In today’s digitally-driven marketing environment, content marketing often occupies its own line in your marketing budget – and rightly so given its ability to engage so deeply with your audience in such an effective and measurable way.
Content marketing budgets vary greatly depending on a business’s size, goals and industry so I won’t tell you how much you should spend but, in an ideal world, it should be as much as you can possibly afford. Thankfully, regardless of how much you can spend, there are some smart ways to make your budget stretch further.
1. Plan your budget before you create any content.
Taking a completely ad-hoc approach to content isn’t just an ineffective use of time and talent, it drains your financial resources. Ad-hoc content projects are prone to scope creep when ideas snowball or multiple stakeholders are involved, and rush fees when an idea needs to be executed at a moment’s notice. This leads to budget blowouts and a tightening of the belt for the rest of the financial period, hamstringing your ability to respond to the content needs that your audience have on a regular basis.
It’s much easier to control your budget, see where you can spend more and calculate your return on investment (ROI) at the end of the financial period if you’ve planned your content out first and then allocated budget to each campaign and content asset. Once you know your ROI, you can make better decisions about what to cut back on and what to save your money for. This isn’t to say you can’t be responsive to great opportunities – just allocate an amount on top of your planned spending specifically for that purpose.
At this moment in time, depending on where you are in the world, you’ll either be working with the remains of your marketing budget as the end of your financial year approaches or starting with a fresh balance. The good news is that regardless of what stage you are at, you can start your planning efforts now.
I find it most useful to follow these steps.
Conduct a content audit: start by identifying what content you have, what works, what doesn’t and what can be updated or repurposed. Here’s a free template to get you started.
Perform a gap analysis: The content audit will help you generate new ideas immediately and will highlight gaps in your content asset library. You may find that you have plenty of content on one particular topic, or for one persona or lifestyle stage, but very few pieces for anything else. At this stage you aren’t worrying about titles and details, keep it top-level with topics or themes.
Prioritise your content: Creating a priority list that divides content into three categories – campaign, essential and nice-to-have. What seasonal campaigns or launches do you know are already happening? What assets will you need? Write them down as your first priorities under ‘campaign’. Then look at your gap analysis and list under ‘essential’ those pieces that are crucial to sales success e.g. where you have few or no pieces to address a persona or lifecycle stage. If you aren’t sure – talk to sales and see what they most need now. Your lowest priority items – the random but exciting ideas you’ve come up with – can be listed under ‘nice-to-have’.
Create a content calendar: Plot out each campaign and essential piece of content against each month. You’ll easily be able to see if you have enough lead time for each and can make sure there is a good spread of content throughout the financial period.
Budget for each piece of content: Based on previous content projects, you’ll be able to estimate how much each piece will cost. Remember to include anything you directly pay another person or company for such as writing, editing, design, printing, paid promotion costs and software subscriptions.
Don’t forget to add in some contingency budget for when those amazing opportunities just crop up. If you don’t use it, you can always allocate it to the ‘nice-to-have’ pieces you identified in the content audit.
When you’ve completed this exercise, you might just find you have more money left over than you thought.
2) Repurpose and redistribute the evergreen content you have.
One of the best ways to make the most of your content marketing budget is to use what you’ve already got.
After you’ve done a content audit, you’ll see which pieces are time-sensitive (e.g. respond to a particular world/economic/industry event or issue) and which pieces are evergreen (e.g. the pieces that offer timeless advice). These evergreen pieces are pure gold and will form the basis of a repurposing and redistribution strategy that will save you money and help your SEO.
Don’t be afraid of re-sharing your content on social media. It’s free, and far from annoying your readers, you’ll be reminding them of the great content they’ve either read and forgotten about, missed entirely or skipped because they were too busy. Social media posts have a very limited shelf life (a Twitter post is only fresh for 18 minutes), so it’s likely that most of your audience didn’t see the post the first, or even the second time it was published.
Re-sharing is also a simple way to test different post copy. Try picking out the most interesting fact for each of your personas or customer lifecycle stages, use different keywords or use a quote from within the piece of content. Share the same content at the same time each week using a different post as an A/B test.
This blog from MOZ highlights why resharing on social media is also important to your SEO efforts: “Social sharing alone has an impact on SEO, but social engagement is really where it’s at…You up your chances of engagement with your content if you simply up your content’s exposure. That’s what resharing does awesomely.”
Everyone has a preferred way of consuming information – some love blogs, some prefer video, while others like bullet-point fact sheets. Look through your evergreen content (there’s that audit again) and think about how you can transform it into another format.
Larger content pieces such as webinars, presentations, podcasts and e-books are perfect as you can break them down into smaller content pieces such as blogs, fact sheets, infographics, quick tips or quotes on social media and short videos. It’s often possible to create a few different pieces based on an e-book or webinar. This gives you maximum bang for your buck when you invest in a large content project, particularly if you are paying for freelance services.
You might also consider doing round-up blogs of your best-performing posts and videos, or take each item on a list-style blog (you know the ones that starting with “5 things you need to know about….”) and expand on them.
By re-purposing, you’ll have lots of evergreen content, enormous SEO value, follow-up content for webinars and nurture programmes, and plenty of social media sharing opportunities.
The key here is to focus on creating a balance between evergreen content, and content that responds to customer’s concerns and industry trends in the moment.
This brings me to my final budget-stretching idea…
3) Work smarter with your freelance content writer.
Rather than cutting your freelance content writer or copywriter loose, think of them as a budget-stretching ally armed with creative ideas and the ability to turn content around quickly – you just have to be smart about how you work with them.
Prioritise their work. Think about what you can do in-house and what you really need a freelancer to do. Maybe it’s quicker for you to re-purpose content yourself and leave new pieces to a freelancer. Maybe it’s the other way around. Perhaps you have colleagues who have great attention to detail and can edit your content for free or an intern who can transcribe a podcast or interview that your freelancer can later use as the basis of a blog. Most importantly, evergreen content is a budget-saver so prioritise paying your freelancer to create this type of piece, even if it’s a long one like an e-book – it’s where you’ll get the most value.
Provide them with all the tools they need: Start with a solid brief (here’s how to write a good one) that includes sources of inspiration, quotes, keywords, audience profile, a list of likes/dislikes and important inclusions/exclusions. Also include a style guide, examples of previous relevant work, contact details of people they can interview, transcripts, and links to research and content they can draw from. It will take less time, and therefore be less expensive if you provide as much research and information as you can upfront.
Work within your agreed project parameters. Nothing blows out a budget like endless revisions, extending the word or page count mid-project, and slow responses to questions and drafts. Respond to their questions and provide feedback as soon as you can to keep billable hours down. Furthermore, your freelancer should outline how many rounds of revisions or amends are included in their quote so ensure every stakeholder who needs to see it does so within that limit.
Pick their creative brains. A half to one-hour workshop call is an inexpensive way to generate a lot of ideas. You can then split the ideas between you and your team and the content writer.
Your freelance content writer understands the budget restrictions you face and will be happy to talk to you about ways to keep a limit on billable hours without sacrificing quality.
Every marketer I know (myself included) hates the word ‘budget’ – it’s scary and let’s face it, there’s never enough in the pot to do everything we’d like to do. In my experience, keeping a record of ROI and the measures you are taking to stretch your finances further will not only ensure that you maintain your funding from year to year but gives you a solid case to ask for an increased budget for new initiatives.