10 Small Businesses Prove It’s Possible to Create Great Content on a Budget
One of the biggest objections I hear from companies when it comes to content marketing and their decision to invest in it (or not invest in it) is cost. A lot of companies believe that content marketing costs big bucks.
I can completely understand that when we have brands like Nestle reportedly spending $127,500 a day on Facebook posts alone. And others stating that even the most basic content strategies (bearing in mind this is only the strategy – not the cost of actually producing the content) will cost around $25,000, with more comprehensive strategies running to $50,000 or more.
This makes me sad, because while it is by all means possible to spend tens of thousands (or even hundreds of thousands) of dollars a month on content marketing, you really don’t have to. That’s why our highest content marketing package is only $8,000. And our starter package is just $2,500. That includes the strategy, content and reporting!
If you know what you’re doing – what works and how to spend your money wisely – you can create effective content on a shoestring budget.
Don’t believe me?
Here’s 10 SMBs doing awesome things with small budgets that are going to prove you wrong.
Artifact Uprising specializes in turning photographs into stunning keepsakes like photo books, albums (remember those?!) and cards.
It make absolute sense then, that their content would revolve around photography. What I think’s really great, however, is how the strategy they’ve employed allows them to create seriously awesome content for very little cost.
Artifact Uprising asks customers to share their favorite photos to Instagram using the hashtag #tellon (the idea being that we all have a story to tell, and photos can help us to tell it).
Next, they pick out the best of the #tellon photos and turn them into beautiful, image-led posts like this.
Just tell me: what could be easier or more cost-effective than getting your customers to create your content for you?
“Visual content is the new black for content marketers. It’s crucial that we understand how to use visual content effectively, because the distribution of our content depends on it.” – Neil Patel, for Content Marketing Institute
Key takeaway: Pictures tell a thousand words. They’re also key to creating content that’s read, remembered and shared (colored visuals have been found to increase people’s willingness to read a piece of content by 80%). Long story short: use them. If you can find a way to get your customers to contribute to how you use images in your content, even better.
Distilled is pretty massive in the world of SEO (they employ more than 60 staff members across three offices and are also responsible for the highly regarded Search Love conferences), but once we step outside the digital bubble they’re relatively unknown. I think that makes them worthy of inclusion here – especially when they’re putting out content that’s produced using pure talent and downright hard work, rather than a big pot of cash.
Best of all, there was no design or development work needed to bring it to life – just “30 hours of blood, sweat, and tears”.
This goes to show you that all you need to produce great content is your own knowledge, and the time and determination needed to turn it into a format that’s useful and shareable.
Quick note: Writing and editing skills help, too. If you struggle in this area, a quick search for “editing services” should turn up lots of people and companies that are willing to help you out – whatever your budget.
Will it be easy? Probably not. Writing content worthy of links and shares takes time. If you want results, you need to be prepared to put in the man-hours to create something great. But will it be expensive…? Only in the sense that time is money.
Key takeaway: If you know your market through-and-through, and have the time and determination needed to put pen to paper and share your knowledge with others, you can create awesome content that costs little more than your time.
When Chicago cupcake company Foiled Cupcakes launched back in 2009, they quickly started to make a name for themselves, but not, as you would assume, because of their delicious cupcakes.
The foundations of Foiled Cupcake’s success were in fact built using Twitter.
Initially, the company had a “very traditional marketing plan” based around launching and managing an online ordering business. That was all well and good until launch day came and they found out the website their business depended upon was broken.
Not to be deterred, Foiled Cupcake’s CEO and “Head Cupcakeologist” Mari Luangrath decided that instead of sitting around and waiting for the estimated six weeks needed to get the site up and running to pass her by, she would take to Twitter.
“We started from scratch. We followed people in our target demographic and began to converse with them about the things that they were interested in. When we finally launched the website we had over 2,200 engaged followers who felt like they were part of a cool community. They were talking about us and spreading our message without ever being asked.”
The website’s launch was swiftly followed by a blogging strategy that served to mirror the “human” element that dominated their social efforts. This included staff profiles, posts about their “cupcake models” and insights into the company’s charitable work.
Their content is genuine, real, and fun to read. Best of all, this sort of content is something anyone can emulate.
On its surface, their blog and the content it contains doesn’t appear to be anything special. But what makes it work is the seamless continuation of the company’s voice from their blog through to social media.
Key takeaway: Humanize your content with a voice your customers can relate to and wherever possible, carry this tone over into your social media.
Discount Juicers’ YouTube channel is categorical proof that low production value videos can be just as effective as their costlier counterparts.
Most of their videos simply feature this guy (that’s John from Discount Juicers):
Talking to the camera about – you guessed it – juicers.
These videos work so well, not because of the time, cash, and talent that’s gone into their production, but because John knows and loves what he’s talking about. He’s an authority on juicers and someone we can trust to tell us what we should and shouldn’t buy. In the context of selling a juicer, does anything else really matter?
“[Become an expert and] people will want to buy from you – a deep understanding of your topic makes you more trustworthy, and that makes you the more inviting choice when it comes time to purchase a product or service. This is particularly true if you combine being an expert with a strong sense of ethics.” – Eric Enge, for CopyBlogger
Key takeaway: Speak with passion, confidence, and conviction, and video content can act as an uber-effective sales tool – whatever your budget.
Producing content on a small budget is tough. Producing content on a small budget for a home appliances firm? Tougher still. I could forgive most marketers for throwing in the towel on this one. But I’d still say they gave in too easily.
Meet Yale Appliance: a Boston-based appliance store that’s taken content marketing by the horns and shown that anyone – whatever their industry or budget – is capable of consistently producing great content.
The focus of Yale’s strategy is their blog, something they are justifiably proud to state 1,000,000 people read last year.
The type of content they post is relatively varied, although the running themes won’t strike you as anything unusual: product guides and reviews, industry issues, and design help tend to take center stage.
A quick look around however and it becomes apparent from their post titles that these guys aren’t just pulling topic ideas out of thin air, but are basing their blog posts around questions consumers are actually asking – primarily in the early stages of the sales funnel.
This is critical if you want to maximize the return on every piece of content you create (something that’s even more critical when you’re working with a limited pool of cash).
This is all great stuff, but there’s one thing in particular that I think really sets Yale apart from other brands creating content for the consumer market: how incredibly adept they are at offering added value.
It’s clear Yale understands that the trick to winning the content marketing game is to keep your visitors engaged for as long as possible – something I rarely see acknowledged outside of the marketing industry itself.
Yale, however, make a marked effort to link back to other posts of their own whenever possible in the body of their content:
They also make a feature out of their guides when a relevant moment arises, such as just after the opening section:
And at the end of this article:
“Internal linking on your company blog is important for both SEO and the user experience. You want to link related posts together to help further educate a reader and show off your industry knowledge. Linking between posts will also help keep a reader engaged for longer, since they can just jump from one post to another to find more information about a certain topic. Having a good internal linking system between your company blog and website will also help drive more targeted traffic over to your website and increase your chance of conversion.” – Nick Stamoulis, President and Founder of Brick Marketing
Key takeaway: You don’t need to invest big bucks in content if you’re writing great articles on subjects that your visitors care about, and taking steps to leverage that content further at every opportunity.
BirchBox is definitely one of the bigger brands on this list: the beauty box subscription service launched in 2010, and is now available in five different countries. They even offer a box designed for men (don’t ask me why it costs twice as much as the women’s box…).
But we’re not here to talk about gender inequalities in subscription services.
BirchBox’s content has played an instrumental role in the brand’s success and spans a number of different channels. They have a Tumblr which unsurprisingly is populated with images and gifs – most of which are re-posts (read: free content).
What’s clever about their Tumblr strategy is the fact they’ve switched the tumblr URL to a subdomain of their own site, blog.birchbox.com. This means they get all the benefits of running a Tumblr, but on their own site (tapping into Tumblr’s highly engaged audience, for one):
They also have a huge presence on YouTube, where they’re best known for their fun, friendly, and helpful tutorials.
Best of all, while their videos are slickly-produced and highly-polished, they tend to revolve around somebody talking to the viewer about products or guiding them through a how-to. In other words, they’re cost-effective and something anyone with some half-decent editing skills should be able to go some way towards emulating.
Last but not least, they run a “magazine” that serves primarily as a tool for giving their videos extra leverage by writing accompanying content or incorporating them into round-up style posts.
Key takeaway: Incorporate videos into blog posts by recycling your content into other formats and where possible, make use of external social and blogging networks to leverage their audience and reach.
In 2008, the recession hit and like many brands dealing in life’s big luxuries, swimming pool manufacturers River Pools found themselves in stormy waters.
They knew that, if they wanted to get out unscathed, they needed to become better at marketing themselves. In short: they needed their marketing to be more effective for less money.
At the time, River Pools relied primarily on outbound marketing channels like radio ads and direct mail. They replaced this with an inbound-focused strategy and, in the process, cut their marketing costs by two thirds.
A key part of their new strategy revolved around their blog. Specifically, creating content that answered consumers’ most pressing questions about pools – a strategy they’ve continued to use to this day.
Their secret is to leave no stone unturned. In the words of River Pools’ owner Marcus Sheridan, “we literally answer every question a consumer could possibly have about buying a fibreglass pool.”
That’s it. They’re not designing colorful infographics or viral videos (although they do, in fact, produce some videos). They’re simply writing useful, informative posts that tell consumers what they want to know.
This is a strategy that pretty much anyone, whatever their budget, can emulate.
Oh, and just in case you were wondering whether it worked, the quick answer is yes: today the River Pools’ website reportedly gets more traffic than any other pool company site in the world.
Key takeaway: Aim to become the go-to source for information in your industry by creating content that answers everything anyone could ever want or need to know about it.
Unbounce and Conversion XL
Unbounce and Conversion XL both run awesome blogs, but that’s not what I’m going to talk to you about today.
In 2014, the conversion experts joined forces to create Page Fights; a monthly show that saw three judges:
Team up with a “host of the month”:
To deal out brutally honest critiques of viewers’ landing pages.
“There’s not going to be a lot of time for niceties. It’s Page Fights – we’re going to be brutal” – Georgiana Laudi, Marketing Director at Unbounce
Of course, along with their brutal honesty, the judges dished out plenty of practical advice. The result was a video series that was both entertaining and informative and served as a great tool for getting companies excited about conversion rate optimization.
Bar the design of the Page Fights’ landing page and the (potential) cost of getting in the guest stars (they may have helped out for free – I don’t know), the cost of bringing Page Fights to life should have been minimal.
Key takeaway: Taking your content to the next level shouldn’t have to break your budget – there are plenty of free tools around that can help you to diversify your strategy for little to no extra cost.
Plated is one of a number of “meal subscription services” that have entered the market in recent years, the idea being that customers get fresh, healthy ingredients, along with the step-by-step recipes needed to turn them into meals, delivered to their door on a recurring basis.
Admittedly, these services don’t offer the most cost-effective way to start eating healthier, but they have some great USPs: the fact they take the stress out of dishing up tasty and nutritious meals, and how they can help customers becomes more adventurous and proficient in the kitchen.
Naturally, the blog from a company in this industry would focus on food – recipes, in particular – but these guys do much more than that.
Their blog serves as a hub of “everything you need to know to be a better cook” with articles like “Our Culinary Team’s Fridge and Pantry Must Haves”, “What Is Green Garlic and How Is It Used?”, and “Five Essential Cooking Tools for Every Kitchen”.
Like many of the examples on this list, Plated hasn’t done anything elaborate with their content: they’ve just covered topics that are highly relevant to their audience in a manner that’s easy to digest (in general, relatively short articles illustrated with high-quality images).
Key takeaway: Educational content doesn’t need bells and whistles, it just has to be target market specific and make a positive difference to your customers’ lives.
Hailed the “BirchBox for dogs”, BarkBox is another of those “monthly subscription box” services that seem to be popping upeverywhere these days. This one provides pampered pooches and their owners with a “gift box” stuffed with high-quality toys and treats.
BarkBox has an ambitious approach to content – rather than run a blog from within the BarkBox.com domain, their “blog” exists on its own, self-contained domain: BarkPost.com.
Now I’ll be the first to admit that the total cost of managing BarkPost is probably well into “big bucks” territory (there’s a team of 10 full-time staff behind it). That said, most of the content itself is rather un-elaborate – as is their overall strategy.
BarkBox decided that if they wanted to make their mark in the dog-blogging niche they had to find their own, unique voice.
“Looking back, a huge part of our success is that we knew we couldn’t get the same reach with boring stuff like ‘how to trim your dog’s toenails.’ Or going a little bit too intense on animal welfare like those Sarah McLachlan commercials — we didn’t want to do that. By looking at everybody else and finding a different niche, that’s how we were able to get an audience.” – Stacie Grissom, BarkPost editor-in-chief
BarkPost is so successful in part due to the unique space they’ve created for themselves in the market, but their “share, not sell” approach to content has a lot to say for itself, too.
Their goal was first and foremost to be trusted. Succeed there and BarkBox knew that if, or when, they used BarkPost to promote products, visitors wouldn’t question their motives or what they had to say.
Key takeaway: You can make a big impact with content that’s quick and easy to produce if the subject matter and execution is unique enough, especially when the content helps promote you as a knowledgeable brand that most importantly, can be trusted.
Have you seen any other examples of companies creating great content on a budget? If so, I’d love to hear about it. Please take a moment to share it in the comments below.