Producing Great Content with No Budget

This post could alternatively be titled “The Equity of Content Production”.

One of the most common questions I hear in Internet Marketing circles when talking about content is “But what about when you do not have a budget?” This is usually preceded by “But you can’t create content without a budget!”

I do not believe this to be so. Today let’s talk about how you can create content depending on the resources available to you.

I’m tired of the excuses. You have three kinds of equity – time, talent, and money. Time/talent do not require money when put together.

Three Types of Equity

There are three types of equity that you can spend to produce anything:

  • Money
  • Time
  • Talent

You need at least one of these, and usually two put together in order to create anything of value. Also, the point should be made that you don’t need to have all of these. Hiring a firm with talent gets the job done just as well.

Here are the intersections:

Three of the four permutuations here do involve money, yes. But this is not equal shares of money and the other factor. Sometimes, the circles can look thus:

Let’s drill down into each of the three and also look at some examples of content that have been produced by the different combinations of time, talent, and money. The point is not that you don’t need any money at all ever. The point is that no matter what, you are spending some sort of equity on everything you produce, and not everything requires money.

Time + Talent + Money

This trio is undeniably the holy grail of production and will make your life the easiest. With time to invest into the work, as well as the talent to do it well, and money to spend, you can produce content that is well research (time), well designed (talent), and and can hire people to do both of those and potentially push it out as well.

We should also note that the same person does not have to expend all three. In many cases, the client will pay the money, the designer/creator will expend time and talent, and someone (possibly the client or the creator, but probably a marketer/SEO) will push the content out. Money can knock down the amount of time needed, and it can undeniably purchase someone with a lot of talent.

Some examples:

Dollar Shave Club (produced expensively, took time to film but not as much as it would have if they had not had any money, took money to push through BBH)

The New York Times released a series of visualizations around the US election back in November. One of my favorites was the Electoral Map visualization  –

Time + Talent

Needed when: you do not have money

Another combination of equity is time and talent. If you possess both of these, you’ll be able to create anything that is within your talent wheelhouse. There’s no need to spend money on external resources, since you or your team possess all the required skills to produce as well as push the piece.

The kicker with this combination, of course, is that it will take considerably more time to produce this content than if you had money as well, because you will need to be doing other work that pays the bills while you produce it.

We should note, though, that the more talented the producer is, the quicker it can be produced. If you, an inexperienced graphic designer, set out to produce a logo, you’ll take longer to produce it and will probably need to go through multiple iterations. If you are an experienced logo graphic designer, you will be able to do it faster and will probably have fewer iterations before it is right.

Some examples:

I’ll use our own Excel Guide here, because it took Mike Pantoliano 30+ hours of blood, sweat, and tears:

Or, we could cite the OKcupid blog, OKtrends, which for a while produced posts full of data and great writing. These posts, according to this Quora thread, took 50+ hours each. Time is money, and time is equity:

Content like this may take longer to get the same return as content that has an outreach budget behind it, but it can still get there in regards to links and visibility.

Remember that a lot of outreach channels don’t require money either, just investment of time to leverage those channels well. You can leverage social media, email marketing, SEO, and any of the other inbound marketing channels with enough time on your hands. The biggest expenditure of time will be building these audiences, such as an email list or social following. But you can leverage content to do this as well, and each time you do another campaign you have a greater chance of success for a cheaper time cost.

Time + Money

Needed when: you don’t have talent.

If you have time and money, you don’t need the talent yourself. You can hire that talent from an outside source to produce it for you. Or, you can take the time to develop the talent yourself.

If you have enough budget and a set amount of time, you can produce a lot of quality content as long as you’re willing to pay for it. You can also make the content to further quicker, as you’ll be able to leverage multiple channels like:

  • SEO
  • Email
  • Social
  • Paid discovery (Outbrain, FB ads, StumbleUpon, Paid Search)

Of course, as you smart readers are undoubtedly thinking, you can do some of the paid channels cheaper than others. So what’s your budget?

Let’s say you have $100. You can’t get something decent done for that, but you can buy 1000s of Stumbles for that amount of money, which gets your content in front of more eyes. And if you have $100 a month moving forward, you can leverage a couple different channels and extend the longevity of the content (as long as it’s evergreen, which is a good idea for low budget content).

One example to get your thinking going is Sortable, who have found a way to make product reviews sexy, which makes their money go further as it has been done in a scaleable way by investing in good design, not a one-off piece of content. Basically, every product page is a data visualization:

Money + Talent

Needed when: you don’t have time but need to get a quality piece out.

Money and talent are the two types of equity you can use when you don’t have time, and you’ll need both in plentiful amounts to minimize the amount of time needed to get the content out with decent quality.

In this configuration, money allows you to buy whatever resources you need both for production and promotion of content. With a large budget, you’re able to:

  • Produce more (if time is not a factor) or better content
  • Promote on more channels and quicker

Talent allows you to up the quality and speed with which your content is produced. The higher your talent, or your hired gun’s, the faster you’ll be able to produce content of the same quality as a lesser skilled individual.

Some of my favorite examples of content that took money and talent:

The Simply Business guide to WordPress for small businesses:

Or how about this visualization from the Washington Post:

By the way, has a great collection of election visualizations that had to be produced in a very timely manner.

An Attitude of Risk

Will Critchlow talked at Searchlove Boston (his talk was the impetus for this post) about Inbound Marketing On A Shoestring. One of his points was that to produce awesome content without a budget, you have to have “balls”, otherwise known as an attitude of taking risks that could have an outsized return but might not work.

Risk is a different sort of equity than money or time. It’s more akin to talent, and is an attitude. When you are constrained by time, money, and talent (or access to talent), you must dream big to take a risk.

One example of this is, who run experiences for groups in the UK. They have pulled many stunts over the past few months, including offering a fake lunch with British Prime Minister David Cameron for £250K. Their most recent stunt, which was covered by the Daily Mail has caused a lot of controvery because they allow people to practice fighting riot police.

If you’re an SEO, you’ll like this link graph:

I’d also like to city WePay here for their PR stunt pulled at the Paypal Developer’s conference (which I talked about here on slide 19 in relation to content marketing). That one took gall:

What do you think? Does this jive with how you think, or am I way off the mark?

is the head of and consultant in the Distilled New York City office. His work time is filled with data consumption and strategic awesomeness, while his free time consists of extreme sports, travel, and bicycle riding in Brooklyn.


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