Software as a service can be an incredibly valuable tool for essentially any business. There are tens of thousands of SaaS options to choose from, some that have freemium models, and some that have expensive subscriptions.

For instance, anyone that is in the inbound marketing industry has heard of the up and coming marketing automation software company HubSpot. If you are looking for an all in one marketing software, Hubspot as well as many other marketing automation software are a great tool and could help many companies grow their sales pipeline. However, before you jump into paying for something that is a minimum of a few hundred dollars a month, take some time to research what is out there to see if there could be a better fit for your business.

Running a successful inbound marketing campaign means committing to invest the time to continually produce quality content and much more, there is no way around it. If you have the time and are willing to commit then marketing automation software offers you a number of useful tools to help manage that campaign and make it successful. However, if your time is limited and you can’t make the commitment these tools may quickly become a waste of your money.  Just like any software that costs substantial money on a month-to-month basis, it can be either completely wasted or create amazing value, and thus careful evaluation before purchasing is a must. Keep in mind, most marketing automation software bills you annually, so you are dropping a minimum of a few thousand dollars, and if you realize you do not utilize the software often, you could wind up wasting thousands.

Planning Now Could Save You Tens Of Thousands Later:

This blog post is meant to help businesses become more aware of the options around them, and to better think about what might actually be the best online marketing software or combinations of software available for their business. This blog is titled “How To Avoid the Marketing Automation Trap”, because I often see many uninformed businesses swarm to expensive SaaS products, and other marketing automation software (due to their amazing inbound marketing efforts to their own software) without realizing there are many other options that could be a better fit for their business or specific situation.

It is not just marketing automation software that can catch you in the trap. It is simply one of many well-marketed cloud software industries that can easily entice those whom have not fully explored their options. In fact I fell into the same trap with a different software. Although the power of this software was immense, I purchased an annual license without properly evaluating the fact that I simply would not have the time to utilize it and eventually had to take the financial hit to cancel early.

I am not trying to turn people away from marketing automation, in fact for many businesses it is a great fit and can help their business grow. I am just suggesting that businesses take the time to look at what is out there, because they may not simply be ready for marketing automation quite yet. Had they known they were not ready they would most likely have chosen the more cost effective options.

Realistically you will need approximately $3,000 to $10,000 + worth of time a month from an agency or internal team to get the value out of marketing automation software. Some businesses cannot really afford this and must look to alternatives. Here are some ideas for businesses on a budget.

When Time and Money are Limited:

If your time and money are limited you will not be able to get the value of most expensive SaaS or even replicate its functionality using something else for that matter because you simply wont have the time to utilize those other options.

If time is your greatest asset, and is extremely limited, building a website using something like Weebly, Squarespace, Shopify, or another hosted software may be your best option. This way you do not have to maintain the software like an open source solution such as WordPress, Drupal, Magento, or Joomla, which can become costly and cumbersome if you are not technically inclined.  With a hosted solution, the company itself maintains the hosting and web software, so you do not have to worry about upgrading versions or maintaining your website for security reasons.

These simple hosted CMS solutions are also fairly cheap and only cost a fraction of what some of the others do. You will not get the bells and whistles of more expensive platforms though. However, if you have very little time and money to spend on a freelance developer, agency or software, or create a lot of content for inbound marketing, these types of options may be your best choice.

When Time or Money Is Not Limited:

Money can buy you time, because at the very least it allows you to buy other people’s time hopefully freeing you up. Now if you manage to free up a few hours here and there, you can start to aggregate all the different software options out there and utilize them to your advantage. There are amazing collections of free or very cost effective software available that can help you grow your business. Many of these combinations of software can replicate a lot of the marketing automation features at a fraction of the cost, or provide more scalable features at a similar cost.

Now lets look at some common marketing automation features and see what you can do to replicate them at a lower cost:

Blogging:

Many marketing automation software offer blog SEO recommendations, blog analytics, integrated social publishing and mobile optimization. Much of this can be done by integrating a WordPress blog into your site or building a WordPress site with a blog and tracking it with Google Analytics.

This is all free. You will just have to pay for hosting and a domain, but that should only be about 10 dollars a month or less if your site’s traffic is on the lower end. You will have to upgrade and maintain the WordPress software, which can also all be done for free (assuming your site was built properly). You may want to have someone more tech savvy do this for you because there is a chance there could be some complications depending on again whether your site was built properly or not.

As far as SEO recommendations, this can also be done at a fairly low cost. If you simply build a keyword list and use tools like Bing keyword research tools or Google Adwords keyword tools, you can evaluate the approximate traffic of keywords and organize them in something like Microsoft Excel. If you are still fairly new to SEO / inbound marketing, this is an easy way to get started. You do not necessarily need a sophisticated software to track keywords. There are also free tools like Google Web Masters and Google Analytics to get an idea of how much traffic you are getting from certain keywords.

There are also a lot of SEO plugins for CMS platforms. Specifically, the Yoast SEO plugin for WordPress is an easy way to get your website optimized for On Page SEO. If you do want something more sophisticated as far as SEO recommendations, there are SEO software options for that like Moz, Advanced Web Rankings, and Raven Tools all at fairly affordable prices. These SEO software platforms have a large array of advanced features that make them the top of the line SEO software available.

Social Media:

The main thing you should be paying for with social media is either someone to help you manage your social media more effectively; someone to manage paid social media ads, or the paid social ads themselves. Between free tools like Buffer, HootSuite, and the ability to add social sharing buttons to your blog or wherever you want to on your website (as long as you have the freedom to customize it), there are plenty of free social media tools to grow your social presence.

All of these tools have great social media publishing, analytics and suggestion tools to help you grow your social presence. Each social media platform itself also has its own built in analytics tools like Facebook insights, and more.

Search Engine Optimization:

There are plenty of tools to analyze your links to your website like Ahref’s, Google Web Masters, Bing Web Master Tools, and Opensite explorer. There are also plenty of keyword research tools available as well, such as Bing Keyword ad tool, Google Adwords tool, and more. Like I mentioned before in the blogging section, there are also plenty of sophisticated SEO software available that offer far more comprehensive capabilities than what many marketing automation software have to offer at a reasonable cost.

Calls–to-Action:

This is one of the great features of most marketing automation software because of how easy it is to use and implement and the work flows you can create. However, you can create your own calls to action on any other type of web platform like WordPress or Drupal. If you setup a goal in Google Analytics for that call to action, you can track it and analyze how many people are using that call to action. There are also call to action plugins that can make this easier to do if you do not want to get into the code. You can also use Optimizely or another split testing tool to do A/B testing.

Landing Pages:

Landing pages can be created with things like a WordPress landing pages plugin at a low cost. Essentially all you need is a landing page template in WordPress to create new landing pages at ease.  They do have smart content and progressive profiling to help you increase conversions. Much of this can be done with Optimizely or other A/B testing / conversion optimization software.  I certainly think smart content is the future, however, most websites I see are so flawed that they just need an overhaul in general.  Before you start utilizing smart content, make sure your website itself is at the level you are happy with.

Lead Management:

If you are a service-based company that requires lead management, you should really be doing your lead management in a full blown CRM like Salesforce, SugarCRM, Microsoft Dynamics, or Zoho.  Hubspot does now offer a very cost effective CRM, so you really don’t need to spend a lot, if you cannot afford marketing automation software. You can use a free version of Zoho, and their paid version starts at only 14 dollars a month, so price should not be an issue.

Email Marketing:

There are so many email-marketing platforms out there. Test out Mail Chimp, Constant Contact, Send Blaster, Aweber, and any other email marketing platforms to see which one you like. Chances are a platform fully dedicated to email marketing will do what you need at a very affordable price, and some even have a free model.

Marketing Automation:

There are a lot of marketing automation software platforms out there. Pardot, Marketo, Infusionsoft, Eloqua, Act-On, and HubSpot are some of the main ones. Chances are you are too small to really utilize marketing automation properly.  Unless you are a business that has the time and resources to create and manage a full-blown marketing automation campaign, take your time before you buy software that does this.

Marketing automation software does work, but it is a complicated thing to implement and requires a lot of up front work, planning, and content creation to make effective, and often times most businesses do not have the time or man power to do this, even large companies.

Analytics:

Most marketing automation software have a pretty advanced analytics side to their software, however much of this can be accomplished with the free Google analytics integration into a website.  Chances are, you should have more than enough data with Google Analytics and Google Web Masters, and you won’t even utilize half of what it can do.

Marketplace & Community:

Thanks to the massive communities around open-source software there is a significantly larger marketplace for the 70 million WordPress sites, millions of Drupal sites, quarter million Magento sites and others. There are a number of places that have extensions, plugins and themes (e.g. Themeforest) for these types of software.

Mobile:

Chances are you want a responsive website for mobile optimization of your website.  This is best done with a responsive theme built in Bootstrap or Foundation.  A separate mobile website can be more cumbersome than a responsive site, although it is worth evaluating both options. You should also have no problem accessing any other type of software you use on your mobile device such as Google Analytics, Buffer, SalesForce or another application.

If you are an eCommerce store, I would first invest in learning an eCommerce platform that fits your needs very well. If you are a non-eCommerce store, than you will need a CMS. I would carefully evaluate all the CMS options out there and make sure you are comfortable with your decision both today and for the future. You can then use a framework like Bootstrap or Foundation on top of your CMS or eCommerce platform to make your site mobile friendly.

Conclusion:

My advice is that if you really want an all in one software to power your website, lead management, and online marketing efforts, HubSpot or another marketing automation could be a great option. Just keep in mind you will need a reasonable amount of internal or external resources to make marketing automation successful. If you are a sole proprietorship or cash strapped business you may want to look into cheaper alternatives mentioned above.

Additionally, one of the major problems I see with most small, medium, and even large enterprise businesses that I have worked with is time limitation. Chances are, your business will not have the time to utilize all of the features of a Marketo, Infusion Soft, or another similar software. That is why I suggest starting simple with something like WordPress, a blog, and Google Analytics. Maybe throw in Buffer or some sort of social sharing tool. All of this is free (plus hosting / domain registration costs starting around $10/month). Once you have mastered this, you can begin to add more to the mix.

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