I love tools and apps and marketing resources.
I appreciate that, thanks to incredible and innovative software solutions, my teams and I can save time, implement powerful marketing tactics, and accomplish amazing things.
But tools shouldn’t be the first priority and investment when you’re trying to build a high-performance marketing team for your SMB. You need to first invest in the right people, and the right strategy, with right tactics, then find the right marketing resources to support those initiatives.
The most amazing marketing solution in the world will be a huge waste of time and money if you don’t have your ducks in a row.
Just look at ChatGPT – this incredible resource for businesses and marketers to talk to like a paid consultant and get all kinds of ideas, answers, and output. And we’re seeing an incredible amount of content being created using a few simple prompts, like, “Draft me an article that shares ten tips for social media marketing.”
But just like a marketing plan without a strategy and business alignment will fail, a ChatGPT prompt that doesn’t first provide context like, who are you talking to, what are you trying to accomplish, what’s the style and voice of the business… that soulless prayer to AI will be answered just as soullessly in return. A piece of mediocre content that does nothing to impress or inform a target audience.
So when it comes to tools and marketing resources, my approach has always been to look for and start with the most cost-effective options first, then upgrade into more powerful (and more expensive) alternatives when there’s clear need and opportunity.
⭐️ Your marketing strategy has matured and requires a more robust solution.
⭐️ Your marketing initiatives are outperforming the capacity of the solution.
⭐️ Your marketing team has grown and outgrown the solution.
All of which are good problems to have!
What you don’t want is a situation where you’re committed to tens of dollars in contract to a solution that’s underutilized, while at the same time trying to execute great marketing with an understaffed team.
So today I am going to share with you a number of tools and marketing resources to consider across most critical areas of your marketing team that are free. Are they limited? Of course. They’re using the tried & true SaaS method of giving you a taste of what the tool can do for you for free, while you’re growing and maturing, so that when you’re ready you can upgrade to a more robust plan. And I’m going to go through these roughly in order of importance, meaning, you need to start at the beginning of the list and make sure you have my recommended solution (or an alternative) in place before moving on.
Foundational Marketing Resources: Building Your Presence
WordPress – First and foremost, your website should be running on WordPress, a free content management system that allows you to publish and edit pages and articles whenever you wish, without going through an agency or consultant. While your domain name and hosting will be ongoing expenses, and you’ll want to invest in a custom design (theme) if you haven’t already, the CMS itself is free.
I have a complete, free marketing resource to using WordPress here.
Google Analytics – This is the de facto standard for monitoring and measuring website performance and traffic. It’s a free service provided by Google that will help you see how many people are visiting your site, engaging with your content, and where you can make improvements. There are free & paid alternatives to Google Analytics (GA), but unless you have a FT Data Analyst who has good reason for selecting an alternative platform, I highly recommend that you stick with GA to ensure anyone on your marketing team, internal or external, will be familiar with it.
Google Search Console – A free tool from Google for monitoring and optimizing website performance. Search Console provides a deeper understanding around why visitors are coming to your site from search and gives you insights into where you can affect change.
MailChimp – While Constant Contact is my preferred and recommended Email Marketing Solution (EMS), I love that MailChimp continues to offer a free plan for SMBs who are just getting started. Until you get to 1,000 email sends, you don’t have to pay a dime. That’s a great way to start building your email list without having to pay every month even if you have no subscribers yet. A nice alternative, that requires a little more TLC, is the Newsletter plugin for WordPress.
Having these tools and marketing resources in place will ensure that your business can start building a web presence, and even begin to execute a Content Strategy and Email Marketing, with very little monetary investment.
Social Media Management: Streamlining Your Presence
The next step is to start building and nurturing your presence on the major social media platforms, and this is where every business, at some point, will need to implement a tool to help.
When you’re just starting a business, I recommend focusing on using the social networks natively. Create and post to your Facebook Page, X profile, YouTube channel, or whichever other networks you’re starting up, right from your browser or mobile apps. Not only will this save you money, that hands-on approach and experience will help you or your team better understand how to use and leverage these platforms.
(Wondering whether you need to be on every social network initially? Watch this video.)
Eventually though, you’re going to need a tool to help keep on top of those platforms. Whether it’s being able to easily schedule and visualize your publishing calendar, making sure you never miss a comment or question from your audience, spotting relevant conversations to join, or getting comprehensive reports that inform how you’re doing, the native social networks only offer so much and do not interact with each other at all. For that, you need a tool.
Agorapulse – This is my recommended marketing resource for social media management, and while I’ve worked for the Parisian company for nearly six years, I’ve been in the social media industry for twice as long and have used every tool on the market. None have a comparable combination of ease of use, powerful options, amazing support, and affordable pricing, as Agorapulse. And SMBs can get started for free.
Now that you have a fully operational website, email marketing, analytics, and social media presence, the next few sections will help depending on the nature of your business, team composition, and so on. So they might not all apply to you today, but you can save this article and refer back to it if, for instance, you have a marketing team of 1 person and don’t need a collaboration tool like Asana.
Content Creation: Engaging Your Audience
Grammarly: Improve writing with grammar and spelling checks (limited free features).
Canva: Create visually appealing graphics with a free version available.
GIMP: Open-source image editor for graphic design (completely free).
Inkscape: Create and edit vector graphics with a free, open-source tool.
Project Management: Organizing Your Efforts
Trello: Free version available with basic project management features.
Asana: Free plan for basic project tracking and collaboration.
Customer Relationship Management (CRM): Building Connections
HubSpot CRM: Free CRM with essential features for managing customer relationships.
Zoho CRM: Free plan available for basic CRM functionalities.
eCommerce: Driving Revenue
WooCommerce: A free plugin for WordPress that gives you a complete online store and checkout systems.
PayPal: Accept payments from around the world and only pay fees when you make sales.
SEO Tools: Boosting Online Visibility
Semrush: The free plan lets you set up one project for your own website and begin monitoring keyword performance, research options, and more.
Advanced Analytics and Reporting: Measuring Success
Hotjar: Free version available for basic website behavior analytics to better understand user behavior within each page or post.
When & Where To Invest In Marketing Resources
Let me remind you how critical it is to have the right people and the right marketing strategy in place before jumping into specific tactics or tools or marketing resources.
All too often I seen businesses get excited about starting a podcast or subscribing to a new AI tool, and yet when pressed they can’t answer Why those things are important and how they’re going to help the business. Instead they stumble from shiny object to shiny object and wonder why their “marketing” isn’t producing the results they expected.
Instead, what you have to have first is experienced marketing leadership who will take a strategy-first approach to building out your plan and team. Someone who understands your industry and market, and the available marketing options, and can put together a blueprint for how to proceed with marketing your business in a way that is in complete alignment with your business goals. The good news is, that doesn’t have to be a full time hire! Instead of investing in a costly CMO who consumes too much of your HR budget to pay for great marketing technicians, you can opt for a fractional CMO that truly costs just a fraction of the price, yet can come in and do the same job. They provide all of the strategic vision and planning, team management, reporting and accountability, really for just a few hours a month.
That frees budget for you to invest in great content writers, social media marketers, media buyers, and more.
If your business is currently lacking marketing leadership, and you’re open to the idea of bringing in a fractional CMO, let’s talk! Learn more about the fractional CMO role here and then schedule an initial discovery call so we can talk about your needs and business goals.