If you're doing your own marketing, you're not alone, and you know how much time and effort it can take. So there's no doubt you should be using marketing tools to help get the job done; perhaps even help you do it better.
There are more than 5,000 marketing applications available. If you have a need for anything from a website to an online reputation manager, and everything in between, someone has built a solution for it.
With so many options though, it can be tough to figure out which ones to use. To make it easier, I'll share with you the top 5 categories when you're just starting out. There are free and low-cost options in each one. After that, I'll introduce you to a range of applications you may want to add, how to find them and how to choose good ones. And finally, how to keep it organized with a "marketing stack" of your own.
Beginner Marketing Tools
If you're just getting started, here are the top 5 types of marketing tools to use:
My favorite is Weebly for easy to use, brochure-ware websites — there’s a free version, but upgrading to the first paid tier makes sense for most small businesses. Squarespace, if templates are more important than ease of use, although it’s still relatively easy. Wordpress, if blogging is your business model. My fav for ecommerce, unless you have a very large catalog. Then BigCommerce may be the way to go. Learn more about how to choose a website builder
Google Marketing Stack
This isn't just one application, but a set of tools and they're amazing for the price. From selecting keywords to identifying seasonal trends, managing your site's visibility and traffic, it's hard to beat free. Get our Google Stack handout which explains the top 10 and where to sign up
Contact Manager (CRM)
Keeping track of everyone you’re in contact with is complicated without a CRM. I’m currently using Insightly, but there are many others. Check out this market grid from G2Crowd. Then scroll to the bottom to search for a CRM that's right for you.
A marketing calendar is a simple way to get a big picture of your business. You could use a monthly wall calendar, or a white board with sticky notes, but a technology solution allows for even greater flexibility, especially one that can be shared. I’ve discovered a free tool for managing my calendar and much more. If a spreadsheet and a database had a baby, this would be it.
There are hundreds of email marketing tools which cover the basics, like a list manager and the creation of good looking newsletters. My current favorite for super simple, yet neat features, is MadMimi. When you want to get more sophisticated, use MailChimp. The only downside is that the price goes up significantly once you’re beyond the free plan. It can automate just about anything you can think of when it comes to email marketing. If you're just starting your business, it now comes with a free landing page creator, so you can collect emails even before you launch your website.
What are the Next 5 Marketing Tools?
Well, it depends on your business model, marketing strategy and budget. Bloggers will find tools for everything from writing and testing headlines to managing an entire content strategy. If you're spending a ton of time on social media, then a tool like Buffer will make your life easier. The list goes on and on, but be careful of costs. It can really add up when you consider most of them are by monthly subscription. Even at only $10/month, that's a lot more than what we used to pay for software, and think of paying that for years and years.
I recommend getting as close to free as possible, and not just a 14-day trial. That's not going to cut it for the long haul. Many of my favorites, like the following, all offer pro accounts for a fee, but there's plenty of functionality that's free for the taking:
Gumroad — Ecommerce for digital products, like my ebooks
Screaming Frog — Website analysis
SEMRush — Search Engine Optimization
Zoom — For webinars and sharing my computer screen with clients during conference calls
I'm always on the lookout for free and low-cost marketing apps for small businesses. If you're interested in seeing my database as a work in progress, let me know.
Where to Find More Marketing Tools
When you're ready to move beyond the basics, there are plenty of places to search:
What Makes a Good App?
I spend hours and hours finding and sorting through marketing tools suitable for small businesses in terms of functionality, ease of use and price. Here's what it takes to make my shortlist. Once you've narrowed down your list to say one or two, try them on for size.
When evaluating email marketing tools, I’ve come across ones that seem to have a great website, but when you start to use them, they break down. Make sure they’ve been around for a while. Even a few years can make a big difference, because they’ve had time to get the bugs out and they’re not going to disappear anytime soon. Check the copyright date, the about page, make sure the site works properly and you can find what you need easily. These are all clues.
Features and Functionality
Does it do what I need it to do? To save time, it's good practice to think about the features you need before choosing sites to evaluate. The marketing messages can become overwhelming too.
If I’m investigating a new category of app, say for project management, I'll go through these steps to create a features list for myself:
Since testing out a marketing tool can take so much time, I want to get some idea of how it would feel to use the app. Whatever you finally choose, you're going to spend a lot of time with it, and the less it feels like a chore, the better. Ask yourself these questions:
Speaking of customer support, if you’re not very techie you’re going to want help when you need it. Is chat available and responsive? Once again, check their support pages. Are they easy to follow and solve your problem? Try calling their support line to see how quickly they answer. Speak to someone and see how helpful they are.
Even though I'm suggesting you use as many free tools as possible, there may be some that are just so good the features are worth paying for. However, there really are some cases where "you get what you pay for" isn't necessarily true. Here's my pricing rule of thumb: if prices aren't listed on the site, they're probably too expensive.
Once you’re happy with the above checklist, read what others think about the software you're evaluating. You could do a general search, but the marketing app directories I mentioned before, like G2Crowd, have reviews too.
If there’s a community of users right on the site, see what they’re saying and if any complaints really stand out or are people just loving it?
Organize Your Tech Life with a Marketing Stack
A marketing stack, or a graphic of the technology you use for your business, makes it easy to see the relationships between the apps, such as how the data is shared and what you may be missing. The better they work together or integrate, the more time saving and effective they'll be. For example, it makes sense to connect your CRM to your email marketing tool, so you don’t have to enter contact information twice. Some apps are already part of a suite of services, like Zoho. Some focus on one area of marketing, yet can be integrated with other apps. Many of these offer a simple way to connect them. Others need to be connected through something like Zapier. Think of it as a universal plug.
If you need inspiration, here are some great examples of marketing stacks. You'll see that these companies go way beyond the basics I've outlined above.
What's in Your Marketing Stack?
If you're using any of the tools we've mentioned, let us know what you think of them in the comments below. If you're finding that all this is driving you off the deep end, let us know that too. We may be able to offer some guidance.
Every business owner wants to know how to get more website visitors. I'm sure you're no exception. After teaching hundreds of classes on the topic, I've boiled it down to these 10. If you have an ecommerce business, stick around until #9 for your key ingredient.
1. Keywords — the DNA of Digital Marketing
When it comes to digital marketing, keywords are the life blood of the Internet. They're the words people use to find businesses when they’re searching. These are not your words; not your jargon. But literally what people use. On one hand, think about the types of questions your audience may have and what words they may be using to search. You can use our FAQ worksheet as a starting point. On the other hand, research commonly searched terms using Google's Keyword Planner.
2. Optimized Website — Increase Your Site's Visibility with SEO
Search engine optimization or SEO is about building keywords into the content of your website (and ultimately, all your content). This means titles, headlines, subheadlines, body copy and more. If you’ve built your own website, you should be able to place the keywords yourself. Or have your webmaster help you. That’s not to say you should leave it completely up to them. Knowing how to position your keywords is art and science. It's about understanding how your customers think and using the keywords in such a way as to help Google recognize your site as the place to send people to. The point is to make your website as attractive, and therefore as visible as possible, to search engines.
3. High Affinity Community or Group — Amplify Your Marketing through Others
Connecting with a high affinity community can help amplify your marketing effort — it's online word of mouth.
High affinity communities are groups of people that have a relationship. They share information — it’s the secret sauce of social media marketing. People in these groups are also more likely to accept referrals from the group, because they share common knowledge. They feel comfortable speaking about common interests. They trust each other, because they know other people in their group are more knowledgeable than those outside it. So having a high affinity group, what some call a “tribe” can be a big boost to driving traffic to your site.
Some types of businesses can take advantage of this more easily than others. Consider bicycle enthusiasts, solo travelers, dog owners or local foodies. We often see this in groups on Facebook, so see if you can find groups related to what you do, join and participate (don't sell!).
4. Mobile Responsiveness, because Everyone's on Mobile
A mobile responsive website allows visitors to view your site from any device — from smartphone to desktop computer. It is a Google requirement. You'll be demoted in rank if it's not.
More and more people are searching via mobile. Take Moms. They're always out and about, and shop via phone while their kids are at soccer. So, make sure your site is built on a mobile-responsive template. Most website builder tools offer them. While you're at it, make sure your email marketing tool offers mobile templates too (most do).
5. Marketing Efficiency and Effectiveness — the Biggest Bang for Your Buck
Every business, very small or very large, has limited resources, so marketing needs to be efficient. All you have is time, purchased labor, money and skill. These resources need to be allocated in such a way to maximize your results for the biggest return.
You can’t do everything at once either, which means you have to prioritize — what you’re going to do first, second, third in terms of effort and results. Having a strategy will help you determine allocation, priorities and everything else that makes marketing effective. It will get you to where you need to go with as little wasted effort as possible.
And then, you need to measure so you know what's effective. That means tracking results to see if what you’re doing is working — driving the traffic you want and converting to paying customers. This typically means using website analytics, because any marketing you do online (even offline) will ultimately lead back to your website. Tracking website visitors with a tool like Google Analytics will give you the insights you need to improve your marketing. You can even set it up to track from the source to the sale.
6. Timing Increases Impact
Promoting at the right time will help your resources go further. It’s about communicating with people as close as possible to the time they’re making their buying decisions. Think about point of purchase when you go shopping. The end of aisle special that shouts “buy me now.” If you have a need right then, and you see that promotion, there’s a good chance you’re going to pick it up.
Another way to think about timing is seasonality — like holidays. You want to be out there when people are looking. Figure out what timing makes sense for your business. You could use a tool like Google Trends to figure out when people are using certain keywords to search. That should give you an idea about when people are shopping.
7. Email List — Nurture and Grow Your Pot of Gold
There are all sorts of articles online that show email as being one of the most effective ways to market a business. Of course it is. Email marketing is completely different than, say, running an ad. When people sign up for your email, they already know you. More than that, they’re probably more than interested in what you have to offer. The people who have signed up for your list are already qualified, and therefore more likely to convert.
When you put new content out there or a new product offering, they’re more likely to be the ones to read or buy that new thing, versus someone who has never heard of you before. You're starting from the beginning of the purchase path (some would say, sales funnel). That means you have to take them from a point of not knowing you, to knowing you, trusting you, then actually taking an action. The people that know you already trust you, and that makes your email list your lowest hanging fruit. It’s something you really need to pay attention to, nurture and grow.
8. Content — Why You?
What you say about your business (demonstrate, show, storytell, however you want to describe "content") can be the difference between indifference and purchase, caring and moving on. From images to text, icons and even user experience, how you present yourself is critical. We created Homepage Homeruns to explain what it takes to create the right content for your site.
This is particularly true for service businesses or professional experts who need to sell themselves, rather than tangible products. Of course, most businesses have some kind of service component or brand story to tell. You have to put out your point of view. People need to know why they should hire you. What benefits they'll get. Why they should care, read your blog or anything. You’ll want to put out information that’s differentiated from everyone else, so be sure to check out your competition.
9. Ecommerce — Make it Personal
More than a simple greeting by name on a website, personalization means delivering specific content and an experience to a particular visitor. It has become essential for ecommerce businesses to compete against more recognized brands and large shopping sites. Adding more products to your catalog isn't always better. People want to shop quickly. They need freedom from choice, and one way to do that is to provide a selection of products just for them. Barilliance does a good job of explaining all the ways you can personalize the buyer's journey on your site.
Once you've acquired a customer, make sure you show them extra attention. Treat them special, because no matter how much people think marketing has changed, it's always been easier to keep a customer than find a new one.
10. Media List — Be Where Your Customers Are
Acquiring inbound links from high authority websites is a strong signal to Google that your site is worth linking to. The major social media sites is one way to do it, but there are all types of niche social sites and directories for creating a profile, adding content and providing links back to your site. Our media guide explains how to find where your customers are hanging out online.
When hunting around for business services, people often want to know the price. As a service provider yourself, you know how difficult it can be to price your services, let alone know if you should make them public. There's always the fear of turning people off. Or, you'll reveal too much to the competition. To many people, just like wine, price can be an indicator of quality too. So I can understand why you may be cautious.
Not showing any information about what you charge can scare people off. Publishing some kind of price, that is, being transparent, can help create trust. It can alleviate some of the concerns that someone may have about calling you. At least enough for them to pick up the phone.
Services Packaging Makes Perfect
I haven't always published prices on my website, and I don't publish my hourly rate. As I teach in my services businesses classes, it's a good idea to get away from selling yourself by the hour, because it makes it hard to scale. Here's why you should package your services:
Another Good Reason to Publish Your Prices — Search
According to this Moz Blog article about website mistakes to avoid, "people are searching for pricing information. It’s a huge missed opportunity not to have any content related to pricing, and it annoys prospective customers who would rather know your cost range before giving you a call or submitting a form for follow up."
Instead of Publishing an Hourly Rate, Try These Ideas.
You could publish your prices outright or you could hedge. Something like, "Call me for a free :30 minute consultation, and I'll evaluate your needs and costs." There's no one right way to answer this question — just like everything in marketing, right? Consider what fits with your business model and what you feel is going to resonate with your visitors.
If publishing your prices makes you uncomfortable, you could try one of these or a combination:
Whatever pricing model you choose, tread appropriately, knowing you could alienate some potential customers. That's okay, because not everyone is or should be your customer. If you've made a good case for your services, and priced them competitively, and they're still turned off, then they're not a good customer for you. The same holds true for competition — you don't want to rely on price to get more business.
No matter what you decide to say on your website, the better you know your website visitor — and the more you're in their heads, that is, the more you know their psych — the better you can communicate with them to achieve your objectives.
Let us know how you handle pricing on your website in the comments below.