A simple guide for startups to determine marketing budget

The greatest catch-22 many young companies face in growing and marketing their business is this: you need to grow your brand to make money, but have zero money. For more established brands, you may want to experiment with newer marketing, like content marketing or native ads. So where does the money go? How can you determine a marketing budget? What’s the return on investment? Well, here’s a handy guide and quick reference to do just that.

Let’s assume that the best way to determine your marketing budget is a percentage of the company’s projected or established gross revenue. It is often recommended that companies that have been in business for one to five years should allocate 12–20 percent of their gross revenue or projected revenue on marketing for the year. Whereas established companies should allocate six to 12 percent on marketing from sales revenue, a startup should spend more money because it has to create buzz and market share as well as build industry connections.

Now that you have a rough percentage of your money needed to set aside, it’s time to break down that projected amount into categories for your marketing. Production costs (like art, design, talent), technology costs ,and paid advertising and content marketing all need to be considered in your budget. For startups or brands looking to change things up, these are the essential factors (and general costs) you need to account for in your budget. Of course, many of these essential costs depend upon your budget, goals, staff and industry, so take this advice with a grain of salt.


From business cards to letterheads to outdoor signs (depending on what’s right for your company), branding is the first impression of your business. Depending on your budget, you can receive relatively inexpensive designs and determine what products (brochures, business cards, menus, etc.) are right for you business. Remember that branding is an investment for the future of your company and you’ll want to fork over a chunk of cash to perfect the look. A small design agency may charge between $4,000–5,000 for branding, but cheaper alternatives exist. This is your company’s first impression; you’ll want to make it count.


The more web savvy you and your staff are, the easier setting up your website is going to be. However, if you’d like your website to look like the rest of your branding, hire some extra help. Website messaging, positioning, SEO, content, site upkeep fees, and talent are factors to consider to elevate your website presence. Generally, an all-inclusive website can cost $3,500–5,000 if you go to the professionals. Remember to make sure it’s mobile-friendly, otherwise you are just another victim to Mobilegeddon.

Social media

The biggest lie of marketing your business is that you need to be on every single platform—Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, Pinterest, LinkedIn, Google+, StumbleUpon, etc. Community management 101 tells us to build a community from the ground up. If you’re just starting, allocate your resources to a select few social media platforms that make sense for your audience and grab a social savvy intern or staff member to handle updates. Otherwise, start at $1,000–2,500 a month on a freelance community manager or small agency, plus the tools to succeed in social media and community management (think: Hootsuite).

Content marketing

The internet runs on content. You need consistent, high-quality content in order to attract eyeballs, traffic, and dollars to your business. Google likes content, for example, and their algorithms control how easy it is to find your business. It’s a no brainer then that you need to allocate some of you marketing budget to content marketing. You may be tempted to assign one person on their team to tack it on their job, but content marketing deserves full attention in order to create an effective strategy to reach its potential. Though content marketing takes up less room in your initial budget, the future is calling for more content, and thus, a bigger marketing budget. The right content marketing agencies will scale with your budget, typically starting at $2,000 a month for content strategy and production.

Traditional advertising

Traditional advertising doesn’t work on the internet very well (re: banner ads), but it’s still essential for a variety of industries. This type of traditional full-scale advertising—including print, social media posts, outdoor, digital, pay per click—costs at least $3,000.


The cheapest way to network? Attend other company events, which is a compelling option for many startups. However, holding events is essential for many industries, and typically range in budget. For one event, allocate at least $5,000 and go from there to build your network.

Remember that this is a starter kit—costs will fluctuate for different needs, different campaigns, and different years within your company. For example, after the initial deposit on branding, you won’t need to allocate as much money to that portion of your marketing budget. In fact, prepare to funnel that money into content marketing. Content marketing is steadily growing in its budget, with 55 percent of companies saying they will increase their content marketing budget in the next year, for startups and established companies alike. It’s important that your marketing budget remains flexible for the future.

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Image: Startup Stock Photos

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