Budgeting for Inbound Marketing

How to Budget for an Inbound Marketing Strategy

In our previous post, we described how open-source marketing automation can help marketing departments free up budget for campaign production and promotion activities. We wanted to break down the costs associated with implementing an inbound marketing strategy further. Inbound marketing is defined as “publishing content to educate visitors and attract them into your marketing funnel, as opposed to outbound tactics like telemarketing, radio/TV ads and direct mail.”

54% more leads are generated by inbound tactics than traditional paid marketing, at a 2x lower cost per lead. Companies that published 16+ blog posts per month got 4.5X more leads than companies that published between 0 – 4 monthly posts. (HubSpot)

Before you dive in, you should assess whether your team can set aside budget and time to succeed. The payoff is huge, if you have the organizational commitment to “feed the content beast.” At the heart of every inbound marketing strategy is a blog or resource center to house your content. It’s important not to let your team get disheartened at first when your blog has very few posts, ranked very low in Google with few inbound leads generated. Like anything worth doing, filling up your content inventory takes time. You’ll be busy interviewing subject matter experts, asking colleagues to contribute articles about their specialty area and doing plenty of research. Search engines like Google want to see a sustained pattern of quality content creation which attracts links from other established sites in your industry, before they will reward you with plum, first-page rankings.

Here are the the typical costs associated with pursuing an inbound marketing strategy:

Marketing Automation Platform

Your marketing automation platform is Grand Central for email marketing, designing landing pages for gated content assets and moving leads through your funnel with nurture programs (e.g. drip campaigns and events, such as webinars). Some MAPs may also have built-in social media management, analytics and CRM functionality.

Setup Cost: $600 – $5,000 setup fee (depending on package) at HubSpot, $4,000 for the Quick Start Onboarding Package at Pardot and unspecified for Marketo.

Monthly Cost: Dependent on the number of contacts you have. Standard editions supporting 1,000 contacts start at $800/month for HubSpot, $1,000/month for Pardot and $1,995/month for Marketo. 1 year software contract required in most cases.

Pro Tips: Save on licensing fees for marketing automation. Mautic is a free and open-source marketing automation platform you can host on your own server, for just the cost of hosting. You can store and email unlimited contacts for $0/month.

You should strongly consider hiring a marketing automation consultant, and engaging an agency team to handle your day-to-day marketing automation operations. Setting up initial marketing assets (forms, emails, landing pages), workflows to engage your leads and integrating CRM can be complicated. A consultant can handle all of this for you at an affordable cost, and provide the training your team needs to get productive quickly on the platform. Following the implementation, most consultants will offer a monthly retainer to provide regular operational support with your marketing automation platform. Under this arrangement, they can answer any questions that arise when your team is launching campaigns, and bring regular funnel optimization opportunities to your attention.


Hiring a freelance writer to put together your company’s content, such as blogs, eBooks, case studies and whitepapers, can free up your team’s time for other marketing activities. The writer will take care of research, brainstorming and editing, which makes a lot of sense if your product is particularly technical, and time-consuming for your marketing staff to write about. It’s true that content sometimes sounds more authentic when it comes from someone in the organization itself, but working with a writer you trust over time will help them acclimate to your brand’s voice and tone.

Our advice, don’t treat hiring a copywriter as an extraneous cost. It can help you prove ROI faster from your inbound marketing strategy, as you fill up your blog and/or resource center more quickly than using internal resources alone. To effectively nurture your leads, you need to maintain a comprehensive library of content which you leverage to present the appropriate messaging at each stage of the buyer journey.

Monthly Cost: Varies based on your goals. How many pieces of short and long-form content do you expect to produce each month? How many content assets can be written in-house? How many will you outsource to the copywriter, per month? Will you choose a native English speaker (for less editing), or outsource your project to a cheaper locale?

Pro Tips: Sites like iWriter or UpWork can be inexpensive for outsourcing projects in bulk, but there are higher quality marketplaces like TextBroker, WriterAccess and CrowdContent which you can consider as well.

The best bang for your buck is usually getting the contact information of a reliable writer you’ve enjoyed working with on these platforms, and contracting work out to them directly.

Creative Design

Once you have your content down pat, don’t forget to merchandise it in a visually appealing manner. Between email and landing page elements, the layout of the asset itself and banners to promote your gated download, there’s plenty of creative design work needed. You might rely on stock photos or vectors for some of your collateral, but you’ll still need a Photoshop whiz to manipulate and brand those images for you.  

Monthly Cost: Varies based on your goals. How many marketing initiatives each month require design work, and how involved is it? How willing are you to adapt previous designs for new campaigns?  

You can use traditional outsourcing sites like Fiverr or UpWork to find designers, but an increasingly popular solution is design contest sites such as 99 Designs. Design contest sites let you write a creative brief and set a timeline, then let dozens of designers compete for your project. You’ll choose the creative concept you like the most, pay the designer and get the files delivered straight to your inbox.

Pro Tips: When outsourcing design work, here are a couple of questions to be sure to ask. Does the designer include source files, such as .PSD (Photoshop), .AI or .EPS files (Illustrator) files with their work? Some designers, especially on the more low-budget sites like Fiverr charge extra for each source file you require. If you receive the .JPG, .GIF, or .PNG alone, another designer won’t be able to revise the work for you because only source files contain modifiable layers. This might be okay for one-off images such as an ad banner, but for brand elements like a logo, having the source file is absolutely essential.

There are a few good sources of free stock images such as Unsplash, Pixabay and FreeImages.com. Using Creative Commons images with attribution may also be an option. If you use an outside designer, they may pass on the cost of stock from iStockPhoto, Getty Images or ShutterStock to you – so ask before you get started to avoid getting sticker shock on your final invoice.

Paid Media (PPC)

At first, especially for B2B companies, it will be difficult to attract traffic to the content you have created. Your SEO rankings take a couple months to kick in, and if you have a relatively unknown brand, it can be an upward battle to attract backlinks and social mentions through outreach.

The good news is, you can kickstart your inbound marketing campaign with outbound tactics like SEM (Search Engine Marketing) or social media advertising. Buying paid traffic is a fantastic way to test the conversion of your landing page and the overall viability of your content offer. As your business scales, it also makes sense to keep investing in pay-per-click (PPC) to gain incremental leads above and beyond the people who discover you via organic methods, so long as the Cost Per Acquisition (CPA) is at or below your target CPA. It’s not an exact science to determine your target CPA, but here’s a good rule of thumb: Lifetime Value of Customer (LTV) * Expected Conversion Rate = Target CPA.

Monthly Cost: Dependent on how competitive your industry keywords. Any PPC platform should allow you to set a monthly budget. After the budget is exceeded, your ads will stop serving until the next cycle.

Pro Tips: The best PPC channels for B2B marketing are Google AdWords, Bing Ads and LinkedIn Ads. Google AdWords is the granddaddy of all the PPC platforms, boasting the most search volume and access to the Google Display Network, in addition to YouTube Video Ads. Bing Ads’ CPCs are often cheaper than AdWords by 15 – 30%, with equal or better conversion rates. We recommend trying Bing Ads if your product is competing in an already established category with high CPCs on AdWords. On the other hand, if you are defining an entirely new product category, you may see very little search volume and therefore, clicks from Bing Ads. Your best bet in that case is to stick with AdWords, which usually picks up emerging industry terms before other search engines.

LinkedIn Ads is the best way to get your feet wet with social media advertising for a B2B offer. There are two ways to advertise on LinkedIn: Sponsored Updates or Text Ads. Sponsored Updates appear directly in your target users’ news feeds, while Text Ads show up as links in the header or right hand side of the LinkedIn platform. The biggest advantage of LinkedIn Ads is how targeted you can get with your audience. Because most professionals have their entire resume pasted on LinkedIn, you can narrow down your audience by current position, company name, company size, industry and job seniority. CPCs on LinkedIn are in-line with B2B keywords on other PPC platforms, starting at about $4.00/click — so the granular targeting is invaluable in reaching only relevant potential buyers.