15 Free Tools To Help You Execute Your Brand Strategy
When it comes to creating a strategy for a brand, folks often overlook the most important variable, execution. Creating a strategy that looks great on paper isn’t the be all end all for success. Plans need to be scalable, workable, flexible, and most of all, they need to fit your lifestyle.
In my strategy workshops, we talk about key elements of success, two of which are operations and logistics. As a former operations manager for a media company, I’ve found that good operational strategies can truly make or break a workflow. Whether you’re working with a team or you’re a solo entrepreneur, a proper tool belt of services, programs, and resources will keep you balanced and on track.
Another key element of success we discuss is budget. Some folks simply do not have the budget to invest in the best tools or resources that the industry has convinced them they need. I want to tell you that those tools do have value, but there is nothing wrong with finding an alternative, free version that works for you right now. It’s impossible to do everything 100% perfect from the beginning, but you can do the best with what you have and then elevate your process as you grow.
Here are a list of resources and tools that I love and are completely free! Many of them do offer paid versions of their services as well, but they’re not necessary to get started. Before you embark upon this list, I will just remind you that the folks who created these services do have to get something in return for their work, so please read the terms of service or use. Some of them require attribution (shouting them out on your page) and if you don’t do so, you’re in violation of their policies—just read the notices they provide you! It’s a small price to pay to not have to pay anything at all and all artists deserve credit for their work. Okay, spiel over, onto the list!
Apple Reminders App
First, I will acknowledge that not everyone has an apple device so if you do not, I am sorry, this one isn’t for you. But for my Apple users, I cannot stress enough how life-changing this app has been for me! For my folks who have a hard time remembering to do things, or those of you who get inspired in the middle of the night but always forget your ideas or those of you who have wished you had an assistant, please start using the reminders app today!
One of the main features I love about the reminders app is it’s integration with Siri. I can literally say, “Hey Siri, remind me a week from today at 9 am to reach back out to CLIENT NAME for a follow-up call.” Not only will Siri set that reminder for me, but if I have that client’s number in my contacts, it will even put a call button right on the reminder prompt. You can also set up tasks that are recurring so you don’t need to remember to add them again, such as filing your quarterly taxes or sorting your receipts!
You can have the app remind you to do things when you reach specific destinations, like remind you to get a whiteboard the next time you’re at Staples. You can also ask Siri to put things on specific lists for you, such as your grocery list or your work tasks list. One feature that is fairly new is the ability to group within lists. I love this function because I used to have a different list for each one of my clients, but now I have a work list and each client just gets their own group with tasks. Even better, lists can be shared with other people who have apple devices so it’s great for communal tasks and an added layer of accountability.
If you are the kind of person who ignores notifications on your phone, then this tool might not be for you, but if you just need some nudges throughout your day to get things done, I highly recommend the Reminders app. And the great news is it’s already installed on your device when you purchase it so you can start using it right now!
I think by now everyone knows about Google, but there are some really amazing functions I’ve seen folks miss out on. Besides the fact that all of the Google Suite seamlessly works together, Google has some really good workflow tools and has added some new features over the last few years that I wanted to highlight.
Tasks is very similar to the Apple Reminders app so that might be a good option for you if you work on an Android. I’m not 100% positive how this functionality works with the Android voice assistant or Google Home, so if you have one of those devices, test it out for us!
Another feature I really love is Google Meet. It’s a great alternative to Zoom because there is no software download required and you can easily add Google Meet to any calendar invite in Google Calendar with a click of a button in the location portion of your calendar appointment window.
Google Calendar is one of my favorite tools of all time, especially to use with clients. One feature that stands out to me is the ability to add attachments to calendar appointments. This is extremely helpful when I’m trying to review materials with a client or I want to add a contract to an appointment—the uses for this are plentiful!
Just to shout out some other Google Suite products I use on the regular, I also love Drive, Sheets, Slides, Gmail, and Forms! There’s another Google product I love, but we’ll give that its own section!
Google Voice is an amazing free product, though I know there are some features that require payment if you want it to have higher functionality, so be sure to check out if its capabilities fit your needs.
For me, Google Voice has been an incredible addition to my business because it allows me to give my clients a phone number to reach me on that’s private, not my personal number, but it still goes to my same phone, saving me the cost of having two phone plans. With Google Voice, I can get a unique phone number with my desired area code that clients can call, text, or leave a voicemail at. It forwards directly to my personal number, but it also stores all the information in the Google Voice app so it’s seperate from my personal notifications.
I truly love this so much because it makes me accessible to my clients while still giving me the work-life balance I need, all for free!
I think tons of people use Calendly these days so you may already be familiar, but it’s worth adding to the list. Calendly has changed their free offerings, which I’m not a huge fan of how paired down it is now, but it still offers some great benefits. You can easily have a link for scheduling time with you sent out to clients, customers, or whoever may need it and it easily integrates into your Google Cal or other calendar services. It’s a great option if you want to send a quick link to share all of your available times. I will say, though, that the paid option has many more benefits, but you can look into other more expansive paid services at that point, such as Acuity.
I use Wave as my service to invoice clients and send receipts to them. It is a free service that I absolutely love because it saves your client’s contact information and emails the invoice and receipt directly to them once you’re finished reviewing it. Wave has a ton of capabilities that I haven’t even scratched the surface of yet, so do check it out if you’re looking for an affordable service to keep your accounting in order!
Most of you have probably heard about Canva by now so I won’t belabor this service, but if you’re new to graphic design or don’t want to invest in the Adobe Suite, Canva is a great option. The ability to use it on desktop and mobile really allows for a lot of creative freedom on the go. Tons of designers also sell Canva templates so if you’re looking for a more unique option combined with Canva’s capabilities, I would recommend searching “Canva templates” on Pinterest and Etsy!
Unsplash is a content creator’s secret weapon. With photographers and brands uploading new materials daily, Unsplash has an amazing library of free images to choose from that are a great way to up the professionalism of your flyers, social posts, and website. Don’t forget to check the rules on attributions!
Similar to Unsplash, Freepik is a resource that provides tons of stock options in the photo and illustrative world. You must check the attribution rules if you’re using the free version, so don’t skim over that note that pops up when you download something. Freepik offers great icons, templates, and little details. I just used it last week to add a watercolor eucalyptus to a wedding menu I was creating!
I do pay for the premium version of Freepik because as a graphic designer it’s been a lifesaver and I want to support the artists who put their work on there. Keep in mind, Freepik does require some knowledge of and access to products that can edit vector files. I use Photoshop and Illustrator, so this isn’t a problem for me, but it may be a more advanced option.
Other more advanced options that require some knowledge of editing software are Mockup World and Graphic Burger. These are two great resources for mockups that use primarily Photoshop to open and edit. These mockups are great when you have awesome artwork, but just don’t have the ability to frame and photograph it on display. It’s also a great resource if you’re trying to get a product off the ground, like clothing or coffee, and just don’t have the ability to invest in ordering prototypes yet. It’s perfect for providing a sample of your vision to the world.
Most people have some version of a link in their bio and many of us already use Linktree, but I just wanted to shout them out because they have a new free feature I love! Now on Linktree, you can group together certain links under a heading! It makes the interface look super clean and organized for your audience and I think it will increase your click through rate (CTR), though I’m still investigating if that’s true. They also allow you to add thumbnails and icons to your links, making them super easy to identify at a quick glance. Anything that helps with clarity is a great way to boost your CTR! You can check out my linktree to get a sample of what this looks like.
SlidesGo is a new member of the Freepik family. They do have free and paid versions so, again, check for their rules on attribution. It’s an amazing resource to download super high-quality templates for Google Slides and PowerPoint. They are well designed, come in tons of color and style variations, and many of them are already made to fulfill specific needs! I’ve used marketing templates from them before, but they have options for teachers, students, and almost any discipline you can think of. They are easily customizable and truly a lifesaver when it comes to time.
Combin is a scheduling software I just started using so I can’t speak for its long-term benefits yet, however, it’s free and was super easy to navigate. I downloaded the program to my computer and got started right away. I love the preview feature that lets you see what the posts will look like once scheduled. I also love that you can schedule stories free of charge, uploading multiple slides at once.
And my favorite feature is that you can post with the “first comment” which is the preferred way to add hashtags to a post. It’s commonly known across Social Media Managers that you want your hashtags on a post as quickly as possible in order to get your post in the optimal spot on that hashtag’s feed. Currently, the strategy that works the best for this is the first comment over the old way of adding them to the caption. This feature that Combin has, along with location and individual tags, is something you often have to pay for in other scheduling services like Later.
Another comparison to Later is that I did not need a Facebook account to use Combin. It publishes for you automatically without sending a push notification to your phone that you have to approve so it’s really a set it and forget it option. Compared to Later, however, I will say that Combin’s user interface could use a little bit of work. I would love a calendar view option—right now I’m only seeing my posts on a list like a weekly agenda. I’d also love to be able to rearrange the posts in the preview while I’m looking at it, a capability Later has that I don’t seem to be able to do in Combin.
Hubspot is by far one of the most valuable additions to this list. Whether you need content marketing templates or want to take a free content marketing course, HubSpot’s resource list is plentiful. If you’ve never tapped into what HubSpot has to offer, but you’re interested in learning more about the world of marketing and communications, save yourself a day to investigate HubSpot’s vast list of free courses and resources—you won’t regret it.
Marketing Examples is a good place to start if you’ve never written any type of marketing copy before. I don’t have much to say about it because the use cases I have for it myself are pretty slim as someone who has worked on a Marketing team previously, but if you’re writing your first cold email to a potential client or you’ve never embarked upon email marketing before, these are just a few reasons you should check this site out.
I couldn’t complete this list without one of my own free resources! This worksheet is a great way to get you thinking about your own strategy. It’s full of questions about you demographics, your current bandwidth, and others that will get you thinking. You may learn a thing or two about your own business that you haven’t yet thought of before. This worksheet is from my strategy workshop and the best part is, since I used a Google Form, all of your responses will be emailed to you when you are done! It’s a great exercise to get you thinking.
All in all, these resources are just a starting point. They should help you get your brand off the ground or sustain you until you’re capable of hiring and/or moving to more advanced options. You don’t have to suffer just because you’re on a budget!