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  • Marie Farrar Knowles

The future of marketing is digital. Here are 5 free tools to help your small business get started.

Updated: Apr 28, 2020

The past couple of months have proven that businesses and consumers are still interacting with their favorite brands, particularly as they are spending most all their time at home and online.

While consumer buying trends are a bit unpredictable at the moment, people are longing for a connection to the outside world. That means they likely still want to hear from you -- even if they’re not buying and even if you’re not selling. (We won’t get into it here, but emotional marketing is in fact a “thing” and for good reason.)

Many companies have already embraced digital marketing and communications, however, those that haven’t been able to pivot their strategy may find themselves left behind.

Sure, making the digital move may seem daunting for small businesses with limited resources, but the internet is flush with free tools and tricks you can employ to immediately up your game.

Think Baby Steps

Before you freak out, just remember that you don’t have to become a full-blown digital marketing strategist. Instead, focus on leveraging one or two tools for starters and then grow your marketing from there. After all, if you select just one strategy for starters -- and execute well -- you’re one step ahead of where you were before!

5 Free Digital Marketing & Communications Tools

Where to begin? Following are five free tools that your business can leverage to begin building up your digital communications chops:

1. Graphic design -- You don’t need to be a graphic designer to develop branded digital materials such as social media posts, powerful infographics and online content. Canva is a go-to when it comes to developing quick, templated on-brand graphics in pinch. Need an Instagram template? An e-invite? Done. Try it for free or upgrade to take advantage of enhanced features including a brand kit that keeps tabs on your company’s official colors and font so you’re always on-brand.

2. Social media – Tell your story using video, photos and/or written content on social. Businesses that consistently deliver authentically, and compelling content are posting on Twitter, Instagram and LinkedIn to build and grow a following -- for free. For an added boost, however, these social media services offer the ability to set an ad budget and test smaller, hyper-targeted campaigns to your exact demographic. (Hint: Before posting, consider your audience, your tone of voice and the types of posts you’ll be making. Enterprise companies and business leaders, for example, may find thought-leadership pieces on LinkedIn to be more compelling than fun visual posts on Instagram.)

3. Media outreach and tracking -- Sign up and regularly skim HARO (Help a Reporter Out) to find out what the media is reporting on, and submit stories to journalists who are seeking news sources. Topics range from small business, tech, healthcare and more. Web giant Google offers a slew of information and analytics at your fingertips – some more complex than others. Google News allows you to easily track your company, rivals or industry news with custom email alerts.

4. Grammar and spell-check -- If you’re rushing to push content out the door via email, social or blogging, chances are you’ll make a mistake. Grammarly acts like a real-time, AI writing assistant that checks and offers suggestions to improve your spelling, grammar and punctuation in real-time. (Think you don’t need it? There’s a reason even great writers have editors.)

5. Analytics – A bit more complex, Google Analytics offers the ability to “get a deeper understanding of your customers” by tracking insights such as where your website visitors are coming from, the pages that they’ve visited most, along with their demographics so you can make data-driven decisions so you can deliver more value to your customers. Plus, use Google (one-day down the road) to build and track Google Ad campaigns.

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