, so that’s more clicking to pair the two.

To make a long story short, Capsule only does the bare minimum automatically, and since the server (or the front end code - I haven’t looked) are not the fastest, there is a fair amount of waiting around.

Contacts are not very flexible. Merging is a bit clumsy, and people can only be members of one organisation. You can’t keep track of people as they change company - one of the main reasons I started using this tool in the first place. You find yourself wondering whether this is better than GMail’s contacts. It isn’t.

You can create ‘opportunities’ and ‘case studies’ to group together conversations. To this day, I still don’t understand the difference between the two, they seem exactly the same thing but different. In the end I picked ‘opportunities’ and ignored ‘case studies’, it seems to work. But once again, creating opportunities, assigning milestones, assigning emails or notes to them, it’s an awful lot of clicking. After a few user requests, Capsule have added individual dropboxes for opportunities, so you can forward an email directly to it. But given that dropboxes are in the format dropbox@12345678.string.string.capsulecrm.com it’s not that easy to remember which is which.

It may be good for sales people, but not for freelancers

Perhaps sales people, who can exchange 50 or more emails before clinching a sale, may find all that clicking a price worth paying for the extra tools they get to track profitability of opportunities etc. But a freelancer typically exchanges a couple of emails and a phone call with a recruiter, and it really isn’t worth all that effort.

*[CRM]: Customer Relationship Management