A couple of years back, I wrote a post about how to get results from SEO on a shoestring budget. As more businesses (and my own consulting company) are spending more time on content marketing, the same questions that small businesses have had about channels like SEO and PPC have started to pop up surrounding content marketing:

This is so expensive — how can I do this on {insert extremely limited budget here}?

As with SEO (and, well, life) there’s no magic answer, but there are some specific approaches you can take to executing on content marketing so that you can get traction as a budget-constrained, busy small business owner. In this article, I’ll walk through three ways that small businesses can take to leverage content marketing on a shoestring budget.

Step 1. Play to Your Strengths

Let’s start with some “real talk” If you have a few hundred dollars a month to spend on “content marketing,” you can’t afford a real content marketing agency, or even to hire out for a consistent freelance content resource. You’re going to have to have someone in your company spend time on content marketing.

For some of you, this should probably be where you get off. If you can’t spend time or more than a couple hundred dollars on content marketing, focus on another area of your business.

Just because it’s a bit of a buzzword recently, that doesn’t mean every single business needs to go all in on investing in content marketing. You need to do what’s best for your business. If you don’t have the time or budget to dedicate to content creation, your first step is to go and find it. You will not get traction if you have neither time nor budget.

Now, assuming you have some time but are extremely limited on budget, what should you actually be doing as it relates to content creation and promotion?

First answer this question:

From a content perspective, what are you (or someone within your company) really good at creating?

This could take any number of forms:

  • Good at hearing questions or problems and offering bite-sized solutions? Spend your time listening on Twitter and offering help and solutions to problems and questions. Every social media presence starts with a following of zero.
  • If you’re energetic and articulate, you can create a series of videos that describe complex topics and answer difficult questions.
  • Have a great network within your niche? Start a podcast where you interview interesting folks who you already know.
  • Does your company have great, interesting internal data, or access to a large number of people within your industry via a mailing list? Create a survey or mine your internal data, package it up into an industry report, and do the PR yourself.
  • Have/take lots of amazing pictures related to your niche? Focus on growing your brand via Instagram.
  • And of course: if you’re a strong writer, create awesome content that features other folks, and let them know you created it. Bonus points if you can do this on a particularly authoritative, third-party site to create more positive “wins” for everyone involved. If you create something great and tell people about it, you can get a lot of traction, even as you’re just getting started.

If you (or someone in your company) isn’t good at creating the content, you won’t stick with it and it won’t be helpful. Infrequent, unhelpful content is probably worse than producing no content at all.

Step 2. Find Out Where Your Prospects Consume Content

Ideally, you should know the answer to the questions: “where do your prospects hang out online?” and “where do your prospects look for information about (or actually go to purchase) your solution online?” If you do, you can basically skip this step and move right to applying your strengths from step one to the distribution channel your prospects frequent.

If you don’t know the answer to this question yet, there are a couple of things you can do to quickly help you figure it out:

  • Ask Your Customers and Employees — You could do this via survey or just a series of sit-down interviews or calls. Find out how they get industry news, how they make buying decisions, who the people in your niche are that they listen to. This could have a ton of business value for you beyond content marketing efforts as well. (You could find new advertising channels, new partnership opportunities, etc.)
  • Use Free Tools — A lot of social and content related tools have very useful free versions, or may be something you can fit into a limited budget. BuzzSumo is excellent for finding content ideas and identifying influencers (and there are a ton of great tutorials for how to get the most out of it). Tools like FollowerWonk and Topsy also have a ton of free functionality.

Once you have a handle on the type of content you want to create and where you need to be promoting it, you can leverage what budget you do have to pour a bit of content marketing gasoline on the “content fire” you’re starting.

Step 3. Spend that Limited Budget Wisely

While you’ll need to do the bulk of the work around content creation and promotion yourself if your budget is limited, you can get some value out of that limited budget by mapping it to your “content weaknesses” or “content holes” as best you can.

As you’re working on content creation and promotion, identify the areas that are either really giving you trouble, or the more low value and mundane tasks that are eating up a lot of your time and spend your budget there.

Some examples:

  • Are things like formatting and trouble-shooting small development hiccups eating up tons of time? You might be able to hire a virtual assistant within your budget to focus more of your time on valuable content creation.
  • If you’re struggling with things like content ideation, coming up with an overall content roadmap, or are wondering why certain efforts aren’t getting traction, you might be able to hire a consultant for periodic help. For instance: instead of hiring a full on content marketing firm, see if you can find an expert to be a “content coach” and pay them your couple hundred a month for a monthly call and review of your efforts that month. Or you can pay someone to work on content ideation for you once a quarter. You might even use a site like Clarity.fm to source a few different experts to chat with to get some different perspectives on your efforts.
  • If there’s a particular skill that you simply don’t have, like design, this could be a great place to spend your limited budget. Get a great designer to do a couple of graphics/visualizations to help make your content more attractive and useful every month. Similarly, you could potentially save up budget for a quarter and spend it on something like a conversion audit, a specific development task that you know will help make your blog more successful. Or you can hire a professional copywriter to work on a post that you think is a great idea but don’t think anyone inside your company can write.

The main idea with all of this is to identify the areas where you can get the biggest returns for the time and budget output that you can afford. Focus on highlighting your strengths, and use your limited budget to cover over whatever weaknesses you can and you can execute on an effective content marketing campaign for business, even on a tiny budget.

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