Do you really have to spend money to make money in the world of modern marketing?

When trying to figure out the elusive question of “how much” a new startup should allocate toward Internet marketing, today’s businesses are stuck between two polarizing extremes.

On one side of the fence are the critics that insist that “free is fluff” and content marketing is overrated. Such marketers thrive on paid channels including social ads, funnel-building software and aggressive email campaigns.

On the flip side, you have marketers who would rather lose a limb than spend a dime on paid ads. These sorts of growth hackers cite examples such as Tesla’s $0 marketing budget as a model example for modern startups, relying on free content and PR to get the word out.

So, are modern businesses expected to choose between “go big” or “go broke” in regard to their marketing spend?

How Modern Business Should Think About Marketing

Perhaps the ideal marketing strategy is somewhere in-between: that is, marketers should be willing to splash some cash but only when deemed absolutely necessary.

The concept of “the lean startup” has been around for years now and centers around the concepts of building, learning and measuring in order to make decisions:

Applicable to a variety of startup ideas, the benefits of running a disciplined, experiment-driven business are crystal clear when applied to Internet marketing.

By taking a three-pronged approach of building, learning, and measuring, you can establish the foundation of a robust marketing strategy that won’t blow out your budget. Rather than constantly second guess your marketing campaigns, keep the following six principles of lean startups in mind that’ll help grow your bottom line regardless of your industry.

1. Your Bottom Line Comes First

While not all marketing directly results in dollars and cents overnight, every marketer should be able to answer one simple question:

“How is this going to make money?”

If you find yourself unable to come up with a suitable answer, you may want to rethink your strategy.

Probably the most notable conflict faced by modern marketers is the curious case of content marketing ROI. After all, you can produce blog posts, videos and social media messages all day and never see a cent for your hard work. Producing content for the sake of content marketing doesn’t answer the aforementioned question, does it?

However, content marketing is noted to result in six times higher conversion rates against brands who don’t create content. As displayed by marketer Robbie Richards who increased his on-site traffic by 272% in one month through content marketing, effective content can result in a boatload of new leads.

And that’s how content contributes to your bottom line.

Get it?

Remember: every piece of your marketing needs to have some sort of financial incentive at the end of the day.

2. Time is Money

It may be tempting to take a “me against the world” approach to marketing by trying to juggle everything yourself.

But don’t forget that time is indeed money. Every minute you spend trying to wrangle your marketing strategy represents lost time on some other aspect of your business. In some cases, it may just flat out make more sense to pay someone else versus using up your own valuable time.

Take blogging, for example. Does it make sense to spend your time and energy crafting blog posts on your own when you could hire a skilled freelancer to do the heavy lifting on your behalf?

Considering that valuable, buzzworthy blogs are taking longer than ever to write according to OrbitMedia, the question of “time versus money” is more important than ever:

Sometimes outsourcing some of your marketing is simply a must-do based on your resources and schedule. As long as your paid channels are seeing traction, there’s no reason to pull the plug on them.

3. Follow the Numbers

Data-driven marketing means rooting your decisions in hard numbers versus guessing. By keeping a close eye on your analytics, you can figure out at a glance what’s working and what isn’t. This rings true for avenues such as email marketing, SEO and social media, for starters.

One of the most frustrating aspects of Internet marketing is once again time. For example, it often takes months to see any action in the SERPS which leaves marketers wondering whether or not their hard work is paying off.

Fear not: your patience will be rewarded if you’re consistent. Pay attention to trends in your data versus anomalies: if the needle is moving upward, you’re probably fine. If one of your marketing channels hasn’t resulted in any significant leads or engagement after a few months, however, consider cutting it loose.

4. Embrace Automation

Any aspect of your marketing that you can put on autopilot is always a plus. The ultimate goal of your marketing over time should be to do as little legwork as possible, especially given the wealth of marketing automation tools and platforms out there.

For example, Neil Patel tweets out pieces of content using Buffer on an hourly basis, ensuring that his posts get a steady stream of engagement and traffic despite being posted months or years ago:

Another prime example of automation in action are email drip campaigns which automatically nurture leads who have opted-in to your email list. Messages such as this example from XOsoft keep your leads engaged and prompt them to take action while you don’t have to lift a finger:

Once you get into a rhythm of streamlining every piece of your marketing machine, the process becomes much less daunting.

5. Don’t Be Wasteful

Did you know that as much at 70% of B2B goes totally unused?

Seems like a total waste, right?

Given how much work it takes to craft blog posts, emails and social messages alike, marketers should strive not to be wasteful. Squeeze everything you can out of your marketing content and repurpose it however you can.

Also, don’t neglect any of your previous content that’s perhaps been sitting on site for a while. You can easily revamp your old pieces for sake of SEO, for example. In fact, Hubspot notes that 90% of their leads come from old blog posts that are at least a few months old:

6. If It’s Not Broke, Don’t Fix It

Although today’s marketers thrive on the idea of rapid experimentation, don’t risk ruining your marketing campaigns for the sake of trying something new. If you’re seeing positive returns from email or social ads but suspect you could be doing better, run a test campaign rather than try to overhaul your strategy all at once.

In other words, keep your ear to the ground and be willing to switch up your strategy, but tread lightly when doing so.

Lean Marketing Creates Smarter Startups

Businesses that keep these principles in mind provide themselves the opportunity to grow without sacrificing their budgets. Marketing doesn’t mean spending beyond your means or scrounging for results, but rather uncovering opportunities to spread your message within your means.

Read more: Improve Your Marketing Strategy