When you run a small business, investing in new software always seems like a bit of a gamble. Even if you suspect something like marketing automation would boost revenue for you, it can be hard to commit. When resources are limited, how do you know where to direct your time, money and energy for the biggest payoff?
One answer: remove the money factor and see what you can build for free.
Earlier this year, Drip became the first marketing automation platform to offer a free-forever plan (which includes every feature we have and up to 100 contacts). As far as we know, we’re still the only one.
But once you combine Drip with other kinds of free business tools, you can build a sophisticated, automated marketing stack that works for you for free—at least until it’s making you enough money to easily pay for an upgrade.
With that in mind, I’ve put together a free marketing automation stack for small businesses, along with ideas for putting these tools together to automatically move people through every stage of your marketing funnel.
1. Convert Site Visitors into Subscribers
I’m going to start by assuming that, even if you aren’t using marketing automation or even sending marketing emails, you do at least have a website. (WordPress is a great choice if you don’t have one yet—you’ll want to pay for hosting, but once you do, you get access to tons of free plugins that let you do everything from capturing leads to enabling social sharing to selling products.)
The real fun and promise of marketing automation doesn’t start until you have subscribers. So let’s get some—for free, of course.
If you have a blog, one of the best ways to start getting subscribers quickly is to offer a content upgrade in each post—a bonus resource that builds on the content in the post and is only available to folks who opt into your email list. You can use Rapidology to design vivid opt-in boxes to insert into each post wherever you want to invite someone to opt in.
To deliver your lead magnet, set up a single-email campaign in Drip containing an email with a link to your content upgrade—which you can also host for free by uploading it to Dropbox or publishing it as a public Google Doc.
The content upgrade email won’t be the only email these new subscribers get from you, of course. In a little bit, I’ll show you how to set up an email automated workflow that makes sure everyone’s engaged but not overwhelmed. But first, let’s look at one other tactic you may want to try to get site visitors into your automated marketing funnel.
– Enroll people in your free email mini course with the Drip widget. Content upgrades work great for getting people onto your email list from your blog. But what about all the other pages of your website?
For those, I’d recommend installing Drip’s slide-up widget and using it to offer a simple email mini course. (Click here to see why this is one of the easiest and most effective assets you can create to get subscribers.) This way, no matter where someone lands, they can easily sign up for your best content and find out what you’re all about—in exactly the right sequence, with exactly the right timing.
For instance, if I were a social media consultant, I would boil down a few blog posts into the most helpful information I could provide about getting started with social media, and then set up a campaign in Drip that would send out the information daily for 5 days.
– Engage site visitors with Drift (then add them to your automation campaigns). Like Drip, live chat app Drift is free for up to 100 contacts.
But wait: contacts? From a chat app?
This is one of Drift’s coolest features: automatically, at the start of their first conversation, anyone who starts chatting with you will be prompted to enter their email address (which actually makes a lot of sense, since having an email address on hand makes it way easier to follow up with any info or questions you couldn’t cover during the chat).
So by setting up Drift, I can answer pre-sales questions, show off my customer service skills, spot any part of my messaging that might not be working, begin to build one-on-one relationships with potential clients … and collect leads straight into my Drip account, thanks to a Drip/Drift integration.
(We use Drift here at Drip every day—you may see a little blue chat bubble on this very page. In fact, I got the idea for this very blog post when someone on Drift asked me whether Drip could work well for their new small business.)
Your Drip account will recognize when someone’s had a conversation with you in Drift, making it very easy to do some custom, automated follow-up later on.
You can even leave Drift visible while you’re away and use it as a simple contact form.
– Get leads at small events with Textiful. If you ever present or network at events in your community, you don’t want to rattle off a long URL just to get your new contacts to join your email list. Instead, you can use a text-to-opt-in tool like Textiful, which is free for up to 50 outgoing texts per month. (Note: That includes the automated texts the system uses to sign up new subscribers, so if you anticipate signing up more than 25 offline contacts a month, you may want to invest in an unlimited-contact tool like Leaddigits®, which comes with the Leadpages landing page platform.)
When someone texts a word of your choice to a Textiful shortcode, they’ll be automatically prompted to text back their email address—from which point they’ll automatically be added to your Drip campaign. If you’ve offered a lead magnet or your email mini course to your IRL audience, simply have Drip deliver it as outlined above.
2. Draw Subscribers Deeper into Your Marketing Funnel
It’s time to let automation start turning your new subscribers into highly engaged leads.
– Take automatic consultation bookings with Calendly.
If your ultimate goal is to get prospective clients on the phone, first I’d recommend introducing a consultation call to action toward the end of your email course. You can add a subtle pitch in earlier postscripts, building toward a stronger call in the final email. After five days of awesome, helpful, actionable content, you’ve built enough trust and goodwill that many subscribers should be interested in talking further.
To take the back-and-forth out of booking, try a calendar tool like Calendly, which has—you guessed it—a free plan.
Set up a simple calendar page and include it as a link in your emails. Once you’ve synced it with your own Google Calendar, Outlook, or Office 365 calendar, anyone who clicks can automatically choose a consultation time that works for both of you.
When you’re ready to upgrade to a paid Calendly account, you can access the Drip/Calendly integration to send information from Calendly directly into Drip (and trigger emails and apply tags whenever someone creates or cancels a Calendly appointment). But there is a workaround you can use to judge when someone’s clicked on your Calendly booking link even without a paid account: use a Drip trigger link.
Now, every time someone clicks your Calendly link, Drip will tag that person as being interested in a consultation. You can use this information to send special email campaigns in the future, or simply tell Drip to raise that person’s lead score when they click.
– Invite subscribers to your webinar. Most webinar services require a monthly fee, and you may want to upgrade to one of those as your list grows. One free option is FreeConferenceCall.com. While it doesn’t have the integrations you’d expect of a major webinar platform, using Drip you can still invite people to join a FreeConferenceCall.com session.
Just send an email asking subscribers to click a trigger link if they’d like to pre-register for your next webinar. Have the trigger link apply an “Interested in Webinar” tag, then send an email with login details to subscribers with that tag. (You can also send interested subscribers to a pre-recorded webinar.)
– Send certain contacts to sales for follow-up. If you have sales staff, you may not be talking with all prospects yourself. In that case, it might make sense to send subscribers who click your call-to-action link (or meet other criteria) into a CRM like Insightly (free for up to two users and 2,500 contacts). Drip’s Insightly integration lets you do this automatically.
Or, cut out the CRM and simply have Drip send a notification email to your sales staff when someone meets your extra-hot-lead criteria. Your choice.
3. Convert Leads into Customers
At this point, you’re getting leads from all over, and some of them are automatically being funneled to the next stage in the journey (such as a webinar or a free consultation).
Some of them will inevitably pass on the first opportunity you give them to connect on a deeper level. But don’t let the connection go cold.
Instead, I’d recommend setting up a welcome sequence. Check out the first two sections here to see how you can automatically tailor your welcome email to subscribers from different sources.
Create a Drip workflow to “catch” anyone who exits your mini-course campaign or who subscribes to a form somewhere else on your site (such as a Rapidology form or your Drip opt-in widget), like this:
Note that we’ve also included a Goal to pull people out of your marketing-focused welcome campaign when someone buys, so they stop receiving emails designed to drive them toward their first purchase.
Speaking of payment, you have several automation-friendly (and budget-friendly) options for selling your products.
– Sell multiple products (and automate follow-up) with WooCommerce. If you’re using WordPress, you can turn your existing website into an online storefront for free with the WooCommerce plugin. You can get fancy with paid extensions, but the free version includes a basic theme, shopping-cart functionality, and a few payment gateways.
That includes the ability to accept credit card payments through PayPal—not free itself, but since you pay only transaction fees, you’re not spending money until you’re earning money.
Drip’s WooCommerce integration opens up lots of cool automation possibilities. When you set up the integration, you can automatically …
- Subscribe WooCommerce contacts to your new-customer Drip campaign (or just add them to your Drip account so all contacts are synced)
- Tag purchasers as customers (so you know what messages to send and not send them in the future)
- Update customers’ Drip records with the product ID of every product they’ve purchased from your WooCommerce store
- Calculate lifetime value for each purchaser, if you enter a dollar value for your purchase conversion goal
But if you only have one or two main products, you may not need a full-fledged ecommerce platform. In that case, you can …
– Accept payments and automate follow-up with Stripe. Like PayPal, Stripe’s payment gateway isn’t totally free for merchants, but its pay-as-you-go model means it won’t eat into your marketing-tech budget.
Stripe’s especially good for subscription-based businesses, since it supports recurring billing. And with Drip’s Stripe integration, just about anything you do inside Stripe gets recorded in Drip (which means it can be used to trigger email sequences, apply tags, and more).
Here are some of the possibilities:
Or, let’s say your business hosts live events. You can …
– Sell event tickets and communicate with attendees with Eventbrite. You’ve probably signed up for an event on Eventbrite before—the ticketing platform is everywhere. Event creators have the option to add the platform’s fees onto the tickets they’re selling, paying nothing for setup.
Drip’s Eventbrite integration even lets you run custom follow-up campaigns for free. Even if an attendee wasn’t in your Drip account before they bought their ticket.
Or maybe you only interact with customers online. That’s easy, too.
– Build a (profitable) online community with s2Member. Finally, if you’re trying to build a members-only site, or just sell access to specific pieces of content, the free version of the s2Member WordPress plugin might suit your needs. The free version integrates with PayPal—and (naturally) Drip. Similarly to the other options we’ve mentioned, s2Member’s Drip integration can trigger actions when someone becomes a member or changes their subscription.
Whatever kind of sale you’re aiming for, now you’ve made it! What’s next?
More automation, of course—the kind that makes your new customers thrilled they purchased, and eager to see what you’re going to offer next.
4. Convert Sales into Upgrades & Repeat Purchases
By this point, you’ve built up a substantial free marketing automation stack. What’s next doesn’t require any new tools—you can do it all by building on the campaigns and integrations you’ve already developed.
– Send a follow-up sequence to new customers. Scroll back up to that workflow in the last section for a second. See that “Send New Customer Welcome & Feedback Campaign” box?
This can be an email campaign like your mini course or welcome campaign, but designed especially for brand new customers. Start with a big thank you for purchasing and convey any additional information they need to use your product.
Then, build in a delay that corresponds to the amount of time it usually takes customers to actually start using the product. This is an excellent time to schedule another email asking them to tell you about their experience, or even write a product review.
From there, it’s up to you. What do new customers need to know to feel connected to your company and satisfied with your product?
– Onboard new customers based on what they bought. If you’re using an ecommerce integration like WooCommerce, you’re able to make decisions based on the exact items customers have bought. But you can also approximate this with other payment systems by segmenting people based on the dollar amount they spent.
In either case, if you sell a complex product (or anything with a money-back guarantee), you should consider nudging customers to make use of what they’ve just bought with a custom onboarding sequence. Create a campaign where each email contains instructions for one step they should take every day, or information on how to use one particular feature.
You can also build a step into your workflow to check whether someone has opened your onboarding emails. If they haven’t, fire off an automated “everything OK?” email and/or get a notification to reach out in person.
– Upsell customers at the right time with the right offer. How about an upsell sequence for another related product? Or a package with additional consultations at a discounted rate?
Because Drip knows who your new customers are and what they’ve bought, you can choose who should get the offer you’d like to make next. You can either build an upsell sequence into your main new-customer workflow or send a later one-off broadcast to the segments of your list who’ve bought related products.
An automated post-purchase sequence can do wonders to transform your customers into repeat customers and, hopefully, your biggest fans.
This is just the start of the marketing automation that you can build for free in your own small business (and it doesn’t begin to cover the wealth of other helpful free marketing tools that are out there). But first, I’d recommend getting into your free Drip account and setting up the basic workflows mentioned in this post.
I won’t lie: it does take a little bit of time to figure out which kinds of automation will do the most for your business. What it shouldn’t take is lots of money—at least not in the learning stage. With this collection of tools, you’ll have the space and the resources get up to speed risk-free.
What free tools have you discovered for marketing your business? Tell us (and your fellow small business owners) in the comments!