How much money should you invest in an online business?
It’s a good question and one that I botched up early on in my journey (more on that later).
The quick answer is that it depends heavily on your current experience level, your goals, and how fast you want to see results.
In this article, I’m going to break down how much I think you should be investing in online marketing, where the money should be going, and then how to get the most out of each dollar you spend.
Also, this article will specifically focus on investing as it related to SEO based online business (i.e., content-driven websites), as they are the most suited for new entrepreneurs and people just getting into internet marketing.
Ready to get started?
My Online Marketing Business Models
First off, if you’ve read my article on ways make money online (click here to skim that if you haven’t already), then you know that I love to combine proper SEO with affiliate sales and ads to build my niche content websites.
Personally, I think a niche content business is the BEST way for people new to internet marketing to build something that grows slowly and steadily allowing for time to learn all of the nuances that come along with creating websites online.
On top of that, it can passively earn you money when you combine SEO with affiliate offers and display ads, which is perfect for folks who are doing this as a side-thing.
To give you an idea, the business model could look something like this…
You create a website on all things related to fishing. You publish content on how to fish, discuss the best lures, what bait hooks work best for which fish, etc. You promote your articles and get links to your website. Because Google sees that your content is good and people are mentioning you around the internet, you begin to get higher rankings. With higher rankings comes higher traffic which means more money from affiliate links, ads, etc. Rinse and repeat this process until your website is big enough to be sold.
Most of the effort comes in at the beginning when you create content and then the results roll in months later after you’ve done your promotion.
See the below for an example of one of my site’s growth over the last year.
Now on the other side of the spectrum…
…you have e-commerce based businesses that require a constant stream of paid traffic from Facebook or Google to keep product moving and earning you money.
Of course, e-commcerce businesses can also leverage Google and the rest of the search engines to drive traffic, but if you’ve invested a bunch of personal money into inventory or want to keep your suppliers happy, then you’re going to need to pay for traffic to get quick results, which is expensive, time-consuming, and very risky.
Not something I recommend for people working full-time… or just starting out.
Getting paid traffic to work requires lots of upfront investment to test and zero in on the best targeting to get to your audience. Even experienced paid media marketers need at least a budget of $5,000-$10,000 to START.
Again, I bring it back to SEO because it gives people breathing room and lots of time bootstrap their online business while still keeping busy with their day jobs.
This allows you a bit more flexibility when it comes to initial investment as well.
I know this from experience because one of my biggest mistakes was investing in product inventory and a website at the outset, which is the worst possible thing you could do.
Because I had no traffic and no audience to sell to.
So what should you invest in when it comes to an SEO based business?
Content and article promotion.
Niche Content Business (2 Things Needed For Success)
When starting an niche content business, you’re going to need to do two major things to succeed.
First, you’re going to need to create content around a given niche/topic…
…then you’re going to need to promote it to people who might find it interesting/helpful.
For example, you might decide to create an niche content site around fishing (using the same topic from earlier example).
You love fishing and have endless things to say about fishing, you think it’s perfect…
The next thing to do would be a bit of keyword research to see what most people like to learn about fishing.
This is important because you don’t want to create content around topics no one cares about.
To help with this I would use a free tool like Ubersuggest to start generating some keyword ideas. This tool pulls keyword data from Google and its database, which allows us to get a bit smarter on where to start.
Typing in the word “fish” should start generating some ideas.
Again, what’s going on here is that this tool is querying Google’s database of what real people are typing into Google and spitting back the data.
This information is CRITICAL for SEO because it provides direction and focus for your content.
Below you’ll notice all the keywords associated with the word “fish” and the search volume next to each. The search volume that’s noted there is pulled from Google and is an estimate of how many people are searching for that keyword in a given month.
What this report provides is good, but I classify these keywords as “seeds”, which are not really useful for creating content.
You’re still going to want to dive a bit deeper to get behind the “intent” of each keyword.
So let’s filter these results with a few modifiers (e.g., what, how, when, etc).
NOW we’re getting somewhere!
You can start to see what people are typing into Google.
But do you notice something off?
Most of these keywords have nothing to do with the act of fishing but are more to do with actual fish…
Let’s refine things a bit.
“Fishing” is a better keyword than “fish” because it gets us closer to the intent I want from my users.
Let’s filter the results again, but this time using the modifier “how”.
And there ya go, two topics you can start to create content around.
Let’s get even more granular…
By heading over to Google and typing in the keyword to see what the auto-suggest feature comes up with. Each of those suggestions would be additional content ideas you could create entire articles around.
And there ya go… add those to a spreadsheet or notepad so you don’t lose them and then que them to be written as future articles.
And this brings me back to investment.
In order to make real money with niche sites you’re going to need to create the content for Google to index.
Lot’s of content.
Like 100’s of articles.
Who’s going to do that?
Are you going to do it yourself (time investment) or pay someone to do it (cash investment)?
Let’s have a look at both options.
Investment Options: Time or Money
When it comes to investment in early-stage businesses, generally the business owner will have to contribute their personal time (aka sweat equity) to make up for the lack of cash in the business.
Niche content websites are no exception.
As mentioned in the previous section, two major things need to get done in order for this type of business to be successful.
Those tasks are content creation and content promotion.
Someone needs to create the content and someone is going to need to promote it.
When To Invest Time?
The first option you have is to invest your time.
I would recommend this option to beginners.
Even if you’re sitting on piles of cash, investing your time in the early stage is critical to understanding all of the nuances that go into this type of business.
When I first started, I wrote and promoted all of my articles.
How could I direct someone else if I didn’t know the process myself?
If you start to outsource before you understand the process, you open yourself up to a significant amount of risk.
Risk that the content you pay for is crap.
If your content is crap, then you’re creating a very weak foundation for your website.
You won’t know how to hire writers to create content for you or vet freelancers to help with article promotion.
Skipping the learning stage too soon is a surefire way to set yourself up to fail.
Instead, do the research, learn about your niche (e.g., fishing, hiking, etc), research keywords, and network with other websites that publish content on your topic.
Once you get a handle on how to do things, you can create defined processes and delegate tasks to freelancers.
Only once that is done should you start exploring ways to scale things up with monetary investment.
When To Invest Money?
As I’ve mentioned, I would only recommend you start investing money when you’ve learned the in’s and out’s of building a niche content site.
Some questions you should be able to answer…
- Do you have a defined process to consistently create good content in your selected niche?
- Do you have a defined process to find people to reach out to and promote your newly created content?
If yes, great, time to scale things up by outsourcing and paying people to help facilitate each of these processes.
Something I’ll also add is that investing your personal money can help with ensuring you stay motivated…
This point is especially important for people who work full-time and can lose focus easily.
How Much Should You Invest?
Okay, you’ve got defined processes and have decided that, yes, you are going to start investing in your business.
But how much should you put in?
As a general rule, I would say start with content and invest as much money into it as you can afford while still maintaining a certain standard of quality. When you begin to outsource and scale content creation, quality loss is inevitable. Being able to keep it at above 80% of what it could be if you wrote the entire thing yourself is a good measure to follow.
Personally, I did a couple of key things to maintain quality…
- I first created detailed writing briefs so my writers knew exactly what to do and what not to do.
- I then recorded myself on camera explaining the briefs as well as outlined and wrote an actual article showing them my exact process step-by-step. This way they can easily replicate it and make me (their client) happy.
- The last thing I did was provide video feedback sessions after they submitted an article. I would break down what I liked, what I didn’t like, and then have them make edits accordingly.
At the end of the day, all an outsourced freelancer wants to do is make their client happy.
If you give them all the tools they need to ensure your expectations are met, they’ll deliver gold every time!
This makes it much EASIER and LESS RISKY to order $3,000 worth of content for your website, which is exactly what I did.
As far as cost for a writer to actually DO the writing…
Personally, I don’t pay more than $20-$40/article @ 1,500 words.
2019 Update: I do now pay around $50-$70 for 1,500 words in exchange for the reduction in time I need to take to edit completed content. I still do recommend trying to find cheaper writers in the beginning to save on cost and just spend more time editing until you have the capital to hire more expensive writers.
I’m confident that my training process can make up for any loss in skill that you may find with a $60-$90 writer for the same amount of words per article.
You can easily find dozens of writers on Upwork.com from all over the world.
One thing I do not skimp on is hiring a native English speaker.
If and when you outsource content, NEVER hire someone who doesn’t speak the native language for your website.
Again in my case, it’s English.
Readers can tell from a mile away that the writer isn’t English speaking and it will almost always result in lower performance.
As for investing in outreach and article promotion…
I tend to keep this in-house as it is a very sensitive part of the business.
It is critical to write emails a certain way, follow-up delicately, and just maintain a professional correspondence with others in your industry.
I DO outsource the contact collection part of my outreach (i.e., gathering of emails to outreach to). I pay this person $.10 per URL reviewed and typically do batches of 1,000 per outreach campaign. Once he gathers the emails, I will load them in a tool like Mailshake and get to emailing.
How To Get The Most Out Of Your Investment?
The last topic I want to cover is how to get the most out of the cash you spend.
I think I touched on this a bit in the previous section as I described my content creation process.
Since most of your investment will be spent on content, the best way to get the most out of it is to train your writers on EXACTY what you want.
- Train them on writing style.
- Train them on grammar.
- Train them on how to research a given topic.
- Train them on how to outline an article.
Training is so critical because it will directly impact how well your writers write, which will direclty impact how users engage with your site, which will then result in either higher rankings in the search engines (good content) or lower rankings in the search engines (poor content).
But before you can train a writer, you’re going to need to roll up your sleeves and do it yourself.
This is really the only way to truly know exaclty how to train them to write well.
And that’s it…
Those are my thoughts on investing in your business.
I hope this guide was helpful and provide a bit of insight into how I allocate resources for my own projects.
Questions? Drop a comment down below!