How Freelancers and Small Businesses Can Best Manage Digital Marketing Spend

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Freelancers are small businesses, so if you want to grow your business you need to invest in digital marketing. But you need to do it with care.

If the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has taught us nothing else, it’s the importance of online communications. For months, even the most routine everyday communications were carried out primarily on Zoom, Google Meets, and other virtual platforms. Many of us saw nobody outside our families, with the exception of once or twice a week when venturing out for food or medicine.

From the standpoint of freelancers and small businesses, this has largely been a marketing disaster. Many SMBs have been highly dependent on foot traffic and done most of their advertising offline. In addition, many don’t know how to effectively plan and manage digital marketing campaigns. With so many digital marketing opportunities depending on the “bid” system, it can be easy to spent unlimited money on this kind of advertising. To compete, you must be smart on how you budget for and manage advertising spend. Here is some of my best advice on budget management for digital marketing.

1) Better Manage Your PPC Ad Budget

There’s no question that marketing manpower is expensive. Whether you’re paying a full-time staff, an agency, or have the office administrator do all the work, those hours add up. However, for many of us the price of Google Ads is one of the most expensive digital marketing-related bills out there.

One reason for this, of course, is the need to bid on keywords. Depending on the industry, small businesses must compete with large ones for ad coverage. Even worse, there’s a tendency to buy up all the ad space you can get by bidding on every possible keyword. My advice? Stop doing it this way. Instead, use Google Analytics and other tools to determine which keywords are getting the best results, and focus on those.

Another option is to optimize ads. Rather than simply paying for keywords, specify who your target market is and only ask the ads to display for them. Google has a great customer profiling system that makes this possible. Finally, consider turning off the ads which don’t get a high enough ROI. Some might convert, but result in too low of a purchase total, for example. Generally speaking, therefore, put your money where it does the best.

2) Turn Off Those Feel-Good Social Media Ads

One of the things which businesses have done a lot of in the last year is “feel good” advertising. For instance, some retailers sent out emails and social media ads boasting about how they paid their employees early on in the shutdowns. The problem? These ads didn’t necessarily generate much revenue.  Some people may have bought things to reward social responsibility, but likely not enough to justify the expense.

Here’s the lesson we can learn. Boosting social media posts that don’t bring in business can be considered a waste of money. Turn the ad off and move on. It feels good to press that "Boost" button but if it has no direct impact on your bottom line, this is an easy place to save money. Think of it as similar to finding tax deductions every year.

3) Invest Some of Your Saved Ad Budget in Organic Content

Yes this article is about saving money, but investing some of your savings into organic content like blog posts will help you get more search engine traffic. With quality content, there is less need for pay per click advertising and text display ads. Why? Because when people look for your business, they are more likely to find you due to that content. For added benefits, consider spending money on Search Engine Optimization (SEO). If you can place higher on search engine results, your traffic will increase. This in turn will help you further reduce advertising costs in the future.

How does this help save money? If you provide people with great information about your industry, it boosts name recognition and customer loyalty. Returning customers are customers who you don’t have to replace all the time, saving acquisition costs. Likewise, loyal customers refer friends and family, which is the ultimate “free” advertising.

4) Embrace Guest Blogging - to a Point

Having others submit guest blog posts to your site will help you cut down on your content creation spend. After all, these people will often write for free in exchange for the exposure. Unfortunately, you’ll also have to ensure that this person knows what they’re talking about. The trick is to ensure they are at a minimum quality AND that they are aligned with your SEO keyword strategy. If a writer doesn’t measure up, then turn them away.

Remember, you’re lending your brand image to this writer. If they do a poor job, then it can reflect badly on both your website and the company as a whole. Think about it this way: would you rather shop where the owner appears not to care about what’s on his website, or the better-organized competitor? In addition, you need to have enough of your own content that the blog is dominated by your brand. Guest blog posts are there to complement what you’re doing otherwise.

5) Audit Your Current Marketing Technology

How much marketing technology are you using? Chances are, if you’re a small business with a website, then you purchase a lot of web-based services each year. Although most are inexpensive, the costs do add up. Which brings up the question, have you shopped around lately? Nobody likes to change web hosts, email service providers, or social media dashboards, but if you haven't compared them with the competition recently, you might be missing out on some serious savings.

Think about this in terms of your computer or cell phone. Only a few years ago, smartphones were a curiosity that only the wealthy could afford. Now, what used to be the latest technology from Android or Apple are available as an entry-level phone for prepaid customers. Both the phone and the service are cheaper. You can find similar realities with computers and other equipment.

Not only does technology get better and cheaper, but there are periodic price wars between providers. It could be that your technology lineup is just what your business needs, but that it’s available for a lower price from another provider. The landscape changes rapidly, so I recommend a regular marketing technology audit.

6) Convert Monthly Contracts to Annual Contracts

Many services are available to pay for on a monthly basis, rather than an annual one. Think about your utility provider: every month, you pay for what you use. If there’s meaningful competition in your area, then switching now and then can save you money. The same thing goes with technology. In fact, most SAAS marketing technology companies would love to get you on an annual contract. If you are committed to using that tool for the next 12 months, why not? This could save you a month or two of costs.

The major drawback with annual SAAS contracts is that you’ll probably have to pay for the entire year upfront. Of course, with careful budgeting and planning, this isn’t a problem because you’ll have the money saved up. Taking a moment to consider the costs and your cashflow will help determine if this is the approach for you. Better yet, check your Excel spreadsheets to find if you can pay for the annual subscription with savings.

One word of warning, though: if you haven’t used the service in the past, then you should try before you buy. Many companies will offer a free or low-cost trial period before locking you into an annual contract. If you aren’t sure at the end of that trial, you can typically buy a few months of service. Going this route keeps you from losing the majority of your annual subscription if a service isn’t what you need. However, once you’ve decided you like it, take the savings of an annual plan.

7) Outsource to People, Not Services

This is what Freelancer is all about, right?

If you are spending a lot of money paying companies like agencies for services, you might be able to skip some monthly retainers and agency markup. Think of these services as paying retail price for the goods and services you need. As a result, you’re paying for overhead such as supervisors, billing departments, office equipment, and more. About the only thing that hiring services has going for it is that you’ll often get several things from one source, and then write a check. However, this convenience will cost you.

Instead of paying agency or company markup, give some of your digital marketing related work directly to people. There are a lot of freelance professionals in specialties like writing, graphic design, web copy creation, video, and much more. You can even find people who will help you with your website. Here, you’re cutting out the middleman and paying the producer of your content directly. In essence, you’ll spend the extra time working with them to save a significant amount of money.

Need more convincing? By going “producer direct,” there’s a good chance you are helping to support professionals who are working through health issues, taking care of family members, working through school, or simply trying to make extra cash. This is a feel-good way to save money and help someone at the same time.

With that in mind, where would you find someone like this? Right here on Freelancer, which gives you the ability to find qualified professionals around the world that are more experienced in what you need than you might think. Need something done overnight? Your website specialist in India will probably be awake while you’re sleeping. Simply give them an assignment and then pay the fee once your work is finished.

8) Consider Hiring a Fractional CMO

Depending on your overall marketing needs, if you want to get serious and invest more in your digital marketing, it might be beneficial to hire a fractional CMO. This is especially true if your company doesn’t have someone on staff with broad experience in marketing, or if you need a high level of expertise for an overhaul.

What is a fractional CMO? In short, it is someone who takes a holistic approach to your marketing needs with an executive-level eye. Essentially, what you’re doing with a fractional CMO is hiring a temporary, part-time executive who will help your company grow through competent marketing leadership. At the same time, he will do everything that a CMO would do, including making strategic decisions for you and overseeing initiatives.

The fractional CMO differs from a simple consultant in several ways. For one thing, they take a level of ownership for how well your small business is growing, while a consultant simply helps you with a project and gets paid for it. For another, fractional CMOs don’t just give ideas and instructions, then leave you to succeed or fail. Rather, you’re hiring them to manage the entire operation, or a portion of it.

With that said, the way fractional CMOs get paid is a bit different from consultants. Generally, consultants get paid to solve a particular problem or design a particular marketing campaign. They work for themselves, even though you’re paying for their expertise. A fractional CMO positions himself like your employee, and as a result, they take the same viewpoint as someone whose long-term economic welfare is tied to your company.

This saves money because you’re paying for a total package, rather than buying individual services a la carte. It also means that this person will have the same goals, such as getting excellent ROI and managing marketing spend. They’re never interested in simply looking out for themselves. Best of all, you’re only paying for the amount of time you need.

Managing digital marketing spend can be a challenge, especially as a small business. Small businesses lack the economies of scale that’s enjoyed by larger ones. Even worse, they must compete with everyone else for PPC and social media advertising space. Luckily, by following these tips you can save money while maximizing ROI. At the end of the day, it’s about working (or spending) smarter, rather than harder.

Upplagt 24 april, 2021

nealschaffer

Digital Marketing Author, Speaker & Consultant

Neal Schaffer is an authority on helping innovative businesses digitally transform their sales and marketing. Founder of the digital marketing consultancy PDCA Social, Neal is currently a Fractional CMO for several companies and also teaches executives digital marketing at Rutgers Business School and the Irish Management Institute. He is also the author of four sales and marketing books, including...

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