It's hard to beat the convenience, reporting, clarity and efficiency that is bestowed upon us as marketers when using a marketing and sales automation platform like HubSpot, Marketo, or InflusionSoft. But even though some of these solutions are cheaper than others, it can still be hard for a smaller company to stomach the cost upfront before they even get a chance to put the key in the ignition on their inbound marketing machine.
So what's a poor small marketing budget lad to do?
In short, fake it til you make it.
Those automation systems are great, and I believe everyone, even the smallest of businesses, should have a long term goal to migrate or get setup on one when it's within their budget and when your early inbound marketing efforts start to show signs of producing results.
But until that happens, there are ways to start with a manual push mower and work your way up to a commercial riding lawnmower. (Disclaimer: this did not win Metaphor of the Year Awards)
Inbound Marketing Pricing: The Grow With You Plan
When the time comes where you need to start shopping around for the software, tools and apps that you'd like to do a "deep dive" on and research to see which is best for your company's needs, consider the "piece together" route, or as those of us in marketing (and other tech fields) like to call it, a "frankensystem".
Basically what this means is start as small (or as big) as your budget allows and add tools or strategies as things start to get off the ground.
Here's a sample of how this might work, based on quarterly budgeting:
Q1 Goal - Increase Your Traffic
Let's say your website is already running on WordPress (because more than 25% of the Internet is built on WordPress) and you're looking to increase traffic as a first step to your inbound efforts. Since your site is already running on a blogging platform, put together a simple blogging strategy and publishing schedule and let's start creating some articles to help answer customer questions and educate prospects on what it is you do and what your industry is all about!
PROMOTION: Remember that your blogging strategy should also include a post-publishing promotional plan as well. Make a list of the social platforms and curation methods you want to use to get your content in front of people and create a schedule to publish and promote regularly for the next several weeks after each article goes up.
ANALYTICS: It's also a good idea to have analytics running so you can monitor your content efforts. The most popular (and free) platform is Google Analytics, and there are plugins for WordPress that make it easy to integrate with your site.
SEO QUALITY: Finally, remember to add an SEO plugin like Yoast to help you understand the quality of your blogs and if you can tweak them any. Now Yoast isn't "SEO law" so don't treat it as such, but it's a nice guide to help you zero in on the details in your article that may help you rank better for certain searches.
Q2 Goal - Increase Conversions and Build an Email List
Now that your search engine quality content is humming along and your traffic is on the upswing, now it's time to increase visitor-to-lead conversions and capture some of those visitors in your email database.
BLOG SUBSCRIPTIONS: There are WordPress plugins that allow you to setup a built-in email list and blog subscription form so visitors can subscribe to your content and get emails from you when you publish a new article. Search the WordPress plugin directory or Google and see which ones are popular or work the best for others.
MARKETING AUTOMATION: When establishing that early marketing system that will get you through the early months of inbound, you have a few options:
HubSpot Free: This is a free account with HubSpot that you can setup with a companion WordPress plugin if you know you will be upgrading to the full version of HubSpot later. It will let you use their free Lead Flow tool to capture emails in your database. It will also allow you to integrate a third party email service like MailChimp or AWeber so you can email those contacts with more content later.
Inbound Now: Inbound Now offers up free and paid versions of their Leads plugin, Calls to Action plugin and Forms plugin. They give you a simple way to turn WordPress into a mini-HubSpot, complete with conversion stats, email and a new marketing automation option (in beta at the time of this article's writing).
Q3 Goal - Nurture, Experiment, Test, Improve
Now that your email list is starting to grow, what do you do with it? You email! But having a list doesn't mean you get to send them whatever content you'd like whenever you feel like it. During part of your strategy planning, it's a good idea to define your marketing funnel (Visitors > Leads > Qualified Leads > Customers) and understand your customers' challenges, pain points, and mindset during their researching and buying process. Send them content that aligns with what they need and when they need it so you provide value, not spam.
Your content publishing, conversion rates at each stage, email marketing, and promotional efforts should all be subject to ongoing review and tweaking as well. Use analytics to understand how your system is performing and improve areas that seem weak. Try testing different variations of calls to action, email subject lines, actual content, images and more to determine the best mix of marketing that resonates with your customers and leads.
Q4 Goal - Upgrade and Improve Accountability
As part of your slow upgrade plan, take the time to educate yourself on best practices and how best to use whatever marketing tools you do select as part of your "piece-together" system. Being in the driver's seat helps you become the master of your own marketing. You'll be that much more prepared for when you make the jump to a larger automation platform that can provide additional value and assist in the continued growth of your inbound marketing efforts.
Finally, it may help to find an outside inbound marketing consultant to review your progress from time to time and assist in rolling out tests and improvements. They can also help you to stay accountable and on top of changes and plans so you grow at a consistent pace.
Inbound Projects: Plan to Start Small
Another course of action is to forego the tools altogether and start even smaller. This route would require you to put together a simple 12-24 month plan, even on a cocktail napkin, and assign a small project or task to each month to help you build on the previous month's success.
Your plan might look something like this:
Month 1: Evaluate your business's current sitation
Month 2: Define your buyer personas and target audiences
Month 3: Set realistic goals at certain milestones (each month, each quarter, each year) and select "frankensystem" tools
Month 4: Outline content based on persona questions and pains
Month 5: Plan your first quarter campaign
Month 6: Create the content for your first quarter campaign
Months 7-9: Execute your first quarter campaign
Month 8: Monitor the first quarter campaign, note results and analyze and put into plans for your second quarter
Month 9: Create the content for your second quarter campaign
Months 10-12: Execute your second quarter campaign (rinse and repeat)
Another great idea (pat self on back) is to combine these two ideas into one, starting with the tools you can afford while following this "start small strategy" plan. Moving forward at all is better than not moving at all, so do what feels comfortable to you and your business's current needs and move the needle slowly to achieve better results over time.
Regardless of the path you take, you can always approach inbound marketing in bite-size pieces or small manageable quarterly (or monthly) projects. Don't worry about getting it perfect right away. It takes time regardless of how you get started. For our clients, we always start with an inbound marketing strategy gameplan project, which is a short 30-day project that gives you a plan to drive your inbound goals with. Whether or not you execute it right away is up to you, but by getting that strategy done first in a small, more manageable way, you won't be biting off more than you can chew.