Marketing automation tools basically give you super powers! Unfortunately, many marketing automation platforms get quite expensive (see our comparison chart). The following is a list of tools you can use on your WordPress website to automate your communications strategy, FOR FREE! When used together, these tools will give one person the power of a whole communications team. Though there are tools that do everything all in one place, sometimes we have to get crafty before we can get fancy.
I got the idea to write this post after a discussion with a client who was starting their business from scratch. Resources were thin and paying for the top shelf CRM tools did not seem like a great fit. After some research, we got started using only free tools.
First, what does marketing automation do?
Marketing automation utilizes the website and other digital tools to regularly distribute content, gather audience information and take care of a lot of the leg-work and in-between tasks. If you've ever exchanged your email, you're likely a part of someone's marketing automation strategy—just take a look at your inbox. That's not all it does though, it goes far beyond email automation.
While you're sleeping, your marketing automation is hard at work, posting to social media, following up with a potential donor who didn't complete the donation page, capturing new visitor information, sending another visitor a video you recorded last week and... you get the picture.
The case for starting with free tools
Over atGrowthHackers(a great site if you're nerds like us BTW!) Dharmesh Shah, a founder of HubSpot, takes a stab at what tools a digital pro could bundle together in an attempt to outsource the paid version HubSpot. After that he adds:
"The value/power in HubSpot is not in the fact that any individual tool is measurably better than it's counterpart that does that one thing—but that all of the tools are together, on one common platform. But, I acknowledge and respect that in some cases, the value of the integrated all-in-one system doesn't outweigh the benefits of picking the "best of breed" individual tools." - Dharmesh Shah, Founder/CTO at HubSpot.
We agree. It's totally a great option to get started with a few free tools to get the juices flowing. Then later, make the grab for a top shelf CRM like HubSpot.
Let's take a look at the best free tools to bundle for an awesome automation strategy!
= give you the ability to gather and store information about your audience.
Ninja Forms: an easy-to-use, drag-and-drop interface with no limits on how many forms you create or on what your forms can do. Build your mailing list, process payments and gather signup information with forms. Export your database from Ninja Forms and upload the results into a few tools below to add in those super powers.
2. Landing Pages
= the url that your audience ends up visiting and hopefully exchanging information about themselves for what you're offering. This is typically where your forms live.
WordPress: Creating a new page in WordPress is easy! Create a page and slap a form on there, you've kinda made yourself a landing page. Make sure to look at a few landing page examples for inspiration.
SumoMe: Perhaps this is a bit of stretch, but you should try it! SumoMe's ability to turn any webpage into a page with interactive content that utilizes forms is a great way to leverage your existing webpages.
Bottom line, this is the area where you'll have to be the most crafty and careful. Landing pages are an essential part of a website strategy, that's why so many tools that offer landing page creation are not free. You can learn more landing pages and their uses in this post.
= the system that organizes and documents information you've gathered about your audience
HubSpot Free CRM: Store every interaction you have with a visitor in one place. Plus you can use the nifty email extension, HubSpot Sales, to automatically keep track of all correspondence. These two tools are big value ad for a ton of businesses. No more send-to-all email blasts or relying on un-targeted newsletters to get the word out.
I love this video testimonial as it makes the value of a CRM so clear:
4. Email Messaging
= helps you maintain the connection you made when the visitor gave you permission to follow up
MailChimp: It's pretty amazing that MailChimp recently decided to offer marketing automation features for free. You're going to love being able to respond to visitors based on actions they've had with your website, take a look! Easily plan emails in the future by assigning them to send after a visitor abandons a cart, makes a purchase, downloads a pdf and more.
Buffer: This is very intuitive tool for scheduling posts. Naturally, it integrates with Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn. Though the free version has a limit to what you can schedule, it's a lot easier to jump in a few times a week than a few times every day to post.
6. Social Monitoring
= through using a tool, you can track the impact of your communications efforts and engagement with your followings
HootSuite: If social media is your jam, you gotta check out HootSuite. Even if it's not, check out their free social media training courses included with the content scheduling, analytics and 3 account integrations.
7. Special Mention: Sidekicks
= because all superheroes need one
TypeForm: easily create very inspiring forms that are actually fun to fill out! TypeForm is changing the game when it comes to getting audiences to do something. It's limited to 100 responses for the free version.
Gmail Boomerang: crush your personal inbox game! Easily send follow-up emails if someone does not respond to you, schedule future emails and create easy auto replies.
Whether or not you use a CRM like Hubspot or rely on free tools, to have a great marketing automation strategy in place, you have to consider all the parts of the process and make sure you've considered every touchpoint a user has with the process you're setting up. Don't overthink it though! It's best to get started small and see what fits for your audience. Then make adjustments and grow while in flight.
There are a few cons to consider! Some tools are free to use forever, and others offer slimed-down versions of the full paid version, for free. At some point, you'll outgrow the tools and it'll be time to consider paying for something.