Client Relationship Management vs. Project Management tools


As a business newb (or even a business pro), you’ve probably heard other entrepreneurs tossing around phrases like “client management” or acronyms like “CRM” or “PM” and you might not have any idea what they mean.

Maybe you bought something like Dubsado or Honeybook and now you’re confused because you don’t understand why people are also using a PM/Project Management tool –and how do they integrate? Why do you need both?



What is a CRM or a PM tool?

These tools can either be a web app (something you access through web browsers only, no app download), a downloadable app/software. It tends to vary between companies. While there are definitely ways for product based businesses to use these tools, they tend to be most popular among service based businesses (designers, photographers, web designers, coaches, copywriters, etc.; people who provide a service to their client).

Client Relationship Management = CRM

Sometimes also referred to as CM (Client Management) tools. These are apps like Dubsado, Honeybook, Basecamp, Bonsai, and more. They handle the “paperwork” end of your business/client relationships, and though each tool will vary in what they include, it’s typically things like: invoicing, accepting payments & payment plans, sending/signing contracts, sending forms, handling incoming leads, scheduling, emails, workflow/automations, client portals, email templates and more. I’ll elaborate on those things more in a minute.

Project Management = PM

These are tools/apps like Asana, Trello, ClickUp, AirTable, Zenkit, Quire, Monday and more. They allow you to handle the project itself, after or in between all the “paperwork” involved in managing the client. These apps allow you to assign tasks to the team or to the client, show everyone the tasks that need to be done & the due date for each, comments & attachments, calendar syncing, checklists, progress or goal tracking, and more.

Why do I need both?

You don’t “need” both, though I’d highly recommend using both. If you’re on a budget, I’d spend your money on the CRM that fits you best and then use a free plan for the PM tool of your choice, just to get you started. Most of the PM tools offer a free plan that will be very useful for you.

How to use both tools to be more productive:

It’s all about the process.

You want your client to have a great experience working with you, right? I think it’s safe to assume that.

Nothing is worse than hiring someone to work with you that’s remote & it’s clear they are scattered, not organized or able to communicate well.

These are all things which are fixable, thankfully! Let’s do a deep dive into how this would work if you’re using a CRM & a PM tool, and I’ll use the specific brands that I love & use myself, as an example.

*Affiliate links below! Dubsado’s links will get ya 20% off your first purchase!

Dubsado, my CRM 💛

For one annual fee, I can use Dubsado to:

  • collect new inquiries from potential clients with a lead capture form

    • either embed it on my website page or link to it with a button, opening it in its own page

  • use that lead capture form to start an automated or manual onboarding process

  • use Dubsado’s scheduler to schedule a video or phone chat with the client, to see if they’re a good fit.

    • full disclosure: I actually still use Acuity for this, because Dubsado’s is still very new & not as robust.

  • build automated or custom proposals with packages

    • Proposals are essentially order forms or quotes/estimates. The client can see the exact pricing, choose add-on services if you offer any, and details for each, while also seeing their final invoice amount before accepting the proposal by filling out & submitting the form.

    • Packages are pre-setup pricing for flat-fee services. I use them for my web design service, because I know exactly how much I need to charge for specific types of websites.

  • send a contract that allows a legally binding digital signature

    • Don’t have a contract yet? Dubsado has a template library with some basic contracts for some service based businesses to get ya started.

  • send an invoice with an optional payment schedule

    • get paid quickly with Stripe, PayPal or Square integrations, or manually enter cash or checks

    • Payment schedules have pre-planned relative due dates & amounts, with reminder emails

      • Each project can have a payment schedule with relative due dates that will automatically change based on the project’s start date, and allow a fixed payment for deposits at the start.

        • Example: (these are very flexible)
          Deposit $XXX due at start
          33% due 2 weeks later
          33% due 2 weeks later
          34% due 2 weeks later
          Deposit $XXXX due at start
          100% remaining due 2 weeks later

      • You can also setup your automated payment reminder emails here.

        • Send one a few days before the payment is due and one to send 2 days after if the payment isn’t made (it won’t send if the payment IS made).

Once all of that paperwork is done, the project has started. Now how do you organize it?

Now we use the PM tool!

So I’ve tried a LOT of these including Asana, Trello, AirTable, Zenkit, ClickUp, researched Monday (too expensive), and lastly Quire. The differences are mostly in their individual capabilities, how they work (user-interface) and how they’re designed visually.

The basics of how to use them:

  1. Create a project template for each project type you offer

  2. Create tasks within that project for each major step of the process

  3. Create sub-tasks where it makes sense, for each of those steps

When a client signs on, you would copy the template you created, personalize it for them & then invite them to join you in whatever app you chose so that they can see the progress, due dates & notifications.

Once they join, you can assign their tasks to their username & yours to yourself, adding due dates and whatever else makes sense for the service you offer.

This allows BOTH of you to stay on task, see what’s coming up, what’s expected & when.

It’s ESSENTIAL for extensive services like website design, because there are so many moving parts, and some tasks are 100% dependent on the client homework being completed before I can move on to the next thing.

Which PM tool is better?

That’s a whole other blog post, which is coming up next so please stay tuned!

I’ll breakup all the PM tools I’ve tried & list pros & cons for each so you can decide which might work best for you.

Wish you were already this organized?

But have no desire to DIY? I’m launching a new service soon that does JUST THAT.