The small businesses of today are faced with three major obstacles: too little time, a perpetual shortage of funds and limited headcounts. Despite the fact that most companies have infinite growth potential, they are rarely able to scale their efforts due to budget & staff limitations. The natural question appears: how can I maximize & sustain my company’s growth efforts? Most B2B marketers will immediately answer ‘through marketing automation’. While this is, indeed, effective, I believe that it should always be correlated with a comprehensive (and partly) outsourced content strategy. Here’s why:
Online businesses, big and small, provide services or products with the ultimate goal of converting prospects into customers. This is usually done with the help traditional internet marketing or multi-channel marketing strategies. But there are many facets to digital marketing that most businesses can’t quite understand. Even for those who do understand, the volume of work is so overwhelming that it will ultimately distract them from their true objective. If terms like ‘lead nurturing’ or ‘content management systems’ sound confusing, maybe it’s a good idea to ask experts for help or to start using automated software.
Content outsourcing & marketing automation can significantly boost the growth of small businesses when implemented correctly. However, this depends on the type of business that you’re running. Sometimes it makes sense to outsource the whole content strategy or to put a blog on autopilot. Other times, it’s better to outsource some tasks, automate others, and take care of the rest in-house. This is exactly why I want to take a closer look at how marketing automation & content outsourcing can benefit your business, and how you can do it. These two strategies may seem fundamentally different, but when they are supported by a solid business plan, they can work wonders.
When Should You Consider Outsourcing & Automating Tasks?
I wish I could say that ‘Situation 1’ should always be outsourced, and ‘Situation 2’ should always be automated. But I can’t. Every business is different, and you can only make the right decision once you truly understand your current and future situation.
However, I truly believe that, especially as a small business, you should focus on what you know best. If marketing your products is your strong-suit, maybe it would be a good idea to let an expert take care of your content marketing strategy. With this in mind, let’s take a look at some of the most important criteria that you should consider before outsourcing work, or automating tasks:
- Service Availability & Quality: If you’re thinking of outsourcing content or social media marketing strategies, you should make sure that you’re hiring the right person for the job. It should be someone who shares your vision and has a proven track-record of his/her achievements. As far as marketing automation is concerned, I recommend that you stay away from solutions such as IBM, Marketo or Eloqua, as they are extremely expensive.
If you wish to dip your toes in the murky waters of marketing automation, you will be happy to know that there are plenty of low-cost systems with great features. Again, you have to determine what service works best for your business, but I suggest software similar to Sales Autopilot, Leadsius, Spokal, Azuqua, or Nurture.
- Budgets & Costs: For a very long time it was believed that marketing automation is too expensive for small businesses. According to a recent study conducted by Gleanster, over 79% of small businesses believe that it is worth the effort, money and time. They also mentioned that they will continue to use marketing automation in the future, as it is critical for their success.
The same rule applies for service outsourcing. Of course, a few hundred dollars aren’t going to get you anywhere. Any so-called SEO or content marketing expert who promises all sorts of business for less than 200 dollars is probably not going to do anything helpful. High-quality services are costly, but they will ensure sustained organic growth and increased retention for your business.
- Understand your Business Model: If your entire business rests on the success of your online marketing campaigns, then you should probably combine outsourcing with in-house work. However, if your business model isn’t reliant on this aspect, then it is probably better to focus on your core competencies. What does this mean? Let’s just say I don’t sew my own clothes, not because I can’t do it, but because that time would be better spent on something I’m really good at.
Now that we’ve got this covered, let’s see exactly what type of marketing automation software you should be using, and how it can help.
Marketing Automation Software
If you aren’t completely new to the digital landscape you are probably already familiar with several marketing software solutions, like HubSpot, Moz or RavenTools, which offer all-in-one services. Nevertheless, these type of services might be a tad too expensive for your allocated budget.
The good news is that the marketing automation forest is full of trees that offer splendid functionality for small & medium-sized businesses. I believe that there are 7 vital features that you should look for in marketing automation software:
- Search engine optimization features & tools
- Email marketing solutions (equipped with templates, auto-responders, email blasts, performance monitoring)
- Lead nurturing
- Social media marketing & monitoring
- Landing page optimization tools (lead capture forms & call-to-actions)
- Content management & curation systems
- Productivity trackers & organizational tools
Arguably the most popular marketing automation software, InfusionSoft offers a nice balance between powerful features and user-friendly dashboard. The main difference between Hubspot and InfusionSoft is the fact that the latter does not provide website hosting & management solutions. Price-wise, InfusionSoft is more affordable. With the basic plans, 3 users can send out 12,500 emails/month to 2500 contacts.
Content management & marketing automation features such as surveys, customer segmentation, lead scoring, real-time alerts, and A/B testing are included in the price.
Similar to InfusionSoft, but with the added bonus of SEO functionality, JumpLead offers impressive features at reasonable costs. The company has free plans as well as deluxe ones, which cost no more than $199.00 per month. From the dashboard you can check out statistics such as number of visitors, email open rate, conversion rates as well as contact stages in the marketing funnel (subscriber -> lead -> marketing qualified -> sales qualified -> customer).
This Swedish software has been officially released, after a long period of beta-testing. The cheapest plans have a $0.00 entry-point, but enterprise plans will cost around $1,195 every month. Leadsuis has plenty of interesting features, but it definitely excels in the analytics & visitor tracking department. With this software you will be able to control your email marketing, lead management & qualification efforts, optimize landing pages and report on your findings.
MailChimp is one of the best email marketing automation tools out there. With it, you can send targeted mails to your subscribers, combine your efforts with other team members and integrate hundreds of web-based tools. The best part about MailChimp is the fact that it allows you to calculate your own price. For example, if you decide on the ‘Growing Business’ plan, you can benefit from 12,000 messages for up to 2,000 email subscribers per month for free. Alternatively, you can opt for 1,500-2,000 subscribers & unlimited emails for $25,00 per month. This is the fraction of the cost that other companies offer.
Are you interested in a software that offers a bit of everything? Well, with quasi-hybrid Azuqua you can control your marketing, sales and customer service efforts. However, you should keep in mind that software that can do everything, generally do not excel in anything, and while Azuqua may be a convenient solution, it may not be very helpful with specific tasks. Azuqua plans oscillate between $0 and $250/month.
Simply looking at the plethora of features provided by the above mentioned services should make you understand how difficult it can be to control all of these things manually. But what about content outsourcing?
A Few Steps to Successful Content Outsourcing
Content is, and forever will be, king. As more and more companies (from huge enterprises to small start-ups) are investing in their content creation & marketing strategies, and seeing huge returns, it becomes clear that their scalability can accommodate any type of budget. Right now, content marketing represents one of the most important aspects of internet marketing. If you don’t believe me, here are a few insights from the Content Marketing Institute:
- 35% of B2B marketers who responded to the CMI survey are using a documented content strategy, while another 48% have a content strategy, but it hasn’t been documented (this means that over 83% of them are utilizing different forms of content to promote their business).
- 70% of B2B marketers said that they are creating more content than last year.
- 94% of them are using LinkedIn to promote their content, and 58% are using paid ads on search engines for increased visibility.
- 84% of B2B marketers said that content marketing is essential for brand awareness.
Should I go on?
The benefits of solid content marketing strategies are irrefutable, and outsourcing your entire campaign, or parts of it, to services that use documented strategies will definitely help you increase brand awareness.
But before you get ahead of yourself there are a few things you need to do. First of all: define what exactly it is that you want. As amusing as it may sound, you should create an Excel sheet with the following columns: What I Do, What I Need but can’t do, What I want to Do, What I can Delegate to my Team. This will also help you understand if you are spending too much time on unnecessary tasks, or if they are holding you back. Next, you should prioritize the most important tasks. This will help you cut down on outsourcing costs.
Now that you have a list of the things you need, you should start thinking about the ideal applicant (skill level, price, personality, availability etc.). If you identify multiple candidates, or services that fit your profile you should test them out before making a decision. The ultimate goal is to let the outsourcing service do the heavy-lifting for you, while you concentrate on more important tasks. Don’t try to micromanage everything. By learning to leverage the potential of outsourcing services you can work intelligently and earn more.
Note: If you decide to outsource only certain parts of your content strategy, I suggest that you stick to crafting original content that will showcase your expertise. In other words, you should write about the things that you’re good at, to solidify your position as an industry expert. Aspects such as SEO, content curation, performance monitoring or alternative content creation, which you are probably not familiar with, should be outsourced to experienced service providers.
Content Strategies that You Should Consider Outsourcing:
#1 Content Promotion & Curation
There’s one strategy that I consider particularly effective: outsourcing content promotion tasks to influencers in your field. In other words, if I’m trying to promote a blog post on a tech-related subject, I contact influencers that usually share information related to tech, and have them share my content in order to attract relevant audiences.
There are plenty of content promotion strategies that I could talk about, and covering them would probably result in an article of biblical proportions, so make sure you take a look at this B2B Guide entitled ‘How Content Promotion Works for Blogs Big and Small’ for some fresh ideas. In the end, the outsourcing service provider you choose should reflect a content marketing strategy that is suitable for your business (and explain how the strategies implemented will improve ROI).
#2 Monthly Content Creation & Marketing Strategies for Business Blogs
Did you know that some companies put their blogs on ‘autopilot’? What this means is that they outsource their entire content strategy (from research, to crafting, optimizing and posting) to a third-party service. By using such a service you will be provided with a constant stream of fresh and unique articles without having to lift a finger – hence, more time to focus on your most important tasks.
There are several high-end content companies, with competitive prices that offer stellar blog posting services, and have also proved extremely effective in doing so: Contently, RightlyWritten and SkyWord, among others.
In theory, putting your blog on autopilot means that you don’t have to worry about it anymore. However, if you decide to test this type of service out, you should make your intentions clear from the beginning, otherwise, you will lose your brand’s voice. Tell the writers exactly what you want from them, and how you want it written. You can do this by creating a list of guidelines, or by showing them an article that you like from another blog.
#3 Keyword Research & Siloing
If stuff like cost-per-click, competition level, estimated search volume, keyword difficulty, or content silos sound like a load gibberish to you, then you should definitely consider outsourcing this stage of your content strategy to an SEO expert. He will then put together a comprehensive plan, based on your request & relevant keywords, and will help you rank on the top positions of search engine result pages.
Ranking for relevant long-tail keywords will attract targeted organic traffic, and studies have shown that internet users who search for very specific phrases are very likely to convert. The key here is to develop a content strategy that is aligned with the services/products you offer.
Note: Even if you decide outsource this type of task, you should try to study the basic principles of SEO beforehand. This will help you understand more about the way search engines work, and whether or not the service provider can deliver on his promise. Start by reading Moz’s Beginner guide to SEO.
#4 Derivative & Alternative Forms of Content
You should also consider outsourcing content pieces such as white papers, case-studies, infographics, videos, guides, how-to tutorials etc. Google ranks blogs that alternate between types of content better than blogs which focus solely on written one. This type of content outsourcing will give you more control over the material that is posted on your website, as you can request articles separately.
There are also other content service which can be outsourced, and they can be negotiated with the service provider.
In conclusion, marketing automation and content outsourcing may prove extremely useful for your small business. Do your research beforehand and avoid services that promise the moon and the stars. Stick to outsourcers who have strong portfolios, or automation tools with decent prices, friendly interfaces and positive reviews. You should be fine.
Read more: Voice-Based Marketing Automation