As we know, not much in life is free. And whoever said love was free lied. That’s like saying social media is free. Everything in life comes at a cost. If currency isn’t the cost, then you better believe blood, sweat, tears, time, energy or some other type of emotional or physical output will be required. That’s just reality. So when you read this list, rejoice only momentarily. Though these are free tools, please expect to invest blood, sweat, tears, time, intellect, and a bit of frustration to make these free marketing tools worth your while.
Now that I have that out of the way, here’s my list of top tried and true free marketing tools and resources:
Blogs & Websites
WordPress.com. Whether you’re looking to produce a simple blog or a full-fledged website, WordPress is my top pick. With customizable themes (and a little design talent), you can easily create a unique website or blog that you can truly call your own. Don’t get me wrong, those in the industry often can spot a blog from a mile away. However, blogs are becoming more acceptable for use as a website. Not only are small businesses using them, well-established organizations are also using blogs to publish and house content. WordPress.com also integrates easily with top social meida sites such as Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn, which makes it just that much easier to drive traffic to your blog. Finally, plug-ins, mobile apps, and other tools adds convenience while simplifying the management of your WordPress.com account. (Note: WordPress.com isn’t to be confused with WordPress.org. WordPress.org should be left to those who are more tech savy. Plus, you will incur costs as you will need to house a blog or website utilizing WordPress.org on an independent server.)
Social Media Management
HootSuite. Perfect for managing multiple social media accounts. Hootsuite integrates nicely with Facebook (including Facebook pages), Twitter, LinkedIn, and WordPress. Whether you need to post in real time or want to schedule posts, HootSuite makes it easy to do either. In addition, with a web app as well as mobile apps, Hootsuite lets you keep up with your social media accounts whether at a desk or on the go. And with Twitter notifications pushed to your cell phone, you have the option of being notified of customer engagement without the need of actually going into an account. The main areas of content I have with Hootsuite is 1) posting links and 2) posting images. For some reason, posting links seems to be fickle. You have to post it in the area with your content instead of the area that asks for a link. If you put it in the area that asks for a link, it will only post if you shorten it using the tools. Not good for me since I create custom links with bitly for future measurement. And neither links nor images seem to show the preview on the actual social media site. Since I believe previews and images increase engagement, I take the extra step to increase engagement. There is a paid option that allows more capabilities, however, if you only need lightweight management for up to five social media accounts, you’re golden.
TweetDeck. This is one of my favorite social media management tools. Frankly, TweetDeck is what got me hooked on Twitter. If you’re using Twitter from the Twitter.com website, do yourself a favor and use a different program to access Twitter. It’s so much more fun. TweetDeck was my first choice, and I haven’t gone away from it yet. (Though there was a scare before. I digress). Like HootSuite, TweetDeck is perfect for managing several social media accounts. TweetDeck is another free marketing tool that plays nicely with Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn. I have found it a little harder to link Facebook pages to TweetDeck and I haven’t found the mobile app to be as friendly as Hootsuite. The inability to manage Facebook pages and the lack of a mobile app I like is what places HootSuite above TweetDeck in my book from a professional point of view. However, due to it’s desktop application that allows you to view multiple columns simultaneously, TweetDeck is a winner in my book. (Not only does TweetDeck allow you to show columns related to specific social media accounts, TweetDeck also can be customized to show columns including tweets related to a search term or hashtag (#) even if you don’t follow the user. This is perfect for industry research or stalking the competition. (Come on. We’ve all done it.)
MailChimp. I’ve done the research. MailChimp won over Constant Contact as the preferred email tool. Here’s the scoop. MailChimp allows you to send up to 12,000 emails per month to up to 1,999 subscribers (mailchimp.com – view the details). If you’re just getting started or don’t have a massive email list, it’s a no brainer. MailChimp provides email templates, stores your email lists as well as integrates with Facebook and Twitter. Moreover, with MailChimp, you have access to important stats that help you determine the effectiveness of your email program. Here’s the caveat, I highly recommend you invest the time into choosing the right template and customizing it based on your needs. If you need to hire a designer to help with your template, please do so. And if you need to hire a consultant or content specialist/strategist to help determine the appropriate content strategy for your email program, please do so. Otherwise, you may just be spinning wheels. That’s worth the investment.
Yesware. As a plug-in on Google Chrome and Gmail, this is one of the best friends a person in direct sales could have. Not only does it allow you to create templates for sales letters, Yesware also allows you to track your emails. And it doesn’t just show you whether or not the email has been opened/viewed. Yesware also tells you the number of times the recipient opened/viewed your email as well as how long ago the email. Note: This is only free up to a certain number of tracked emails.
Public Library. Remember all that work you did trying to identify your target market. From books to databases, the public libaray may have what you need to make market research a little easier. Since the tools may not be staring you in the face, do this: walk to the information desk and ask about the available small business resources. It will definitely take time to do your research and put the tools to work for you. Large organizations have access to sophisticate marketing tools and you may have that access also. Remember, my goal is to promote smarter marketing. Stop wasting time pushing messages to the wrong people and stop being in the dark as it relates to industry trends and best practices. It’s time you grow your business up with sophisticated tools that will only benefit you in the long run. #enoughsaid
Webinars, White Papers, Blogs, eNewsletters, Magazines: Okay. Organizations don’t provide free webinars (seminars via the web), white papers, blogs or newsletters simply out of the kindness of their hearts. All of these efforts are part of their marketing strategy. With a variety of goals in mind, from positioning themselves as experts and industry leaders to generating leads and awareness, organizations provide a wealth of information through these tactics. Though you may not be ready to bite on a paid service, there’s no reason you shouldn’t take advantage of the free knowledge they’re providing. Since this information can become overwhelming, be sure to only attend, download, and subscribe to items that are beneficial to your organization. And even with that you have to be sure to be conscientious of information overload. My top 5 organization to follow are: Social Media Examiner, HubSpot, Marketing Profs, AdAge, and Mashable. (Note: Certain organizations may require you to download specific software to access their information or attend their webinar. For “print” applications, the most common software needed is the Adobe PDF reader.)
Free Classes/Seminars: Your local SCORE chapter – who is part of the Small Business Administration – and other organizations may provide free offline classes and seminars. Take advantage of these. First, determine the local organizations that provide assistance to small businesses. Then make an appointment to see a rep to learn more about the organization. Ask if they provide classes, workshops or other resources. And don’t forget to visit their website often and sign up to receive their emails as this may be where they push information regarding upcoming classes, seminars or workshops as well as other useful information.
YouTube: Make this your friend and search for your topic of choice. I bet you’ll find something. Once again, organizations and consultants are looking to generate leads. They’re willing to provide information in order to establish themselves as an expert. Be cautious of the information you receive. Remember anyone can put information on YouTube, meaning that the information they give you could be as wrong as someone calling a blue wall red. So if you aren’t well-versed on the topic, be sure to run the information by someone who is. Even a well produced video could give you horrible information. Just saying. As my friend says, “you’ve been warned.”
Other – You
Your Yapper (AKA Networking). From local meetups to simply talking to a person at the local starbucks, networking is a key marketing tool. I sometimes think people get tired of hearing about my consulting business. And they probably do. But guess what? When they’re looking for a marketing consultant, I am top of mind. Goal achieved. So, toot your own horn. Even if the person you’re talking to doesn’t have a need for your product or service, they may know someone who does. Don’t count anyone out. However, do be wise about who you should spend more time vs. those who would simply benefit from a business card, warm smile, and quick overview of your offerings. And here’s what’s even better about networking – people take the time to tell you about resources you didn’t even know existed. (Shout out to my friends and family for being on top of it. They’re always sending or telling me about something that they believe I may deem valuable)
Blood, Sweat & Tears (AKA Hard Work). This is your number one free marketing tool. Either you put the time and energy into it, you pay someone to do it, or it doesn’t get done at all. It’s as simple as that. Blogs don’t write themselves, emails don’t send themselves, and you can’t benefit from the research if you don’t take the time to gather AND process it. From anxiety to hours of writing to bonafide tears, I’ve experienced it all. Like I said in a different post said, “Just because it’s free doesn’t mean it won’t cost you.” I’m a personal witness. But I can also testify to the fact that it truly is worth it.
Live, love & prosper