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The Real Cost Of Free Marketing

When the coronavirus pandemic struck, many businesses scrambled to survive. Ultimately, planning for the long term was almost impossible, but one way that people tried to make sure they could see the pandemic through was by cutting any outsourced work and taking it on themselves. Many businesses were able to use the exceptional circumstances to get out of contracts that may have otherwise crippled them, and we know that senior staff took on far more than they usually would. We also know that one of the tasks that often moved in-house was marketing – and with a plethora of purportedly “free” tools available, it seemed a task that senior staff could manage during a crisis.

It’s been nearly a year since then and, whilst you may not have realised it, lots of the free tools that have been so popular over the last eleven months are not free forever – and some of these charges are hidden away when you first sign up. If you aren’t up to speed with your own renewal dates, lots of sites are not too forthcoming with reminders. If you miss your renewal or cancellation dates, you could be locked into fees you weren’t willing to sign up for.

We’ve picked four of the most popular tools in four key areas of marketing that offer free trials – the ones that you might have signed up to last year. We’ll take a look at how much you need to spend to get all of the features that the sites advertise and to get the same access that your previous marketing teams would have had.

free marketing tools


If you’re serious about SEO, then you should really be using Moz to track your Search performance. It’s a wonderful tool that allows you to track your own listings against a number of competitors, and segregate your keywords into distinct campaigns, allowing for granular assessments and detailed analytics. If you cancelled a contract with a marketing agency, then you’d have been getting the benefits of unlimited, uninhibited access to Moz. You may have opened an account with the 30-day free trial they offer, but to get the same service you used to get, it’ll cost you up to $599 per month

Social Media

Next is social media – and there are a host of scheduling and analytic tools available, but one of the most popular is Sprout Social. Again, this comes with a 30-day free trial which you might have taken advantage of, and then a rolling contract begins. You might want to spread out the daily social media tasks as business picks back up and your senior staff return to their day-to-day roles. To get a multi-user, multi-profile account with the kind of features that your old marketing agency provided, you’re looking at another $249 per month

Email Marketing

One form of marketing that became more popular with people spending more time working from home was email marketing, and the biggest platform provider of this by far is Mailchimp. Whilst simple text emails might have resonated well in the early months of the pandemic, life is beginning to return to normal. More than 15 million adults in the UK have now been vaccinated and a roadmap to normality is in sight – and with it, a return to the marketing emails which caught the eyes before. With customers’ attractions back on their normal jobs and lives, they won’t have the time required to absorb the plainer emails which became commonplace. To create the kind of custom messages your old marketing company did, you’ll need to sign up for the package which comes in at $299 per month


Finally, we’re looking at design. Whilst the Adobe Suite is very popular, it’s commercial license does not offer a free trial and as such many businesses did not turn to it when costs were being cut. One alternative is Canva, which does have the option for a forever free account, but that level is so limited that it is not feasible to entertain running a business off it’s setup. The Pro account is a much more viable option, and it comes in at roughly $15.29 per month. Whilst still far more limited than the £72/month Adobe suite, it does come with a huge amount of assets free for you to use commercially.

Across these platforms, you would be spending $1,162.29, equivalent to £839.56 at the time of writing, per month.

Time is Money

The other “cost” factor to consider is of course the time that it takes your senior staff to complete the tasks normally done by professionals. 

Without the capability to schedule social media posts, we think allocating an hour per week, or 5 hours per month for this task is fair.

We think spending 4-6 hours per month on your SEO is probably about right, so we’ll split the difference and call it 5 hours per month.

Time spent on email marketing can vary depending on the frequency of emails you send, but roughly four hours per email should give you time to design, write, test and finalise any work. So if you’re only sending one per month, that’s another 4 hours per month

Designing is again hugely variable, but one thing for certain is that it’s a task that takes novices far longer to complete than experts. We’ll allocate 6 hours per month for designing, including any time spent learning tools and techniques. 

If you have any paid advertising accounts, then these would take up a huge amount of time, especially for a novice. Moreover, these also require a budgetary spend which we won’t even include in our evaluation. Not including any training time, we’d recommend at least 4 hours per week to manage the accounts – or 20 hours per month

This lands us on an incredibly conservative 40 hours per month. If the staff member you assigned to this role is on £52k per year – for the ease of the maths, then you’re paying them £270 per month in basic salary to complete work in which they have no formal training or expertise. Add this to the £839.56 that the free-trial marketing tools are costing you, and you have a monthly outlay of £1,109.56 per month, for work to be completed, with all the best intentions, by an amateur.

DisciplineCost of Tools/Month (£)Number of Hours/MonthTotal Cost/Month (£)
Social Media180.305214.05
Email Marketing216.344243.34
Paid Advertising20135

That seems like a hell of a lot of money to be putting in the hands of someone doing the job in their spare time with free marketing tools.

Going with a marketing agency makes financial sense. It takes square pegs out of round holes, and allows your business to make best use of all your resources. If you weren’t happy with the performance of your last agency, or want to see how your business could benefit from using one for the first time, call our expert team today.


free marketing tools