Best free CRM software for small businesses

Free software will keep budgets down - but can you be sure there are no hidden costs? We list the top CRM systems that are actually free to use.

Our Research

Our team of writers and researchers review CRM software by rating each product against the key features businesses care about: ease of use; value for money; the ability to scale, plus the depth of functionality and advanced options.
Written and reviewed by:
Helena Young

Struggling to keep track of customers and leads as your small business grows? Free CRM software can be a lifesaver, but, with so many options, finding one that matches your specific business needs and objectives can feel overwhelming.

Thankfully, Startups’ expert team of researchers has found the best free CRM tools that can do it all with zero hidden fees whether that’s lead generation, outreach, or onboarding. Our top free online CRM systems that can satisfy all of these needs are:

Best free CRM software, at a glance

1. Freshsales – best for ecommerce businesses
2. Zoho CRM – best for client services
3. HubSpot Free – best for small sales teams

Each of the above recommendations has been specifically chosen to address SME pain points, like ease-of-use. You don’t have time to waste figuring out complicated software. We’ve chosen options that are user-friendly and intuitive, so you can get started quickly.

Many free CRMs also restrict features as your business expands. Our recommendations offer scalability, ensuring your CRM can handle your success.

Below, we break down each system in more detail to help you find a budget-friendly solution that will simplify your customer processes and drive growth.

What makes the best CRM software for small businesses?

After working with SMEs for twenty years, we know that you have to contend with different issues than you would with larger or mid-sized companies. Budget is one of the biggest concerns, and can often lead to users missing out on software features that are important to managing their business.

In collaboration with an independent researcher, we first picked out eleven CRM systems, evaluating them using five specific metrics that small businesses need to consider:

  • Pricing – what is the best low-budget CRM system?
  • Functionality – what features will you get for your budget?
  • Usability – is it something you can easily learn how to use?
  • Customisation – will you have more creative control over your CRM system?
  • Help and Support – will you get guidance on setting up your CRM system?

How we evaluate and test free CRM apps

We then picked out the top CRM systems with a free plan, and carried out basic CRM tasks to judge how well each performed. These were:

  • Feature limitations eg. number of monthly emails permitted for free
  • Helpdesk eg. what help and support features were available for free
  • Marketing capabilities eg. if it is possible to send an email campaign for free
  • Sales functions eg. how long it took to upload a list of contacts

Best free CRM software for small businesses

Based on extensive analysis of the best CRM systems on the market, involving thorough user testing and months of research, here are the top three completely free options we would recommend to small business owners:

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Freshsales’ huge list of features means there’s no end to its capabilities. Great for teams with complicated sales pipelines.


Zoho CRM’s free platform has generous reporting tools that beat even some paid tiers.


Hubspot is a comprehensive CRM tool that’s great for marketing and outreach – two areas that are important for business growth.


Strong data tools let you track customers and sales across multiple digital channels. Best for ecommerce firms.

We’ll take a detailed dive into each of these choices, below. As well as explaining what you get with the free tier, we’ll explain the benefits of upgrading and costs of the paid plans.

1. Freshsales Suite: best free CRM with unlimited users

Freshsales Free CRM
Freshsales is the CRM champion for online stores thanks to its AI-powered responses and chatbot for seamless customer experiences.
  • Free trial? Yes
  • Wide range of customer support channels for onboarding help
  • Excellent feature list for website selling, including AI chatbot builder
  • Navigational guides and walkthroughs make it easy to master the platform
Summary Freshsales empowers e-commerce businesses with a comprehensive remote sales toolkit including website chatbots for automated lead qualification, and a built-in phone system for seamless customer communication,. While the platform boasts a user-centric interface and readily available customer support, the free plan lacks native email campaign functionality. For businesses requiring robust email marketing features, solutions like HubSpot may offer a more suitable fit.
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We recommend Freshsales as the best CRM tool for small ecommerce companies that sell entirely online, like dropshippers. 

Without in-person interactions with buyers, online sellers rely on CRM software to ensure a smooth and responsive customer experience. Freshsales’ advanced chatbot and AI tools mean it can act as a central hub to manage all customer communication from your online store, ensuring that every query or potential lead is responded to promptly. 

What do you get with Freshsales’ free plan?

Website and phone sales tools: amongst the specific features for remote selling, Freshsales users are able to:

  • Set up a website chatbot and respond to queries 
  • Set up an AI chatbot with pre-trained responses 
  • Take and receive customer calls through the in-built phone
  • Track website visitor numbers
  • Automate tasks in the workflow template (pictured below)

Image: Freshsales. We also like that Freshsales’ workflow template means you can automate tasks like order confirmation or basic troubleshooting from your website.

Ease-of-use: navigating new software can be confusing – particularly given Freshsales’ long list of features. We like Freshsales’ ‘launchpad’ function (shown as a rocketship in the sidebar) which acts as a feature search engine for businesses to quickly identify a tool.

Customer support: users can contact Freshsales support via phone and email (neither of which are offered by HubSpot, while Zoho only has email support). Notably the Freshdesk help desk is open all day, five days a week, in the event of a CRM emergency.

What don’t you get with Freshsales’ free plan?

Unlimited users: Freshsales now has a user cap of three employees before you’ll need to upgrade to a paid plan. Dropshipping businesses tend to be run by sole traders, but larger ecommerce operations may need to upgrade to the paid tier or switch to HubSpot Free (which permits up to five users) to scale their team. 

Email features: Freshsales does not offer ready-made email templates or allow emails to be sent from the platform, which adds substantial admin time onto what should be a quick turnaround process for online sellers advertising a seasonal discount or product promotion. “My email campaign is plain unless I spend time on designing it,” one tester noted. 

Omnichannel selling: Freshsales’ omni-channel features are only available on the paid-for tier, Freshsales Growth (£7 per user, per month). If you sell on multiple channels it may be worth the upgrade to get integrations with Whatsapp, Facebook Messenger, and SMS chat.

How much does Freshsales cost?

Freshsales Growth is the platform’s lowest-priced paid tier. It offers email marketing and omnichannel tools; both of which are advantageous for expanding ecommerce operations.

  • Freshsales Free – £0
  • Freshsales Growth – £7 per user, per month (billed annually)
  • Freshsales Pro – £29 per user, per month (billed annually)
  • Freshsales Enterprise – £49 per user, per month (billed annually)

Is Freshsales right for my business?

  • Yes if you’re an ecommerce business that sells predominantly through your website
  • No for teams bigger than three or businesses that need access to email marketing tools

2. Zoho CRM: best for client services

Zoho CRM Free
Zoho Free offers a free CRM with customisable dashboards and strong data management, perfect for service firms that need a budget-friendly way to manage clients and billing.
  • Free trial? Yes
  • Excellent onboarding and support functions to make setup simple
  • Scalable range of pricing tiers that won't break the bank if you decide to upgrade
  • Excellent contact management features that are also fully customisable
Summary Zoho Free offers a solid base for managing sales pipelines and capturing leads. Its impressive data and reporting features - it can generate leads reports, deals reports, and activity reports - caters to a company's specific sales process. It requires more effort to learn than competitors, with a multitude of features and fields that might overwhelm new users. But for those with the time and resources to master it, Zoho Free is the ideal tool for.
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Zoho CRM delivers powerful data storage and organisation features at a very affordable cost, which makes it the ideal solution for client service firms like plumbers or gyms and fitness centres with up to three team members.

If your sales cycle is very specific, but you still need a cheap and cheerful CRM, Zoho could be a great choice. Our testers found that Zoho’s customisable layouts can effectively manage client accounts, track billing, and input new contacts or members; and all for a low-cost.

GIF source: Zoho CRM. Zoho’s intuitive account management features meant we were able to easily add new contacts or amend their details.

What do you get with Zoho’s free plan?

Organisation: users can easily establish and customise the sales process. In the ‘Setup’ tab, firms create a layout associated with their typical sales pipeline (e.g. consultation and service check). At each stage in the purchase cycle, the customer can then be moved to the next stage using Zoho’s simple drag-and-drop functionality, so that no steps are missed.

Webforms: unlike Freshsales, Zoho lets users embed up to three webforms on their website to capture leads from potential customers, so they can start building relationships with potential customers early on in the sales process. HubSpot also has this function.

Onboarding: our testers tried out Set Up Your CRM, a checklist that takes users through the Zoho CRM setup process, and Quick Create, a tool to instantly upload contact information. Both were deemed helpful for someone new to the software. 

What don’t you get with Zoho’s free plan?

Ease-of-use: Zoho has a steeper learning curve than HubSpot and Freshsales. There are lots of sections and fields to fill in which led us to get lost within the platform during testing. Zoho has downloadable help guides, but our testers report that some of the information shown (such as how to create an email campaign) was outdated and incorrect. 

Quotes: service firms often need to send professional quotes or invoices to prospective clients and Zoho unfortunately cannot perform either of these tasks. Users will need to integrate Zoho with accounting software to access billing features. Zoho even has its own accounting software to consider for this.

Integrations: Zoho CRM (and Freshsales, for that matter) lacks ready-made integrations, including with accounting software, which can be useful for generating reports and monitoring budgets. HubSpot, in comparison, integrates with 47 accounting software apps.

How much does Zoho cost?

Zoho Standard is the lowest-priced paid tier. As with Freshsales Growth, it unlocks access to an email inbox, so it’s worth the upgrade if you use email to communicate with clients.

  • Zoho Free – £0
  • Zoho Standard – £12 per user, per month (billed annually)
  • Zoho Professional – £18 per user, per month (billed annually)
  • Zoho Enterprise – £35 per user, per month (billed annually)

Is Zoho right for my business?

  • Yes if you work with clients and need a bespoke sales cycle to match their needs
  • No if you have a simple sales cycle (eg. retail) and don’t need a customisable CRM

3. HubSpot Free: best for small sales teams

Hubspot CRM Free
HubSpot offers a free CRM with powerful lead generation tools that will help ambitious sales teams to grow their contact database.
  • Free trial? Yes
  • Over 100 integrations to slot perfectly into your existing business technology
  • Brilliant email marketing features that make it easy to attract new business
  • The only free CRM we reviewed that offered social media integration
Summary HubSpot offers a free CRM plan with lead generation tools (such as social media integration, task automation, and revenue tracking) that make it ideal for sales teams. The free plan allows for a massive number of contacts (1 million). However, data import can be time-consuming and customer support is limited to forums. If you are a tech-savvy sales team needing advanced lead gen tools, HubSpot is a good option.
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HubSpot is already well-known for its marketing muscle, which is certainly not to be scoffed at. But its free plan packs another secret weapon: lead generation, making it the ideal free CRM for very small sales teams.

Amongst its smart set of tools for closing deals (none of which are available with Freshsales Free or Zoho Free) HubSpot:

  • Integrates with Facebook and Instagram to qualify leads you won’t find elsewhere
  • Builds and sends professional quotes, streamlining your closing process
  • Integrates with ecommerce platforms to track and report on revenue streams
  • Boasts a massive contact limit of one million (compared to Zoho’s 5,000).

What do you get with HubSpot’s free plan?

Email marketing: HubSpot has an in-built email inbox from which users can send emails directly to sales leads and customers. It can even schedule auto responses, for example a welcome email can introduce new subscribers to a business’ offering. That said, emails sent from HubSpot include HubSpot branding, which may appear unprofessional to clients.

Image: HubSpot. Our testers loved HubSpot’s in-built email inbox and customisable templates that drastically reduce time spent flicking between HubSpot and Outlook.

Integrations: with over 100 integrations, HubSpot can link with third-party ecommerce platforms, accounting software, and messaging apps to ensure customer data (like purchase history) is available to everyone, eliminating the need to switch between systems.

Automations: our testers highlighted HubSpot’s automated workflows (like sending follow-up emails or assigning tasks to sales reps) are confusing to use initially, but invaluable for resource-stretched sales and marketing teams operating at scale. Ensuring leads are nurtured and followed up promptly will increase the likelihood of conversion.

What don’t you get with HubSpot’s free plan?

Data import: one obstacle we encountered when trialling HubSpot was migrating data into the platform, which proved to be very time-consuming (it took 17.5 minutes compared to Freshsales, which took just under six minutes). Frustratingly, it is also impossible to upload data to the platform if the spreadsheet has more than one tab, while excel files need to be downloaded and then reuploaded to Hubspot. Our tester said all of these issues were “a bit inconvenient”, particularly if you’re a sales team with thousands of contacts to manage.

Customer support: our testers told us there isn’t always on-screen guidance and it’s possible to get stuck at certain stages without knowing what to do next. Given HubSpot does not have email or live chat help, users will rely solely on the HubSpot community forums for help which can be time-consuming and may not always provide the specific solution needed.

User allowance: HubSpot only lets one account user be logged into the platform at any time, which could create difficulties for larger sales teams. Those with three or fewer employees should be able to use the platform without too much hassle, however.

How much does HubSpot cost?

HubSpot Free is designed to perform all the core CRM functions like contact management and email campaigning. HubSpot also has three department-specific packages for sales teams, service hubs, and marketers, priced at a flat rate of £18 per user, per month.

  • HubSpot Free – £0 per month
  • HubSpot Marketing Hub Starter Plan – £18 per user, per month
  • HubSpot Sales Hub Starter Plan – £18 per user, per month
  • HubSpot Service Hub Starter Plan – £18 per user, per month

Is HubSpot right for my business?

  • Yes if you’re a small sales team with a need for advanced lead generation tools
  • No if you’re not tech-savvy and want a CRM you can get started with quickly

What types of businesses should use free CRM software?

Free CRM software is an excellent option for small or microbusinesses, or even for solo entrepreneurs. These tools tend to lack certain key features, but companies that are just starting out and don’t have lots of team members or a large customer database will find free plans suitable.

Once a company starts scaling, it will need to begin paying for a CRM tool that can support larger growth objectives. For example, a free CRM tends to limit the number of users, while a paid-for CRM will allow an unlimited number of sales reps or marketers to use the platform.

Is a free CRM software enough?

It shouldn’t come as a surprise that the free versions of business tools aren’t sufficient for long-term use for a growing business. Here are some CRM features that a free tier generally won’t give you:

1. Accounting: accounting features are essential to monitor things like invoice tracking, client budgeting, billing. Due to how important this area is, most brands only offer it on paid-for tiers.

2. Unlimited users: most freemium tiers put a cap on your employees to ensure that, as your company scales, you are investing more in your providers.

3. Social media integration: social media allows teams to leverage social information to understand and engage customers, gain market insights, and provide better customer service. It is almost never available for free.

4. Reduced customer service: we don’t just mean a help desk – as this list proves, brands like Freshsales have plenty of different customer service options for zero charge. Still, most paid tiers make free users a low-priority for support and lack channels like live chat.

Next steps

A freemium plan is great for startups or sole traders who are just starting out. But business owners should be aware that managing customer relationships is an important aspect of running a company and requires proper investment for long-term growth and success.

With this in mind, we’ve also told you about the best free trials available, so you can test the top brands without jeopardising your budget. If you’re ready to upgrade to a paid plan, our free cost comparison tool offers bespoke quotes from the best providers in the industry.

Related reading

How we test CRM systems for UK small businesses

At Startups, it's important to us that the product recommendations we make to small UK businesses are useful, accurate, and based on thorough product testing.

We tested 13 CRM systems across seven main categories of investigation and 13 subcategories – all in all, we covered 84 areas of investigation. Next, we gave a ‘relevance weighting' to the final product category scores - this ensures the products' final ratings perfectly reflect the specific needs and requirements of Startups readers.

Our main testing categories for CRM systems are:

Features: the functionalities and capabilities provided by the CRM software, including contact management, lead and opportunity tracking, and task and activity management.

Help and Support: the assistance and resources available to users when they encounter issues or need guidance while using the CRM software.

Customisation: the ability to tailor the CRM software to suit the specific needs and processes of the organization, including customising fields, layouts, and workflows.

Scalability: the ability of the CRM software to accommodate the growth and changing needs of the organization, such as the capacity to handle a growing customer database.

Price: the cost associated with using the CRM software. It includes factors such as licensing fees and subscription plans.

Team Structure – Sales CRM: determining if a platform makes it easier to manage large sales teams, including team dashboards and team hierarchies.

Usability – Small Business CRM: assessing the simplicity of the interface, the ease of navigating through menus and options, and the overall user experience.

The Startups product testing process

The Startups product testing process diagram

Written by:
Helena Young
Helena is Lead Writer at Startups. As resident people and premises expert, she's an authority on topics such as business energy, office and coworking spaces, and project management software. With a background in PR and marketing, Helena also manages the Startups 100 Index and is passionate about giving early-stage startups a platform to boost their brands. From interviewing Wetherspoon's boss Tim Martin to spotting data-led working from home trends, her insight has been featured by major trade publications including the ICAEW, and news outlets like the BBC, ITV News, Daily Express, and HuffPost UK.

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