When you invest in “inbound marketing”, what are you really investing in? And if you want to get going with inbound marketing, whether through an agency or on your own, what line items need to be a part of that budget?
Or, perhaps more simply, what does inbound marketing actually cost? Frustratingly, the answer is “it depends.”
The internal workings and moving parts of inbound marketing are important to understand, as they’ll not only impact the breadth of the work you can do, but how much you budget across time.
Let’s take a brief look at the components of inbound marketing to get a true picture of where your dollars go when you invest in it.
1. Marketing and Automation Software
Like any good carpenter, a successful marketer needs the right tools for the job. Marketing software will enable you to track and streamline your efforts; without it, you cannot be nearly as effective.
Software is typically used for social listening, e-mail and lead nurturing automation, analytics, prospect tracking and lead management, content tracking and KPI measurement. The cost for an average firm will be a few hundred dollars a month; for example, HubSpot’s basic package begins around $200/month but runs up to $2,400 for enterprise-level access. However, there are many different software packages available at varying cost points depending on your need.
Plan to invest in this kind of software if you plan to handle your own campaign, or factor this cost in to any agency relationship you might have.
2. Time and Effort Investment Required
If you’re brand new to inbound marketing, there’s likely a great deal of work to be done: Meetings to be had, content strategies to draw up, initiatives to plan, software to configure and so on. All of these activities take time – time that will either come out of your day or be billed out to you.
There are also effort-related costs. How competitive is your niche? The more competitive, the more work may be required. How aggressive do you want to be on your publishing schedule? The more you want to publish, the more time must be invested in creation and promotion (which we’ll get to in a moment).
How much time can you afford to invest personally, versus hiring out an agency to invest time on your behalf? And how closely do you want to be able to track – and learn from – your results?
All of this plays a factor. Agency costs typically begin at a few thousand dollars a month – which may seem steep until you realize that the agency brings with them software, expertise and time that you or your team may not have – all of which cost time and money to acquire.
3. Content Creation
If you want great content, you’ll need to hire talented people to create that content for you. Obviously, this comes with an associated cost – the very best writers, designers and videographers will have a great track record of producing content that sells – but they also won’t come cheap.
That said, cheap content (the kind you’d get from an anonymous author overseas or outsourcing a project to your friends’ uncle’s college kid) can actually be more costly, damaging your brand and failing to accomplish what it needs to.
Experienced writers, developers and designers can easily charge $75 an hour or more – so when questioning the cost of inbound marketing, factor in the money required to hire great creatives (or use those within an agency) and put them to work developing the content you’ve planned out and strategized for.
4. Content Promotion
Creating your content is one thing, but getting it in front of the right people is another. Unless you’ve already invested time into developing a loyal following, your content is going to need to be promoted to gain any traction and help build the community you want to draw from. The idea that you can just ‘create great content’ and wait for people to find it is a dangerous one; one that leaves most firms scratching their heads and wondering where their returns are.
Simply put, you need to actively promote the things you are doing in order to reach the right people – efforts that take both time and money.
Depending on the promotional outlet, you may pay for social media management, pay-per-click advertisements, sponsored posts, outreach and so on.
Adding it All Up
The four categories of costs we’ve mentioned here all tie back to different stages of the inbound marketing process: research & strategy, creation, promotion and tracking. It’s important to anticipate them and to understand that, like any worthwhile endeavor, doing inbound marketing properly will require an investment of money, time or both.
That said, the returns are there – and they’re paying dividends that far outstrip traditional marketing. It’s not a sunk cost, it’s an investment.