How Much Does Marketing Cost?

I just reviewed an RFP for marketing services. It was a very detailed, well written RFP. And the client was asking for everything. Which is not a problem…unless your budget is limited.

Do you know how much marketing costs? How much should it cost? What should you pay for good advice when it comes to your marketing strategy?

I’ll try to unpack the answers to this complex question below. My answers lead to a few more questions, which I’ll have to address in future posts. Read on, and let me know what you think…

How much is a marketing plan?

Just the term “marketing plan” can mean a lot of things to a lot of different people. Are you looking for a complete, strategic marketing plan, or do you just need a tactical plan or roadmap to guide your marketing programs for the next few months?

I know an independent consultant (not me) who charged a start-up $25,000 for a full-blown marketing plan. Did they pay too much? Maybe. That all depends on the results.

If you’re shopping for a marketing plan, consider this before opening your checkbook:

What do you hope to achieve with the plan?

Do you need help identifying the right customers, streamlining your product plans and developing competitive strategies? If so, you need someone who specializes in marketing strategy. Look for a consultant who has executive-level marketing experience that relates to your market or industry.

Expect to pay a few thousand dollars ($2,500-$15,000) for a project that will take several weeks or a few months. Plan to be actively involved, providing access to company and customer information and your business strategy. This effort may include customer research, competitive analysis and exploration of things like your sales process, customer relationships and technical capabilities.

Did you have something more basic in mind? Maybe you need help promoting an upcoming seminar, or launching a new service offering. In that case, a tactical plan is more in line with your needs. In fact, you may not even need a formal, plan document. Instead, a solid project plan with budget, timelines and deliverables may be enough.

You can engage a professional marketing consultant for this work, ┬áhire a freelance marketer or call on your agency for assistance. Depending on the scope of your project, an actionable marketing plan like this may run from a few hundred to a few thousand dollars ($750 – $5,000), excluding implementation.

You want me to pay for that?

Don’t be surprised when the consultant or freelancer includes things like a marketing assessment, brand audit or competitive research in their proposal. Understanding the market environment you’re working in is critical to providing sound advice. Scrimp on the foundation, and your strategy will be shaky.

It pays to invest up front so your marketing partners have a strong base of knowledge about your business. This will actually save you money in the long run. A consultant that knows your business will be able to quickly spot trouble areas you might miss, helping you find solutions before you even realize there’s a problem brewing.

Other things that are worth paying for? Professional copywriting, skilled design, SEO analysis and customer feedback, to name a few.

What does a website cost?

This is a common question. I remember paying upwards of $50,000 for web work back in the mid-’90s, knowing I was getting a good deal. Thankfully, technology has become much more accessible, and the availability of exceptional web designers has expanded. (Of course, so has the number if not-so-qualified resources, so be careful.)

The price you pay for a website will depend on a number of factors. You can make your own for free if you’re really stretched, or have a small shop create a simple site based on WordPress to get you going. In fact, WordPress is a pretty powerful CMS (content management system) and many companies are moving to the platform as a viable option for easy to use, highly manageable websites.

Pricing for a basic site will start as low as a few hundred dollars and may reach $10-25,000 depending on size, design and functionality. Add more complexity, and you could be up to $30,000 or more.

What makes the price of a website go up? Adding capabilities like these will cost extra:

  • An ecommerce shopping cart so you can sell merchandise or digital downloads online. From freeware like Zen Cart to more sophisticated solutions, getting the right people to work on your ecommerce capabilities can save a lot of headaches.
  • User interface (UI) design, UI or UX (user experience), focuses on the usability of your site and the ability of visitors to complete desired actions. If the objective of your site is to provide shopping, search or membership features, an investment in UX work can pay huge dividends in higher conversion rates and more engaged users.
  • Custom coding, like a specialized database application, image galleries, or recommendation engine. Thankfully, lots of these items have been packaged up as plug-in or third-party solutions that can be added to your site. However, there is a cost for integrating things like live chat, customer reviews and video capabilities.
  • Search Engine Optimization (SEO) – While you might think that web designers are experts at SEO, the fact is that most are not (just as many are not well versed in UX). You may need a separate SEO expert to work on your site, ideally partnering with your web team to build in search-friendly structure from the start. Ongoing SEO support starts about $2500/month and goes up, depending on the size and complexity of your site.

Isn’t social media free?

Sure, you can sign up for Instagram, Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook and hundreds of other social media sites for free. But that’s just the first step. You need to optimize your social media presence, develop a strategy, and post regularly.

You can easily step into social media quicksand if you’re not careful the time you spend managing your company’s social media presence. Is your time better spent doing other things?

Here are a few areas where you may want to hire social media help:

  • Social Media Strategy – What are your goals? Where will you invest your time on social media? What is your message? How can you monetize your social media efforts? Are you looking for a hard or soft return on investment (ROI)? A social media strategist can work with you to address these questions and formulate a plan that works for your business. The cost? Usually $500 and up.
  • Social Media Policies – Once you have a plan in place, you need to establish social media policies. These are guidelines for your staff that cover appropriate use, showing employees where they are empowered in social channels, and where they need to exercise caution. Well written policies can be priceless, so its worth investing $250 or more to have your own custom policy created.
  • Social Communications Calendar – When do you post on your bog? What goes on Facebook? How often should you tweet? What do you say? A communications calendar can help you plan social media content that aligns with your strategy, enabling staff to express your messages in the right way at the right time. Monthly management of your social communications plan may run $500/month or more.
  • Outsourced Engagement – Hiring someone to tweet and post on your behalf may sound good, but this is one area I advise clients to be cautious about. There are many risks if you outsource the voice of your business, and the cost to your reputation can be high when things go wrong. With that in mind, if you choose to outsource your tweeting, posting and blogging, hire someone you can work closely with to collaborate on plans and create content. You’ll pay upwards of $50/hour or $500+ a month.

Should I bring marketing in-house?

Based on the prices listed above, you might be thinking that it’s smarter to hire staff to handle your marketing. This is a “yes and no” answer. For things like social engagement (tweeting, Facebook, blogging) I do recommend in house resources. No one knows your business like an employee and this is an area where tight control over content can be essential.

On the other hand, for things like strategy you are probably better off with an experienced consultant. Even if you have a marketing VP or CMO, the insight provided by an expert who brings a broader perspective can help alleviate what I call “marketing myopia.” You might just be too close to the situation to see everything you need to consider.

In these cases, a consultant can help you assess the market environment and plan strategies for success that your team can implement. If you need some additional assistance, hiring a virtual CMO or a contract marketer for a few months can provide the jump-start you need to accelerate your growth.

It’s cheaper to do it myself

DIY is a terrible malady. It’s a chronic disease for some entrepreneurs. I know, I suffer from it myself. Whether you’re just starting a business or you’re simply trying to squeeze the most from every penny, it’s easy to think, “that’s easy, I can do it.” And you can. But will the results really be what your business deserves?

Do It Yourself marketing is often slow and slightly off target. It may be good, but usually it’s not great. And it comes with a huge opportunity cost. What would you be doing if you weren’t trying to figure out how to get your site to the top of the search engine rankings?

Maybe you’d be closing new business or working on a new product idea that will 10x your revenue. Instead, there you are pulling your hair out, trying to do something you know you can do, but probably shouldn’t.
Think about it…

If you loved writing copy, you would have been a copywriter.

If you were passionate about market research, you would have chosen that field.

And you would have been damn good, I’m sure.

But you didn’t.

So hire someone that did and reap the rewards of their passion and expertise. Then get back to running your business, which is what you do best, right?

Still stuck on the cost? Think about the value of your business. What will it take to realize the ROI of that project? Often, it’s as little as one new customer. Keep your perspective and spend strategically.

Do you agree? Share your thoughts by leaving a comment below.

  1. Great information. Thanks for the price estimates (super valuable). The only reservation is for those starting out with little or no money. Hiring a professional may be something they can not afford. Sort of chicken and egg situation. Does money go towards product for jobs and sales people to create new jobs or creating a great social media presents that will over time drive business to your door like gang busters?

    Sometimes it is a timing issue as well. You may be first on the block but if someone comes along after you with more money to develop a killer sales force as well as a great social media development team; Your company make be perceived as a Johnie come lately by the time your small company is doing well enough to start such a professionally counseled marketing plan.

    Can you offer a few guidelines for not botching the DIY process?

    1. Thanks for your comments, Jay. Taking the DIY approach is a challenge, especially for small, bootstrap companies. You may be limited on both time and money, so knowing where to invest can make a big difference.

      My suggestion is to focus on what is most visible. Spend a little money with a designer for a stand-out logo you can use on you business cards, website and collateral. Create a consistent look (same fonts, colors, and types of images) and use it on everything you do for a more high-end impression. Try using WordPress for a simple but clean website / blog, and build on that foundation over time.

      As your business grows, you’ll have more money to invest in expanding your brand presence and marketing impact.

  2. Great article! I thought I was the only one in this field trying to educate my clients. I will use this page a third party reference. I am in complete alignment with almost everything you wrote.

  3. THANK YOU, JOEY!!! I have had several clients who are stuck on the “Social Media is free” concept. I will second Salvatore’s suggestion of using this post as a reference for clients.

    My favorite part of this post “If you loved writing copy, you would have been a copywriter….” Why doesn’t marketing translate like roofing, for example. Sure, you could reroof your house if you had the time, tools and references, but the time and effort it takes away from growing your chosen business is expensive!

    Strange that the value of an experienced consultant vs DIY isn’t apparent…

  4. Pingback: DIY Marketing? No such thing unless you don’t care about results… | Whitfield Consulting
  5. Great article. As a new small business owner with limited budget I have taken to doing most social media myself BUT I am also part of a paid group that has given me great insight into the social media world and has improved my knowledge. As I have income coming in I will invest more in outsourcing the things I’m not good at and spending my time doing the things I am good at. On the plus side I am learning new traits and won’t have to spend so much as I get better in more areas of social media that I really have found a liking for.

  6. I love the article. It make lot of sense. I have following DIY theory. Honestly It’s crazy sometime because ecommerce is such a huge channel starting from web development to email marketing to CMS. The list just keep going. Recently I have decided to look for help from “good and trusted” marketing firm but the problem is how do I identify which is the right marketing firm or consultant for our business especially when we are a start up with limited budget. Please help. Thank you.

    1. Hi Joe, thanks for your comment. Referrals from other local startups are a great way to find companies that might be a good fit for you. There are more tips in this post that should help: .

      I’ll be posting soon on questions to ask your agency, so stay tuned.

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  9. Joey-

    First off, you are a beautiful writer! So many different thoughts and topics in this post, yet all are concise, well-thought out, and helpful!

    I will echo what many have said that this is an excellent 3rd-party resource for marketing professionals.

    Thank you!

  10. If marketing just “costs”, then why do we do it? It’s ROI that we need to look at on any cost – whether it’s paint, carpet, granite countertops, marketing, advertising, insurance, or IT / technology expenditures.

    Frequently (hopefully near always) marketing should not be a cost, but a short term investment with direct, relatively immediate returns. Same with IT – though some is INSURANCE (buy from a local, accessible, servicing vendor – and buying backup systems, antimalware software, etc) – but the bulk of the IT budget is to MULTIPLY productivity of you and your staff, not really an EXPENSE (per se) at all…

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