• January 21, 2016

The Free Tools to Build Your Marketing Stack

The Free Tools to Build Your Marketing Stack

Marketing your startup is no easy feat. New digital marketing strategies and user acquisition considerations pop up each day. Many young companies have a very small marketing team, or don’t have one at all. Internal marketing resources are short, and these small teams require tools that will help automate processes and accomplish more in a day. But a lot of these tools are costly – and the business doesn’t have a lot of capital to test which tools work best.

Does this scenario sound familiar to you?

We work with lots of companies that have little to no marketing budget, but a marketing to-do list that knows no bounds. To help those teams, we researched & created a list of tools to build your marketing stack.

Social – Having a social presence is important. Most startups understand that they can achieve significant goals through social – content distribution, lead gen, and more. If you’re lucky, you have an expert or firm providing recommendations and executing on strategy (don’t forget that we identified the top social marketing providers in Boston). But if you’re doing it on your own, you need tools to optimize your time & efforts. Buffer and Hootsuite both offer free versions of their social management platform in which you can schedule campaigns & posts and get barebones, yet effective, analytics & reporting.

Design – If you don’t have an in-house designer and are without InDesign or Photoshop, you can still create images and designs for free. Canva is a great free option to create your own professional images. HubSpot also lists out close to thirty free design tools (think font creators, infographic templates, photo editors, stock photos and more).

Landing Pages – For this, you will likely have to shell out some money to scale. You can definitely get by with free WordPress themes. Unbounce and Instapage have free options – some temporary – but either way you can only create so many pages, or worse, only receive so much traffic – kind of defeats the purpose. It’s proven that landing pages can greatly influence conversion, so a tool that can help with simplicity and usability is worthy of your budget. Pay the $50-100 monthly fee for Unbounce, or check out the full package features with HubSpot.

Analytics – To test the effectiveness of your web content and site conversion, you should immediately get familiar with Google Analytics. It is simple to get up and running, and you can quickly begin to understand critical stats such as real-time traffic, audience acquisition sources, user flows, and demographics, as well as behavior flows, time on site, and more. It’s a lot of data, but if you can understand how to gather the points you need each day, week or month, you can avoid paying for other tools. If you don’t have that kind of time to do the manual digging into data, or want further insights on user actions (not just traffic), check out MixPanel, which offers a free option up to 25,000 data points and also includes engagement tools based on user actions. You could also consider free open source analytics platforms, like PIWIK, but you’ll have to deal with a more complicated set-up process and host it on your own server.

SEO – When it comes to SEO, Moz is where it’s at. The free version gives you three reports on domain & page authority (or that of your competitors) on keywords per day. If SEO is a big focus for you – as it should be for most high-growth companies – Moz is the authority on search marketing. With Moz Pro, your team can get two seats and basic functionality for $99 a month. It includes global rank tracking, local rankings, search visibility scores, mobile rankings, competitor tracking, and more.

Content – If you are posting regularly to your blog using blogging platforms like WordPress or the source code for Ghost, or even your own homegrown platform, you need to consider distribution in order for prospects & customers to actually read it. In addition to social profiles (using the management platforms we outlined above) you can also leverage the free networks on Medium, which lets you publish your content under specific categories and criteria to a sizable audience, and LinkedIn, which lets you publish your content to LinkedIn Pulse or Slideshare, enabling others to find your content, whether they are connected to you or not.

Email Marketing – With plenty of email solutions to consider, some of which can be rolled into your CRM, MailChimp is typically the go-to for newsletters and customer engagement. They offer a free version up to 2,000 subscribers, and the pricing increases from there. With access to templates, and integrations with analytics, social, and more, startups often default to this service. Constant Contact is another option to consider with clear pricing structures. We’ll dig into more robust CRM solutions below, but offerings like Zoho are free email marketing tools with CRM functionality up to 2,000 recipients and a certain amount of emails per month.

CRM – CRM tools are a dime a dozen, but that makes finding a quality solution that is free and meets your needs even harder. HubSpot CRM and Sidekick email tracking are free tools that help from both a marketing and sales perspective. Insightly and Zoho have great free functionality. If you aren’t sure which is right for your goals, read this post by Zapier, which helps to highlight the general purpose and strengths of the top 25 free CRM solutions.

PR – PR is often thought of as “free marketing” but if you DIY, and do it correctly, it takes a lot of time, and time is money.  If you can afford a firm, check out this list we created of the top PR firms in Boston. If you can’t, start with this post detailing how to know if you’re ready for coverage and PR 101 tips when you are ready. If you’re keeping PR internal, you’ll have many goals to outline to understand what your efforts should go towards. For instance, if coverage on blogs or news sites is your biggest PR goal, you will need to devote time to developing relationships and thoroughly understanding each reporter you approach.  You’ll have to search the publications that you want to be featured in by topic, narrow down the reporters that cover your beat, and research that reporter by reading their bios, following them on Twitter, looking for connections on LinkedIn, and trying to figure out what interests them. There are loads of resources out there about how to keep PR internal.  For instance, here is a helpful post about how startups should pitch the tech press. While PR solutions are a bit of an anomaly in our “free marketing stack,” there are tools out there that make part of the job easier. For instance, and in the spirit of sharing a free tool, HARO (Help a Reporter Out) is an email subscription that aggregates 3x a day a list of reporters looking for sources by category, including contact info and preferences, requirements, and deadline information – so those coverage opportunities could land in your lap.

A marketing stack is different at every company. Depending on resources available to you and your goals, you will place a focus on certain marketing strategies over others until you hit a point in your growth where you then need to add more to your stack. Pick and choose what’s important for you this month, monitor and test your results, and determine based on data what aspects should stick or not, and which you should add on from there. Hopefully these tools help within each marketing stage of your growth.

Need help with your marketing stack? VENTUREAPP can help. Sign up today and submit a specific request for marketing help, or review the ways we help startups and small businesses from a marketing perspective.