10 Tips to Make Content Marketing Work for Small Budgets
It’s so easy. Just create amazing content consistently, and you’ll be rolling in traffic.
I’m just kidding.
Even if you know what you’re doing, content marketing takes a lot of work.
But it can pay off in a big way.
For example, Kraft’s ROI from content marketing is 4 times better than any other form of advertising.
Look around online, and you’ll quickly discover that they are not alone.
You don’t even have to go further than here.
I’ve used content marketing to grow KISSmetrics, Crazy Egg, and now Quick Sprout to well over 7-figure (annually) businesses.
I typically get around 100 comments on posts and over 1,000 social shares within days on just Twitter and Facebook alone:
Now, it’s taken me years to get here because content marketing takes patience and consistency.
But another thing it takes is a budget.
If you’re doing content marketing effectively, you’re creating some really valuable next-level content.
And if you’re creating content like that, it isn’t cheap.
Sure, you can do some of it yourself, but your time has value as well. Don’t forget that.
But like with all things, it’s possible to do content marketing both more effectively and cheaper than most businesses manage to do.
It still won’t be “cheap,” but it will be much more affordable for startups and small businesses than what they might be currently spending.
Running content marketing campaign on small budget? Then follow these 10 tips to make content marketing work for you.
In the rest of this post, I’m going to share with you 10 tips that will help you bring down your content marketing spending significantly without sacrificing results.
1. Focus on the most cost-efficient types of content
There are tons of different types of content you can produce.
Often, there are 4-5 or even more types of content that your target audience enjoys.
This means that you can use any combination of those types to grow your audience.
But here’s the thing…
Not all types of content give the same return.
They all cost different amounts and will generate different average numbers when it comes to traffic, subscribers, shares, etc.
Here’s a simple 3-step process you can use to find out which types of content are most cost-efficient in your niche.
Step #1 – Evaluate the cost of different types of content: The first thing you need to do is establish a baseline cost for every type of content you might be interested in producing:
stock photo collections
Obviously, the cost can vary based on the exact thing you’re looking for, but try to get a fairly accurate range.
There are 3 ways you can do this:
Get a quote from a freelancer who specializes in that type of content.
Determine how much time it would take to make it yourself, then multiply that by your hourly rate.
Use estimates from other public sources.
Technically, you could get a quote from an agency, but those are usually much more expensive than a freelancer. Since we’re trying to conserve your budget here, start with freelancers.
For the 3rd option, you can find rough estimates for most types of content online.
For example, I’ve previously written that you can get infographics made for $250 to $595 each.
When it comes to content, most good writers charge $0.10-0.20 per word (although you could negotiate a flat fee, e.g., $200 for a 2,000 word article).
And videos typically cost between $1,000 and $6,500 per finished minute of video.
One caveat: You might want to think about dividing each type of content into more specific types of content.
For example, you might be able to write a list post much faster than another type of post like a case study.
Step #2 – Research the performance of your competition’s content: If you already have a lot of content creation experience, this is an easy step for you. Just make a spreadsheet where you record the performance of each type of content.
When I say performance, I’m talking about metrics that you care about. For most, it will be a combination of:
If you don’t have extensive experience, you’ll have to get this performance data from other sources—your competition.
Start by going to the biggest platform for each type of content and finding a few of the biggest channels/brands for that platform. For example:
blog posts: blogs
slide shows: Slideshare
So, let’s say you were interested in making SEO videos.
You head to YouTube and search for a few major SEO terms such as:
SEO link building
On page SEO
Make a list of the top creators:
We want to figure out their average result per video.
Click on the name, and then click on their Videos tab:
This will give you a list of videos they’ve uploaded.
Start by counting the number of videos the creator has made (you’ll need to click “load more” at the bottom).
In this case, Josh has made 123 videos at this point.
Next, add up the number of views that they’ve gotten.
Finally, divide the total number of views by the number of videos to get an average.
Josh gets approximately 1,000 views per video he uploads.
You want to repeat this for as many creators in your niche as possible. The more you consider, the more accurate your numbers will be.
Once you’re done, get a combined average by adding together the averages and dividing by the number of video creators.
Step #3 – Evaluate the performance of each type and choose the best: At this point, you have the cost of each type of content as well as the typical results for each.
Now, you want to divide the result metrics by the cost.
Here’s what a simple version might look like:
You’re looking to get a rough estimate of the cost per metric. Focus on the metrics you care about the most.
What you’ll probably find is that one or two types of content are much more cost effective than the rest.
Those are the types of content you should focus on producing in the future.
2. Focus on quality over quantity
One major source of wasted money is failure to maximize the results from each piece of content.
Marketers see successful bloggers posting 3-5 times a week and assume that they should too.
However, if you don’t have the budget to publish 3-5 great pieces of content, it’s pointless.
You’ll end up publishing 3-5 okay posts instead.
Growth from content marketing comes from quality, not quantity.
Each post should be as valuable as possible.
You’re better off publishing one absolutely amazing piece of content per month than publishing 30 mediocre posts.
If you can publish more than one great post—fantastic! But always start with quality.
A great example of this is Brian Dean at Backlinko.
As of now, he has about 30 articles in total on the site (seriously), and he’s been going for years now. On average, that works out to about one post a month.
He’s also built a 6-figure business from it.
How? Because every single post is amazing. Quality will always win.
But be smart, remember the 80/20 rule: When you’re dealing with a small budget, it’s always about getting the most bang for your buck.
In this case, it’s possible to take “high quality” too far.
What the 80/20 rule says is that 80% of your results will come from 20% of your efforts.
In this case, it means that 80% of the value of your content will come from 20% of the effort you put into creating it.
The main takeaway from this principle is that each extra bit of effort has diminishing results.
By the time you’ve put in a solid amount of effort (say 80-90%) of what you’re capable of, you’ve pretty much maxed out the level of quality that you can get from a piece of content.
Resist the urge to go overboard by doing things like:
creating custom images that don’t add much value to the post
messing around with the layout even though it’s already easy to read
changing sentences over and over again so that they’re “perfect”
If you do those things, you’re spending time with no real return, which means you’re wasting part of your budget.
Aim for very high quality, but know when a piece of content is about as good as it’s going to get.
3. The absolute cheapest way to create great content consistently
Another way to lower your content creation costs is to get creative.
Instead of creating content from scratch, you can repurpose existing content.
If you’re not familiar with the term, repurposing means turning your existing content into a different form of content.
For example, you might turn a blog post into a video, slideshow, or podcast.
The main benefit is that all the research is already done. You can also often take images you created for the first piece of content and use them in the new pieces.
This can cut your content creation time reliably in half for each piece of repurposed content.
And it can also expose your content to a different audience, which is always a good thing.
Repurposing in action: Let’s go over a few quick examples of repurposing content.
Paul Gordon Brown creates content about reaching students with social media.
For example, he created this popular slideshow on the topic:
However, he also uses a lot of this information in his blog posts, and he’s even hosting talks on the subject:
I highly doubt he’s creating a new presentation from scratch every time.
For bloggers, there’s a common type of repurposing: turning a blog post into an infographic.
Brian Dean originally wrote a post about on-page SEO and then, he created an infographic and embedded it within the same page:
You could also do what I usually do and just post the infographic as its own post.
Brian chose to combine the two so that he could promote that post to an even bigger audience.
And here’s one final example of content repurposing.
The Crazy Egg blog publishes a new blog post every weekday. Some of these posts we turn into short podcast episodes:
We have a great podcaster, who essentially reads the post and records it.
Which types of content convert well into other types of content? Any type of content can be repurposed as any other type of content, but it’s easier to do with certain types than others.
The easiest types to repurpose, in most situations, are:
blog posts into: infographics, podcasts, e-books
infographics into: slideshows, videos
videos into: animations (gifs), blog posts
For the most part, visual content translates well into other visual content, while written content translates well into other written (or spoken) content.
4. Spend time improving your efficiency
This tip is for you if you do a lot of content marketing work yourself.
If you are creating, planning, and/or promoting your own content, you can significantly reduce the amount of time you spend just by learning a few simple ways to work more efficiently.
I’ve seen marketers double the speed at which they do a particular task just by focusing on it for a short period. Here are a few in-depth posts I’ve written in the past:
Don’t Waste Your Time: 6 Ways to Be More Efficient on Social Media
10 Efficient Ways to Save Time So You Can Follow Your Dreams
How to Double Your Writing Speed Without Lowering Its Quality
And while the specific things you need to do to increase your efficiency depend on your current work habits, there are some general techniques that are almost always useful.
Technique #1 – Batching: Batching is a simple technique that involves doing as much of one task as you can at once.
For example, instead of trying to come up with a post idea every time you’re creating a new post, you could come up with 100 all at once.
This improves efficiency in a couple of ways:
no transition time – it always takes a few minutes to get going on the next task. Instead of spending this transition time every time you come with an idea, you only spend it one time, at the start of your batch session.
momentum - once you start doing something, it becomes easier to continue doing it, resulting in faster and better work.
Here are ways you could apply batching immediately:
coming up with content ideas in batches
outlining your posts in batches
writing posts in batches (maybe during the first week of the month) and then scheduling them
editing content in batches
collecting names of people to reach out to (for promotion)
sending out link or share request emails
And there are many more.
Technique #2 – Outsourcing (when it’s smart): There are two main reasons for outsourcing a part of your content marketing process.
It’s best done when you either don’t have the skill or the time.
In particular, the first reason is most important.
Because if you don’t have the skill, say to design an infographic well, it costs you because you will have a lower quality piece of content.
What most don’t realize is that it’s often more expensive to create it yourself as well.
You might value your time at $50/hour, but a freelancer will charge you $100/hour (hypothetically). So you think that you will save money by doing it yourself.
However, in the vast majority of cases, the freelancer has so much more experience than you that they can do the job in less than half the time it would take you.
This means that outsourcing would actually cost less than doing it yourself, plus you get a better product.
If you recognize that you’re not very good at a particular part of content marketing and don’t have the passion to become an expert, outsource it.
You can’t do everything yourself, so get help in the areas where it makes the most sense for the quality and budget.
5. Forget the parts of content marketing that aren’t necessary
Believe me, I understand when marketers, especially new ones, get overwhelmed by content marketing.
The content creation process alone takes a lot of time, expertise, and resources, but then you need to promote it as well.
Here’s the thing though:
You don’t need to be everywhere at once.
Remember the 80/20 rule? It applies here too.
Eighty percent of your success will come from 20% of your effort. So, find the parts that add little value to your marketing and cut them.
Where to start: The most and least efficient activities will depend on your niche and business.
But let’s look at an example.
When your primary goal is to drive traffic to your content to eventually make sales, what should you focus on?
In most cases, email marketing will give you the best return on investment (ROI – your time and spending) by far:
And yet, some marketers spend just as much of their time getting followers on social media, handing out business cards at conferences, and posting on forums, etc. as they do on getting more subscribers.
When you have a tight budget, the activities with smaller ROI don’t matter.
So, unless you’re in a niche that social media is crucial for (fitness, food, home decor, clothing, etc.), it’s likely something you can forget about.
All you need are the one or two channels that give you the best results.
6. Get extremely specific
This might be disheartening at first:
It’s very difficult to compete with bigger budgets.
Want to outrank a Quick Sprout post on Google for a term I’ve targeted? You’ll have to create something amazing and promote the heck out of it.
And that costs money.
The good news is that you don’t need to go head to head with larger budgets.
Consider SEO. You can target longer tail keywords at first and throw your entire budget at them.
These keywords typically have less competition and are much easier to rank highly for:
When you do this, you’re not going to get amazing traffic right away, and that’s what scares off most businesses.
But you’ll get more traffic by ranking #1 for searches that get a few hundred queries per month than you will ranking #10 for a search that gets a few thousand queries a month.
Guess what happens over time?
Your traffic continues to grow, and so does your subscriber list. Growth in content marketing happens exponentially, so those small initial results grow into big things a few years down the road.
Additionally, as you start to get results from your work, you can slowly add that extra revenue to your content marketing budget, accelerating growth further.
You can take this approach to your content marketing as a whole, not just SEO.
Instead of creating content for marketers (like I do), create content for a more specific audience, e.g., social media marketers or small business marketers, etc.
The more specific you get, the less competition you have—just make sure there’s enough demand. If you’re writing on somewhat obscure topics, even mediocre content would get some attention.
Once you capture that group, you can start creating content for related groups and expand.
7. Share valuable personal data
Something that a decent number of content marketers have picked up on recently is the effectiveness of transparency.
In short, transparency consists of revealing behind the scenes data and information (personal).
One amazing example of this is the Groove HQ blog. They write about marketing topics, but they support their points with personal data and experiments:
They pretty much reveal anything that adds value to a post.
For example, they shared how they determined which social networks to focus on:
There are two reasons why transparency can be great:
It makes your content better – Using personal data means that you have something unique to offer (no one else could provide it). Having something new to say is a key part ofcreating value in your content.
It can be cheaper to create – What’s easier: getting some data from your own Google Analytics or trying to get an expert to respond to you and to contribute to your content? You can save a lot of time using personal data, which means you can use your budget for other things.
8. It’s possible to get free content from amazing creators
If you’re hiring writers to create content for you, it probably costs you at least a few hundred dollars per post.
But there’s a way to get great content free.
And that’s by accepting guest posts.
Remember though, just because you accept guest posts doesn’t mean you have to approve every pitch.
You’ll end up rejecting 90% of them, but those 10% of good ones will be from quality writers who are willing to contribute in exchange for exposure (to promote their own site).
There are two ways to find these good guest-posters:
Create a guest-post page on your website - they will find it when they research potential targets
Manually reach out to good guest-posters – if you see a good guest post on a competitor’s site, you could email that creator and ask them to contribute to your site.
Right now, I want to focus on the first option because it’s much less work in the long run.
A good guest-post guidelines page has three essential elements.
Part #1 – Incentives for the guest writers: When a content creator finds your guest-post page, their first question is: “Is it worth contributing to this site?”
The bigger your site is, the more you can offer.
Regardless, make this one of your first sections, and frame the benefits in terms that guest posters will find appealing. They are looking for traffic, links, fame, etc.
Here’s a screen shot of Boost Blog Traffic’s guest post guidelines, which are some of the best I’ve ever seen.
Part #2 – What you are looking for: Once the creator is interested in your site, the attention shifts back to you.
You need to make it really clear that you’re only looking for exceptional content.
If you publish content in a certain way (a typical length, style, etc.), this is the time to establish your expectations.
Part #3 – How should they pitch to you? Finally, you need to let them know what you’re looking for in a pitch.
If you don’t, you’ll get tons of emails with unnecessary information, which will waste your time (and your time is money).
Outline the basics of what you’d like to see in a pitch.
You can add more to your guest-post page, but make sure you have at least these three parts.
Writers will start finding you and sending you pitches a few weeks after you publish it (or sooner if you have a popular site).
9. Updating can be as good as starting from scratch
Something that content creators in evolving niches always face is content becoming outdated.
For example, you might write about tax guidelines for 2015.
Well, come 2016 (after tax day), that post has lost 90% of its value.
The same goes for many other industries. SEO posts from 5 years ago are just about worthless now.
But instead of creating a new post from scratch, you can often use old content—for much cheaper.
Here are your two options.
Option #1 – Update time-sensitive content: Things typically change incrementally over time.
So, instead of creating a whole new piece of content, you can just update your original content to reflect that small change in your industry.
This is something Brian Dean does with a lot of his content at Backlinko. For example, he has updated his complete list of Google ranking factors many times now:
It was originally published at least a year ago, and the list has grown to more than 200.
Because Brian keeps the list updated, it remains the #1 resource on this topic.
Option #2 – Republish old evergreen content: While you can update old content to keep its value high, you can also simply republish old posts.
When you’re first starting out, you have a small audience. Once you grow your audience, the majority of it wouldn’t see a lot of your old good content. By republishing your old content, you’ll expose it to your new, bigger audience.
Although I wouldn’t do it very often, you can republish old evergreen content so that it shows up at the top of your blog.
Then, you essentially get a new post for nothing.
10. Learn to be extremely selective with your promotion
This final tip is again about trimming the fat.
You need to ensure that you’re getting a worthwhile return from all the promotional work you’re doing.
If you have limited time, focus on the most likely sources of traffic for your new content.
Start with your email list: Always begin new content promotion by emailing your email subscribers.
These are the people who already like your content and appreciate it enough to sign up for your list.
They are by far the most likely people to share your content with new audiences.
I email my subscribers after I publish a new post, using a simple template:
It works really well and takes next to no time to do.
Then, reach out to past sharers: Not all of your fans like to get email updates. Some would prefer just following you on social media.
But when you announce on social media that you’ve published a new piece of content, they might miss it.
Instead, you should look at who shared your content on social media in the past and then send them a personal message about your new content.
There are two ways to do this. Start with your own social posts, and click on the number of shares you got (on any network):
This will show you who shared your content.
Send them a direct message letting them know about the post, saying that you think they will enjoy it.
Secondly, you can also search for a topic (or even a past article title) using a tool such as Topsy.
For example, since this article is about content marketing, I could search for “content marketing” in the tool.
This brings up a list of the most popular articles on Twitter in the selected time range:
Clicking the “more” link beside the speech bubble will bring up all the people who shared that piece of content:
If you have really limited time, start with the “influential only” users, who have the highest number of followers. One share from them is worth more than from the average user.
Content marketing is all about quality, which typically isn’t cheap.
However, there are ways to make content marketing work even for small budgets.
Try to implement at least 2-3 of these tips, and you should be able to bring down the cost of your content marketing to a more reasonable level.
If you have any other ideas about using content marketing with a small budget, I’d love it if you shared them in the comments below.