What happened? It seems like only yesterday when you were just starting your business, a never-ending adrenaline filled your veins and no challenge could keep you from moving forward.
But somewhere along the way, administrative responsibilities grew, the excitement faded, and your days are now filled with repetitive, manual tasks that you know you shouldn’t be doing as the business owner.
Many of the most mundane and consistent of these tasks fall under the marketing umbrella. The good news is that most of these tasks can be automated!
What is Marketing Automation?
Marketing automation is basically just clever tools that can automate your company’s marketing tasks through software. And many of these software platforms are designed specifically with small businesses in mind.
When used effectively, marketing automation can save you thousands of hours and help you grow your bottom line by sending out highly personalized content and email. This can help convert leads into customers without lifting a finger. Check out even more benefits of marketing automation in our guide here.
Sending email is a big part of marketing automation so check out our guide on how to avoid the SPAM filter here.
In addition, see our guide on creating epic email subject lines here.
However, it is possible to make a bad investment in small business marketing automation so do your research. We'll discuss some things to think about below.
At Automational.com, we’re here to help you understand how you should be evaluating potential platforms. This article will put you on the right path to finding the best marketing software for your business. Let’s dig in.
Marketing Automation for Small Business
If executed well, marketing software can be a game changer for your business.
However, you want to get the right marketing automation for small business. Ultimately, the automation options you choose should:
We'll dive into each of these considerations in more detail below.
What Is Your End Goal?
Before choosing a marketing automation platform for your business, you need to clearly define your end goal as it will impact the decision you make.
While many marketing automation platforms will offer a similar set of basic capabilities, some are better than others at different points of the sales cycle.
For example, some are built to help you maintain a great relationship with existing customers by offering beautiful newsletter templates and personalized email builders. Others focus on helping you define workflows that move leads smoothly from the top of the sales funnel down to the bottom.
Understanding what you are trying to achieve through marketing automation will point you in the right direction to finding a platform that will help reach your end goal, not distract you from getting there.
Does It Fit Within Your Budget?
As a small business, you likely don’t have a big budget or the financial flexibility to make a less than stellar investment. Your marketing software needs to yield an attractive ROI and save you time or else it is not worth it.
As with most software, there are premium options available that will cost you an arm and a leg but are designed more for larger enterprises with huge subscriber lists and bottomless pockets.
And then there are lower cost, out-of-the-box platforms that offer less customization but have the core capabilities that small businesses need to get started.
Pricing tends to be based on the number of email list subscribers and the number of messages that are being sent out per month.
Fortunately, most platforms offer a free trial to help businesses test out their features and functionality before making a financial commitment.
Before jumping in, you just need to make sure that you can ramp up quickly and make the best use of your time on the platform so that you can really measure its value to your business.
Is It Effective?
As with many applications, one indication of effectiveness is the size of the current user base.
If you have small business peers who have already taken the leap into marketing automation, ask them what has and hasn’t worked for them. Your network can be invaluable in showing you which platforms to avoid right off the bat and which to give serious consideration.
With some additional googling, you can get a sense for how widely used a platform is across your specific industry. Many automation platforms boast a long history of supporting the marketing efforts of businesses of all sizes. Others are just getting started but have gained in popularity quickly. Lots of these startups use very innovative approaches and interfaces.
Is It Worth It?
Something to keep in mind is that you are not just purchasing access to a platform...you are outsourcing an incredibly important function and, hopefully, engaging in a long-term relationship.
Your marketing automation platform should be able to provide you support whenever you need it. In the beginning, it’s likely that you will experience a few hiccups. When this happens, you want to know that there a strong team on the other side who can help you recover quickly.
One additional factor that many overlook is how your company’s brand will be impacted by the automation platform you have chosen. If outbound communications look more like spam than valuable content, your leads are going to drop you in an instant.
Your platform needs to provide you with the flexibility in designing templates and workflows that are professional and fit your branding. This will ensure a smooth transition for you as you get your automation up-and-running and hand off the reigns.
Finally, one of the most important elements to consider is what data is made available to you through your marketing automation. If you can’t track results, you won’t know what is and what isn’t working for you. Being able to run a split test to see how templates perform against one another is essential to optimizing your marketing and sales.
Keep all of these in mind as you go through the platforms that we have highlighted below.
So now that we’ve covered what you need to consider when shopping around for marketing automation platforms, we have a few suggestions to help you get started.
Free Marketing Automation Software
The following two platforms provide free marketing automation capabilities up to a certain number of users and emails. These are excellent options to help those new to marketing automation get their feet wet.
1. Engage Bay
Engage Bay is currently our top pick for free options. Their software allows you to easily acquire, engage, nurture, and convert new customers.
Engage Bay has several award-winning marketing automation features, and the best part is there's a free plan! The free plan allows you to do email marketing, sequences, autoresponders, email broadcasts, landing pages, live chat, add up to 15 team members, setup integrations with your other apps and services (i.e. pull your Shopify data in!), CRM, and much more.
They also provide a free onboarding session where they walk you through how everything works. All of that and you can send up to 1,000 branded emails a month, for free.
They also have paid plans that have even more powerful features if you ever need them. The paid plans allow you to do advanced marketing automation (like a pro), so as you grow, you can take advantage of even more possibilities. You can sign up for a free account here.
Intuitive and approachable, MailChimp is currently the most widely used marketing automation platform in the world. The company has been around for almost 20 years, supporting both small businesses and Fortune 500 companies.
For no cost, MailChimp users can send up to 12,000 emails to 2,000 subscribers per month and create automated marketing workflows, segment lists, and perform A/B split tests. Although deeper analyses require upgrading to the Pro plan, MailChimp is a great starter platform and entry point into the world of marketing automation.
Zoho is a software-focused company that builds many types of powerful applications with marketing automation being no exception. The company has been around for more than 20 years and provides a variety of services to all kinds of businesses. They offer a similar deal to MailChimp - their “Free Forever” plan provides access to basic marketing automation for up to 12,000 emails and 2,000 subscribers per month.
If you don’t already use a CRM, Zoho has a great platform that integrates well with their marketing automation capability. On top of that, the company boasts a large number of integrations so that users can bring in their subscriber lists from various sources including LinkedIn, G Suite, Facebook, and many others.
Best Marketing Software On a Budget
While the next three platforms aren’t free, they won’t break your bank. If you are willing to spend a few bucks to gain additional functionality, these companies are great and can serve as a step-up if you want to switch platforms and upgrade to something a little more powerful.
If you're ready to take your business to the next level, you need an automated sales funnel. ClickFunnels (www.clickfunnels.com) is one of the best tools out there for online sales funnel automation.
ClickFunnels was co-founded by Russell Brunson, one of the top experts in marketing automation (see our list of some of the other top experts and courses here).
Boasting the first eCRM (“e” for ecommerce), Drip is a relatively new, powerful marketing automation platform that provides deep analytical data for users so that they can optimize their outbound marketing. Founded in 2013, the company has grown quickly and serves businesses of all sizes.
For a reasonable monthly price, users can send an unlimited number of emails to lists up to 2,500 subscribers. For businesses with 2,501-5000 subscribers, the cost increases but is still reasonable.
With Drip, it is easy to segment subscriber lists and score leads based on their level of engagement. Communications can be sent across multiple channels including SMS and social media. Where the company really sets itself apart is with its rich data collecting and exporting capabilities. If you love getting knee deep in data and learning about your customers, Drip is a great option for you.
Pro tip: Drip actually does offer a free trial for up to 100 subscribers.
If you are a person who loves to visualize processes, GetResponse is the platform for you. Their impressive drag-and-drop workflow builder is extremely easy to use. It's also very powerful for segmenting subscriber lists and sending personalized messages. The company has been around for 20 years. In addition, they serve businesses all over the world.
With GetResponse, you can have one user and basic marketing automation for a very low rate per month. To unlock a few more users and the full breadth of capabilities, it's just a little more. It also has a CRM platform and can handle up to 5,000 users.
Constant Contact has also been around for more than 20 years and has focused on becoming an all-in-one marketing solution partner. The company cares deeply about small businesses and, as a result, has tailored many of its services and products in this way. With strong customer support and an easy-to-use platform, Constant Contact is easy to love.
Marketing automation can be set up to support a list of up to 5,000 subscribers, and they offer a 60-day free trial period. They also offer a 100% guarantee for up to 30-days after signing up for their paid service.
We know how swamped you are.
As the business owner, you don’t have the time to maintain your company’s sales pipeline. Your time is better spent focusing on long-term growth and day-to-day operations. Marketing automation can help you build a sustainable business. It can also allow you to scale efficiently without having to invest much time or money.
We have shared the considerations you should keep in mind as you dive into the world of small business marketing automation as well as a list of great, reputable options to help jumpstart your search. Best of luck!