If you’re marketing a small business or a growing brand (like myself), you’re in for a challenge. How do you cut through the noise? How do you compete against competitors with deeper pockets than you?
The good news, there's plenty of useful tools to help with your small business marketing plan. These can support all aspects of your strategy, from apps for advertising your business, to acing your social media and unearthing insight into potential customers. Picking the right ones will set your marketing strategy up for success.
We’ll cover how to build your martech stack first - but for those who can’t wait, here's my list of 12 essential, affordable marketing tools for small businesses in 2024:
1. Dash - organise and use your brand's marketing content
2. Canva - create marketing assets on the fly without a designer
3. Webflow - simple, stylish templates for building your website
4. Google Analytics - get data on your website's performance
5. Hotjar - make sure your website conversion rates are up to scratch
6. VWO - measure your conversion rate optimisation (CRO) website strategy
7. Buffer - manage and schedule your social media ahead of time
8. SparkToro - get to know your target audience better
9. Google Ads - target your customers through paid advertising
10. Ahrefs - identify SEO content opportunities
11. Frase - optimise your blog articles for target keywords
12. Mailchimp - send top-notch email campaigns
How to build a martech stack for your small business
Before you jump into buying loads of digital marketing apps, consider your channels first. Pick apps which best match your overall strategy.
These are the four broad categories of business marketing apps:
- Running your website: Almost everything you do in online marketing points visitors back to your website. There’s a whole suite of tools you can pick which can help you build landing pages quickly and boost conversion rate optimisation (CRO).
- Content creation and organisation: Every online marketing channel needs visuals. Picking tools which help you create, organise and share your marketing assets will be essential.
- Deployment and acquisition: Whether you want to focus on SEO, or invest more in paid advertising, there are tools out there to support your acquisition strategy.
- Analysis: Getting clear performance data on your marketing is key. You can use the insights you glean to better optimise your future campaigns.
Here’s how my recommended tools fit into these four key categories.
I’d recommend making sure you’ve got at least one app covering each of these sections. Use our digital marketing apps database to start whittling down your favourite applications.
Ready to boost your small business marketing efforts and crush your strategy? Here's a rundown of the marketing tools I'd recommend. We use most of these in our small (but mighty) marketing team, so I can vouch for them! 😇
Top 12 digital marketing apps to advertise your small business
1. Dash - search and share your marketing assets
We’ll start here because visuals are the lifeblood of any online marketing tactic. Being able to create visuals easily, then organise and share them efficiently will make or break the success of your small business marketing strategy.
Most marketing requires visuals, and lots of it. Marketers need to manage an online brand, several social channels, a website, email campaigns and more. And it’s often marketing’s job to share content with the rest of the business or external partners like resellers or ad agencies.
It's a challenge keeping on top of all those images, graphics, product shots and videos without feeling overwhelmed. And that’s only going to get more painful if you’re planning on increasing your marketing output.
Here’s one thing you can do right now: be like our customers and stop using Google Drive or Dropbox to manage your visuals. These are document and file collaboration tools which aren’t designed for finding, sharing or organising your images and videos.
Use Dash, instead. It’s great digital asset management (DAM) for small businesses. Think of it like a home for your brand and marketing assets. Use it to:
- Search for all your marketing images, videos, logos and more (and give your team access to them)
- Organise your visuals with your own custom tags, like how they performed out in the wild, which products your photos feature, or which marketing campaign they’re designed to be a part of.
- Share content with external partners who need regular access to your assets - like your ad agency, press contacts or your resellers. Here’s a portal we use to share ad graphics with our paid media agency.
Take it from Nathan at furniture brand RJ Living who made the switch from Google Drive to Dash:
“We realised our Google Drive wasn’t sustainable any more, it wasn’t letting us grow … Dash has saved us countless hours. We can grow with Dash and I can’t see us outgrowing it for a long time, if ever.”
Here's what RJ Living's Dash looks like, by the way. 👇
Pricing: Dash is one of the most affordable DAM tools out there. Plans start at £79 / $109 a month which gets you access to every feature and unlimited users.
2. Canva - create marketing graphics
There’s times you’ll definitely want to use a talented graphic designer, like if you’re considering a rebrand or you’re working on a bigger project (such as a catalogue launch).
But for standard social media graphics and website banners, it’s not the best use of your graphic designer’s time. As marketers, being able to create these ourselves saves time so we can launch campaigns quicker.
Canva is great for that. With an extensive library of stock elements and templates, it lets you easily create and collaborate on graphics. If you're not a designer, and struggle finding your way around Photoshop layers (just me?), this is the tool for you. And now that Dash integrates with Canva, you can drop assets from Dash straight into your designs.
We use Canva a lot in the Dash marketing team when creating content. In fact, the header for this very blog post was created in Canva! If you’re feeling inspired, here’s tips on how to improve your Canva design skills.
Pricing: Canva offers a pretty good free version to get up and going with, although you'll find most design elements locked away. The paid version we have in the team is £89.90 / $114 a year for 3 user seats.
3. Webflow - run your marketing website
A content management system (CMS) is an essential digital marketing tool. It's a way for you to build a website, edit pages, and run your blog through a single platform.
We were using HubSpot’s CMS for the Dash marketing website. But the more the site grew, the harder it became to update quickly and the more we felt we were compromising on the quality of our brand identity. So last year we moved to a new CMS provider - Webflow. Webflow lets us reflect the Dash brand properly on the website. It works out as more affordable for small businesses too (although I’d suggest using a Webflow agency or freelancer for your initial build). Like HubSpot, Webflow also has its own form builders for capturing those valuable leads.
Pricing: Webflow lets you get started for free, but you'll most likely want their CMS plan starting at £18 / $23 a month.
4. Google Analytics - analyse website performance
This will come as no surprise - but Google Analytics is an essential tool for any digital marketer. It should be one of the first places you go to when your boss messages you with the dreaded “what did that campaign actually result in?” question.
But it’s a double-edged sword. The amount of information it contains can be overwhelming. It's got data on website sessions, audience demographics, content performance and page load times. And that's just scratching the surface. It's easy to fall down the data rabbit hole, and I've done just that in the past. But you can't report on everything - and not everything will be useful. Here's a tip if you're finding yourself overwhelmed. Take a step back and plan what would be the most useful to find out.
Tackling Google Analytics 4 (GA4) is a top priority for our own marketing team this year. Whilst it’s proving a stepper learning curve than the older Universal Analytics, once fully implemented we should be able to have proper attribution and revenue reporting by channel.
Pricing: The standard version that most growing brands use (including ourselves) is free. They offer a more advanced version, called Google Analytics 360, but it's decidedly not free - it'll set you back about £110k/$150k a year!
5. Hotjar - optimise your website landing pages
If people are landing on your website but not doing anything, like purchasing a product or requesting a demo, conversion rate optimisation (CRO) should be a priority. So once you’ve set up your website on a CMS, use Hotjar to understand exactly how your visitors are interacting with your site. Hotjar’s heatmaps plot how visitors pilot their cursor around your page and it can show some really interesting behaviours. It can highlight some quick-win areas you can use to improve your conversion rate.
Here’s a heatmap of what our Dash free trial page used to look like.
You can see most of the clicks aren’t on our main ‘get started’ call-to-action (CTA) button, but on our Dash logo instead which takes visitors back to the homepage. This could suggest visitors haven’t found the information they need on the page, or that our main CTA isn’t appealing enough.
Pricing: They've got a free version for when you're just getting started. Paid plans start at £34 / $43 a month. The Hotjar subscription we have costs us £970 a year for 3 user seats with data captured on 500 sessions. We're considering upgrading this soon as we revamp our CRO strategy.
6. VWO - run website tests to boost conversion rates
Nothing stays the same. And that certainly should be the case for your marketing site: there’s always improvements you can make when driving conversions on your site.
Hotjar is great for first giving you a picture of what parts of your site might be blocking conversions. Then you can put your hypothesis into action with a tool like VWO. Whether you’re going for the traditional A/B testing model, or want to try multivariate testing, this app lets you create website experiments so you can see what performs the best.
Pricing: They have a free plan, but their best features start at £340 / $430 a month.
7. Buffer - manage your social media marketing
If you want to sell your products and build your brand, social media is essential. But managing your brand's social profiles takes time, effort and creativity. That's why many marketers use social network management tools, like Buffer.
Using Buffer, you can run all your social media platforms through a single application. You're able to collaborate on social media posts with your team and then analyse their effectiveness once they've been sent. One of their most useful features helps you schedule posts for your social platforms ahead of time. This means you can set up months of content ready to go out on your brand's channels - rather than realising you haven't tweeted in a while and doing a mad scramble for content (trust, I've been there).
Pricing: They've got a free version, but the functionality is a bit more limited. Paid plans start at £5/$6 a month for each social network you sync up.
P.S. If you're a social media manager, a scheduling app shouldn't be the only essential tool on your wishlist. Check out why you need a social media asset management system, too.
8. SparkToro - Discover where your audience hangs out online
Good audience research is the foundation of any successful marketing campaign. And part of that is understanding where your customers spend their time on the web and who they’re influenced by.
You could use a tool like SparkToro to build out the picture for you. Type in what your audience frequently talks about, and it’ll pull a load of demographic and website behaviour information.
Here’s an example. We’re working for a small houseplant brand and we know our customers frequently talk about ‘houseplants’ online. Plugging that into SparkToro tells us a load of interesting information, like:
- Top words in their social bios
- What hashtags they use on their social media channels
- What social media profiles they’re engaging with
- What websites they visit
(Apparently people who talk about houseplants also talk about Bill Nye and the Jonas Brothers? Who knew! 😅)
You can use this information to tailor your advertising segmentation and draw up a list of influencers or media outlets to partner with.
Pricing: They have a free plan which nets you 50 searches monthly. Their paid plans start at $38 / £30 a month.
9. Google Ads - advertise your small business
From Facebook to TikTok to Pinterest, there’s no shortage of advertising platforms begging for your dollar. Each could provide an important part of your small business paid media strategy, depending on where your audience hangs out.
But a great place to start is Google Ads. Setting up an account gives you access to the Google Search Network, as well as advertising opportunities on YouTube and Google Shopping, and the chance to show ad graphics on third-party websites through Google’s Display Network.
For Dash, Google Ads are one of our main demand generation channels. We use Google Search to knock down competitors bidding on our brand name, run YouTube ads for product awareness, and make use of Google Display in our remarketing campaigns so we can target previous visitors to our site.
Pricing: Google Ads is an advertising platform, so you decide how much you want to spend.
10. Ahrefs - set your SEO and content strategy
Content is king but SEO is… important? I tried.
SEO (or rather ‘search engine optimisation') can be a bit of a dark art, but it's basically to do with how far up your web pages rank in search engine results. Using a variety of different factors, search engines try to match content they think best serves a user's search. On average the first result in a search hoovers up about a third of all clicks for that search phrase. So the further you are up the rankings, the better you'll perform. Creating an SEO content strategy can help boost you up the search results for terms relevant to your brand.
We've been drafting one ourselves for Dash since launching on a new website, but it's tricky to know where to start. To help us out, we've been using Ahrefs. It's super useful for unearthing opportunities to rank for relevant search terms which are less competitive and easier to appear for.
How does it work? Let’s use the same houseplant brand example. Ranking for obviously relevant keywords like ‘houseplants' will be difficult right out of the gate as you'll be facing stiff competition from established brands. According to Ahrefs' keywords explorer, the term has a keyword difficulty of 62 (1 being the easiest, 100 being the most difficult). It estimates you'll need backlinks from 141 referring other sites to stand a chance of ranking in the top 10 results.
Don’t despair. Delving further into Keywords Explorer can unearth less-competitive terms to target your content to instead - like ‘houseplants for beginners', which has an average monthly search volume of 350 and a keyword difficulty of 22! Score.
This approach can work for almost any industry or company you're in. There's a tonne of other things Ahrefs can help you with (I'm a fan, okay?) but you get the gist.
Pricing: Starts at £79 / $99 a month.
11. Frase - optimise your blog articles for target keywords
Once you’ve identified all those content opportunities, how do you make sure what you’ve written has the best chance of ranking for your target keyword?
That’s where we use Frase - a marketing app that Amy, our SEO and Content Manager, swears by. If you’ll allow me to break the fourth-wall a second, take this very article you’re reading. We want to be ranking for ‘small business marketing apps’. For this article draft, I put it through Frase against that keyword, which then gave me a score of how well my copy matched that target keyword. I can then see how this stacks up against our competitors, and suggestions for other keywords I could include to increase the article’s relevance.
We refresh most blog articles every 6 months to make sure they’re still relevant. Running them through Frase is a key part of how we optimise them.
Pricing: £12 / $15 a month for 1 user seat.
12. Mailchimp - level-up your email marketing campaigns
Email marketing is one of the older and more established forms of digital marketing, and it's not going away any time soon. Email campaigns are still one of the most effective ways of interacting with your customers. 72% of people say email is their preferred way of brands communicating with them!
If you want to level-up your email marketing campaigns, take a look at Mailchimp by Intuit. Not only does it have the cutest logo in this list (sorry but a monkey in a hat? I'm sold), it also makes it easy to send stylish and effective email campaigns.
Got your email content ready to go? Use Mailchimp's Content Optimizer to whip it into shape. It'll suggest improvements to your copy and imagery based on what it knows about email best practices.
Email automations are another way to improve your email game and you can do those through Mailchimp. Rather than email campaigns, which usually go out to everyone in a defined audience in one go, automations are ‘always-on' emails which send based on individual behaviour. There's a tonne of clever ways to set these up, but ‘abandoned shopping cart' emails are a pretty common and effective one.
P.S. While we're talking about emails - as an extra bonus (you're welcome), I'd recommend Really Good Emails. It's a free library of cool email examples you can take inspiration from.
Pricing: Mailchimp has a free tier to get you started. Its paid plans with more advanced features start at £10 / $13 a month.
How much will all these marketing tools cost in total?
Budgets are tight for small businesses and every penny spent should count. But by picking tools specifically priced for growing brands, you’re not going to spend a fortune. If you decide to go with the tools I’ve recommended above, and opt for free versions where they’re offered, you can bag them all for around £400 or $500.
If you’re particularly interested in Dash but want to get it past your manager, check out our article on justifying the return on investment (ROI) of your DAM.
The marketing app your small business needs right now
So now you've read through my recommendations, consider the marketing you’re doing right now.
Almost all of your marketing projects will involve visual creatives - and lots of them. So let me close this article with a rallying call: you don’t need to put up with the likes of Google Drive, Dropbox or SharePoint to keep all those assets in.
There’s a better way and that’s Dash. Join the growing businesses crushing their goals - like Passenger Clothing and Ka’chava - and take a 14-day Dash free trial. You deserve it! 😇