Every small business needs to be economical. So for the third year running, we’re helping you be just that by updating and expanding our list of the best free small business resources!
The resources in this list will help you take your marketing to the next level at no cost (other than your time).
From tools to help you design graphics and enhance your writing skills to resources designed to improve your SEO, find copyright-free imagery and even automate your activities, this list contains a little something for every small business owner.
While the paid versions can take you to the next level again, for those starting out or operating on a tight marketing budget this list can help you run effective campaigns without the big financial burden of employing an agency.
A note for the eagle-eyed among you- Some of the resources have remained the same since the very first list for the simple reason they are the best at what they do. But this year sees over 12 new entries.
Analytics & Email Free Resources
It always amazes me how few marketers have a grasp on Google Analytics.
As a business owner, you should either be using it too or you should have someone deciphering it for you.
To give you a few bonus resources in one, Google has plenty of free courses which you can use to brush up on the skills needed to take advantage – it’s how I taught myself.
Once you grasp the basics, Google Analytics can tell you all the crucial information you need to know about your website visitors, such as where they come from, who (in generic terms) they are, how long they spend on your site, the journey they take across your site and so much more.
This can help you make decisions based on data and not simply your gut instinct. So brush up or get someone who can tell you what’s what.
Slack is an apt new addition to this list as it is a tool we’ve started using internally here at Ri Web.
It allows us to speedily communicate across the team.
What’s the difference between that and email or a messenger chat?
Simply put, Slack is solely internal – it doesn’t have the distractions of email and social media, where you can get lost down the rabbit hole.
All the talk on Slack is business. It keeps you focused and on-task.
In keeping with Slack, we’ve also started using Trello to manage projects.
While Slack is where we communicate for quick-fire messages, Trello is more strategic.
The platform allows us to share creative ideas for ongoing projects by creating boards that we can update with checklists, labels, attachments and that all-important Due Date too.
4) Twitter, Facebook & Instagram Analytics
Most social media platforms have their own analytics, which can be incredibly useful.
You can access your Twitter Analytics here (make sure you’re logged in), for Instagram you will have to become a business account (which has the added bonus of clickable links when you reach over 10,000 followers) and for Facebook simply click on the Insights tab which will be located on your homepage.
These platform’s analytics can show you what type of content your audience is responding to, the best times for you to post and allow you to compare and analyse your posts.
As a disclaimer, I don’t use Mail Chimp anymore. But when I first started it was an incredibly useful way to send out professional-looking emails for free.
With GDPR coming up fast, the face of email marketing is likely to change but I believe it will still have its place and Mail Chimp is a useful tool for those looking to take advantage.
I love Hunter and I use it for a number of things – lead generation and PR being the two main ones.
Hunter helps you find email addresses. Create a free account, add in the company’s URL where the person works and Hunter will do its best to generate what that person’s email address might be.
Trust me when I say that Hunter can open doors.
Where to find them and how to edit them online for free.
It looks unprofessional when you post images that aren’t optimised for each social media platform and, as with anything in tech, each platform has different requirements.
So instead of letting Twitter crop your head off the office photo, make sure each image is optimised before you publish it.
With Canva the whole process only takes a minute and you can add graphics and text over the top.
All you have to do is create an account and choose the type of image you want to create e.g. Facebook Post and Canva will give you a blank canvas with the correct specifications.
Et Voila, professional-looking graphics and imagery that make your platforms look like they’re run by a pro.
Check out the example below of a graphic I created in a few minutes flat with Canva.
8) All The Free Stock must be one of the most comprehensive places to find free images and videos on the web.
Just be careful before an image as some require you to provide attribution to the photographer and some are not available for commercial use.
Still, as All The Free Stock is effectively a multi-site search engine it pulls images from other stock websites so you don’t have to trawl the web. This makes it an incredibly useful resource for small business owners.
Most stock image sites just offer the same old content. Generic pictures of coffee cups that are nicely shot but hardly inspiring.
Obviously, your best bet is to employ a photographer but this article is all about free resources.
With that in mind, if you’re looking for a stock image site that producers more original and quirkier imagery then Gratisography is for you.
The brainchild of designer Ryan McGuire, we love the alternative nature of many of the images and as they’re high-resolution they add a professional edge to each blog or social media post you use the imagery for.
Gratisography doesn’t boast the largest gallery, so here are a few other sites that are slightly left-field we would recommend too:
Screenshots are incredibly useful. If you’re a digital marketer it can be a great way to show a client a step-by-step way to complete a task.
As a small business owner annotated screenshots can also be a great way to save something quickly for future reference.
We use it within our How To series to do just that, except you don’t need to be a Riweb client to access the information.
Capture, Explain and Send Screenshots is my tool of choice to do this. We mentioned it in this list last year and despite trying other tools I’ve stuck with it.
When trying other tools I discovered one that is commonly touted as the best Awesome Screenshots, didn’t deliver and I couldn’t even save screenshots to my computer – use CES instead.
You can also annotate the screenshot to provide incredibly easy-to-follow instructions on CES.
Streamline Your Social Media
Free tools to help you save time and take the pain out of social media.
11) IF This Then That- Automating Software
One of the complaints we often hear from small business owners is that they don’t have the time to blog and post on social media.
We can sympathise, it can be time-consuming but there are plenty of tools out there that will help you streamline your social media.
One of my personal favourites is IF This Then That. It’s a tool that allows you to set up commands based on certain scenarios.
For example, some of you reading this will have read my How To on posting Instagrams straight to Pinterest.
How did I do this?
I used If this then that and set up a command that said –
Everytime I post an image on Instagram it will post to a pre-selected board on Pinterest.
There are plenty more useful commands to explore and by automating parts of your strategy you will save a lot of time.
Just be careful, the one social media platform that doesn’t take too kindly to automation is Twitter. After setting up some rules on IFTTT for Twitter I was actually locked out of my account temporarily, so tread carefully.
Most platforms are fine with it, however, so explore IFTTT to streamline your social media!
12)Buffer- Scheduling Software
Another way to streamline your social media is to use a tool which allows you to control all your accounts under one roof.
One of my favourites is Buffer. It takes the monotony out of logging into each platform in turn just to post relatively similar things.
Effectively, you can schedule up posts, publish on Buffer and analyse the results on the platform.
I personally find that scheduling on social media takes a lot of the pain out of managing your accounts.
Each Monday morning, when I’m still groggy from the weekend’s excesses you’ll find me scheduling up social media for the week.
It’s incredibly satisfying to work with the knowledge that if I’m too busy, each account still has some content going out.
To expand on this, for each account I schedule:
2 x Twitter posts per day
1 x Instagram post per day
3/4 x Facebook posts per week
#SocialMedia doesn’t have to be painful. Check out Ri Web’s list of the best FREE small business resources!
Are you aware of every mention of your brand online?
Because while some people tag you in social media posts, others will share your work on blogs, social media and even forums and you won’t know.
Why’s it important to know?
Because if you’re getting favourable mentions of your brand you want to share them as far and wide as possible.
And if they’re negative mentions you will want to deal with them too.
Mention is a great tool with a free version that will email you updates on mentions of your brand across social. It’s well worth setting up!
The Ri Web Blog frequently refers to BuzzSumo for research and inspiration.
We like BuzzSumo so much that we even named in them in our top blogs and podcasts you need to follow in 2017.
The success of the BuzzSumo blog is built on the brilliance of the BuzzSumo tool, which allows you to keep your finger on the pulse of what’s trending.
Facebook’s most recent algorithm update supposedly prefers authentic content that is topical, which demonstrates the growing importance of a tool like BuzzSumo.
If you’re struggling to find inspiration for your blog, consider venturing over to BuzzSumo to analyse what content is going viral.
Simply search the term you’re after and then find your unique angle on it. This is a technique exceptional content marketer, Nick Chowdrey, championed in his Riweb interview.
If it’s good enough for him…
Hootsuite is another scheduling platform. You’ll be limited to three social media accounts using the free version of either Hootsuite or Buffer, so you may want to use both if you would like to manage more accounts.
I might be the laziest Pinterest user ever but what I love about the platform is they make it so easy to post to.
What did Bill Gates say bout lazy people:
‘I choose a lazy person to do a hard job. Because a lazy person will find an easy way to do it.’
Posting to Pinterest isn’t even hard but I’ve found a couple of easy ways to do it.
After automatically uploading Instagram posts to a board the Pinterest Chrome Extension is my second favourite.
Install it and when you hover over an image, infographic or web page you would like to share you will see the Pinterest logo appear.
Click it and it will guide you through the process of sharing the content on one of your boards there and then.
So easy.[bctt tweet=”I advise every #SmallBusiness owner to read this guide. It’s full of useful resources.”]
Ok, so I’ve written about this before but back then I wrote about how you export the data and add the emails to your list.
That was always a slightly murky tactic and with GDPR fast-approaching I would recommend never using it again.
Instead, export the data (this article will show you how) and then use it to build things like PPC audiences who you can target with highly specific ads.
Check out Seth Rogen showing how he feels about GDPR.
Writing & Blogging Tools
So we’ve got great imagery, we’ve streamlined our social media now we need to make sure the content we’re putting out is A*. These tools will help you hone your writing & blogging skills!
So you fancy blogging?
When I first started I wrote pieces that would have been more at home in the pages of a dusty novel than a blog.
Writing for the web is very, very different from print, no matter what the subject matter.
Research shows that blogs need to be easy to read. That means cutting down on the Chaucer-esque sentences and focusing on producing digestible shorter sentences. That last sentence got pulled up for being too difficult to read.
Hemmingway will tell you if your writing is too complicated.
I struggle to tone it down at times, but Hemmingway will put you on the straight and narrow by making your writing “bold and clear”.
I don’t always agree with it. I believe you should write for your audience, so don’t sweat toning it down if your website prides itself on producing pulchritudinous prose.
For the majority of us, however, it’s a useful piece of software to help streamline our writing.
Social Animal is similar to BuzzSumo. You can type in any subject and find the articles that are going viral right now.
Why is this helpful?
Because taking something that’s trending and putting your own unique spin on it is a great way to capture people’s attention and drive big traffic to your blog!
It will also show you influencers in your space. You could even tweet your article out to these guys and ask their opinion on it, if they retweet the piece it will mean massive gains. Just make sure you’re tweeting relevant, interesting and unique content; otherwise, they will ignore you.
The other benefit to Social Animal is the Idea Generator tool. Now, I don’t care how good a copywriter you are, you are lying if you haven’t stared at a blank screen with no idea whatsoever regarding what you’re going to write about.
If you don’t fancy putting a new spin on the viral content then fire up the generator.
It’s not foolproof but it’s a good start to help guide you on what you should be writing about.
Ahh, Grammarly. I don’t use it, honestly.
My ego couldn’t take all the errors that would pop up so I’m better off without.
If you like your writing free of errors, however, then Grammarly is an excellent way to edit your work.
The Chrome extension will highlight mistakes in your emails and you can even enable Grammarly in Microsoft Word (apparently), to give your work a truly thorough check.
Simply input two or three nouns, that you want the content to relate to, and the generator will come up with some suggestions.
Not only is it a brilliant way to come up with a subject when you’re out of ideas, the titles are also exemplary examples of how to write catchy headlines.
We can’t overstate the importance of great headlines for your blog. The most shared content elicits an emotion in the reader, that needs to start with your title.
I included theHeadline Analyser last year. It’s a tool that measures the Emotional Marketing Value of your headline.
From this score, you can deduce whether you will capture people’s attention or not. According to the Headline Analyser:
“Most professional copywriters’ headlines will have 30 – 40% EMV Words in their headlines, while the most gifted copywriters will have 50 – 75%EMV words in headlines.”
Last year I ran two of our titles through the machine. This was about the time that Ryan mentioned we needed a little more oomph in our titles.
Check out the difference.
Of course, titles can’t be needlessly hyperbolic on every occasion and it may not be suitable for some blogs.
If you’re focusing on intellectual topics, producing ‘news-like’ headlines may prove more appealing to your audience.
Last year we published a post titled Four Experts On Streamlining Your Social Media. Interestingly, two of the four experts interviewed- Cody McLain & Greg Strandberg- suggested creating a plan was essential to social media success.
This is solid advice and you should apply it to your blog too.
The way I plan is incredibly simple –
Every three months I come up with a loose content plan. This makes the blog easier to handle and allows you to prepare in advance.
It also allows our content to move smoothly between connected themes rather than appearing haphazard.
I personally use a word document nowadays to achieve this but for the more organised Editorial Calendar is a useful and free tool.
“Give me six hours to chop down a tree and I will spend the first four sharpening the axe.”
Not sure how to update your WordPress website? Read this.
In 8 Reasons Nobody Shares or Cares About Your Blog we highlighted the main reasons your blog isn’t getting any traction.
In internet culture there’s a rule known as the 1% rule:
“90% of the participants of a community only view content, 9% of the participants edit (engage with) content, and 1% of the participants actively create new content.”
That 90% are known as ‘dark social.’ This refers to those who will read your content but won’t engage with it.
If they really value your blog you can push them into engaging with Social Locker.
People either love or hate Social Locker. That’s why, while we don’t use it, we’ve included it.
Social Locker asks readers to ‘pay’ to see your content by tweeting it before they can read it.
Last year, I suggested there were the following problems with using Social Locker:
- A share is a recommendation. It’s you saying to your followers this is a great piece, read it. If you start sharing rubbish nobody will trust you and plenty will unfollow. People will rarely tweet an article before reading it.
I stand by this advice if you intend to lock every piece of content you produce.
You need to build trust before locking content and then you should only lock a few of your best pieces.
We don’t actually use Social Locker for the Ri Web Blog but it is a superb tool and we do use a similar tactic.
The tactic we use at Ri Web instead is gated content – where you pay to read select pieces of our content by subscribing to us with your email.
Once you are a subscriber you get access to all this content for free.
When you exit this page a pop-up will appear asking for your email to receive our Ultimate Digital Marketing Trends e-book.
Once you’ve signed up you have free access to the book. This tactic works well as we have a small but established following.
If you’re looking to build your audience it may be better to get the exposure of social shares using Social Locker!
Website Design Resource
If you’re looking for a new website but can’t quite translate those pictures in your head into words (happens to us all), then Site Inspire could help.
Search by styles, types (industry), subjects and platforms, to see what’s on point for your industry. Our Director, Ryan, would suggest taking inspiration from a range of sources, after all, you don’t want a website on par with your competitors, you need to better them.
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