Automating processes has always been a thing with me, even before I knew about the term “marketing automation” or even “digital marketing” for that matter. Once I believe there’s an opportunity to improve a process, I try to figure out a solution. As a self-taught web developer, this often meant developing my own little applications or scripts to do work for me.
However, recently I stumbled into the world of “self-hosting” third-party applications as I purchased a Synology NAS for my home office and quickly discovered a world of opportunities that I never heard of before.
Now, many of these self-hosted applications have a pay-as-you-go cloud model, but I’m already paying for servers to host this website & database and as a startup, I’m always looking at costs.
In this blog post, I’m going to cover three self-hosted applications and one pay-as-you-go service that I believe are truly hidden gems in marketing automation for your small business or startup.
4 “Hidden” Marketing Automation Services
Chatwoot For Omnichannel Messaging
For a while, I tested out a variety of web chat services like Intercom and LiveChat, but their pricing model just didn’t fit well with what I actually needed as a startup. LiveChat, for example, offers just web chat and basic functionality for $16-19 per month! I then looked at popular services such as ManyChat, which is geared more towards social media networking chat (such as integrating with Facebook Messenger), but again, the cost-benefit ratio just didn’t feel right as a business decision. I thought about creating my own solution entirely with Google Dialogflow as I’ve built a chatbot with it before, but I eventually decided that the development effort to make something for my needs just didn’t line up.
Fortunately, I discovered Chatwoot and fell in love as they offer both a cloud and free, open-source self-hosted solution. With Chatwoot, you can implement live chat on your website as well as integrate it with Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, WhatsApp, SMS, Email, and via API.
I first tried out their cloud solution to see how I’d like it and became impressed with the feature set that came with their free plan. So, I took the plunge and figure out how to host it myself.
Before going further, let me just say that I’m a techie and web developer… you could say that I know a lot about many things, but I’m not necessarily an expert in one very specific field. For example, I definitely would not say that I’m a database administrator or server administrator, but I know just enough to get things working and have the initiative to learn and figure things out.
Without going into specifics, hosting Chatwoot on my existing Ubuntu server running NGINX as the web server/proxy was fairly straightforward. Chatwoot has great documentation and they’re pretty active on Discord in case you have any questions.
The actual struggle came to getting it to work with Facebook and Instagram, as it requires a lot of “advanced permissions” and for “business verification” from Facebook, which can be a timely process. Even though Chatwoot is an established product, I had to detail every step and interaction for Facebook to give me the permissions required.
While Chatwoot isn’t as fully polished as some of the big-name players out there, it does exactly what I need and I don’t have to pay anything for it!
n8n Workflow Automation (Zapier Alternative)
Today, it appears almost everything integrates with Zapier. Zapier, undoubtedly, offers the most integrations and is the most polished zero-code marketing automation service out there. However, it comes at a premium with pricing starting at $20-30 a month! After my experience with Zapier, I moved to Automate.io, which offers more competitive pricing for the number of actions you get. Even then, unless you pay $120/year for their Personal plan, you’re looking at $20-$30 a month.
Recently, though, I stumbled upon a service called n8n, which aims to be a fair-code licensed Zapier alternative. While they do provide a hosted service, I really went straight for the self-hosted version.
The primary reason I wanted n8n to be hosted on my servers is so that it could interact with my database servers over a private network. For example, if I wanted Zapier to “communicate” with a database I host, I would either have to whitelist Zapier’s IP address or allow all IP addresses access. However, by hosting n8n, I don’t have to worry about these security concerns.
Now, n8n definitely doesn’t have as many integrations as Zapier or Automate.io and it’s not as easy to use at first, but the benefits are worth it in the end. Additionally, n8n is constantly pushing new releases and integrations.
One scenario where I’m using n8n is with ActiveCampaign. When someone submits a form on this site (using Gravity Forms), it makes an API call to n8n with the form data. It sends the information to ActiveCampaign and then creates a “historical” record in my database. I do this so that when someone submits data via a form, I can keep track of how the visitor came to my site via UTM parameters. This is huge for marketing automation & data analysis further down the road.
Cal.com As An Open Source Calendly Alternative
Calendly is pretty much synonymous with scheduling meetings online, but I never subscribed to their service, as I don’t have that many meetings. On this site, I use a WordPress plug-in called Simply Schedule Appointments, which is great, but did cost money to purchase and has a yearly renewal fee.
While going down the rabbit hole of self-hosted services, I came across Cal.com, which offers a free hosted version or a full-featured (branded) self-hosted version.
Cal.com offers integrations with Google Calendar, Office 365, Apple Calendar, or any CalDav Server. When you integrate it with Google Calendar, you can set up meetings to autogenerate a Google Meet URL. Otherwise, there are integrations for Zoom and Daily.co Video Conferencing. Finally, they offer an integration with Stripe to collect payments.
The biggest drawback with Cal.com is that there aren’t many other third-party integrations. Fortunately, Cal.com offers webhooks to help with your marketing automation efforts. You can set up webhooks when a booking is created, rescheduled, or canceled.
To display or share your “booking website”, you can either embed it onto an existing webpage on your site or you can direct users to a URL.
Publer For Social Media Networking Posting
Last, but certainly not least of the hidden marketing automation gems, is Publer. For sharing your content on social media, there are a ton of options that I’m sure you’re familiar with… I’m thinking of Hootsuite, Buffer, and Sprout Social to name a few. However, these services can cost you a small fortune per month and they don’t even offer all the social network connections that Publer offers.
While evaluating what tool to use for social media network posting, I was determined to find a suite that could offer, at the minimum, the following:
A “nice to have” feature would be the ability to discover “shareable” content and easily share it to my followers, which is another feature that I get from Publer all for under $35 a month.
So there you have it, four hidden marketing automation gems for your small business!
Have you recently discovered a tool or service? If so, comment below and let me know!
Thanks for reading & remember to please share this with your friends,