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From the Trenches

Building a Content Marketing Budget: 5 Tips

Mike Sweeney | September 12, 2013
Blackboard with marketing terms and the word "budget" written on it

How much should I budget for content marketing?

When some companies answer that question, it looks something like this.

“We spent $40K on the website and $15K on that new marketing automation software. We pay that SEO freelancer guy, I think his name is Chuck, like $2K a month. The PR firm gets $5K a month. Last year, we did that video … what was that, like $8K? (I still can’t believe that thing didn’t go viral.) Oh yeah, those LinkedIn ads — I think they were $10K. Have we cancelled those yet? Oh, and then there was that consultant guy, the dude from Digital Heroes, or was it Digital Gurus? He built us that content marketing plan deal, the thing that just listed all the types of content we need to create? That was like $6K. Given all that, I figure that leaves us with around $3K a month to spend on content marketing, how does everyone feel about that?”

That’s certainly one way to do it.

Others might prefer a more data-driven approach. Or a percentage-of-overall-marketing-budget approach. Still others, a competition-based approach.

I am not here to tell you how to budget, nor am I here to actually tell you how much to spend on content marketing. Answers to those questions depend on dozens of business and marketing variables.

Having seen the budgeting process from the inside out and outside in, I can help you avoid some common content marketing budgeting traps, and give you a short list of tips to make sure you don’t underestimate the cost of content marketing success.

Don’t budget for content creation only

The actual creation of content is merely one step in the process. An important one, yes, but if you plan to do content marketing right, you also need to budget for the following:

  • Content marketing strategy and planning
  • Content optimization
  • Content distribution
  • Content reporting and analysis

We don’t call it content writing, content creation, or content development. It’s called content marketing, and if you’re not covering all facets of it, you’ll never be able to prove the ROI.

Quick Budgeting Tip: If you do start with a budget for content creation only, double it to get a rough total content marketing budget estimate. While creating the content is certainly the most time-consuming component over the long haul, you should be spending equal time across the four other areas.

You’re going to need an editor … for everything

“You write to communicate to the hearts and minds of others what’s burning inside you, and we edit to let the fire show through the smoke.” – Arthur Plotnik

You need to budget for an editor – at least one. You may be able to make the case for an internal editor, or you may decide that it makes more sense for someone on the outside to serve in that role. But someone, preferably one person, needs to be in charge of making sure that every single piece of content that is produced inside your marketing organization has a shot at being remarkable.

Quick Budgeting Tip: While your inclination may be for your managing editor to reside on your payroll, don’t be afraid to try outsiders. I’ve worked with plenty of great freelance editors – they’re out there. Just make sure you know the difference between a copyeditor, or proofreader, and an editor. Your managing editor has to possess off-the-charts concept editing skills.

High-quality content does not come cheap

Don’t fall into the content factory trap. At some point, someone will try to wow you with their ability to create and publish 724 SEO-friendly, socially shareable, mobile-optimized “articles” every month.

Walk away from these content marketing shops.

Creating great content, the type you will need to break through the clutter, can be expensive. It requires planning and the kind of writing that will tell an engaging story — your story — to bring your readers back again and again. Choose your writers well. Then realize that design, photography, and editing are also an integral part of the remarkable-content process.

Quick Budgeting Tip: Don’t dismiss the writer with the higher rate without giving some thought to why she carries the higher rate. Will she be easy for your editor to work with, cutting down editing time? Does she pick up concepts quickly, allowing for faster and more accurate content creation? Is she able to handle interviews with subject matter experts on her own, making the whole process more efficient? She may also be able to build out a piece with less framework and direction than a less skilled or less experienced writer.  An experienced freelance writer might also be able to contribute to your editorial calendar in meaningful ways, coming up with ideas, supporting background information, and research that can be hard for you to make time for in your schedule.

Poor design will diminish even remarkable content

Have you ever read a poorly-designed eBook? Bothered to go past one page on a website that looks like it was designed in 1999?

Probably not.

You might be asking, “What the heck does design have to do with content?”

The answer? Everything.

Design impacts content. Content impacts design. Remarkable content is far more difficult to achieve without great design, because innovative design will enhance what you have to say. Find a way to get a content strategist or creator and a designer to work in harmony, and you’re far more likely to create some phenomenal pieces.

Quick Budgeting Tip: Be clear and specific about the scope, expectations and deadlines on any design project. If you are using an outside designer, have him or her create estimates based on a per-project fee rather than billing by the hour. Some designers might request that the project includes a “not to exceed” number of hours within that fee as protection. Make sure that you are notified when your designer reaches 75 or 80 percent of those hours so you can plan for any potential problems.

Content marketing improves everything, so borrow a little budget from other marketing tactics

Ask yourself this: what happens in marketing without content?

Social media? Needs content. Search engine marketing? Needs content. Direct mail? Needs content. Website? Needs content.

Visual of a marketing strategy

Content marketing is not a tactic. Stop putting it in some separate bucket and matching it up against a bunch of other tactics. Your marketing plan should be content driven overall, and should not include content marketing only as a line item.

Quick Budgeting Tip: When you’re trying to establish your content marketing budget, get your marketing colleagues together and ask the following question, “How effective would your tactic or area be without content?” The discussion you build should allow you to plant the seed that the budget for content marketing needs to be shared across all areas, because without quality content and a plan to market it, no one’s marketing efforts will succeed.

The Content Marketing Institute tells us that B2B marketers will spend 33 percent of their marketing budgets on content marketing.  The Custom Content Council tells us that it’s more like 39 percent. Demand Metric says that content marketing spends are more than 25 percent of marketing budgets.

So how much should you budget for content marketing?

Enough to fail. Enough to succeed. Enough to know the difference.

Want more information about how to budget for the five facets of content marketing? Download our eBook, “How to Grow Your Business with Content Marketing.”

Related Resources

About Mike Sweeney:

As Right Source’s co-founder and CEO, Mike Sweeney creates, plans, and implements our vision, mission, culture, and strategic direction as well as serving as an advisor to our clients. Mike received a bachelor’s degree in business administration with a major in marketing from the University of Notre Dame and has more than 20 years of experience in B2B marketing strategy, including digital, content, and marketing technology. You can find Mike on LinkedIn.