A Cheap, Fast + Good Tech Stack for Indie Makers
Have your cake and eat it, too. This simple tech stack helps entrepreneurs build a brand, grow an audience and scale marketing.
It’s 2023. A Facebook page is unacceptable.
Facebook is not, and never was, a viable alternative to owning your own website. But considering the continual implosion of so-called legacy social media platforms, there should be more urgency than ever among independent creators to own their content.
You don’t need to hire an overpriced agency or let your friend’s teenage tech whiz of a cousin make you their personal science project. Like you, indie maker, there are so many innovative small SaaS platforms with free tiers or special discounts for students and nonprofits.
While the old adage says that you can’t have all three when it comes to cheap, fast and good, I firmly believe in baking a cake and eating the whole thing. So grab your apron and follow me into the Marketing Cake kitchen! I’ll show you how I create a marketing tech stack that scales. For less than a few hundred bucks, you can control your brand and build a customer base.
Why You Need a Tech Stack + DIY Benefits
A technology stack is the services used to build and run an application. You can visualize those different services stacked (like pancakes 🥞) from frontend to backend. The definition of a tech stack now includes specific stacks unique to different teams or structures within an organization, but it always includes an element of scalability.
Scaling your efforts will be critical later to operating efficiently. While scale is often thought of later, starting with tools that can adjust as your brand or business grows is imperative. That’s why the stack we’re building will work long-term without requiring upgrades.
You also need a working knowledge to navigate service providers in the market. Unfortunately, I’ve seen many nonprofits, small businesses and independent artists shell out hundreds or thousands of dollars they don’t have to sub-par agencies or freelancers that never deliver results. The best way to protect yourself from scams is to learn the basics of marketing so you can ask smart questions and evaluate your marketing ROI accurately.
Your Domain Is Your Brand Is Your Domain
Twitter? Gone. Unless your plan is to go all-in on X and hope your audience sticks around just for you (unlikely), your brand needs a domain.
A domain is your unique ID on the web. It goes beyond your website to include different properties like your merch store or blog. You may think of a domain as just a URL that your users can visit, but there are many more flaky layers to this pastry:
https is the scheme. This relays the protocol used by the browser to access your resource. The most important thing to note is the “s” means secure, and you must maintain a SSL certificate.
cake is the subdomain. The subdomain can be anything you’d like, and you can have more than one that each drive users to different web properties you own and manage.
kristinides.com is the root domain. A root domain combines your domain name plus a domain extension of your choosing (there are currently more than 1,600):
kristinides is my unique domain name that I own.
.com is the extension and a top-level domain (TLD).
/p is the start of the path. The path directs your browser to find the resource on your site.
?utm are examples of parameters. Parameters are key/value pairs that pass along additional information. UTM tracking codes for campaigns are the most common URL parameters and will appear in your analytics software.
🍰 So, why am I talking so much about domains and URLs? Because federated social networks are gaining traction as a viable alternative to corporate social networks. Built on protocols like ActivityPub or AT (Authenticated Transfer) to allow interoperability across social networks, some allow users to make their domain their username.
Build Your Simple Marketing Tech Stack
It’s time to prep our ingredients and assemble this show-stopping charcuterie board of indie marketing. Gather your finest selections of bites to delight and let’s present your audience with a grazing area that will keep them coming back for seconds.
Domain, Website + Email
Porkbun is a fun and independent ICANN accredited domain name registrar. Based in Portland, Oregon the company is whimsical, cheap and includes a ton of features you absolutely need like those aforementioned SSL Certificates, plus WHOIS Privacy, DNS management and API access. The pricing depends on the existing competition for your domain name or keywords plus the cost associated with the domain extension you want to use.
Got your domain? Awesome. Now, you need an email provider to send messages from your new domain. If your business involves engaging with clients, doing outbound sales or requires office software, I suggest swimming in the shallow end of the massive Google pool for this one and getting a branded Google Workspace. For $6 per month you can send emails from your new domain through Google, with their complete suite of office products, meetings and more. Sad, but true—sometimes the Google machine really is the best option. 🤖
Now, it’s time to build the website, and the easiest and cheapest website builder is Carrd.co. At just $19 per YEAR (yes, that’s $1.58 per month) you can have up to TEN websites with custom domains. SEO is simple and straightforward and the easy one-click hidden code embed makes integrations with analytics platforms quick. Did I mention contact forms are included? That one feature alone can save you $35+ a month or more.
🧁 Land your emails in the inbox by authenticating your new domain. DKIM, DMARC and SPF are not configured by default. Check your deliverability with this free Domain Scanner. And, warm your domain by sending emails slowly at first, or using a free or paid warming tool.
Design, Blog/Pod + Video
There’s no smarter design software than Canva to build a brand that grabs attention. The free version is extremely robust and ideal for creating a basic logo or social post templates. For just $120 per year, unlocking the Pro tier means truly unlimited design without Adobe’s prices.
Enhance your designs with pixel-perfect photography. Unsplash is the top-tier stock photo solution, with gorgeous lush images that match your brand identity (this Marketing Cake blog image is courtesy of @qqq_saharok).
More than 90% of businesses now use video as a form of marketing. The TikTok team built free CapCut, which moves the functionality of Final Cut Pro down-market. Descript makes short work of captions (a must for accessibility!) with their AI solution and offers limited watermark-free exports for no cost each month.
Podcasts are here to stay, and the market leader for podcasting software is Riverside.fm. Get started with their free plan while you explore next-level features, like using their app on your smartphone as a second camera to create a pro studio recording vibe in your bedroom.
Searching for a home for your blog, podcast and video content that’s free? It’s Substack. For a one-time $50 fee, you can even use your custom domain or subdomain to point to your blog on Substack. Unlike other blogging platforms with a higher upfront cost, Substack lets you start monetizing your content without investing first.
Social, Email + Analytics
Your website is little more than a glorified repository of all your stuff—and that makes it the perfect place to send your users. Initial traffic will most likely come from your social posts, blogs, podcasts or other platforms with a higher domain authority than your new website. To understand how your website is performing, a heat map tool like Hotjar helps. The free version offers detailed heat maps and session recordings.
Google Analytics is the platform we all know, and with the release of GA4, hate. There are some excellent privacy-first analytics platforms like Fathom Analytics, but for quick and cheap, you can’t go wrong with open source and private analytics from Goat Counter. While the design is definitely stuck around 1997 and thrillingly brutalist, the easy interface and commitment to protecting your users’ data make it a fantastic option.
Sell your merch in a professional storefront with no set-up costs using Spring (formerly TeeSpring). Print-on-demand solutions are perfect for getting your physical goods into the hands of fans without pre-purchasing large amounts of inventory in bulk. Investing an optional $12 per year lets you use another custom subdomain for a fully-branded merch store.
Manage your social posts on up to three networks for free with Buffer, one of the best SaaS companies out there. Plus, my beloved doing things differently crew added social posting for Mastodon, the decentralized social network providing a viable alternative to Big Tech. If you’re a nonprofit, take advantage of their generous discounts.
EmailOctopus is the best email service provider I’ve used. This includes the big guys with six-figure SaaS packages your boss probably signed off on a long time ago. Their integration with Carrd to capture email addresses takes a few seconds and no code to implement. Add up to 2,500 email subscribers before you max out their generous free tier, which includes all the features you need, like autoresponders, campaigns, reports, segmented lists and forms.
Milk & Crumbs
Cementing your brand identity across the web is maybe the most thrilling part of starting a new entrepreneurial journey. It’s where you get to let your vision come to life. So take it easy and don’t get overwhelmed. Do the most important things first and you’ll get there.
→ Reach out to marketers that are active on LinkedIn. We’re a friendly bunch and many are happy to answer a question or hop on a quick call.
→ More and more cities are investing in tech and innovation hubs for economic development. See if there’s anything in your area — you may be surprised!
→ There’s no such thing as perfect. Keep it simple and short so you can get it done. Speed can win a lot of battles, so don’t be afraid to move quickly.
That’s it! Take these ingredients and bake yourself an irresistible online presence for your brand.