By Apprentice Creative
One of the hardest things about marketing a small business is building professional creative content consistently1. Before I did all this full time, I learned everything from SEO to video production on the job, and finding great resources and tutorials has always been key to meeting deadlines and not wasting time on endless trial-and-error. Some of the tools below are free online blogs and services; others are paid software. I always try to keep my expenses low, and I recommend small businesses do the same. Unfortunately, sometimes you get what you pay for. That being said, a lot of these have free options that work pretty well until you’re able to put together a bigger budget. So without further ado:
THE GREAT BIG 10-PART TOTALLY NON-DEFINITIVE SMALL BUSINESS MARKETING RESOURCE LIST
1. Adobe Creative Cloud
This one is a no-brainer if you need to create your own illustrations, drawings, videos, photos, or websites. You may have used adobe products pre-creative cloud, and the idea of shelling out $50 a month for licenses to the apps you used to own may be offensive to your sensibilities. You are not alone. Unfortunately, unless you want to seek out a dozen alternatives and pay for each of them separately, this is about the only option.
In addition to the apps, you also have access to TypeKit fonts and, for an upgrade, the entire adobe stock library. If you think about how long it takes to find and use alternatives, and the money you should be making from the assets you’re creating with the subscription, the $50 should be easier to swallow. If not, there’s also special plans for a single app or a photography package in case you really just need Lightroom and Photoshop to design layouts, edit photos, and make stuff like this.
You can use this link to view the plans: Link!
2. Yoast SEO for WordPress
If your website doesn’t run on WordPress, this won’t apply. Also, lets fix that. If you do use WordPress, you’ve probably already heard of Yoast and you may even use it on your site. It has great tools for checking your indexing status on google search, and easy ways to update your post snippets (the little headings and descriptions that show up when you google cat videos2 with useful information that you choose. You can customize breadcrumbs, link text for your posts and pages, add internal and external links to improve your listing reputation, and way more than I can get into in this paragraph.
Take a look at the Yoast page for yourself and see all the cool things it does. Again, there’s a free version for this plugin as well as a paid upgrade that has extra features and extensions if you’re into that sort of thing. If you have an e-commerce site, the premium version should be the first plugin you purchase. It will save you hours of tedium in manually updating your SEO.
3. Pingdom Website Performance Monitoring
Pingdom is a site that offers tools to test your website speed and performance. There’s a paid subscription that allows you to monitor your site’s speed and uptime, user experience, and more. I use the free Website Speed Test tool to check on factors that inhibit my page speed and load times. I prefer this test to Google’s Pagespeed Insights mostly because the Pingdom test gives better options for testing from different servers, and has more accurate grading factors than the Google tool.
Nerdy example: Google usually tells you to eliminate render-blocking scripts no matter how necessary they are to loading your site. Pingdom is a little more focused on specific examples of content that is slowing your website, and even provides a breakdown of all the assets contributing to your site’s load time. If you test your website and see a grade lower than ‘B’, you should look at streamlining your pages. As a bonus, this also contributes to your user experience and SEO ranking. Remember:
4. MOZ Local Tools
If you are marketing a local business, you need to check out MOZ Local. They have some great free tools and training to improve your SEO and give you a general background on SEO tools any time you need a quick primer. You can connect a google account to edit and manage your MyBusiness page, view your site’s local listing score, and more.
You can sign up for a paid account for $99 a year, and you’ll be able to create and manage one MOZ listing that updates across several online business directories. I tried to sign up for each individual directory myself. (To save money!) I finally gave up after a day and a half of frustration and upgraded to a paid MOZ account. It was well worth the $99 for an annual subscription even if all it did was signup for the directories. So check out Moz and use the free tools to improve your local SEO presence.
5. Google Search Operators
When I need to develop SEO content, I like to start by figuring out good search terms to target and a strategy to be competitive. A good way to find out how your content stacks up against the competition is to use advanced search operators. Search operators are little prefixes and characters you add to a google search term to use Google differently than the default ‘Broad Match’ search. There are many ways to modify your google searches to find specific phrases and to search within specific sites. If you search ‘google search operators’ you should find a good list. I like using one I found here. A quick example of how this can be useful is for finding out how a competitor uses keywords in their urls and text.
So, I can search my own content by typingsite:apprenticecreative.com allintext:relationship based marketingand find out how many times that phrase is used within the text of my website. Then, I can compare that to another site by replacing my site’s name with theirs and repeating the same search. I can also use the allinurl operator to find out what keywords are being used in the url slug of a page. Combining this with the Yoast SEO plugin is a great way to test and manage your SEO strategy on your pages.
6. Buffer Social Media Management
Buffer gives you an easy way to manage and schedule your social media posts to different apps right from one dashboard. You can set up different posting schedules for different platforms, and customize your automatic posting rules to each one as well. Gone are the days of writing the exact same post to multiple profiles. Buffer allows you to easily leverage the strengths of each platform to allow you to engage followers and customers in the most efficient way you can. Once again, there’s a free version and a paid version depending on your needs. If social is a major part of your marketing strategy, paying to have a queued schedule and analytics tools might be a great investment.
This one is a more recent discovery I’ve made. Designmodo is a site with a lot of great features and resources. In addition to offering icon sets, tutorials, and plugins, the site also has really helpful blog posts covering many design topics. I’m excited to get deeper into the archive. They have tutorials for Illustrator, Photoshop, HTML, and more. If you need to make icons for your website, migrate your WordPress site to SSL, or change your keyboard shortcuts in Photoshop, Designmodo has articles for you.
Take a look for yourself, and let me know what you found helpful!
I took a few photography classes in school, and we did quite a bit of retouching and illustration in Photoshop. Some of what I learned is helpful now, most of it just made it easier to do this: That thing from earlier.
Phlearn tutorials are super helpful for product photography and advanced photo editing. I originally came across the Phlearn tutorials on YouTube when I was trying to figure out a better way to get a pure white background for web photos. Since then, I’ve looked at a ton of the free tutorials and learned a lot about how to improve my workflow and tool usage. (Also, if you ever just want to feel terrible about how slow you are at Photoshop, [are there better things to do with your day?] watch Aaron use the paintbrush at 100mph4 on a tutorial. It’s ridiculous)
Phlearn offers free tutorials and advanced paid lessons for a $9.95/month fee. If you to check on how to use a tool better really quickly, hop on the YouTube channel and watch some tutorials there. If you need to learn more advanced techniques for Photoshop and Lightroom, consider investing in the paid option.
10. Video Copilot
Video Copilot is the most advanced and niche resource on this list. It’s definitely useful, but only if you are interested in getting into some heavy duty visual effects or video titles. You can buy 3D models of VFX assets, watch free tutorials, and download the Element 3D plugin developed by Video Copilot for making your own 3D block style titles and assets. The tutorials are the easiest to follow that I’ve ever seen, and Andrew’s presentation is entertaining and engaging. I was able to learn to animate titles in a month without having used After Effects before, and I owe most of that to Video Copilot tutorials.
That’s it for this post! Let me know if these resources are helpful for marketing your small business. I’d like to do more of these lists and I always like to discover new inspiration. If you need some assistance on your next project, get in touch and we’ll see if I can help.
Until next time,1The alliteration in this article was written by a trained professional5 and should only be attempted at your own risk.2Why are you searching google for cat videos? That’s why God invented YouTube.4160.93 kph5No it wasn’t. I don’t think that’s even a thing.*So what if there’s no number 3. I do what I want.