Regardless of whether you spend your days at a pottery wheel, consulting with clients, or planning social events that rival episodes ofMy Sweet Sixteen, if you’re tackling your own new business venture, you’re workinga lot.
So, when some well-meaning fellow businessownergives you that cliched line, “marketing is everything” you may nod violently, but under the surface, you’re probably thinking, “But who has that kind of time?” and, more importantly, “Who has thefunds?”
Fortunately, marketing your business doesn’t require ad agency-level spending or even outsourcing. If you can accept some annoyingand slightlyspammy “upgrade now” emails as a fact of life—and remember to set “cancel 30-day trial” reminders in your calendar—you can market your business like the best of them.
And you can do it sans additional line items on your expenses sheet. Here are 51 free(or hack-ably free)marketing resources to get you started.
Step 1: Goal setting and marketing strategy
Even pint-size businesses need some big picture planning. If you find that you’re haphazardly posting to Instagram when it occurs to you or updating your website only when someone asks what you have in stock, it’s time to set a (slightly) longer term strategy. Think of these tools as a small business owner’s Marketing 101.
If you’re still in the ideation stage of starting a business—and reading this article because you know that you’ll need to build a marketing plan into the process—this free Skillshare course from the team at Kickstarter is areally goodstarting point.
That whole “throweverythingat a wall and see if it sticks” approach? All fine and good in the early days, but if you’re ready to focus on growing your business consistently—andprofitably—you need to set some realistic goals. This free worksheet from Hubspot is an awesome tool to help you get started with goals that’ll actually stick.
If you have zero knowledge of marketing or want to dip a toe into learning a more specific growth technique like social media strategy or SEO (more on tools for those below), you could do worse than spend a Saturday watching Hubspot’s free educational videos.They go a long way!
Real talk:You need to get to know how other people out there market their businesses—and the approaches you like. Cue Evernote, which lets you save any and everything that inspires you (graphics, articles,whatever), then organize it into different projects, to-do lists, or categories.
Already have an audience? They’re the best people to tell you what you should be doing—or doing better. Survey Monkey’s “basic plan” (scroll down on the pricing page because they bury it) lets you send unlimited surveys with up to 10 questions for free.
Like SurveyMonkey, Typeform is also a data collection tool, but it takes it one millennial step further by offering other dynamic formats including quizzes and polls in modern, minimal designs that even Marie Kondo wouldn’t object to. The free plan gets you 100 responses per month and 10 questions per form.
Step 2: Social media growth hacking
We’re all on it (some of us all day, every day), but when it comes to professionally marketing yournewbusiness, you’re going to want to finesse your social media techniques.
You’ve got other things on your mind, so it’s probably time you stop assuming you’ll remember to post all those updates to your business’ social channels. Buffer’s free plan lets you pre-schedule 10 posts per month on up to three social accounts. Use it to “set and forget” the postsyou’dprobably just forget if youhad to do itmanually.
A Buffer competitor, Hootsuite offers more or less the same free account policies. (You’ll have to dig a little on the site to find the “free” plan, though—anyone else noticing a pattern here?)Out of the two?Just pick whichever platform feels better to you or, like a true hustler, use them both to double down on free posts.
On the surface, Later functions as (yet another) competitor to Buffer and Hootsuite.Butit was originally designed with Instagram in mind, which means it offers some added bonuses, like a seamless way to preview your Instagram grid before posting. If you’re Type A about the visual~aesthetic~of your feed, this is the one for you.
If you haven’t already discoveredilovecreatives, then hot tip: Take a look at their classifieds for creatives. Butthat aside, the ilovecreatives teamare behindPeopleMap, which helps you grow your Instagram via profile analysis, list building, and better stats analysis. It’snotfree long-term but does offer a month-long free trial, with no credit card required.Unheard of!Use PeopleMap to get a clearer picture on your competition, find potential influencers you could partner with, and more.
Fact: there’salwaysa need for a link shortener. Great for Twitter, bit.ly also gives you a savvy way to track the clicks on links you share anywhere. Send a bit.ly to someone who agrees to promote a link to your business, and you’ll be able to see how much interest you get from their audience.
If you haven’t hit the 10,000 follower mark on Instagram, then you know the pains ofnothaving a “Swipe Up” feature on Instagram stories.Why, God, why?While you’re nursing your growing pains,get innovative by usingLinktr.ee to include multiple links in your bio. Think of it as a consolation prize.
Anyone else see an Instagram post celebrating something like National Chow Mein Day and think, “Does that evenexist?!” Vote’s still out on whether these holidays are fun marketing exercises or just plain obnoxious, but at least this free calendar rounds them up so you can use them…or not.
An alternative to Vimeo or YouTube, the big perk with Wistia is that you can add CTAs to the videos you upload. That’s only possible on YouTube when you’ve hit a certain number of followers, so this is ideal for smaller businesses that want to test out some video marketing. A free account will let you host up to three videos.
If Twitter is where you’re at, then it might be worth giving this service a try to check your social rank and do some top-level analysis of competitors.
This platform lets you add call to action pop-ups on social links you share. If you share a link to, say, anEsquirepiece on freelance writers on your Facebook page, you can add a slide-in encouraging followers to check out a guide to setting freelance rates on your own site. It’s a little in the weeds, but if you’re already offering free downloads to site visitors as a marketing technique, you’re going to love this.
And because marketing is all about strategy, don’t forget to do some planning before diving into scheduling posts. This free template from Hootsuite will help you set some social-specific goals.Go forth, and plan!
Step 3: Email marketing and list building
Even the smallest business can still benefit from an email list, and there are plenty of ways to grow yours for free. So, why not?
Mailchimp is the industry leader for a reason, and they do, in fact, offer a free version of their plan. You won’t need to pay until your list surpasses 2,000 subscribers. And since your goal is to grow your business and income, by that point, you should have room for a marketing budget, right?
Another great free email option, especially if you’re more concerned with content, less with design. As a result, this is a popular email tool among freelance writers, bloggers, and the like.
If you’re thinking “why does Mailchimp get all the credit?” Benchmark might be for you. This platform offers intuitive drag-and-drop email templates and prides itself on helping the “time-strapped” freelancers and entrepreneurs among us get their emails out faster.If you’re into supporting the underdog, give them a go.
Yep, Hubspot is in on the action, too. From emails to forms to customer management, this is an ideal option for new small business owners who want to explore more intermediate to advanced marketing techniques. If you think you’re going to take a deeper dive into selling to your audience in the future, great; you can upgrade to more services as you grow.
Before your audience even gets to your beautiful email, you have to convince them that they should actually open it. So yes, subject lines matter—and this tool will help you write the quippiest ones out there.
Here’s the thing about emails: they break. Alot.When that happens, you have two options: scrap your meticulously formatted email, have a quick cry, then start all over againorlearn some basic HTML and CSS, so you can dive into the code to quickly see (and fix) what broke. These free classes will help you learn the coding basics you need.
Step 4: Campaign assets
If you see all those beautiful newsletter banners and designed Instagram stories and think “Nochance,” you need a Canva account.It’s basicallya more intuitive, online (and free!) Photoshop, you can use countless pre-made templates that will trick people into thinking you have a graphic designer on staff.
Spend 10 minutes on Unsplash, and you’ll start to see familiar images. That’s because nearly every brand out there uses this free, high-res stock photo library. Game-changer.
If you’re going to market your business, you need a logo. Full stop.These tools will help you create one, without having to get a degree in graphic design.
A free service from Buffer, Pablo helps you design assets for social media channels sans Photoshop. And since Buffer obviously keeps up to date on the appropriate sizing for different social media images, using this means you don’t have to.Win.
This lil’ guy isgreat for free icons, free fonts, even free Adobe templates, if you’re into that kind of thing.
For those building landing pages, this is a great tool for confirming that your work is both user-friendly and actually doing a proper job converting people.
Step 5: Content
Not everyone’s a writer, and not every writer is a copywriter. Still, there are plenty of tools to help you write better emails and smarter marketing taglines.
Run your emails through Hemingway to ditch thedreaded“passive voice.”No one is interested in buying products and services by Ms Passive Voice.
Once upon a time (maybe back when you were writing all those papers in college) there was only MS Word’s spell check. In 2019, there’s Grammarly, which—as their frequent YouTube ads will tell you—not only catches spelling errors, but also noun-verb disagreement. Install the Chrome extension and never look back.
Want to reach new audiences by writing about topics in your industry, but don’t have a blog on your site? Set up a Medium account to host any articles you write. You can easily share those links in your newsletters or on social,andgain another audience on a new channel (Medium is technically a social media platform, after all).
Another “This is actually free?!” tool from CoSchedule. Use it to write stronger blog titles and email subject lines alike.
In case you’re looking to ramp up your blog content for marketing purposes, you’ll probably want to do a little advanced planning. An editorial calendar = essential.
Step 6: SEO content
Search engine optimization, or SEO, is all the rage, in large partbecause it’s very, very important.There are SEO specialists out there who make this work their full-time job—but that’s not you. Here are some tools that will help you tackle the basics minus the migraines.
Working theory: Roughly 72.8 percent of the people who say “I’ve started to focus on my SEO” have no idea what they’re really talking about. This free Moz guide will ensure you’re not one of them.
Before you deep-dive into your SEO strategy, you should know how well your website currently performs. Because they’re not visitor-friendly, Google punishes slow or outdated sites in search results. So, you’ll want to look into fixing some of those issues, if you have them. This tool will tell you where you stand.
If you’re an absolute SEO beginner, you can do some manual work through Google’s Keyword Planner without investing too much energy. Quick caveat, though: because this is really a tool for placing paid ads, it’s not the most intuitive process. Still, you can use it to start exploring keyword trends.
Moz is one of the best SEO tools on the market, and for 30 glorious days, you can access the whole platform for free. But if you can’t afford it (it’s not cheap) remember to set a calendar reminder to cancel before they charge your card automatically.And hey, if you have more than one email account, that means you can technically do more than one trial.And it’s worth the effort. You can do atonof SEO keyword planning in that 30-day span if you sit down and focus, so get to it.
This is a great tool for analyzing the popularity of topics in your field, but also for creeping on your competitors to see what topics they’re successfully covering. (Scandalous, I know.)
This site lets you see all the “longtail keywords” (this is SEO speak, which you’ll learn from the Beginner’s Guide to SEO above) associated with the topics related to your business. But really, the winning feature here is thatOld Man and the Sea-esque guy. He’ll make your day.
If you’re running your site on WordPress, this is a great free plugin for publishing SEO-optimized content super easily.
A must if you want to take part in discussions that are happeninglike right now.
Step 7: Public relations and pitching
If you’re ready to put yourself out there and get your new biz some positive PR coverage, you’ll need to serve as your own public relations team, too. Pitching can take some serious time, but a few tools will help you automate.
Before contacting or partnering with other brands or media platforms, you can check the amount of traffic their sites receive. It’s a great way to start prioritizing who you work with, when, and how.
There’s a reason why both recruiters and entrepreneurs love this tool—it’s the ideal way to track down the best people to contact at various companies. Don’t sign up for this until you’re ready to dedicate time to a serious PR push, and make sure to set up a spreadsheet with contacts and details that you can revisit after canceling your trial (if you decide you want to do that).
Set a day in your calendar to write all your reach-out emails and then use Boomerang to send them when your contacts are most likely to read them. Apparently thebest time to pitchis in the morning or early afternoon,their time. Use Boomerang to make sure your email is right on top.
Don’t underestimate the power of the “reminders” feature in your calendar. Set them for when you want to send follow-up pitches. For three months after you meet a contact for a networking coffee to suggest another one. Monthly to send a friendly hello to contacts on LinkedIn. You get the idea.
This platform is like finding out your grandmother’s costume jewelry is actually legit. Anytime a reporter needs an expert on a topic in your field, you can volunteer for an interview. It’s a great way to slowly get your business out there, just by talking to people about what you do.
Step 8: Campaign tracking
Now that you’re planning elaborate campaigns on a $0 budget, you also need to figure out how to track your success. Here are the essentials.
This is a PSA for Squarespace users in particular: the native analytics tool for your site isn’t quite enough. If you haven’t set up a GA account yet, do it now. As you dive deeper into marketing campaigns, you’ll want as much data as you can possibly get. Here are instructions onhow to add a GA accountto your Squarespace site.
If you’re partnering with other people or brands on projects like giveaways or promoting each other’s links in emails, you’ll want to create custom URLs to track those elements in Google Analytics. Good thing that’s free! There’s even aChrome extension.
From there, you’ll want to track how your campaigns do based on those marketing goals you set in Step 1, then rinse and repeat. Try to set consistent times to regularly review your progress and adjust your marketing goals.
Because, to end on another cliché: A good beginning makes a good ending.
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