Originally published Nov. 16, 2017. Updated Oct. 18, 2023.
It’s that time of year again: budget season. Marketers and brand leaders everywhere are holed up at their desks, reviewing the past year’s performance, finding ways to improve, and making projections and predictions about the year ahead.
For the majority of marketers, those budgets are going to include content. Content is so central to every piece of the puzzle that it doesn’t make sense for most marketers to divvy up their budgets into content- and non-content-related portions.
Content can be the fuel for all your marketing initiatives, and it can be used by every department in your company — from sales and the C-suite to human resources, account management, and more — to help your teams achieve their unique goals.
So when you budget for content marketing, you shouldn’t just look at it as one small section of a bigger marketing picture. Your content marketing budget breakdown needs to examine the full scope of your efforts and understand how content contributes to your company’s performance. Content marketing is your marketing strategy, and it’s critical that you budget for it with that in mind.
Budgeting can be tricky because the dollar amounts you spend on each area of your marketing obviously change each year. You can’t just copy and paste last year’s plan or increase it at a flat rate across the board. You’ve got to calculate past performance, make projections, and figure out exactly what you need to hit those new numbers — and that can be challenging.
To help make it all a little easier, here are four essential questions you need to ask yourself as you budget for content marketing in 2024:
The first step of pretty much any content-related activity is to consult your documented content marketing strategy. This document should detail the major goals you want to achieve for the year and the specific tactics you’ll be using to reach those goals. From there, you can work backward and determine how much it will cost to execute.
For example, how much content do you need to produce this year? What kind? How much did you spend on paid search and social media amplification last year, and by how much will you need to increase it this year to cut through the noise?
Are there any major industry awards on your radar that require application fees or any sponsorship opportunities you need to plan for? What about potential conference speaker (or event attendee) fees? Your content plays a big role in how each of these tactics plays out, so it’s important to budget for them all together in this first step.
With goals in mind, it’s time to figure out who on your team is responsible for executing your content strategy and what their salaries are. For example, our content marketing team is powered by four people who strategize, create, edit, optimize, and distribute all of our content.
It’s important to note that hiring an in-house content marketing team might not be the right decision for every company — and it might not even be the complete solution for every company that does decide to build an internal team.
That’s because building an in-house team doesn’t necessarily mean that every single content-related activity must be done by your team members and no one else. It typically just means your core content management and production functions are handled by someone internally. Deciding who should tackle the rest is up to you.
So whether or not you build out a comprehensive team internally, be sure to consider the total costs of doing it yourself and then compare that to your alternatives.
Hiring an in-house team isn’t exactly easy or inexpensive, so it’s always a good idea to carefully consider what tasks and functions can be handled by outside partners, freelancers, or other contractors.
A good way to begin this process is by identifying the gaps in your current content process. Where is your production bottlenecking? What is the hardest task for your team to consistently do really well? What task is more of a chore, mindlessly eating up all the time you could be spending on other important functions?
Then, determine the cost of outsourcing those activities — and of not doing so. If it’s honestly better for your team members to trudge through tasks they’re not great at or don’t have time for, then skip ahead. But if you’re like most companies, working alongside an outsourced content partner can be a huge help.
Ask yourself whether it makes sense to hire a full content team, complete with the strategists, writers, editors, distribution specialists, SEO experts, and project managers you need to make it happen, or whether support from outside experts could save you the time and money you need to actually get your strategy off the ground.
Once you’ve identified goals, your internal team members, and any outside partners you need, it’s time to look for the specific tools that can help you make your work much easier and more effective.
Here are a few specific examples of technology that can make your cost-effective content marketing better:
• An AI program like ChatGPT or Google Bard to help with research and content creation.
• A writing assistant like Grammarly to enhance the quality of your copy.
• A content management system and customer relationship management tool like HubSpot to manage, publish, and track content performance.
• Moz, Semrush, or Google Analytics for insights into search and content optimization.
• Adobe Creative Cloud or Canva for all your design-related projects.
• A project management system like Trello, Basecamp, or Monday.com to keep your team on track.
• Content distribution tools to help you make the most of your published content. When I’m deciding which tools are worth investing in, I compare the cost of executing and managing these tasks without technology to the cost of actually buying the tool or a membership to its platform. This typically makes the decision a no-brainer.
Remember: The percentage of your budget that goes to each of these areas will vary depending on your unique goals, your team composition, and what kind of tools you’ll need as you grow. There’s no one-size-fits-all solution, but answering these four questions is a great place to start for anyone trying to effectively budget for content marketing.
I'm the president of Intero Digital's Content & PR Division. My goal is to create an amazing experience for our clients from their very first interaction with us. My happy place is anywhere with good wine and cheese.