11 Tools to Automate Your Marketing (Without Breaking the Bank)

If you search for "marketing automation", you might experience some heart palpitations when you start looking at prices. The big marketing automation players like Marketo, Pardot and Hubspot all have pricing plans that range from hundreds of dollars a month to the ominous "contact us". Clearly geared towards large enterprises, rather then scrappy startups.

But don't let that discourage you. Marketing automation is a cornerstone of any successful online business and in this post, you'll discover the tools that are suitable solopreneurs, digital nomads and small teams.​

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This Isn't Just a List of Tools...

Blog posts listing just about any and all marketing related tools are all too common. This isn't one of those posts and here's why:

  • All of the tools chosen have an aspect of automation. They allow you to get work done in less time and with less manual work on your part.
  • All of the tools have startup/solopreneur friendly pricing. If something costs hundreds a month or more, it's not in this list.
  • The prices shown in the overview tables represent the price the tool costs for the use I recommend. Many of them have higher tiered plans, but you don't need to (or in some cases, shouldn't) ​sign up for those to get the benefit I mention along with the tool.

With that said, let's get right into it.

Social Media

We're starting with social media because this is something you absolutely must automate.

Organic reach on social media platforms is at an all time low and still on a downwards trend.​ That means that even if you have many fans and followers, most of them will never see your posts, tweets and shares.

Social media can still be a good traffic source, but if you're spending your own valuable time on routine social sharing tasks, you're wasting money.​

Hootsuite

Purpose:

Social media management

Ideal for:

Solopreneurs

Price:

Free - $9.99/month

Hootsuite is a social media management tool which gives you access to all your social media stuff from one single dashboard. In my opinion, the most useful things about it are:

  • You can share messages and links to multiple social networks at once.
  • You can see all your posts, replies, messages etc. without logging in to different networks.
  • Hootsuite automatically schedules your social media messages.​

Hootsuite can be used for free, connecting up to 3 social media profiles. In practice, that could mean a Twitter account, a Facebook page and a Linkedin profile, for example. Chances are, you'll never need more than that.

You can upgrade and there's practically no upper limit to how much you can pay for it, but for a single user, the $9.99/month "personal" plan is all you need.

I don't recommend Hootsuite for teams, since the pricing is unfavorable and the team management UI is a pain in the ass.​

Use Hootsuite if...

  • Communicating and interacting on social media is part of your strategy.
  • Use the advanced stuff and higher level plans only if you do social media management for other businesses.

Buffer

Purpose:

Social media post scheduling

Ideal for:

Solopreneurs

Price:

Free - $10/month

Buffer is a popular alternative to Hootsuite. The user interface is totally different (and more pleasant, one could argue) but the functionality is very similar. At least, as far as my recommended use is concerned. Hootsuite can do a lot more, if you pay them a lot more money. But as mentioned above, I don't recommend that.

The main emphasis in Buffer is that you can automatically add content to your social sharing queue and it will suggest optimal times to share the content, based on analyzing your social profiles.​

The downside to Buffer is that's it's only about sharing social messages. You can't use it to monitor your different social accounts or send replies.

Use Buffer if...

  • You want an easy way to share and schedule your own content.
  • You don't want to or need to have a central place to check your social media mentions, messages and send replies.
  • You hate the Hootsuite user interface.

CoSchedule

Purpose:

Content & social media calendar

Ideal for:

Teams

Price:

$60/month

If you work with a marketing team, I recommend using CoSchedule instead of getting a premium account with any of the services above.

That might seem strange, because CoSchedule is primarily a content marketing calendar. This part of it is very useful for any multi-author blog, but it's not all there is to CoSchedule. It also comes with a powerful social media toolset. With it, you can create a template for social sharing once, and then apply it to each one of your new posts.

CoSchedule is very powerful for sharing and scheduling your own content, but it's less useful for sharing other people's content. This is where free Hootsuite and the $10/month version of Buffer have it beat.​

Also, like Buffer, it's not made for monitoring social media accounts or replying to messages.​

Use CoSchedule if...

  • Content marketing is part of your strategy.
  • You are not the only one publishing content on your site.
  • You want a very convenient way to create social sharing campaigns for your own content.

Other Social Media Tools to Consider

If Twitter is an important platform for your business, give Commun.it a try. It's all about Twitter and one of the highlight features is that it suggests which of your followers you should shoutout to/praise for sharing your tweets and interacting with you.

If you want an even more hands-off approach to social media than the solutions above provide, check out Missinglettr. ​It's a totally hands-off service which creates year-long resharing queues for each new blog post you publish.

Finally, if Instagram is a business critical platform for you, then Instagress is an automation service you should take a look at.​ Never mind, this service was nuked by decree of Instagram.

Follow-Up Marketing

Follow-up marketing is far more important and impactful than social media marketing. I put it in second place in this post simply because of how much of a useless time-drain social media can be, if it's not automated.

For getting a return on investment, follow-up marketing is where the rubber meets the road, though.​

ActiveCampaign

Purpose:

Email marketing automation

Ideal for:

Solopreneurs & teams

Price:

Starting at $9/month

I've explained why I use and recommend ActiveCampaign in a bit more detail in this post. In short, ActiveCampaign allows you to build a mailing list in which each subscriber is tagged with any number of custom attributes. You can tag subscribers based on products they've purchased, free offers they signed up for, emails and links they've interacted with and more.

You can then create complex email marketing campaigns which respond intelligently through if -> then logic.​

ActiveCampaign Automation Example

Example of an email campaign with branching paths.

This is crucially important because it allows you to send the right messages to the right people on your list. It means you can have follow-up emails that intelligently respond to your subscribers' actions.

ActiveCampaign was one of the first affordable tools to offer this kind of functionality (and to do it well). Recently, almost all email marketing services have jumped on the bandwagon and started offering similar features.

I haven't tested them all, but ActiveCampaign is a solution I have a lot of experience with and with a starting price of just $9/month, it's more affordable than many competing services.​

If you'd like to learn more about how to set up the kind of segmentation and tagg​ing needed for intelligent email follow-ups, check out this post.

Use ActiveCampaign if...

  • You should definitely use ActiveCampaign unless you have a strong reason for using a different system for email and follow-up marketing.
  • For more info, see here.​

ActiveCampaign Alternatives

Some other email marketing tools that A) have startup-friendly pricing and B) take segmentation and automation seriously are:

I've tried each of these solutions briefly, but I haven't tested them in-depth enough to be able to fully review them. I think they are worth mentioning, but when in doubt, go with ActiveCampaign.

OneSignal

Purpose:

Push notifications

Ideal for:

Solopreneurs & teams

Price:

Free

Email is still a hugely valuable channel, but it's slowly losing ground to other communication channels online.

A more direct and instant way to message online users is via push notifications. Those are notifications that appear on your desktop or on your mobile device. They're short, instant and can be very quickly either dismissed or followed.

As a marketing channel for websites, push notifications aren't very mature yet. Their effectiveness might also be more dependent on your business' demographics than some other channels. However, I think it's a good idea to experiment with push notifications, especially considering that OneSignal is a comprehensive and completely free service you can use for this purpose.

I don't have a lot of experience with push notifications myself yet. Once I get some results from early experiments, I'll let you know.

Use OneSignal if...

  • You have a site that isn't already overloaded with calls to action and widgets and such.
  • You publish new content frequently.
  • You are open to experimenting with a relatively new marketing channel.​

Appointments & Billable Hours

If any of your work is service based and involves appointments and/or billable hours, the following tools are for you. In a service based business, you can't automate away the whole process, but you can remove a lot of busywork and friction with some simple tools.

Toggl​

No video for this one. Toggle is so simple, it would take you more time to watch a video of me explaining it than starting to use it yourself.

Purpose:

Time tracking

Ideal for:

Solopreneurs & teams

Price:

Free to $9/month

Toggl is one of about a billion different time tracking tools available. I like it and recommend it for two reasons:

  1. It's super simple.
  2. It's very useful on the free plan and the premium plans are reasonably priced. This makes it bootstrap and solopreneur friendly.​

If you bill hours, you should not be tracking them manually, that's for sure. And while there are time tracking tools that offer many bells and whistles, those can end up being a distraction. Toggle is useful and so simple to use it will take you about 10 seconds to figure out everything you need to know about it.

Plus, even if you don't use it to track billable hours, just tracking where and how you spend your time can make you more productive.​

Toggl Alternatives

Two alternatives worth mentioning are RescueTime and the "Memory" feature in Timely​. Both of these are more automated than Toggl, but I still prefer Toggl because of its simplicity.

Calendly

Purpose:

Appointment scheduling

Ideal for:

Solopreneurs & teams

Price:

Free to $8/month

Scheduling appointments, podcast interviews and meetings by email is annoying. And if you have to do it across time zones, it's downright painful.

Calendly is an elegant solution to this problem. We like it so much, we've created a whole post about why and how you should use it. Check it out here!​

Other Tools

In the list above, I've bundled tools together into categories. The remaining tools below are each in a category of their own:

AdEspresso

Purpose:

Facebook ad management

Ideal for:

Solopreneurs & teams

Price:

From $49/month

AdEspresso is an excellent tool for Facebook advertisers. It will save you time when creating large numbers of test variations for your ads. Better yet, you can use it to rapidly improve your ad performance.

A word of warning, though: like many testing tools, AdEspresso tends to make optimization suggestions prematurely. In other words, it will recommend you deactivate a variation based on very little data, in some cases. Watch the video above to see how I recommend using it.

Use AdEspresso if...

  • You spend $500 or more on Facebook ads per month.
  • Facebook is already a significant marketing channel for you or you plan to make it one.
  • You have at least 4 hours a week you can dedicate to ​planning, creating and optimizing Facebook ads.

Zapier / IFTTT

Purpose:

Automation between apps

Ideal for:

Solopreneurs & teams

Price:

Free to $20/month

Zapier and IFTTT are very similar tools. They are both made to connect different apps together with each other. If you don't already, you should go ahead and create a (free) account with one or both of them.

Whenever you find yourself doing some repetitive task, check with these tools to see if you can't automate it.

To get an idea of the automation recipes you can create, check out the marketing ideas by IFTTT and these ones by Zapier.

The main differences between the tools are:

  • IFTTT is completely free for unlimited use.
  • Zapier has a free plan as well as premium plans.
  • Zapier has a focus on business tools.
  • IFTTT is less focused and includes a lot of tools for home automation, interactions with your mobile devices and more.​

Use Zapier & IFTTT if...

  • When you have anything you want to automate, always remember to check if it can be done with these tools.
  • You have two or more tools that you want to make work with each other, but there's no built-in integration.

Google Alerts

Purpose:

Monitoring brand mentions

Ideal for:

Solopreneurs & teams

Price:

Free

Setting up Google Alerts to keep track of mentions of your brand from around the web is an oldie but goodie among marketing tools. I'm adding it here because it can be a very useful tool in a few ways, for example:

  • Reach out to site mentioning you, but not linking to you, to get more backlinks.
  • Socially share, link to or otherwise boost content that mentions your brand favorably.
  • Reach out to influencers who mention your brand, to start building a relationship with them.​

While the actions you take based on Google Alerts are usually not very automatable, the alerts themselves are extra convenient. And because they're provided by Google, you can rest assured that no mention will slip through the cracks.

Use Google Alerts if...

  • You can take positive action on mentions of your product and brand names around the web.
  • In other words: don't use it to just see mentions come in, but not do anything as a result. No one needs more distraction in their lives. :)​

Solopreneur Example

If you're a solopreneur, my recommendations from this list break down as follows:

Tool

Use

Price

Hootsuite

Schedule all your social media posts, auto-post from RSS feeds and manage/reply on all your social media accounts.

$9.99/month

ActiveCampaign

Create follow-up email campaigns and send out email newsletters.

$9/month

OneSignal

Send out push notifications about new blog posts and offers.

Free

Toggl

Keep yourself accountable and/or track billable hours.

Free

Calendly

Use the free version to manage one type of appointment (for all your client calls, interviews etc.)

Free

IFTTT

Automate some repetitive tasks and research tasks.

Free

Google Alerts

Monitor brand mentions & product reviews.

Free

Total cost:

$18.99/month

As you can see, you can enrich your marketing life quite significantly, at a very low cost. The price that will increase quickly is the one for ActiveCampaign. For example, if you have 5,000 subscribers, it will cost you $49/month. However, an email list also easily pays for itself, so it's a line item I've never worried about very much.

I didn't include AdEspresso in this list because if you're just starting out, I wouldn't recommend it yet. AdEspresso becomes useful when you have a bit of a budget for advertising and you have a clear strategy in place.​

Small Team Example

If you're working with a small team and want to automate processes across the entire team, here's what that could look like. For the example below, I'll assume a team of 3 people:

Tool

Use

Price

Hootsuite

Assign it to one team member, to manage and reply across all social media accounts.

$9.99/month

CoSchedule

Manage your content calendar and automate social sharing for all your posts.

$60/month

ActiveCampaign

Create follow-up email campaigns and send out email newsletters.

$49/month

OneSignal

Send out push notifications about new blog posts and offers.

Free

Toggl

Track billable hours across projects and team members.

$30/month

Calendly

Manage all your scheduled appointments across all team members.

$30/month

AdEspresso

Assign it to one team member to manage your Facebook advertising & optimization.

$49/month

IFTTT / Zapier

Automate some repetitive tasks and research tasks. Perhaps needing some premium connections from Zapier.

$20/month

Google Alerts

Monitor brand mentions & product reviews.

Free

Total cost:

$247.99/month

For this list, I've assumed an ActiveCampaign list of 2,500 subscribers and a Facebook ad spend of under $3,000/month.

As expected, things get a little pricier, but we're still well under $100/person on your team. And the list above represents a heck of a lot of automation and time saving, for the price!​

Of course, all of the recommended tools above can be mixed and matched to suit your specific needs.​

Conclusion

How many of the tools above are you already using in your business? How much time are you spending on menial or repetitive tasks, that could be automated?

I'd love to hear from you, so leave a comment below! And I hope this post inspires you to add some automation and streamlining to your own business.

Shane's Signature

About the Author Shane Melaugh

I'm the founder of ActiveGrowth and Thrive Themes and over the last years, I've created and marketed a dozen different software, information and SaaS products. Apart from running my business, I spend most of my time reading, learning, developing skills and helping other people develop theirs. On ActiveGrowth, I want to help you become a better marketer and product creator. Read more about my story here.

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