A content and social media marketing specialist, Ben Jacobson joined the Lean Labs team in the summer of 2014. Ben has been active as a digital branding professional since the early days of social media, having overseen projects for brands including MTV, National Geographic, Zagat and Wix. His writing has appeared in Social Media Explorer, Search Engine Journal, Techwyse and the Mad Mimi Blog. Ben resides just south of the Carmel Mountain ridge in Israel with his dashing wife and two sprightly descendants.
The impact inbound marketing has on a company's growth is largely contingent on their level of skill and vision. Independent of these success factors, though, are the budgetary considerations involved. If you're like most people, the first question that comes to mind is how much will inbound marketing cost to adopt, and implement effectively.
Whether you're tackling things in-house or hiring an agency of experts, inbound marketing requires significant time, tools, and human resources – all of which translate to substantial investments for your business over time.
How Much Does Inbound Cost?
When evaluating any business decision, you’re always going to focus on the ROI involved, but to do that, you need to know exactly what you're considering spending. So what's the bottom line? What's the best way to forecast the budget necessary for getting started with inbound marketing?
Tools for Creating Inbound Marketing Materials
Let’s start with your website. It’s likely built with a content management system that enables you to create, edit, review and publish your content without the support of a programmer.
The dominant CMS solution on the market is WordPress, which can power interface designs that come packaged as free themes and premium, paid themes ranging from $3 to $75 and beyond. WordPress is great, but you probably lack the tech skills to launch a self-hosted WordPress site on your own. You also have the option of going with a DIY website builder, otherwise known as a “mini-CMS,” like Wix. These are less versatile but can be useful if you need to get something up and working quickly.
In addition to speed and functionality, attractiveness in a website still counts. Likely, you’re not a designer, but many of the internal elements on your website – calls to action, ebooks, landing pages and more – require graphic design. Of course, you can hire someone, but for many of these needs, you can utilize a simple tool like Canva (many images are free and some cost $1) or even an automatic button animation designer like Best CSS Button Generator (free).
Your email marketing platform may, in fact, be your most critical inbound marketing tool, though, considering that email will be the messaging channel you use to nurture leads. The market leaders include MailChimp (with starter plans available for free), Mad Mimi (also has a free basic plan) and the more sophisticated GetReponse (starting at $15/month).
Since most first-time visitors to your website aren’t ready to buy, it’s critical to capture leads so you can build relationships with them over time. That’s where landing pages come in, since they are far and above the best way for a company to convert visitors into leads. GetResponse offers a robust landing page creator (free with every paid plan or $15 monthly as an add-on), and so does Instapage (starting at $29 per month.)
You're also going to need tools to create a premium content offer – the carrot that you dangle via landing pages in exchange for access to prospects' inboxes. Remember that handing over an email address is a decision most people don’t take lightly, so make it worth their while. Creating attractive premium content is more accessible than ever with tools like CreateSpace (start for free) and Scrivener (starting at $45) to help turn your expertise into downloadable products.
Working in tandem with your landing pages should be your thank you pages, which is what visitors will see immediately after entering your sales funnel. A good thank you page should not only thank the subscriber (duh) but also manage expectations for what happens next. For example, if there’s content to download (ebooks, white papers, etc.), the download button should be attractively and prominently displayed. If the content will be emailed to your users, give them the heads-up that it’s on its way.
Tools for Ongoing Inbound Marketing Activity
Now that we’ve covered your website and the various components that go into turning it into an effective sales funnel feeder, it’s time to discuss promotion a bit further. Ultimately, if you can't attract the right people to your site, you're never going to be able to close deals with them.
Enter SEO tools, those utilities that help you ensure your presences and messages will rank highly for the Google searches that matter most to your company. This category of tools can include competitive intelligence platforms, keyword research engines, and link analyzers. There's a whole host of options out there, ranging from Google AdWords Keyword Planner (free with an AdWords account) to SEMrush (starting at $70 monthly) and SimilarWeb (starting at $199 monthly).
Of course, in addition to search, you're going to need to attract visitors via social media. The best social dashboards enable you to simplify, organize, schedule and measure your efforts. Buffer and Hootsuite, both of which offer free plans, allow you to manage several channels on one screen. Oktopost (starting at $55 monthly) boasts a full social media management package that includes curation tools, comment alerts, and conversion tracking.
Lastly, you’ll want to add lead-nurturing marketing automation tools to your arsenal, since these will allow you to scale your sales funnel nearly endlessly. The leaders in this space today include Infusionsoft (starting at $200 per month), Marketo (starting at $1200 per month) and Act-On (starting at $500 per month).
Now that we’ve covered the individual tool components you'll need and the costs involved with starting to work with each of them, let’s take a look at two comprehensive suites that have the power to cover many, if not all, of these components in a pre-integrated manner. In short, these are premium turkey software solutions which offer social media management dashboards, site hosting, email marketing, SEO tools, CRMs, publishing platforms for content and landing pages and automated follow-up with leads and metrics tracking… in one.
Yes, they are pricey, but for many business managers, they represent the best way to go. Sure, spending hundreds of dollars per month for software adds up, but working with these guys means you won't need to hire anyone to make sure the various components you use know how to play well together.
HubSpot, for example, is the industry leader. Priced competitively in its market ($200 per month for up to 100 contacts and $800 per month for 1,000 contacts), it’s sophisticated, scalable and offers everything an inbound marketing team could want.
Alternatively, a newer (and much lower priced, with packages starting at $79 per month) competitor has recently joined the market. New Rainmaker, a product of Copyblogger Media, provides a series of tools that are similar to HubSpot but built as a package that works on top of WordPress technology. It’s really just a jacked yet simplified WordPress skin, where the plugins, themes, SEO tools, A/B testing platform, hosting and technical aspects are all taken care of on your behalf. Because they are bent on maintaining quality control, however, its not as customizable as WordPress is on its own.
Weighing HubSpot against New Rainmaker and determining which is best for you is a worthwhile exercise.
Who's Manning the Decks?
One factor that’s all too easy to overlook when calculating the total cost of your digital marketing program is manpower. As critical as it may be to have access to the best tools, you're also going to need human resources with the knowledge, skills and time to make it all work. There is no single path to inbound marketing success, but your decision on how to handle the manpower issue will have a dramatic impact on the effectiveness of your marketing. This brings us to the age old handle-it-in-house or outsource-it debate.
When considering whether to recruit a full-stack inbound marketer internally (salaries can range from $50k to $120k plus benefits, depending on location and experience) or hire a marketing agency to handle it for you (monthly costs range from $1,000 - $12,000 monthly), you'll do well to first determine what you expect to accomplish and how much oversight you really want to have over the marketing process. Then, examine your current dedicated marketing team – do they have the knowledge and capacity to handle this for you? Keep in mind that in addition to ongoing social and hosted content needs, you're likely to want people who can take on graphics projects, technical work, strategy and more.
Of course, the distinct advantage of employees is that they're not only present full time, but also prioritize your company’s marketing success above all else, all the time. Plus, you can get real-time project status updates consistently and immediately. The key disadvantage, however, beyond the requisite spend, is productivity. In-house employees spend sizeable proportions of their average workweeks on routine administrative duties including answering emails, attending meetings and liaising with coworkers – and, of course, there’s the water cooler chat factor.
An agency relationship, of course, has strengths and weaknesses as well. Agencies can be more efficient and offer a wider breadth of talent, charging you only for the services you use and only when you need them. In addition, 100% of your investment goes directly into producing marketing deliverables. You don’t need to cover anyone's tax reporting costs, equipment, pensions or vacation time. You won’t need to use salaried hours on football pool logistics or team building retreats. With a service provider, the money you spend is dedicated towards actual deliverables.
The downside, of course, is the potential disconnect in strategy, priorities or process between the company and the agency. Consistent, transparent communication is imperative for this type of relationship. If the agency doesn’t proactively keep you in the loop, you may end up feeling uninvolved in your own initiatives.
Ultimately, you may decide that a mixture of agency talent and on-premise employees is the best formula for success.
The Cost of Inbound Success
Inbound marketing isn’t a finite endeavor. It’s a new way to do business, just like telephones revolutionized industry in the 1930s and websites did again in the 1990s. Inbound is not a fad, and it must be met with not only enthusiasm but also with the knowledge and perseverance it requires for success.
Cost is ultimately determined by two factors: impact goals and pace. Where do you want to go, and how fast do you need to get there? Sure, you should be able to handle inbound relatively cheaply if you have both the time and the expertise. However, a somewhat more aggressive investment, in pre-integrated tools and outsourced manpower with niche expertise, will generate faster success – but only you can determine the best solutions for your company.
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