How much should you spend on marketing

Jan 20, 2021 | marketing

Marketing is about communication.

A lthough I’ve been in digital marketing for over a decade, it wasn’t until recently that I acknowledged that I need to spend money on getting exposureI used to think marketing was… for other people. Most of my career, I’ve worked for a company, and the checks have always arrived like clockwork every two weeks. I saw the need for high-quality marketing for my clients, but I never thought I’d have to pay for marketing for my own ventures. Strange how our brains are sometimes!

After starting my own company, word-of-mouth advertising paid my bills for a long time. However — the day eventually came when I realised that although I was still getting enthusiastic referrals through my network, I had the bandwidth to handle more work than I was getting. 

It turns out that even if you have only happy clients, if you’re waiting for each of them to bump into one of their friends at the grocery store and strike up a conversation about websites, you and your excellent reputation might just slowly go out of business

And so here I am, a digital marketing professional, realizing I need to spend some money on marketing — and I’m finding I’m not 100% opposed to the idea. You have to buy a ticket if you want to go on the rides, right? Right. Okay, so how much are we talking here, let’s see…

The best article I found recommends established brands spend 6-12% of their revenue on marketing, and that newer companies spend 12-20%.

Dang it, that’s a big slice! So if a newer company is bringing in 100K/year, or about $8350/month — and that’s gross revenue, not net — their monthly marketing budget ought to be $1000-1700/month. In addition to their other expenses. If you think of it as a piece taken out of the total pie — if you think of it as an expense — then it might seem like too big of a cut. 

But it makes much more sense when you think of marketing as an investment — the kindling that you use to keep your campfire burning, the fuel that grows your business over time. If I invest $1000 and I make $2000, that’s a very sweet 100% return on my investment — and the problem isn’t that I’m spending too much on marketing, it’s more that I need to scale up. You can’t scale up unless you broaden your reach. If you’re doing good work and earning those word-of-mouth referrals, what you’re really after is a larger network.   

(By the way, another solid article makes a crucial point — this spending only makes sense after your basics are in order. It’s a waste of money to drive traffic to a shabby website.)

Don’t be too hasty

Okay, wow — so now I’m on board with what it takes, and in 2021 I’ve committed to going with a marketing budget equal to 15% of my revenue. So who do I write the check to?

Well, here’s where I’m grateful that I have 10 years of marketing experience. Because right here is where things can go sideways pretty fast. Finally on board with the idea of marketing as an investment, and perhaps somewhat drained by the emotional and intellectual effort, I could be feeling a little too open to suggestions. I might plunk it all down on the first halfway-reasonable idea that comes along. 

But the thinking part is not done — and so heedfulness is in order. This is the part where the actual work begins. Large amounts of money are too often wasted due to the natural decision fatigue people feel at this stage. If we can sleep on it and come back fresh in the morning, we’ll see there are still a number of important questions to address: 

  • Which channel is the best fit for my business and my audience — social media, email marketing, digital ads, something else? 
  • If digital ads are in the mix, do I spend on Facebook, Google Ads, LinkedIn ads…? 
  • Is there an offline opportunity I’m overlooking? 
  • Who can I trust to help me answer these questions? 
  • What approach will show me proof that it’s working?
  • How can I act with all this uncertainty, and be nimble when new information comes to light? 

I’m lucky — my business is growing and paying the bills, it’s just growing a bit slower than I know it could. And I have my own professional experience to draw from, and the experience of some pretty smart friends who love to discuss marketing strategy. 

First off, I’ll be doing what I’ve always been badgering others to do — I’ll be talking to my clients. I’m really just trying to find more people who need my services. Who would know that better than my own customers? 

I’ll share more as my 2021 marketing plan takes shape — let me know if you have any questions or bright ideas.