Marketing spend 11 min read

How to manage a content marketing budget

Alex Birkett

In this article, I’m going to share some inside info on how to effectively manage a content marketing budget

Whether your company is just getting started with content marketing, or you've seen the results and decided to up your spend, managing your budget effectively will help you get the most bang for your buck.

Content marketing is an investment, from which you will reap the benefits for years to come. Not only does it help you build trust with your audience, but it keeps them engaged so that when they are ready to buy, your brand will be at the forefront of their mind. 

After all, they already know and trust you. Why would they go anywhere else?

An effective content marketing strategy will also help you generate high-quality leads and improve conversions. Furthermore, it has the power to improve your business’s visibility online, thanks to the SEO benefits that come with it. 

Although good content marketing doesn’t come cheap, it’s still one of the most cost-effective marketing strategies around. So if you’re not already focusing on content marketing for your business, now’s the time to start.

Managing your content marketing budget is an important part of the process, and shouldn’t be taken lightly. It will help you to prove your ROI, and enable you to secure larger budgets for content marketing in the future.

Sound good? Read on to find out the best way to go about managing your content marketing budget.

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What does a content marketing budget entail?

There are lots of things to think about when it comes to your content marketing budget. You need to account for everything (and everyone) involved in your content marketing process.

This will typically include:

    1. Software - Software you might need for content marketing will include social media management software, email marketing software, a blog platform, and content optimization software. 
    2. Freelancers - You may need to hire freelance content writers, SEOs, copywriters, or social media managers to assist you with your content marketing efforts. 
    3. In-house employee overhead - Do you have an in-house content marketing team? How much do your in-house employees cost? 
    4. Advertising - Paid advertising costs should also be included in your content marketing budget.
    5. Time - As well as your full-time employees and freelancers, who else puts time in the content marketing process for your business
    6. Miscellaneous production costs

It’s important to account for all of these things when planning your content marketing budget, however, if you’re just starting out, you might have a tighter budget than you would like. 

Priorities if you’re on a limited budget

If you’re just starting out, your budget for content marketing may be limited. In this case, I usually recommend investing more money in fewer articles of a higher quality. This is because if your website is relatively new and hasn’t built up domain authority yet, you will find it harder to rank unless your content is the best of the best.

The exception to this is if you are in an emerging industry where there's not as much SEO and marketing competition. The cannabis space is a great example of this. In this industry, it’s going to be easier to rank mediocre content than the MarTech space, for instance. 

That being said, you still shouldn’t be publishing mediocre content if you’re playing the long game.

In addition to focusing on creating super high-quality content, early-stage companies should focus on building an email list and also prioritize link building. Link building is one of the best ways to quickly increase your domain authority, which, in turn, will help your content rank. 

You can do this through your own time and connections, you can do it through guest posting, or you can hire a freelancer or agency to do it. Whatever the case, you're going to need high-quality, relevant links if you want your content program to work.

For larger companies with still limited budgets, I would simply choose to spend money on the things that will prove ROI, which typically is going to be a) new content production or b) historical content updates.

Link building and promotion are going to have marginal utility once you've hit a certain scale, so I'd just tune up and scale your content production.

The best tools and software for content marketing

Spending money on content marketing software might seem like a big upfront cost, but it’s absolutely worth the investment. Not only will these tools save you time, but they will ensure that you achieve your goals more quickly, and in turn, grow your business and make more money!

I recommend using:

  • Ahrefs
  • Clearscope
  • Conversion.ai
  • AnswerThePublic
  • Screaming Frog
  • Keywords Everywhere
  • Google Search Console
  • Google Analytics. 

My absolute favorite tool is Ahrefs. I outlined all my favorite SEO tools in a post recently, but if I could pick just one, this would be it.  

It's so good at everything from competitive analysis, to link-building analysis, to content gap reports (basically everything you need to build your content strategy). It also has great analytics and reporting features, and even rank-tracking to determine if you're actually making progress. I use it every day, and it's genuinely an amazing product. 

If you have the budget, Clearscope is another super high ROI product. I now use it for my personal blog and the agency blog, and we use it for all clients too. It really increases the chances you'll rank your content.

Conversion.ai is another great tool that can help your content team maximize their output. Any tools like this that are going to help your team create better work in a shorter amount of time and well worth the investment. 

Narrato Workspace is a great content collaboration and workflow software. Instead of trying to manage your content production and delivery through one-fit-all project management software like Trello, Asana etc., and still using sheets, documents, drives/Dropbox, email and more - give this platform a shot. You can bring your entire content team and process on this content project management platform - from content planning, creation, assignment, approval to publishing. A lot of cool integrations like plagiarism checks, Canva, free image search and their powerful content editor with a solid grammar and content quality tool are the cherries on top.

Hiring freelancers, an agency, or in-house?

Depending on the size and scale of your business you may be wondering whether you should hire freelancers, use an agency, or hire an in-house content marketing team. There are benefits to each of these options, but one may suit you better than the others.

Hiring freelancers is a great solution for both small and large businesses alike. Hiring a freelancer gives you access to a subject matter expert when you need them, without the commitment of hiring an in-house team member if your business isn’t ready for that yet. This option also gives you flexibility with regards to budget if you're starting small.

However, if you do not completely trust the freelance team or person you’ve hired you might have to double-check their work. You don’t want to accept a project without checking if the content has been copied or plagiarized. It’s probably in your best interest to run a quick plagiarism check to ensure that you’re good to go.

Partnering with an agency to manage your content marketing is a great option for established businesses with a significant budget to play with. If you are considering working with an agency, you will benefit most from forming a long-term relationship with them.

My co-founder, Allie, agrees, “Content strategy can take months or years to develop, so it follows that you can’t be looking for a silver bullet solution. You have to give your agency team adequate time for discovery and implementation”.

Investing in an in-house content team should be your end goal. This is a particularly good option for more complex industries, as your in-house employee will be able to get to know your product or service really well, enabling them to produce much better content overall.

“Even some of our own clients have transitioned to hiring a full-time role because they think that was the best long-term play. I agree—depending on the complexity of your product, this can be the best use of your budget and energy,” says Allie.

Overall, it depends on what works best for your business. After all, you can always move from freelancer to agency, to in-house as your business grows.

Who manages a content marketing budget?

In most larger companies and enterprises, you will typically have a director of demand generation or a VP of Marketing who will divide up the overall marketing expenses among different teams at a higher level. 

Once the budget has been allocated, the content marketing manager or director of content marketing will usually be in charge of actually controlling the budget and deciding how it’s spent.

How to forecast a content marketing budget

There are two ways you can forecast your budget. The first is to decide how much money you want to spend, and stick to that number. This is a pretty rigid way of doing things, although it’s surprisingly common.

The second (and best) way to forecast your content marketing budget is to take your company's goals and work backward from there. You should create an organic traffic growth model which will help you predict your ROI from content marketing, so you can get a good understanding of when you will start to break even and see a return on your investment.

Essentially, you are reverse engineering your budget.

The great thing about forecasting your budget this way is that it will tell you, if you invested X amount of money, how likely is it that you'll actually reach Y goal. 

Decide on your goals for the quarter and work out how much will it cost to make these goals happen. Then you need to decide who is going to help you make it happen; Agency, freelancers, or an in-house content team. Finally, decide on which software you are going to use to optimize your content and help you reach your goals.

Other things you should consider when forecasting include things like sponsorship opportunities, and whether there are any industry events coming up that you might want to attend.

Automate the boring stuff

Automation is a wonderful thing. It can save you hours of time each month, freeing up your team members to concentrate on tasks that will have the greatest impact on your bottom line.

Thankfully there are lots of software tools (like Spendesk!) that can help you automate these processes.

Automating contractor payments and onboarding documents

Automating your freelancer onboarding process can not only save you time, but will also result in your freelancer getting a better first impression of your company, as well as making sure that they have everything they need to hit the ground running. 

Things you should think about including in your onboarding process include:

  • Their contact and payment details
  • Contracts
  • Scope of work
  • Your brand standards
  • Tools and software they can use
  • Your invoicing and payment process

Automating SaaS & vendor management

Using a subscription management service can take another thing off your plate by ensuring all of your recurring payments are managed efficiently from one central place. This will enable you to easily spot and unsubscribe from any software you are not using, to ensure you never overpay. 

This type of software will also notify you of things like increases in your subscription fees, so you can adjust your budget accordingly if necessary.

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Creating workflows: the secret workhorse of agencies everywhere

Creating workflows will essentially automate your content team! A workflow is basically a set pattern that is followed for each piece of work produced.

Using workflows will have many benefits, including increased productivity, improved collaboration, and reduced stress for your team.

Here’s an example of a content marketing workflow:

  1. Content manager creates a list of topics
  2. Writer is assigned a topic
  3. Writer creates an outline 
  4. Content manager approved outline
  5. Writer writes and formats content
  6. Editor reviews and edits content
  7. Create images
  8. Content is published
  9. Content is promoted

Once you have found a solid workflow that works for you, put it in place for your entire content team. 

There are loads of tools you can use to manage your workflows, but one of my favorite options is Trello. It’s a simple but brilliant tool that you can use to create lists, with cards that you move along the list as each task is completed. This gives you an at-a-glance view of where each piece of content is in the workflow.

We also use Notion for our client management (basically, we create a client HQ dashboard with links to all important documents as well as links to their content calendar, which is hosted in whatever tool they use).

Using workflows will empower your team (or freelancers) to work on their own, and minimize the time you need to spend ‘managing’ them, saving both time and money.

Measure ROI and adjust your spend as needed

Measuring your ROI is a key part of managing your content marketing budget. Being able to prove your return on investment will aid you in securing larger budgets further down the line.

The ROI you make on content marketing will vary vastly as your business grows, but don’t be discouraged if you’re just starting out. Earlier stage companies need to understand that they're gardening, not hunting, and the marginal returns increase over time. 

In other words, your first 10 blog posts will probably be only cost and no return, your next 10 may be -50% ROI, the 10 after that may be break even, and then 10 after that maybe 1.2 x ROI. Whereas a well-established company like HubSpot, for example, can put a dollar in and make back a predictable multiple of that (let's say it's like 500% ROI). 

Read more on budgeting reports.

Setting and tracking KPIs from content marketing

Content marketing should be looked at as a performance marketing or growth channel (in most cases), so I like to do direct response reporting and attribution. In other words, I like to use the best approximation of business value as a KPI. 

That could be:

  • The average order value or purchases on an e-commerce site 
  • Revenue attributed to blog posts 
  • Free trials or demos
  • Freemium user signups
  • Downloads
  • Leads generated

Whatever that top of the funnel but core business metric is, that's what I like to goal content programs on. 

To track this, we just make sure Google Analytics goals are set up appropriately, and then we build a custom dashboard that tracks conversions on a first touch and last touch basis so we can attribute the value to the blog post where the conversion or session originated. 

It’s also a good idea to track:

  • Organic traffic
  • Time on page
  • Inbound links
  • Rankings 

Relevant organic traffic is probably your best and easiest to track indicator of progress for your content program. If it's going up, you're doing well.

We've driven massive ROI for AppSumo, along with other clients. Once your company is in a place where you can rank content or drive it to an owned audience, ROI is incredibly easy to prove with content marketing. In the earlier stages, before you have those things, you've gotta be a true believer in the long game. 

Once you’ve seen which type of content is bringing you the highest ROI, you can reallocate your budget accordingly to enable you to double down and do more of what is working.

Final thoughts

Whether you’re a solopreneur or an established business, content marketing is an important part of scaling your business, so you shouldn’t be afraid to spend money on it. That being said, If you’re starting out on a budget, it makes sense to keep the budget to a minimum, whilst still ensuring you spend enough to achieve your goals.

Managing your content marketing budget efficiently will ensure that you get the most value for money, and get the most out of your content marketing strategy long-term. 

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Alex Birkett

Alex Birkett is an experimentation leader and content marketing agency co-founder. He lives in Austin, Texas with his dog, Biscuit, and he writes at alexbirkett.com.