Off topic… a cool CRM solution for small business

I was recently asked by a friend to recommend a CRM system for his business.  He is an importer of boutique beers, a one man band, who runs his business from his Mac on MYOB, Gmail and Excel.  He also wanted advice on building a website.

I wish I could have signed him up for a 1 user Microsoft CRM 2011 online instance so I could create a solution that perfectly matched his requirements, but the Mac factor ruled that out, so I went looking for an alternative.   The requirements I had in mind were:

  • Hosted
  • Cheap
  • Simple
  • Support for Accounts, Contacts, Activity, Opportunities
  • Should be able to schedule Activities, complete them and have the Completed activities for a History against customer records
  • Should be able to classify customers into different groups to support querying of customers by location, type, etc
  • Able to use Gmail for email, but with ability to record Gmail emails in the CRM easily (without copy and paste)
  • Support for bulk email to customers
  • Web site integration (nice to have)
  • Integration to hosted Accounting software (future requirement)

I reviewed Zoho, Sugar and Capsule CRM.  And perhaps surprisingly, the one I liked is the one that on the surface looks the least functional of the 3… Capsule CRM.  It meet the above requirements better than Zoho and Sugar and the UI was just a nicer place to be.  Perfect for a CRM first timer.

The end suite of applications I have recommended to my friend is as follows:

CRM: Capsule CRM


  • a really minimalistic, attractive user interface
  • small focussed scope of functionality, will not overwhelm the user
  • can email out from Capsule directly or it can be configured to pop a Gmail email form
  • offers 1-way integration of Contacts to Gmail (Capsule to Gmail) (I wish this was 2 way)
  • emails you send from Gmail or that arrive in your Gmail inbox can be copied into Capsule via a special email address that you BCC/forward to (NICE!)
  • further, there is another special email address you can use and if you BCC/forward to that the email will be recorded in Capsule and a Task will be created.   Similarly, there is an ‘opportunity’ email address as well.   I placed 3 entries in my friend’s Gmail address book: CRM History, CRM Task, CRM Opp.  When he gets an email that he wants added to CRM he just forwards to one of these.  If the email is a lead he can just forward it on “CRM Opp” and an Opportunity will be recorded for him against the original sender of the email (BRILLIANT!!!)
  • has “Tags” feature (think Marketing Lists) which allow for classification of Customers in different ways.  These can then be used to query for customers and for bulk emailing- completed activities become history items
  • integrates seamlessly to Mail Chimp for bulk email campaigns (see below for more details)
  • integrates seamlessly to Xero, a hosting small business accounting application, for invoice history and customer master details synchronisation (Nice!)
  • offers a notification feature which will email you each day your Task list for the day
  • Cheap! $12 USD / mth / user

Bulk Email:  Mail Chimp


– integrated into Capsule CRM

– no charge for 12,000 emails / mth- simple, attractive, non-threatening UI- easy to create and test attractive emails- provides all the stats you could want- includes unsubscribe functionality

    – I really like this app and I see an outfit has built Microsoft CRM integration for it, am going to look into that.

Web Site / Content Management System: Squarespace



Squarespace is exactly what I wanted.  It’s a point and click website development tool, its hosted, its simple, has lots of built in functionality plus you can paste HTML code snippets in to add maps, twitter, facebook, etc.  You have heaps of control around the appearance and style.   It offers a blog post style design for uploading content or you can have static pages that you adjust through the editor.  I though the blog post design was a bit strange for a website but I checked a few other customer websites in the same industry and that approach seems to be very common.  What’s cool about it is the website owner can update the home page content of the website really easily.  It’s simple point and click within the Squarespace editor or you can use their iPhone app, or you can just email your posts to a special email address.

My friend wanted a Google map on his website showing all the stockists of his beer.  The solution I found for that was this hosted service:  BATCH GEO   – and again,  I LOVE THIS APP!  With Batch Geo you just go to paste your address list from Excel directly into the web page, click a button and it will render a Goggle map for you and give you the HTML code to embed the resulting map into your website, all for $0.  AWESOME!


And the last little piece of the equation was another little bit of integration that Capsule CRM offers.  With just a few clicks inside Capsule CRM’s settings area I was able to request an HTML snippet to give me a web form.   I pasted this snippet into an HTML page on my Squarespace website and just like that I now have CRM integration on my website:


Ok, it’s a bit ugly but I have no HTML skills.  This little form adds Contacts directly into your CRM and they can be pre-Tagged with an identifier so you know their source.  Pretty cool.

The pricing option I opted for with Squarespace was their $22 / mth option.

We haven’t progressed with Xero yet, but we will, costing there is $49 / mth.

I am blown away by how much you can get for so little.  My friend now has an attractive website that shows his Twitter feed, Facebook integration + the posts he makes from his iPhone, plus a CRM system that he can track all his emails in, launch rich visual email campaigns from and use for Task and Opportunity management and he is only spending $34/ mth and it only cost him a case of his beautiful EPIC lager to get it all setup Smile

For those of you out there with similar friends and family battling away in small business world I can’t recommend these applications enough.  Hope this helps.

3 thoughts on “Off topic… a cool CRM solution for small business

  1. Patrick Honorez

    Great site, full of interesting tricks. Thanks for it.
    For a small business hosted crm, I gave a serious look at Capsule, and I was not too impressed. From the many I have examined, I liked Batchbook the most.


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