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Updated 28 October 19
Wouldn’t it be great to have a practically unlimited content marketing budget? You could just throw money at all the obstacles ahead of you. More writers! More graphic designers! More researchers! Headhunt proven industry professionals, and make them offers they can’t refuse. Alas, no — as a startup, especially at the early stages, you’re stuck with meagre funding, trying to figure out how to make it work for you.
You can try to invest money you don’t have, of course, that’s almost never a good idea. You can even opt to forgo content marketing altogether, assuming that it’s futile. Alternatively, you can run with a thrifty content marketing strategy designed specifically to squeeze every last drop of ROI from your small budget.
Easier said than done? Sure. But far from impossible, particularly if you’re committed to long-term improvement. Here are some of the central ingredients of a budget strategy:
On the face of it, “exceptional” might seem like an odd modifier in the context of a budget strategy, but consider this: most content created for content marketing campaigns is mediocre to the point of being utterly ineffective. Creating weak content is relatively fast and easy, but even hammering out 100 pieces won’t achieve much (0 multiplied by 100 is still 0).
When you don’t have all that much money for a project, you can’t afford to waste any of it on content that won’t get results — so instead of trying to set out a big content plan you can’t even afford to deliver, put what you can afford into the creation of exceptional content. Even if you can only make one great piece, it’ll be worth it: that one piece can return enough value to lift your profits and justify putting money back into the production process.
The entire purpose of your cheap marketing strategy is to get meaningful results: to sell whatever you’re trying to sell, whether it’s a product or a service, and return value that can justify further marketing spend. Despite this, one of the fundamental problems with many content marketing campaigns — even ones that should be good — is that they lack common-sense analytics, and thus can’t tell how they’re really performing.
Look at it this way: there are various possible routes to conversion. Someone can go directly to your website, type your brand name into Google, get referred by a friend, find a Google Shopping link, or click on a PPC ad — and in each case, their journey might or might not have been sparked by your content marketing.
If you don’t know, then you can’t gauge success. You can run a content marketing campaign, see your sales go up by 40%, and assume a correlation that might not actually be there. From the beginning, you need marketing attribution to help you track the real-world impact of your content distribution. It’ll never be 100% clear, but if you use things like custom URLs and remarketing, you’ll be able to tell fairly accurately how effective your content is being.
The online world is packed with resources, and plenty of them come at low cost (or even no cost) — so when you’re trying to stretch your budget, why wouldn’t you take advantage? There are tools to help you with everything from ideation to distribution, and many will even introduce vital elements of automation to free up your time for other tasks.
Here’s an excellent list of relevant tools from Backlinko: choose wisely, and you’ll save time, money, and effort. For example, you can uncover suitable keywords, populate your content with great stock graphics and videos, retool it to fit different formats, and ensure steady distribution without needing to manually intervene (more on distribution next).
Am I saying that you shouldn't invest in more costly services? At this point, yes, because you don’t yet know what’s going to work. The point of using a variety of tools is that it gives you plenty of opportunities to discover which methods and tactics work best in your specific situation. Once you know that, you can tighten your focus.
I already noted that you should be concentrating on creating high-quality content because low-quality content doesn’t get results — but how should you handle the distribution? Should you just post your content at the most appropriate time, then wash your hands of it? Absolutely not. If you’ve picked evergreen topics and achieved a superb level of quality, then you need to do everything in your power to keep getting value from your published content.
Firstly, you should repost your content on a semi-frequent basis. You don’t need to spam it (that’s likely to prove counterproductive), but ensure that you keep posting about it (mixing up your message along the way) to achieve broad visibility. If you just post it once, you’ll miss so many people — even your followers — who happen to be otherwise occupied at that time.
Secondly, you should rework your content when appropriate. If you have a post that’s been around for quite some time, it might start to feel dated. Instead of abandoning it, why not update it to make it feel fresh again? And if you don’t think it can be salvaged, you can recycle the topic (and even some of the material) to create a new piece extremely quickly.
Getting content marketing results on a budget is far from straightforward, but it’s perfectly possible to manage it if you do the right things. Cover each of the ingredients we just looked at and you should have a solid chance of getting results. Good luck!