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Try these free marketing tools to help you when budgets are tight

I was asked recently by an SME B2B marketing contact what free marketing tools I use.

In these cost-conscious times, marketers must do all they can to protect their precious marketing budgets. And that means reviewing marketing tools and software to see if they can avoid unnecessary spend.

shot showing women's hands. In one hand she has some money notes in the other she's holding a pen and  using a blue calculator

Being a freelancer, I don't have the luxury of a large budget, so I'm always looking for free tools to help me produce engaging content.

So here are just a few of the different tools I've tried and used.

Firstly a few suggestions that can help you take your content to the next level:

Free tools for attention-grabbing headlines

Your headlines are what people notice as they skim a page or site, so you want your headline to stand out so the reader's compelled to find out more and see what you have to say.

CoSchedule Headline Studio – this is great for tweaking your headlines to really make them grab attention. The tool's free version analyses your headline's structure, grammar and readability, giving it a score of 0-100. Anything above 70 (green) is a good score. If your headline ranks low or you want a better score, it shows you how to improve the ranking. This could be by adding some emotional, uncommon or power words.

Headline Analyzer – from Advanced Marketing Institute, Headline Analyzer assesses your headline's emotional marketing value (EMV) score. The English language contains around 20% EMV words, but professional copywriters aim for a headline between 30% - 40%. In addition to an EMV score, Analyzer also gives your headline an emotion classification; intellectual, empathetic, or spiritual.

If you're stuck for ideas for your headline, HubSpot's Blog Ideas Generator can help. Simply enter a noun that describes the blog's primary focus, and the tool will generate five free headlines.

What headline tools do I use?

I use both Headline Studio and Headline Analyzer. I use Headline Studio first to check the length, use of words etc. Then, once I'm happy with the score, I head over to Headline Analyzer to verify the emotional impact.

Text showing how the Hemingway readability app works. Some sentences are highlighted in yellow or red and words in purple, blue or green depending on their readability

Free tools to check your copy for mistakes and readability

Of course, there's no point in writing great headlines if your copy is full of mistakes or is hard to read. You may think you've written engaging, easy-to-digest content. But your target audience might find it heavy going. Clear, simple writing is the key to engagement. So before you publish your latest thought leadership piece, eBook or product page, use these free tools to check that it's free from errors and easy to read.

Grammarly – the free version of Grammarly checks your copy for spelling, grammar, and punctuation mistakes. You have several application options, including a desktop app, browser extensions, mobile apps, and Word and Google Docs integration.

Hemingway – if you want to check how your copy reads, copy and paste your text into Hemingway, and it will analyse it for readability. The tool highlights sentences that are very hard to read (red), ones that are hard to read (yellow), alternatives for complicated words or phrases (purple), adverbs (blue), and the passive voice (green). The free version of Hemmingway doesn't offer suggestions on how to fix the problems, but you can tweak your text, and it will update its analysis as you go.

Which free text-checking tools do I use?

My primary tool is Grammarly. I've just upgraded to Premium, as this offers additional features that are great for copywriting. These include sentence rewrites and tone suggestions. However, the free version is ideal for basic writing suggestions and tone detection.

Once I'm happy with my Grammarly content, I run it by Hemmingway to see if any sentences are 'too long' or 'hard to read.' If you're writing B2B copy, don't worry if you can't clear all the red or yellow highlights. Sometimes you need to use technical terms which Hemingway doesn't like - you can't please everyone!

Free marketing tools for eye-catching images

They say a picture paints (or is worth) a thousand words. Now that you've got a great headline and outstanding copy, you'll probably want to enhance it or break the content down with images.

When you don't have the budget to take original photography, royalty-free stock photo sites are a great solution. OK, when it comes to industry-type stock photos, there's a chance that your competitors are also using them. But stock images are a cost-effective option when you don't have the budget to commission original photography, so here are a few free sites you can use:

Unsplash – this is owned by Getty Images and offers over 3 million free images that you can use for most commercial projects. All it asks is you credit the photographer or Unsplash when you use the photos.

Pexels – offers an extensive collection of free stock photos, royalty-free images, and videos for commercial use. You can use the stock on your website, blog, product marketing etc.

Pixaby – provides free stock photography, illustrations, vector graphics, gifs, film footage, music and sound effects for commercial and non-commercial use.

Burst – owned by Shopify, Burst features many images aimed at entrepreneurs and small businesses.

Nappy if you're looking for diverse stock photos, then Nappy is excellent. It was launched to provide high-res stock photos of black and brown people.

If you have some spare budget, some paid stock image sites, such as Shutterstock, give you more choices without breaking the bank.

Which image sites do I use?

It depends on what I'm looking for. I've used all five sites, but my main go-to ones are Pexels, Pixaby (recommended by the College of Media and Publishing when I did my copywriting diploma), and Unsplash.

Canva homescreen showing search bar with What Will you design today and examples of what you can create - docs, whiteboard, facebook post, infographic, poster

Let your creativity run wild with these free design tools

When you don't have the budget to work with a designer or pay for Adobe Photoshop or InDesign, several tools will help you create great graphics quickly and easily.

Canva – this is a popular go-to one for most marketers. Its drag-and-drop interface makes it really easy to use, and you can choose from a wide variety of free templates to help you create presentations, social media posts, brochures, videos, and logos. You can pretty much find any design you need on Canva. Another benefit, and probably why it's so popular, is that it's integrated with hundreds of other platforms and apps, including email marketing software and social media.

VistaCreate (formerly Crello) – offers you all you need for graphic design and is ideal for designing animated graphics. Like Canva, VistaCreate features a range of static and animated templates, an easy-to-use drag-and-drop graphic designing tool, and the ability to post directly to Facebook, Instagram, and Pinterest.

Adobe Express – available as a standalone application or mobile app, the free version includes a range of templates for flyers, business cards, logos, posters, social media graphics, stories and thumbnails. You also have access to Adobe stock photos and fonts.

What creative design sites do I use?

I've been an Adobe fan for years, using the paid versions of Photoshop and InDesign. But, to save some money, I've moved over to the free version of Canva and love it. It's easy to use and has many free images I can use with my designs.

Taking the hassle out of Social Media

We're all busy, so our social media marketing can often be forgotten or pushed to the bottom of our 'To Do' lists.

Scheduling tools are great for keeping up with your posts. If you can set aside an hour or so every week or even every month to schedule your posts, updates or tweets, you can keep on top of your social media.

Most social media schedules offer free trials for a limited time. But if you want a completely free tool, then the following are worth considering.

Buffer – has a free plan for individuals or businesses getting started with social media. It is pretty basic, but it allows you to connect up to three channels and includes a landing page builder for promotions and an AI assistant.

CoSchedule – with the forever-free version of the Marketing Calendar, you can schedule Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Pinterest posts and messages. This free tool lets you have two social profiles and social analytics reporting. It also allows you to manage your marketing projects.

Collaborating with free project management tools

Collaboration is essential for marketers. Marketers need to manage projects effectively with teams, external agencies, and freelancers. Without close collaboration, you can quickly lose track of deadlines, budgets, and what's being produced.

Asana – with the free version, you can create unlimited tasks, projects and messages and collaborate with up to 15 team members. It allows you to view projects in lists, calendars and boards and assign projects and due dates.

Trello – the free version is perfect for individual users and small to medium businesses as it has no user limit. It allows you to create a workspace, add up to 10 boards, and invite colleagues or clients to collaborate and automate tasks.

Monday – this is an easy-to-use project management tool for one or two users. With the free version, you can access over 200 templates or customise your own boards to track tasks. You can also create dashboards to show project progress and monitor budgets.

What project management tools do I use?

For quick and straightforward project management, I use Still, there are limitations with the free version, so Trello is a good alternative, especially when I'm collaborating with several people.

Keep producing great content - even on a tight budget

These are just a few examples of free tools you can use for your marketing. Of course, there's a range of different ones for email marketing, SEO, CRM, video recording and editing, and transcribing; you name it, there's probably a free tool or a free trial you can make the most of.

So if you find your budgets are stretched or cut, you can still maintain the quality of your work. Just look for a free tool; there's plenty to choose from.

Of course, there is one thing you shouldn't try to get for free. That's great copy. Never underestimate the value of content that's written well, builds trust and authority and engages your audience. So if you need help with your online content, want someone to cast a professional eye over your copy, or proofread your blog or website, here's how you can contact me. Let's have a chat.



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