How to Do Content Marketing on a Shoestring Budget

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“Content marketing” sounds expensive. For a lot of companies, it is expensive. Most of the businesses I work with aren’t exactly rolling around in piles of money.

I get questions like this — “Where do I get the budget for content marketing?” “How can I afford this?” “Why is it so expensive?” “Is content marketing really worth the cost?”

The Tough News About the Cost of Content Marketing

Here’s an email that I received just last week. This business owner was asking me about the cost of good content:

I understand his concern.

65% of companies consider content marketing to be too expensive (source). But at the same time, content marketing is a huge industry with incredible amounts of money being spent.

According to a study by the Content Marketing Institute, B2Bs spend a whopping 30% of their marketing budget on content marketing. The Custom Content Council (CCC) reported that the content marketing industry is on a meteoric rise (9.2% growth last year). The digital marketing industry is huge, with figures hovering around the $118 billion mark.

But where are these buckets of money coming from?

For small companies, they’re not.

Statements like this are oh-so-typical:

In addition to fielding questions about how to afford content marketing, I’m reading about people throwing up their hands in despair:

For a lot of small companies, there’s no such thing as buckets of money to spend on content marketing. According to E-Consultancy, a paltry 34% of companies have a dedicated content marketing budget. They report two obstacles to content marketing:

  1. Not enough money (35% of companies)
  2. Not enough people (42% of companies), which is kind of the same thing as not enough money.

Those are big obstacles. In other words, a massive number of great companies can’t succeed in the digital space, because they can’t afford content marketing.

The Good News About the Cost of Content Marketing

That’s tough news. But I’m convinced that content marketing doesn’t have to be as expensive and scary as these numbers make it sound.

Can you identify with any of these?

  • “I just don’t have enough money for content marketing.”
  • “I’m starting an online business, but I’m funding it from my kids’ college fund. There’s no budget for content marketing.”
  • “I’m trying to persuade my cash-strapped boss to do content marketing, but he says it’s ‘not financially feasible.’”
  • “I’ve already run the numbers for content marketing. I know it’s too expensive for me right now.”
  • “Um, I’m a startup. ‘Nuff said.”

If any of those points resonate with you, I’ve got good news.

Content marketing is not as expensive as you think.

I’m going to explain several ways of doing content marketing that cost dramatically less than conventional estimates.

This article will show you how you can launch a successful content marketing campaign that gets results, while not plunging your company into bankruptcy.

Let me give you the quick two-point sketch of content marketing on a shoestring budget:

  1. Create a spot on your website for a blog.
  2. Post content once a week.

Now, let me explain how to do it with a teeny budget.

What do I do? The Bare Minimum Essentials of Content Marketing.

Content marketing does not have to be complicated. I created the Advanced Guide to Content Marketing, which explains in exact detail how to do content marketing.

But for some companies who are just walking into this content marketing thing (clutching their budget with nervous hands) the complicated way might not be the best. They get intimidated by the complexity, and end up doing nothing.

I want you to do content marketing, without having to blow 190% of your marketing budget. Here’s what you do:

1. Start a blog.

Cost: Free or basically free

You don’t even have to call it a blog. This is basically a page on your website where you can post content. Let me give you a few pointers:

  • Post it on the same root domain as your main website. For example, don’t create a new site that’s called blog.example.com. That creates a different root domain, and a new link profile. One goal of content marketing is SEO, and you’re not going to get the SEO benefit to your main site if you launch a new one — like blog.example.com. Instead, use this format: example.com/blog.
  • Use WordPress. It’s the easiest and most versatile CMS for blogging. If you’re going to be recruiting the help of others for the blog, this is going to be important. Plus, it doesn’t cost anything. If you already use a WordPress site, simply add a new page, and call it “blog.”
  • Link to it from your main page. This is content marketing best practice. I’ve discovered that a few simple menu links works best for any website, especially from a conversion standpoint. You can look at the top of this page to see how I’ve positioned my blog link.

How much does it cost?

Creating a blog is going to cost next to nothing. With a WordPress site, creating a blog literally takes ten seconds. If you have a complicated custom theme, then redesign may take 15 minutes.

Do you have any ability with websites or work with someone who does? Then you’re ready to launch a blog. You can start now.

If you have to hire someone to create your blog, then the cost should still be low.

2. Post once a week.

Cost: Free or low cost options discussed below.

Now that you have a blog, you’re officially almost doing content marketing. Welcome.

It’s time to start creating content. This is the fun part. Here’s where you start to refine your message, gain first-place rank, get linkbacks from the New York Times, field interviews from CNN, and consider retiring in a mansion on the French Riviera because your company will be so successful.

Okay, let’s take a step back.

We’re going to take small steps here. The goal right now is to just create some content. Do it just once a week if you have to. You have to start somewhere.

So, let’s talk about how to get that content on the proverbial shoestring budget.

How do I do it? Where do I get content without spending much?

Content can be expensive. Some copywriters command $25,000 for putting together just a few hundred words. Other professional blog writers charge $400-700 per post.

That’s why I have to write a post like this. That’s why other blogs have to deal with the money objection:

You can’t afford $700 for an article on your blog. (Yet.) Someday, hopefully, yes. But not right now.

I’m going to give you several options that cost less. This list is arranged in order of least expensive (free) to slightly more expensive than free.

1. Do the writing yourself.

How much does it cost? Nothing except your time. This is a free choice. It’s also the choice that most small online businesses make. It does, however, take time.

How much time does it take? 45 minutes to an hour and a half per week.

That’s not a ton of time, but it does mean that you’ll have to find it somewhere in your schedule. If you’re a CEO of a small company, a mom or dad, or just plain busy (aren’t we all?), then you’re going to have to fight to find the time.

How do I do it?

  • Find time in your schedule.
  • Come up with a rough schedule and article titles.
  • Write and publish your articles on the blog.

Is it right for me?

This is a good choice for you if any of the following are true:

  • You’re a self-starter.
  • You’re relatively disciplined.
  • You’re running a really small company, or are the only person who can do this.
  • You’re able to find an hour a week, and stay consistent.

2. Assign team members to do the writing.

How much does it cost? Nothing additional. Keep in mind that your employees aren’t exactly “free.” If you choose to assign this task to your workers, be aware of their existing workload and ability.

How much time does it take? 15 minutes to 1 hour a week.

You’ll have to take time to plan the approach, then to assign the tasks. If you have more than one team member, you can rotate the blogging schedule around. If you have four employees who are good writers, you can have your employees write once a month.

How do I do it?

  • Speak to your team members about it.
  • Create a schedule, and assign responsibilities.
  • Come up with topics, or let your team members do it.
  • Provide a way for your workers to submit their posts (email, WordPress, or your CMS).
  • Proofread and post each submission according to schedule.

With WordPress, you can provide blog access to as many people as you want. You’re also able restrict their access to writing and submitting posts only.

Is this right for me?

Like any management decision, you have to consider the capability of your team and yourself to do content marketing. Here are three positive indicators:

  • You have team members who are willing.
  • You have team members who are good writers.
  • You are a competent manager with good delegating skills.

3. Hire a freelancer.

How much does it cost? $10-75 per post. As with any cost-based decision, this principle is true: The more you pay, the better quality you’ll be able to get. Since this article is focused on low-budget content marketing, $10-75 is in the lower tier of content costs.

You’ll still be able to find quality writers, but it may take some time to find one.

Note: The average cost per article is around $20-30.

How much time does it take? 15 minutes a week to 1 hour or more. Startup time may take from 2-4 hours.

How do I do it?

  • Post an ad for a freelance writer. You can use Craigslist or Writejobs.info to look for writers. The more details you provide about the job, the better your job post will be. Include these details:
    • How much you’ll pay.
    • Payment method (check, Paypal, etc.)
    • Areas of expertise required (e.g., in-depth and working knowledge of widgets)
    • Whether you’d like samples, an interview, or some other form of application.
    • How much experience you want the writer to have.
    • What topics the writer will need to be familiar with.
    • Any other expectations you have (e.g., familiarity with WordPress, word count requirements, weekly phone calls, etc.)
    • Language abilities (e.g., native English speakers only)
    • State your hiring process: 1) Phone interview, 2) Paid sample, 3) Selection
  • Sort through the avalanche of applications. You will receive hundreds if not thousands of applications for your posted position. Quickly weed out the good from the bad based on their sample writing quality and any features that stand out to you.
  • Select a handful of candidates, and conduct phone interviews. Ask them a few questions to gauge their level of competence. Hubspot provides an interview guide for working with freelance writers.
  • Ask the writer to create a sample article. I recommend paying them for this, since you are asking them to do some work on behalf of your company. You should assign them a topic or title, word count, and deadline.
  • Select the writer(s) you want, and begin working with them consistently.

Is this right for me?

  • You’re comfortable working with freelancers and/or remote workers.
  • You have a small budget ($20-75 weekly)
  • You’re able to spend the startup time selecting and hiring a freelancer.

4. Use a content provider.

Examples: Textbroker.com, ODesk.com

How much does it cost? Starts at $3.90 per post. Textbroker’s rates start at 1.3 cents (USD) per word. At this rate, a short blog post of 300 words would cost just shy of four dollars. These articles are considered low quality, however, and are expected to have errors. Higher quality work costs substantially more. Using a top-grade writer on Textbroker costs $21.6 for a 300-word article.

How do I do it?

  • Textbroker: Start a free account, deposit money, and post your job.
  • ODesk: Select a freelancer, and communicate your project.

Is this right for me?

The low quality writing on Textbroker is very inexpensive — a viable choice for cash-strapped companies. You may have to perform extensive editing on such writing, but you’re still able to get content for a fraction of conventional prices. Using a writer from ODesk, or ordering high quality content costs more, but it’s within the budgeting reach of some companies.

Here are some signs that this is the right move for you:

  • You and your team are not able to do the writing yourselves.
  • You’re looking for quick turnaround times.
  • You’re comfortable with a third-party system like Textbroker or ODesk.

Other Options

Hire a content marketing firm.

This is usually a pretty expensive option, and I advise against it for several reasons:

  • They usually lock you into a long-term contract. If you’re unsatisfied with their product, you’ve still contracted to pay a set amount for a specified duration.
  • The cost is high. Often, such companies simply use the same resource of writers (e.g., work-from-home freelancers, Textbroker, etc.), but add a substantial markup.
  • The quality is often subpar.

The great thing about a content marketing firm is that you get a completely outsourced process, from start to finish. No more worrying about SEO, no juggling an editorial calendar, no vetting writers, or proofreading work. There are, however, cons that I think outweigh such pros.

Reallocate marketing funds.

One possible option is to simply take some funds from “traditional” marketing and assign it to content marketing. There’s no additional cost, although there may be some added time requirements.

Reallocation could work for you, if the following are true:

  • You have an existing marketing budget (even a small one).
  • You identify a budget item with low ROI.
  • You identify a budget item that is outdated or too expensive.

Simply take some of these funds and invest them into content marketing. Kapost, in a summary of DemandMetric’s findings, report that content marketing costs 62% less and generates 3 times as many leads. There’s definitely an ROI.

The Golden Touch by Sean Work

It is possible to do content marketing on a shoestring budget. However, the success depends on your oversight. You can’t set it and forget it. You’ll need to watch over your content marketing initiative like a hawk. Here are some tips to ensure that your content marketing campaign is effective:

  1. Realize that you and your company are experts on a certain subject matter. Chances are it’s related to the business you’re in. So how can you teach your customers and prospects things that will help them get ahead? That’s where you will find your best content.
  2. Based on the answers above, create an editorial calendar. Craft headlines for articles or videos based on the answers you come up with. Set publishing dates for each topic proposal. This will keep you on the right track.
  3. Outline your topics. A lot of the details and juicy tidbits that you want your audience to know about are probably stuck in your mind somewhere. It’s important to outline your vision for each post thoroughly so that your writers are on the same page. Otherwise, they’ll likely come up with something completely different.
  4. Create a guide for your writers to follow. Be explicit as how you want your images formatted, how you want articles packaged for delivery or even how to set up a post inside your blog CMS. A great guide can ensure consistency and cut down time and costs.
  5. Teach your writers how to improve. Review each post that is published and send your writers tips for improvement. And if you find that your guide could be improved, always update your guide accordingly.

Power Tip: Use in-house team members to write content. The point of your blog is most likely to educate your audience and to show that you’re an authority in your space. Who else can write excellent content like that?

Conclusion: Where do I go from here?

I’ve just explained how you can start content marketing. It can cost nothing to next-to-nothing, and gives you incredible ROI through increased traffic, improved SEO, more leads, increased sales, and higher profitability.

As you gain more money through your nascent content marketing efforts, you’ll be able to invest that money back into content marketing.

Here’s how to keep improving:

  • Scale up your quality. Be willing to improve your content spending to improve your quality.
  • Increase your output. Eventually, you may get to the point where you can post daily or almost daily.
  • Use a variety of content. Videos, infographics, and webinars cost more, but have huge results. As you earn more via content marketing, consider launching additional content efforts.
  • Integrate content marketing with social media marketing.
  • Leverage your content marketing to grow a mailing list and start email marketing.
  • Create free resources (e.g., ebooks) that you can give away to gain leads.

Content marketing will pay for itself. Even though your budget may start small, you can snowball it into something that will totally change your company. Content marketing can take you from a nobody’s-ever-heard-of-it business to a massively popular brand.

The potential is there. You’ve just got to take those baby steps and start out.

What low-cost content marketing method are you going to use?

About the Author: Neil Patel is the Chief Evangelist of KISSmetrics and blogs at Quick Sprout. Sean Work runs the blog at KISSmetrics.

Some of the links in the post above are “affiliate links.” This means if you click on the link and purchase the item, we will receive an affiliate commission. Regardless, we only recommend products or services we believe will add value to our readers.

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