Today, I’m sharing some of my favourite (mostly) free digital marketing tools and training resources. I use these day-in-day-out in my business and they may be just what you need to boost your business too!
When I first set up my PR consultancy for photographers, I was keen to use free tools where possible. #Bootstrapping 🙂 Now, six years into my business, I still use many of those same free tools. But, I have also invested wisely into a selection of paid tools and resources.
The paid options I recommend in this article – whether its a tool, app or training resource – I’ve felt have been well worth the additional investment and it’s why I’m recommending them to you.
Whether you’re just starting out in business and are looking for free digital marketing tools or whether you are ready to up-level and make some savvy investments to help you grow your business, hopefully, you’ll find something useful in this list.
By the way, I update this blog regularly as I discover new and indispensable tools, so be sure to Pin this to save and come back to the article again in the future.
As you’ll discover, I’m suggesting tools for:
- Productivity & Planning
- Email Marketing
- Graphic Design
- Online Diary Management
- Online Meetings & Consultations
- Research & Data Collection
- Media Monitoring
- Social Media
- SEO (Search Engine Optimisation)
- Legal Matters
- Online Membership Community
N.B. Some of the links in this article are affiliate links. If you choose to purchase a tool or training resource via my links, I may receive a small commission at no extra cost to you. I only recommend products I love and use in my own business.
Productivity & Planning
Trello “enable(s) you to organize and prioritize your projects in a fun, flexible and rewarding way.”
This is my no.1 tool. I organise my working week and have all my client projects, to-do lists, shopping lists, general brain dumps…basically, my entire life is on Trello!
It’s completely free to use and is based on simple drag-and-drop functionality.
I found it quick and easy to learn how to use it, but if you get stuck there are lots of online tutorials available, like this one.
There is a pro (paid) version of Trello. But, even I, with tens of Trello boards and hundreds of Trello lists, haven’t yet found the need to upgrade. The free version does everything I need right now, and chances are that’ll be the case for you too.
The reason I love using Trello is that it’s a to-do list that doesn’t get lost! I no longer make notes or scribble down reminders on scraps of paper.
And if I want to add something to a list within Trello at any time of the day or night (which I often do – why is that ideas come into your head just before bed?), I can tap the free Trello app on my phone and quickly add it to the relevant list. My Trello account then gets synced and updated instantly.
It’s a simple to use personal and work organiser that keeps all your to-do lists in one place. And, it’s super-flexible, allowing you to move things around, assign dates and generally just make you more organised even while on the go.
MailChimp is my email marketing software of choice.
It’s free to use (if you have an email list of up to 2000 people) and is widely considered to be one of the best solutions for small business owners.
Chances are, like me, you don’t yet feel the need for more advanced functionality that comes with paid tools. Just getting regular emails out and building your email list is challenge enough, right?!
Yes, there are alternatives to Mailchimp such as Active Campaign and ConvertKit, which offer more bells and whistles. But, if you’re just getting started with email marketing, I think you’ll find MailChimp perfectly adequate for sending regular newsletters and updates to your list of subscribers.
MailChimp is also great because you can use it to deliver freebies and email ‘nurture sequences’. These are easy to set up and can be set to send automatically when people join your mailing list.
I send out my fortnightly ‘Connect Connection’ newsletter containing PR and marketing tips, articles and news updates using Mailchimp – sign up here if you’d like to receive these for yourself.
Canva is a free graphic design tool that allows you to quickly and easily create social media graphics, presentations, invitations, and much more.
As a professional photographer, you’ll likely have access to Photoshop which offers far more sophisticated functionality. But I think Canva still has its place.
It’s ideal for those situations when you need to create graphics quickly. The in-built templates for everything from A4 presentations to posters, flyers and business cards can easily be adapted and you can incorporate your own brand colours, fonts and imagery, meaning that it can very little time or fuss to create something that looks great!
Plus, the app is also really handy for creating custom graphics on the go.
Creative Market is another resource that is invaluable if you are looking to create beautiful graphics, workbooks, presentations, fonts, styled stock images and more. On there, you can purchase templates and design assets from creators based all around the world.
Plus, every week Creative Market offers products for free so you may want to join their mailing list to receive updates on what the free goodies are each week.
While the above two resources are invaluable, sometimes you just want to be able to create e-books or lead magnets quickly and without having to lose lots of time creating something that looks half-decent. This is where templates come in.
I use e-book and lead magnet templates to create professional-looking digital documents in Canva. These are a major time saver and well worth investing in if you find creating lead magnets a chore.
There are also lots of other templates available to purchase – you can view the full range here.
Online Diary Management
Gone are the days when I used to lose minutes of every day (which must have totalled hours in a typical month) agreeing appointments with my clients and prospective clients.
Rather than send emails back and forth to agree a mutually convenient day and time for a consultancy call, I now use Acuity Scheduling which takes all the hassle away.
I pre-populate the calendar with my availability and block off any times that I am not going to be available. I create appointment types (for example, VIP client calls) and then share the scheduling link with my client.
It’s quick and easy for them to then choose their preferred date and time from my available slots. They complete a simple form and, because it’s integrated with my online calendar, then the appointment is confirmed and automatically scheduled into my diary.
I use the paid version of Acuity Scheduling (approx. $10 per month) in order to take advantage of the extra functionality such as being able to set up multiple appointment types.
The paid version also allows you to take payments which I find really useful for my one-off PR and content marketing consultancy sessions for photographers, which can be booked and paid for online. But the free version may be all you need if you simply want to take away the hassle of scheduling client sessions, calls or viewing sessions.
I also rate Calendly for its sleek, minimalist look and easy to use interface for online appointment booking.
As with Acuity Scheduling, the free version is great but for more advanced features you’ll need the pro version.
Online Meetings & Consultations
Zoom Video Conferencing
I love Zoom for the fact that it allows me to connect with my clients, prospective clients and others via free video conferencing calls.
With a free subscription to Zoom, you can host 40-minute video calls with up to three participants. Plus, you have the option to record the meetings and playback both the video and audio-only versions.
This makes it a really handy tool for me. I can record client consultations and also record online presentations that I’ve hosted. Playing these back is a great way to recap on points discussed. And, there’s nothing like watching yourself on camera if you’re keen to identify ways to improve your presenting style!
Zoom Webinar is a paid tool which allows you to host live virtual events and broadcasting for up to several thousand people. Unlike a standard Zoom meeting, a Zoom webinar is a view-only platform where the host can’t see the attendees and they cannot see each other.
I’ve recently subscribed to this in order to be able to offer group training online (although not sure I’ll be expecting thousands of attendees quite yet!), and I would imagine that it could be ideal for any photographer offering online group training as part of their services.
Research & Data Collection
Typeform is a “versatile data collection tool” that “turns data collection into an experience”.
It’s my go-to tool for when I need to create online surveys. It makes data collection a doddle and will impress the end-user because it has a sleek interface that not only looks really professional but is really easy to use.
It’s quick and easy to set up a survey (literally you can set one up in less than one minute).
Whenever I begin work with a new client I ask them to complete a survey so that I can gather the information I need to get started. I also use Typeform surveys to gather data from photographers who I don’t work with – it’s a vital tool in my market research.
(Photographers – if you’d be happy to complete the short survey, I’d be very grateful!)
Surveys are free for up to ten questions. There is a paid version available if you want to set up longer surveys and if you need more advanced functionality.
I always recommend that it’s worth regularly ‘googling’ yourself or your business name to ensure that you are aware of any mentions online.
Google Alerts is a free tool that helps you keep on top of your online monitoring. You can set up an unlimited number of alerts for free, for example, your name, your business name, and also for keywords such as “newborn photographer”.
When it comes to monitoring press coverage, Google Alerts can prove useful although it’s far from perfect. It’s best to use Google Alerts in conjunction with your own searches plus other media monitoring tools if you are serious about tracking online mentions of yourself and your brand.
Twitter is an essential tool if you’re looking to connect with journalists and spot potential media opportunities. That’s because Twitter is what journalists use to share news and make connections with potential case studies, experts and to source story ideas.
Search for the #journorequest hashtag to find out what journalists are looking for today!
Within Twitter, you can also set up ‘lists’ (public or private) which are curated feeds that allow you to monitor the tweets of those in your list.
So, if you have particular journalists you want to follow, for example, simply add them to a Twitter list and then check that list regularly to avoid potentially missing their latest posts among the thousands of other Twitter posts in your newsfeed.
Twitter can be overwhelming, so Twitter lists help you to navigate through the dross to the content that you’re actually interested in.
Related reading: Twitter Chats for Photographers
Planoly is my favourite tool for Instagram scheduling. It allows you to “visually plan, manage and schedule your Instagram posts”.
I love the fact that you can use Planoly for free if you’re managing one Instagram account and only posting once per day.
It has an attractive minimalist interface, and the drop-and-drag functionality allows you to plan and change-up the look of your Instagram feed before you publish, helping you to arrange the look of your Instagram feed and to help you ensure that you maintain a cohesive look.
I use bit.ly to shorten otherwise very long URLs to blog posts and other website links. It’s a free and easy to use tool that creates a short version which looks better when sharing links online.
Bit.ly also monitors click on your shortened links so that you can track performance over time – important if you are measuring your marketing (as I suggest you should be in this blog post – How to do an Annual Review of your Photography Business).
There is also the option to customise the bit.ly link that is generated – for example, my http://bit.ly/PRSavvyPhotographer link directs people to my sign-up page for my Facebook group.
If I hadn’t have customised that link, it might have otherwise been something like bit.ly/2J8PHcM. So, from a branding point of view, being able to customise the links is a great benefit of this free tool.
Tailwind is an incredibly powerful tool which I use to schedule and automate the publishing of ‘pins’ onto my Pinterest account.
Pinterest is widely acknowledged as an important source of website traffic. If you aren’t pinning your own content, and that shared by others, onto your Pinterest account regularly then chances are you’re missing out on a potentially large amount of traffic that you could be attracting to your website via Pinterest.
The training I recommend on Pinterest and Tailwind is by Pinterest Principles. This is an incredibly useful course for anyone who is keen to up their Pinterest game!
Search Engine Optimisation
SEO Edge is an iOS app which I use every day in my business to keep an eye on Google rankings for my own site and my client’s websites.
There is a free version which allows you to track a limited number of domains and keywords. But, for a very small investment you can upgrade to the premium version of the app and monitor unlimited domains and unlimited keyword phrases.
SEO Edge is a brilliant tool in my opinion because it allows me to track how websites are performing against keywords that are being actively targeted.
The tool tells you if you have gone up, down or remained the same in Google rankings for each keyword phrase. And, you can click through to view the search engine results page (SERPs) for each keyword so that you can see who is ranking higher.
This is invaluable information if SEO is part of your digital marketing strategy.
When GDPR came into force in May 2018, I ensured that I was complying with the new legislation by purchasing the GDPR Compliance Pack from Suzanne Dibble, an expert in small business law.
Her GDPR Compliance Pack has since been updated and is still worth the investment if you are a small business owner wanting professional advice on all-things GDPR and legal compliance.
Related reading: An introduction to GDPR and how it affects your photography business
Online Membership Community
Solo-working can be quite lonely at times and it can be easy to lose direction and momentum. So, from the get-go in my business, I’ve invested into training, coaching and online memberships.
Most recently I’ve joined Andrew & Pete’s ATOMIC membership.
It offers brilliant live- and pre-recorded training resources geared around helping you secure more predictable income in your small business. Plus, there’s a members-only podcast and the chance to get discounted tickets to their annual conference, ‘Atomicon’, which is held in Newcastle each year and which attracts all the big names in marketing.
Plus, and perhaps best of all, an online community of seriously fun, savvy and like-minded business owners from all over the world.