Marketing automation is a broad term that can mean something different to different people – and for small business owners, there’s no doubt that marketing automation will mean something vastly different than it does to a large enterprise. While writing Marketing Automation for Dummies, I distinguished between Marketing Automation with a capital “M,” and marketing automation with a lowercase “m.” Even basic automations (think the lowercase “m” version) can make your small business run more efficiently.
The marketing automation revolution has created a ton of companies who serve this marketplace. There are also a lot of companies who are not “marketing automation vendors” and never show up on any analyst radar, but which can easily help you streamline your marketing via simple automations. Let’s take a look at four technologies that I’d suggest small business owners take a serious look at as their first step toward full automation.
Content Marketing for SMBs
Content marketing is a large piece of marketing automation. Every bit of communication you have with your leads and customers needs to be following the methodologies set out by Seth Godin in his book Permission Marketing, published by Wiley in 1999. He advises marketers to provide people with value, and they will in turn value your relationship. In a world with so much noise from companies, this is the best way to engage and build relationships.
The biggest issue with content marketing for many small businesses is finding the resources to create content. Between finding topics to write about and creating an attractive finished product, content creation can seem like a major drain on time and resources – but it doesn’t have to be. Here are a few free tools that can easily help you get over all of these humps.
Finding Topics: The best way to find topics to write about is by using an RSS reader like Feedly. RSS readers are usually free, and you can pull all types of content into your feed these days. Even if the data source doesn’t have an RSS feed, look at making your own with the app IFTT. I’d suggest setting up an RSS reader for your favorite blogs, Reddit streams, Twitter hashtags, and Google Alerts. This will put all of your story ideas in a central place, so every morning you can have a single list of everything that is trending in your space. This should make finding ideas very easy.
Creating Content: My research shows 42 percent of people consider the look and feel of your content in assessing its authenticity. This is huge! So if you want to create honest and authentic content, you need to make sure it looks good. The problem for small businesses is that hiring a designer is expensive. A new tool, Canva, removes this barrier and makes it easy for any business to have great-looking content. It’s an easy and free design tool that can be used by anyone, and includes pre-built Twitter templates, blog graphic templates, Twitter headers, and so much more. Now there’s no excuse for small businesses to have bad-looking content.
Basic Automation: IFTT (If This Then That) is an amazing business tool that is a basic automation platform. It can take emails and add them to Campfire, or take Twitter streams and turn them into RSS feeds. Consider looking into the more than 50 different integrations they have to find out what is possible. It’s very helpful if you are trying to remove some manual tasks, but don’t need a full automation of every marketing activity. Oh, and it’s free!
Website Automations: Most companies have a website and need a way to integrate it back to marketing activities. There are many Web platforms, but none as popular as Drupal and WordPress. They are open-source, and very powerful. Regardless of which platform you use, there are a few basic automations then every small business should use:
- Autoresponder emails: I’d look to using MailChimp on this. They have free versions at the low end, and it is a very powerful tool you can scale into a paid version later on. Most small businesses can easily use this tool to keep up with their email contacts. MailChimp can also tie into your website forms to have autoresponders sent, and have easy segmentations.
- Form integrations: There are many options on form integrations, but make sure you choose one that will allow you to auto add people to your email tool. WordPress has this option from many different providers and they are all free as well.
- Click to tweet: My favorite free tool for automations. Use clicktotweet (CTT) to make it easier for your readers to share your content. CTT is a great tool and it’s free, too. Simply type in the message you want people to tweet out, and it will then give you back a URL. You can then make your quote a hyperlink, and anyone who clicks on it can then share your pre-built message, making your website highly engaging.
- Eventbrite: Finally, you’ll need an event tool to handle registrations, and automate check-in at events. I’ve used Eventbrite for years, and LOVE IT. It automates all of the backend processes of an event. It is free to use as long as you are not charging for your event. It also has an iPhone app that allows you to use your phone to check people in and keep up with who signed up, who attended, and who didn’t show. It also has integrations into email tools like MailChimp.
These easy, free tools can help you benefit from marketing automation without having to break the bank. If you are looking for more advanced features such as lead nurturing or dynamic content, you are likely past the point of complexity from a free tool and should start looking at what I call “Marketing Automation” with capital letters. There are lots of good choices out there, so make sure you are aware of what you need to do as a small business and what type of marketing automation you really need – and don’t forget that sometimes a few free tools may be all you need.