How Much Time + Money To Spend On Your Own Marketing

I'm going to try to answer that question, but I just need to tell you up front that it's a complicated issue, for these reasons:

  • Some of the big expenses don't repeat annually (like your website).
  • The biggest expense is actually time, and on top of that it's typically the most expensive time, since the more highly compensated team members are involved (and of course they yell at others but seldom track their own time).
  • Many expenses scale really well and you'll spend about the same, regardless of whether you're a big firm or a small one. That means that a percentage of revenue isn't going to capture it well.

Having noted those three reasons, here are some important assumptions behind the recommendations:

  • I'm not including the value of any internal time.
  • I'm assuming that you'll job most of this out. Even if you don't, it's good to know what you might spend before you decide to do it yourself. And doing it yourself might or might not save money, but it'll definitely not save time, because your own marketing always gets bumped to the bottom of the list in favor of client work. It shouldn't, but it does.
  • I'm going to eliminate the impact of one-time costs by amortizing them across the typical life of that component of marketing. For example, I'm going to assume that you're going to approach your website with a "growth driven design" approach, which means that it's not a huge project that you start and stop, but a continually evolving project that seeks incremental improvement every month.

Here we go then:

  • Website. The total cost would usually fall in the $20-40k range. Let's pretend that you'll need a new one every four years, and so if we pick a number at the top of that range to be safe, we're at $1,000/month.
  • SEM/SEO. Most of this will be spent on LinkedIn, with possibly a bit on Google Adword buys, but that's only if you're working in a category where you can afford them. The same firm should almost always do both SEM and SEO together, and this would probably average $3,000/month.
  • SAAS. You'll be using an email marketing platform or an automation platform, which would of course include email and many more things. This will range from $400-800/month.
  • PR Firm. They regularly do great work for your clients, but it's hardly ever a fit for your firm. They'll promise a lot and what you'll end up with is a lot of mentions in trade pubs, which your clients aren't reading, and which you could have gotten on your own. So $0.
  • Writing / Content / Insight. You should be writing this yourself, normally. If it's not going to happen and we can't depend on you getting around to it, then by all means hire someone, but you won't get smarter in the process and it may not have the voice and tone it deserves. $0.
  • Social Media. Don't buy anything except LinkedIn ads, normally, and that's also where you should be spending most of your time interacting with the prospect community. No X, Facebook, Instagram, TikTok, etc. Some of those are useful to show off your culture to prospects, but they seldom work for your own marketing purposes.
  • Misc. In this category I'm going to assume that you might hire a podcast booking agency to get you on those shows 2x/month, or maybe do a quarterly research project that you can share with your readers, or a pay-to-play speaking/sponsorship opportunity, or whatever. $1,000/month.

So that puts us at $5,400-$5,800/month. There might be some one-time expenses (a list?) and some recurring expenses that only a few firms might do (host their own podcast?), but that generally covers it. Every marketing plan needs to be very carefully crafted based on two things: your target and your personality. And so it's particularly dangerous to even list the bullet points I have, because every marketing plan will be really different.

But what if you want to hire this out? You could hire an appointment-setting firm for $8,000-10,000/month, and you'll end up with...(checks notes)...lots of appointments, most of whom will be unqualified prospects who resent taking the time. It works sometimes, but rarely. You have to have a very, very specific target that's small, but I don't hardly ever recommend that. Or you could hire a firm that focuses solely on building leads for you in a slow and steady way. Those options are $5,000-$12,000/month. All of these require a year commitment.

Now, how much time should you spend (assuming you do it all internally)? About 4% of the entire capacity of the firm is just about right.

But whatever you end up doing, here are four important principles to think about:

  • Spend as little as you can to get the results you want without compromising the high ground.
  • As your reputation grows in the marketplace, keep climbing the lead generation ladder, as we've mentioned in various episodes of 2Bobs. So you may go to a few conferences to meet and greet at the beginning of your career, but write a book later. Or you might be on a panel...and then do a breakout...and then do a keynote. One keynote is worth three breakouts, and one breakout is worth four thousand appearances on a panel.
  • Quit killing yourself by trying to figure out the attribution game. It's nearly impossible, so just go with your instincts.
  • Do a few things really well. Don't dabble.

What are you looking for in all this?

  • First get them to your website.
  • Then the universal CTA at the top of the funnel is to get them to sign up for your regular insight emals. That's it. From there, you want them to read, read, read until they think it might be a fit, and then raise their hand for a conversation.
  • You want one of those qualified conversations every week or two, you want those to lead to serious client-agency talks every month, and one new client every two to four months. This obviously assumes that you're only dating marriagable prospects (what you did in college isn't going to work here).
  • Web traffic doesn't mean nearly as much as bounce rate and time spent in a session.
  • Look for net growth in your subscriber list. You'll typically lose 15-25 people for every thousand sends, so the new subscribers need to replace those and then add some more.

For an industry that's always telling clients how important it is to market their brand, we're shockingly bad at doing it ourselves. And remember that great marketing isn't about growth, primarily, but about keeping prices high and cleaning out your client base.

Go get 'em! It costs less than you might think, but also takes more time than you might think.

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