"Content is king."
That phrase gets thrown around a lot these days. I'm probably guilty of saying it once or twice myself.
There's nothing wrong with it, in theory. It just doesn't tell us very much.
"Content" can mean anything that's designed to present information to an audience. It could be content on your website, a YouTube video, or a TV advertisement, to name a few.
Content itself isn't new, and on its own, is often unremarkable (the instruction manual for your new microwave for instance, is a type of content, but you wouldn't go and show it off to your friends).
It's when this content is used for marketing and becomes "content marketing" that it tends to take on a different, and much more exciting form.
Put simply, "content marketing" is any content that's created and used for the purpose of marketing something. In this article I’m going to focus on online content. This will generally mean content that lives on your blog or within your articles section. It could consist of anything from an article to an infographic or a video.
Whatever form it takes – it's seriously valuable.
Because it's competitive out there – especially in Ecommerce. If you want your brand to stand out, if you want to grow your audience, if you want to gain links that will help you climb the search results so you can benefit from a consistent stream of free traffic to your site – then you need content marketing.
Thankfully, getting started with content marketing probably isn't as difficult – or expensive – as you might think.
So how much do you think it takes to execute an effective content marketing strategy?
$1000 a month?
In a study by MarketCrest, 50% of companies said “budget constraints” were the biggest obstacle to their content marketing success.
I call “bullshit” on this.
Personally, I think “budget constraints” is little more than a convenient excuse for poor performance.
Okay, so it’s easy to spend big, big bucks on content marketing. In 2012 the Content Marketing Institute estimated that mid-sized businesses should expect to budget around $12,000 a month for content marketing, while larger businesses were encouraged to set aside more than $30,000 monthly.
That’s a lot of cash. To the businesses that can afford that sort of budget – good for them. If you’ve got it, spend it.
But what about small businesses? Or sole traders, like myself?
Do we need to be forking out thousands, or even tens of thousands of dollars monthly, just to produce and promote content?
Of course we don’t.
It is possible to execute a successful content marketing strategy on a shoestring budget, if you know how and where to spend it (your budget, that is).
Want to know more? Then read on…
Content production can quickly drain your resources. It can be costly and time-consuming – especially when you’re creating content in-house, or producing it yourself.
Thankfully, you don’t have to take on all of this yourself. You can outsource, instead.
If you’re of the belief that outsourcing is poor practice, you’re not alone.
There seems to be a commonly-held belief among businesses that outsourcing is in some way “cheating.”
I don’t agree.
My personal opinion is that outsourcing is smart.
If you don’t have the time or skills to do something yourself, you hire someone to do it for you, right? So where did this unwritten rule come from which dictates that the work you pay someone to do is only valid if it comes with a desk in your office and a contract?
“For me, outsourcing any kind of content creation to someone from outside the company used to seem like taking the easy way out. It took me a while to understand that as long as you are honest and want to produce quality content for your audience there’s nothing wrong with it.” – Krystian Wlodarczyk for Search Engine Journal
It makes absolute sense for cash-strapped marketers and their companies to outsource where possible.
If you’re new to outsourcing, you’ll probably want to start out by trialing a tool that can help match you with an outsourcer equipped to tackle your tasks.
Zirtual is a “virtual assistant” service. Their assistants are all college-educated and U.S. based, and can help with tasks from content and copywriting, to scheduling appointments and making travel arrangements – pretty much everything an in-house assistant would do.
For a cheaper alternative still (Zirtual operates on a “plan” basis, which starts at $398 a month), Express Writers allows you to order content on an ad-hoc basis.
The service is essentially an Ecommerce store for content, which means you can literally “shop for content.”
Your long-term goal for outsourcing content should be to build your own small team of outsourcers who you can trust to deliver great, on-brand content every time. Until that happens, you’ll find that third-party services fulfill a vital role.
Of course, you don’t have to outsource. If you’re wanting to create content in-house, there are a number of tools that can help you keep costs to a minimum.
To use Buzzsumo for content inspiration, I search for the topic I think I want to create content about:
The results will show me the best-performing content for that topic. I can change the time frame I search within, the type of content I search for, and the metric I want to use to determine the content’s success.
My goal is to figure out what made this content successful and how (or if) I can create something similar, but better.
With Quora and Reddit, the workflow is simple. Again, I search for a topic of interest. My goal is to find questions relevant to those topics that people are asking about, and which I could potentially answer through a piece of content.
For design tasks, I’m a big fan of Canva. It enables anyone to create visual content (this includes imagery like infographics and social media posts), whether or not they have any design experience. I seriously doubt it could be any simpler to use.
It’s also free, although additional features can be purchased on a pay-as-you-go basis.
Want to create great content? Then you need to be organized. Content marketing isn’t just about great ideas and beautiful execution – project management skills will play a huge part in your success (or failure), too.
You need to be keeping track of:
- your ideas (you don’t want to forget your best ones, do you?)
- what you’re working on
- where you are with your content’s production or promotion
There are heaps of tools and apps available to help you get and stay organized, and many of them are free.
They’re both easy to use, and of course, free. I honestly don’t know how I would stay on top of things without them.
Want to know a secret?
Great content doesn’t sell itself.
To get results – whether those results involve people sharing your content, linking to it, or simply talking about it – you need to tell people about it.
Social Triggers founder Derek Halpern advocates the 80/20 rule. This means he spends 20% of his time creating content, and 80% promoting it. In other words, for every hour he spends on content creation, he allocates four hours of his time to promoting it.
That might seem excessive, but if you understand how to implement the rule, you should start to see that it makes a lot of sense.
The underlying takeaway isn’t that we should stick with our current content plans and increase the time we spend on content promotion in line with it. It’s that we should rework how we use our time so that we’re creating less (but still awesome) content, and spending more of our time promoting it.
This is great for content marketers who are working with small budgets. It means that you can cut back on the volume of work you’re producing that requires specialist skills to execute, and spend more time reaching out to influencers and building valuable relationships.
This isn’t to say that content promotion isn’t a skill – it most certainly is – but it’s something the majority of us can learn if we try hard and get enough practice. More importantly, you’ll maximize the time you spend promoting your content if you pay attention to the people you talk to and take steps to build lasting relationships with them.
That’s because they will remember you, and if they remember you, they will naturally be more receptive to your attempts to contact them. In the long run, this means you’ll be able to follow a far more efficient, and effective, content promotion process.
An excellent way to boost the impact of your outreach efforts even further is to back up statements you make with quotes from influencers in your industry. When your post goes live, reach out to the people you’ve featured to let them know you’ve referenced them. If they share the post (which they often do), this tactic can easily result in a few social shares, and potentially hundreds of visitors.
Tools like Ninja Outreach can help you to automate your outreach efforts, while my own tool, Connector, can save you time (and boost results) by providing you with tried-and-tested email templates that have been proven to work.
Of course, time is money, and I understand that it’s not practical for everyone to carry out their own content promotion.
If this sounds like you, you have three main options:
- Handing the work to a junior member of your team
- Finding an outsourcer to handle the work
- Using paid promotional tools
Options one and two can work, with the right management. Bear in mind, however, that you can never monitor everything your employee or outsourcer does. That means these options come with risks attached. Tread carefully.
Sites like People Per Hour can help you find someone with experience in this area, and often for a very low cost. Alternatively, you may find you get results by approaching a marketing agency that offers content promotion as part of their client services and asking them if they would be willing to carry out a promotional strategy on your behalf.
You will find that some agencies only work with clients who are after the full package, but it never hurts to ask, right?
Option three enables you to promote your content without the man-hours involved in outreach.
For this, I’m a huge fan of Quuu.
On the surface, Quuu is a service that hand-curates content and sends it to your Buffer account. From there the content gets sent to your choice of social network or networks, meaning they get updated with relevant content daily, without you having to lift a finger.
That’s a great timesaver, but there’s a whole additional level to the service.
Since Quuu has a network of marketers, influencers, and companies needing content to share, they can also share your content with them.
Pricing is split into three tiers depending on the subject of the content you want to promote. Expect to pay between $5 and $25 for one month’s exposure for one article.
So, in short, the key to executing an effective content marketing strategy on a shoestring budget lies in:
- Building a team of trusted, yet cost-effective outsourcers
- Identifying tools that can help you streamline processes you can’t or don’t want to outsource
- Reducing the amount of content you produce, and putting more resources into promoting it
What tools, tips, or strategies do you have for carrying out a content campaign on a budget? Let me know in the comments below.
About The Author
Sujan is the co-founder Content Marketer, tools to help marketers scale their content marketing efforts. He's helped companies like Mint, TurboTax, Salesforce, and others land more customers, make more money, and grow their business.