The Content Marketing Institute’s recently released Content Marketing Career & Salary 2023 Outlook (registration required) highlights a big source of dissatisfaction among content marketers: the weighty workload. Twenty-four percent of marketers say they are “very” or “extremely” stressed at work.
Complicating the workload issue is that budgets don’t seem to be rising at the same pace as the stress level. According to CMI and MarketingProfs’s latest B2B research, only 50% of content marketers expect their budgets to increase in 2023, compared with 66% who foresaw an increase in 2022.
For content marketing teams with limited in-house resources, these two truths pose a significant challenge: How do you create killer content when your team members feel overwhelmed, and you lack the budget to give them more resources?
One viable approach is to act like Batman: Reach into your gadget-stuffed utility belt and use free or low-cost tools that make it easier to produce effective content.
I’m speaking from experience here. For example, at one startup where I led content marketing efforts, there was no money to allocate toward technology or any other aspect of content creation and promotion. Zero dollars. I was forced to make do with the free tools I discovered online.
Here are five types of tools to consider when you need to make a big impact with a small content marketing budget (or no budget at all).Need to create killer content, but your teams are overwhelmed and your budget is underwhelming? Act like Batman: Reach into your utility belt for readily available tools, says @JohnJEgan. #sponsored Click To Tweet
1. Graphic design software
I’m hardly a professional designer, but even I’ve been able to produce attractive graphics with readily available – and free or low-cost – design software. A few of my favorite design tools are:
- Adobe Express: Cost: Free basic plan; $9.99 for the premium plan, with a free 30-day trial.
- Canva: Cost: Free basic plan; $149.90 yearly subscription for teams with up to five members.
- Looka: Cost: $20 for one-time logo creation; $96 or $192 for a yearly subscription.
I’ve relied on Canva to generate graphics easily, and I continue to be amazed at its versatility. For instance, you can produce infographics, social media posts, and videos through the platform.
Meanwhile, I’ve used Looka’s AI-powered brand identity platform to create eye-catching logos. For example, I made a logo in Looka for my LLC, Jayhawk Media (shown below). You might never guess that a non-designer crafted it.
Though I’ve tinkered with Adobe, I have yet to create any graphics with it. However, it comes highly recommended by Doug Bonderud of HubSpot: “It’s easy to use, and it comes with a host of free templates. If you’re looking to quickly create posters or videos for ad campaigns, [Adobe Express] is a great choice.”
Don’t be discouraged if you try a design tool and aren’t fond of it. Experiment with other tools until you find one that works for you.
2. Infographic design software
You can also produce infographics with Adobe and Canva.
Brian Wallace, founder and president of NowSourcing, an infographic design agency, recommends Canva for “quick hit” infographics. “Many non-designers already use Canva for other projects, so this is a good fit for them when they need a graphic in a hurry,” he says.
Here are two other infographic design tools you might want to consider:
- Infogram: Easy-to-use Infogram has come in handy when I’ve needed infographic-like charts and other small graphics to present data in an attractive format. Price: Free basic plan; $19 a month for the pro package and $67 a month for the business package. At $149 a month, the team package might be a budget buster.
- Piktochart: When I taught myself how to create infographics, I turned to Piktochart. I found it intuitive (you don’t need to be a graphics guru to get the hang of it) and flexible (thanks to its many customizable templates). By the way, you can also produce videos with Piktochart. Price: Free basic plan; $14 a month per team member (as many as two dozen team members) for the pro plan.
If you think you can’t master at least one of these tools, think again. Back in 2015, I jumped into infographic design software for the first time. (No one else at our scrappy startup had the time to whip up infographics on a regular basis, and I couldn’t afford to outsource the work.) While I’m still not a design expert, I have been able to generate infographics that numerous online outlets have published.
For example, I used Piktochart to create an infographic for an outdoor services company’s blog, in which I shared 12 home décor and design trends.
3. Podcasting software
Podcasting isn’t one of my areas of expertise, but I do know that it’s growing in popularity. According to Edison Research, the number of Americans ages 12 and over who have ever listened to a podcast climbed from 57% in 2021 to 62% in 2022.
Image via Edison Research
If you’re already immersed in podcasting, or you’re gearing up to launch a podcast, you’ll need some technological help. And if you’re working with a tight content marketing budget, you’ll want that help to be free or low-cost.
One audio editing tool you may want to evaluate is Audacity, a free, open-source platform. In an informal survey I conducted, several podcasting experts recommended this tool. For one reason, it’s a multitasker: You can edit and record audio for Windows, macOS, GNU/Linux, and other operating systems. Oh, and it doesn’t hurt that Audacity is free.
Podcast producer Richard Butler says Audacity remains a mainstay for many podcasters because of its robust features. “There are hundreds upon hundreds of tutorials for this software, but everyone I’ve ever taught to podcast has picked it up relatively quickly,” he says.
Here are three other audio editing tools that participants in my informal survey praised:
- Riverside.fm: Linda Melone, a B2B copywriter and podcaster, likes Riverside.fm because audio is stored locally on a podcaster’s computer, leading to better sound quality. The alternative is cloud-stored audio, which can be subject to technical glitches. Price: Free basic plan, $15-a-month standard plan, and $24-a-month pro plan. Pricing for the enterprise plan is tailored to each client.
- GarageBand: Melone recommends this Apple tool because it’s free and already built into Mac computers, iPads, and iPhones. Although she lauds the sound quality, it does have some limitations: “I find it’s not very intuitive, so I don’t always use it,” Melone says.
- Reaper: Butler calls Reaper a “next step up” from Audacity. Among the pluses he mentions are that it is more user-friendly than Audacity and offers an array of effects. In addition, he appreciates that Reaper charges only a one-time fee ($60 for a discounted license for certain customers, such as nonprofits and educational organizations, or $225 for a commercial license). Reaper offers a 60-day free trial.
4. Editorial calendar software
Sure, you can maintain your editorial calendar in a spreadsheet. But how functional is that? (Hint: not very.) Therefore, you should explore free or low-cost editorial calendar software to keep your content marketing train on track.
My favorite in this category is Trello, which is billed as a tool for managing projects, organizing tasks, and building collaboration. I find Trello easy to grasp, even for the most non-techie person out there. Most importantly, it does precisely what it’s supposed to do.
In the sample Trello board (below), content pieces are tagged, annotated, and arranged into categories based on their current stage in the content workflow.
Image via HubSpot
Trello’s basic plan is free. The standard plan for smaller teams is $5 per user each month; the premium plan for larger teams is $10 per user each month. A higher-cost enterprise plan is available.
While I am a big fan of Trello, it might not be the best option for you. Content Mavericks recommends several tools worth investigating, including:
- Airtable: As Content Mavericks describes it, Airtable “is an all-in-one collaboration tool with powerful editorial workflows.” Price: Free plan for individuals and teams; $10 per user each month or $20 per user each month for upgraded plans, with free trials for both. An enterprise-level package is also available.
- Flow-e: According to Content Mavericks, “Flow-e turns your Gmail and Outlook into Trello-like task lists while letting you add notes, to-dos, and due dates to emails. Perfect if you love working out of your email and want to eliminate the need for an external editorial calendar.” Price: Free, although the team plan is geared toward use in conjunction with Kanbanize, a paid product from the same company.
- Zenkit: Content Mavericks notes Zenkit is a project management tool that can double as an editorial calendar. Price: Free personal plan; $9 a month per user for the “plus” plan and $25 a month per user for the business plan. A customized enterprise plan is also available.
It’s worth noting that I haven’t tried Airtable, Flow-e, or Zenkit. As such, I’d suggest testing editorial calendar software, ideally through a free trial, before spending money on it.
5. Video editing software
Cisco once predicted that internet video traffic would represent 84% of all consumer internet traffic by 2022. It’s a widely quoted statistic that makes sense, given that YouTube ranks as the second most visited website in the U.S., according to Semrush.
Will that in mind, video should be a key part of your content marketing program. But if your budget can’t accommodate hiring a videographer, what do you do? You shoot your own video (perhaps on a smartphone) and edit the video with free or low-cost software. Here are four video editing tools that deserve a look.
- Canva: Canva gets a nod here because its visual content capabilities are so versatile.
- Clipchamp (Windows devices) and iMovie (macOS and iOS devices): Several people I surveyed mentioned Clipchamp and iMovie. Why? Because free versions are available and are compatible with Microsoft (Clipchamp) and Apple (iMovie) software. Price for Clipchamp: Free basic plan; $119.99 a year for the upgraded plan. Price for iMovie: Free.
- Adobe Premiere Pro: Joey Campbell, director of organic growth at Nike (a former client), tells me he typically uses Adobe Premiere Pro (known as Premiere Rush for mobile) to edit videos. “I think it’s one of the most sophisticated video editing suites out there, but it does have a learning curve for newer video editors,” Campbell says. Price: $20.99-a-month individual plan; $35.99-a-month business plan.
- Descript: Bart Frischknecht, co-founder and CEO of Comomba, provider of a content marketing platform, likes iMovie, Soapbox, and Vidyard. But he’s getting ready to switch to Descript, which also received recommendations from other people I surveyed. Frischknecht uses the free version of Descript, which also provides audio editing features. He hails this tool for its “very strong” transcription capabilities. “I can grab the transcript and make a close-captioned file or reuse the text in a blog, which is awesome,” Frischknecht says. Price: Free basic plan; upgraded plans for $12 per editor each month or $24 per editor each month. A custom-priced enterprise is available too.
The bottom line
Yes, it can be daunting to produce content on a shoestring budget. But with the right tools, attitude, and time management, you and the rest of your content marketing team can generate high-quality content that your audience will think came from a high-dollar initiative.
All tools mentioned are identified by the author. If you have a tool to suggest, please add it in the comments.
Published by Jayhawk Media LLC affiliate HawkStar Press, The Stripped-Down Guide to Content Marketing: Success Secrets for Beginners is designed to help businesses learn key lessons about content marketing, avoid mistakes, save time and build revenue. Buy the book on Amazon.
Jayhawk Media specializes in content creation and content marketing strategy; HawkStar Press is its publishing arm.