Why Nothing Great Happens with Content Marketing at Less than 10 Hours Per Week

by Marcus Sheridan

time for content marketingIn a conversation with a company looking to “dip their toes” in content marketing last week, I said something that I’ve said to at least a dozen other companies this year:

“Sorry, but you’re not ready for content marketing.”

Yep, it’s a statement I make all the time, mainly because I’ve come to realize a very simple truth:

Those that “dip their toes” in content marketing generally fail to achieve significant results every single time. (And I’m not interested in companies failing under my watch)

I could literally go on and on as to why this statement is true, but with today’s brief post, I’m going to explain what I’ve seen as the minimum logistical time investment per week needed for companies to experience success and results with their content marketing efforts.

But before I give any actual numbers, let me just quickly mention the general “to-do’s” of someone (be it one person or many) involved in content marketing:

  • Writing, editing, and posting blog articles
  • Studying analytics and reports (traffic, leads, conversions, keyword research, etc.)
  • Learning how to use marketing software (like HubSpot, Salesforce, etc.)
  • Making additions/changes to the company website (includes calls-to-action, landing pages, etc.)
  • Producing video content (generally comes after textual content for most companies, but still a must in today’s visual world)
  • Keeping up with latest trends, tools, strategies, etc. (staying informed and educated)

Although this list could certainly be significantly longer, those 6 actions are ones that most companies (the good ones at least) are dealing with on a weekly basis to one degree or another to make their content marketing work.

The 10-Hour Rule of Content Marketing Success

It is also for this reason that every company I speak with about this is given a minimum work expectancy of 10 hours per week if they plan on making a successful and meaningful go at content marketing.

Anything less than 10 hours a week just doesn’t cut it, trust me. In fact, the bigger the size of the company, the more time is often required.

But let’s assume for a second you’re a small business (we’ll say less than 100 million in sales a year) and you’re trying to understand what goes into this minimum time frame. Here is a simple break-down of where time goes:

Typical Week of Content Marketing

  • 3 Blog articles at 90 minutes each——– 4.5 hours total
  • Keyword research, targeting, and tracking——–1.5 hours
  • Adding a new landing page to the website——–1 hour
  • Learning how to use current sales/marketing tools successfully (this is especially true for beginners)——-2 hours
  • Leveraging social media platforms——–1 hour

Again, there are countless examples of what a typical week of work would look like, but hopefully you see my point, and that is this: 10 hours can go very quickly. This is also why many companies, especially ones that can afford it, have a full-time employee dedicated to content marketing alone.

Some will read this number of 10 hours and laugh at it, mainly because the best answer for the time question is “it depends”—but sometimes saying “it depends” isn’t enough.

This is especially true when a business is considering content marketing but isn’t sure of just how much time they want to invest in the process. It’s also why marketing agencies, consultants, and companies need to be brutally honest with time expectations with these businesses on the front end, otherwise many of these folks will be destined to fail simply because they had no idea what they were getting themselves into. (Note** I literally make my clients sign a disclaimer that says, “If I spend any less than 10 hours a week on our content marketing, we will NOT get the results we’re looking for.”)

I’m not saying with this post that if a company can’t go “all in” with their time that they shouldn’t experiment with blogging, content marketing, etc.

What I am saying, though, is that if a company is looking to get great results, they need to be willing to put in the work, and therefore time, to make this happen. 10 hours is the bare-bones minimum in most cases, and I suspect with time, due to competition, this number will only go up.

Your Take

Ok, so I’ve said my piece on this, now I’d like to hear yours. Realistically, what do you think is the minimum amount of time the average business can spend on content marketing, per week, to experience success? (Saying “it depends” is not allowed for this discussion) Also, how much time does your company spend? Do you feel like that is sufficient?

I’m very curious to read your thoughts on this….

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{ 58 comments… read them below or add one }

Carla Johnson September 16, 2013 at

Marcus,
I think this is a very realistic bare minimum. Everything takes longer than people think, and it’s very easy to get distracted or head down a rabbit hole on any one of the things you’ve listed. Poof! 10 hours can quickly disappear just trying to narrow blogs posts down to 3 topics for the week. And if you need to have a consensus from a group about those topics, that’s a whole different time consideration.

By breaking it out like you did, it’s helpful for people to see the balance of where they could/should be spending their time for a legitimate “toe dipping.”
Carla

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Marcus Sheridan September 17, 2013 at

Isn’t that the truth Carla! Heck, I think I’ve already passed the 10 hour mark today!! ;-)

Great seeing you in Cleveland btw!!!!!!!!!!

Marcus

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Jane September 16, 2013 at

Right on! That’s brutal truth – but yes it is still truth. I’ve learned quite the same pretty much recently. Why most companies and small businesses are stubborn to accepting this fact is because, it has become quite a common myth that online is a place for lazy people. They think that those that don’t want to go to a 9-5 job and those that who WANT to live a life free life (by always going on vacation and living a carefree life) start online businesses.

Having freedom doesn’t mean that one can escape from real “work” before expecting success! Only real work or real action gets real results.

And you have given a very reasonable list here. Of course, keyword research, and analyzing the analytics take up quite some time – but as you say, all is part of the game :)

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Marcus Sheridan September 17, 2013 at

Yeah, I once wrote an article entitled “The curse of Tim Ferris” that talked about that very thing Jane :-)

The work has to be done….

Marcus

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Mike Brooks September 16, 2013 at

I think 10 hours is pretty spot on. I think there are ways to get that time down or at least maximize the time spent. But there needs to be full commitment by everyone involved and someone in the company has to take that leadership role.

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Marcus Sheridan September 17, 2013 at

Yep, that’s a whole other ball of wax Mike–the person that takes on the leadership role and pushes this all through.

No content leader, no long term success.

Thanks again,

Marcus

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steve werner September 16, 2013 at

I am really new to this so this information was great.

Any other tips for getting my site recognized??

SW

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Liudas Butkus September 16, 2013 at

I think 10 hours per week is the bare minimum you need to do to see a little bit of progress with your blog. To see better, quicker results you need to work much harder.

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Jeevan Jacob John September 16, 2013 at

For me, right now, commenting and social media alone takes 10 hours a day (I suppose I can attribute a lot of the time loss to having no proper technique in typing. I am working on in though; trying to improve my typing skills).

But like you mentioned, Marcus, a company or a person can’t expect to get much results without time investment.

Working hard is not just enough, we need to work smart, and more efficiently.

I think the minimum should be around 12-15 hours (10 seems to short; for faster results, we need to put in some more time).

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Marcus Sheridan September 17, 2013 at

Wow Jeevan, now that’s commitment!! I’ve got to hand it to you, I’m impressed!

Keep up the great work,

Marcus

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Sheila September 16, 2013 at

While x amount of hours is a good thing to shoot for, I personally think what’s more important is consistency. Even just doing a few hours each week is better than nothing, and certainly better than trying to do 10 hours once and then quitting. Slow and steady wins the race. While someone will definitely see results faster if they put in more hours, doesn’t mean putting in any less is pointless.

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Marcus Sheridan September 17, 2013 at

Without question Sheila, consistency is a huge deal here. It’s amazing the peaks and valleys so many companies that go through when trying to do content marketing the right way. Plus, like you said, consistency often leads to more of a time investment, and that’s when the cool stuff really starts ;-)

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Michael September 16, 2013 at

“Note** I literally make my clients sign a disclaimer that says, “If I spend any less than 10 hours a week on our content marketing, we will NOT get the results we’re looking for.”)”

Fantastic! Hahaha. That’s one way to avoid a client wondering why their 3 blog posts per month didn’t double their traffic.

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Marcus Sheridan September 17, 2013 at

Exactly Michael!!

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Matthew Brun September 16, 2013 at

I’m so glad that I came across your content. I read through your eBook and it’s AWESOME! I am a new business owner and feel blessed that I have your content as a guide so that I’m able to do this right the first time. I read a lot of posts from people wishing they would have read this content earlier- not me!

I also listen to one of your followers, Ryan Hanley. He has awesome content too!

I worked on my marketing strategy last night and this post helps me to make a few key adjustments. Thanks again!

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Marcus Sheridan September 17, 2013 at

So glad you’re a new reader Matthew. And yeah, keep listening to that Hanley guy. Dude is wayyy smarter than me, I mean that.

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Chris Mack September 16, 2013 at

10 hours is great if you have it. The average micro business owner (freelancer, small business owner with less than 5 employees) spends on average 5 hours a week on marketing activities. I believe you can make an impact even with 5 hours.

Here’s another possible breakdown of a typical week if you use the right tools for the job:

One Blog Post at 3 hours/week — 3 hours total (1 quality blog post/week better than 2 dashed off, IMO micro business doesn’t need 3 blog posts a week)
Keyword Research and tracking — 2-3 hours one-off up-front, then 1 hour a month, tops.
Landing Page – not even necessary unless you’re doing PPC or already having success with content marketing (assuming offline sales)
Tools – 1 hour a week for the first couple of months, then maybe 1 hour every other month (for new tools)
Social Media – at least 1 hour a week.

So, let’s say 7 hours a week for the first couple of months, dropping to 4.5 hours a week after that. Of course, the number of hours spent on content creation can vary widely. A well-researched blog post can take up to 8 hours to research and write. A passionate one without the research backup maybe an hour or two. The nice thing about writing is that it can actually be a relaxing activity. And some of it can be outsourced.

How do I know this? I’ve seen it with our clients on http://www.getspokal.com – keyword tracking all built in, keyword research tools part of the platform, real-time SEO advice as you type, drag and drop content creation aids, automatic social media publishing. Using our platform, and social media monitoring tools like Hootsuite, a very effective online presence can be created within 6 months that makes a material difference to the bottom line.

10 hours would be great – I just don’t see too many freelancers/micro business owners who are willing to put in that kind of time until they start seeing the results.

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Marcus Sheridan September 17, 2013 at

Chris, I don’t disagree with your take at all. There are many methods, times, strategies, etc that could be argued in a conversation like this one, and I think it’s great that you’ve systematized it like you have.

Keep up the great work,

Marcus

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Jeremy Abel September 16, 2013 at

Hi Marcus,

Great topic, and I actually had the pleasure of referencing the 10 hour content commitment during a recent discovery meeting… must have been something I heard at Inbound :)

On my own website I devote fewer than 2 hours per week on content and the results are indicative of that. But it’s a reflection of my priorities (client and company work ahead of Jeremy).

For the average business, 10 hours really isn’t enough considering the addition of email marketing, premium content (such as eBooks, guides), and writing for EVERY stage of the consumer decision making process.

While 10 hours may seem like an uphill battle, with enough practice those 10 hours become increasingly more productive over time. I prefer to see business owners focus on what they’re best at (i.e. actually writing out the content since they know their industry so well) and letting the inbound marketing specialists enhance the process by handling the rest (e.g. writing search engine friendly titles and descriptions, interlinking between pages, sharing the content, graphic design, analytics).

As a famous essayist once said, “The value of life lies not in the length of days, but in the use we make of them…” You only have so many hours in a day, so prioritize wisely.

Love the topic and the 10 hour baseline! Keep changing lives, Marcus.

All the Best,

Jeremy

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Marcus Sheridan September 17, 2013 at

Jeremy, still bummed we didn’t get more chat time at Inbound.

But yeah, 10 is just scratching the surface. But since the actually time numbers are so rarely talked about, I just had to mention it here, and it has been fun to hear everyone’s take on this.

Thanks so much for all your kind words my friend,

Marcus

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Jeremy Abel September 17, 2013 at

Feeling’s mutual brother, but hey, we’re only a few hundred days away from Inbound 2014! I’m hoping we’ll find a minute to chat before then.

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John Gibb September 17, 2013 at

Hi Marcus

I feel you my man!

I also notice this recurring trend… individuals and companies just trying to make a bet with content marketing, or whatever “new” strategy they fear to implement… it’s the human mind that’s afraid of the unknown, and I understand them.

However, even with proof that content marketing rocks, some folks are still on the fence

For example, my business revolves around niche site building . I rank my sites on Google and have solid proof. I have started a monthly membership and take new clients with me to help them achieve similar results. Yet, some of them are still skeptical.

Usually when I try new methods of driving traffic or business, I start off with the mentality of success. I don’t think there’s any strategy that is dead, I just make it work, and run with it.

Marketing is all about tracking and testing, not trails, period.

To answer your question: minimum time spent with content marketing would be (5x times more, compared with your competitors, producing content and 7x times more, promoting it)

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Marcus Sheridan September 17, 2013 at

“Tracking and testing, not trails…”

AWESOME quote John…I think I might steal it and claim it as my own on Twitter ;-)

Thanks for the great thoughts here,

Marcus

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Dan Moyle September 17, 2013 at

As always Marcus, you’re on point and honest. I love it. As many above have said, 10 hours is just scratching the surface. I devote 40+ hours a week to content/inbound marketing. I’m fortunate that my bosses saw the value of this a long time ago, and I’m the full time marketing person able to tackle this. We’re also expanding the marketing department, so we know it’s working. And we’re a relatively small-medium sized business.

Add to the hours I work all of the research time and other random time I’m thinking about it, and you get a clear picture that it’s not just something to “dip your toes in.” Commit, and you’ll see results. Create, test and hone the strategy, just like anything else in business and life. You’ll get out what you put in.

Cheers!

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Doug Perry September 17, 2013 at

10 hours seems like a good average. What I would love to know is the ROI per hour, somewhere is a sweet spot and I am sure it’s different for every business. And it probably varies from task to task, too. I love creating efficiencies in my tasks so this is a constant pursuit for me.

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Marcus Sheridan September 17, 2013 at

I’m with you there Doug. And I think one of the great keys to this is leveraging the 80/20 rule and figuring out what 20% of our SM/CM actions lead to 80% of the results….and then knowing where we should actually be spending all of our time. ;-)

Thanks for stopping by man,

Marcus

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Marcus Sheridan September 17, 2013 at

Dan, I’d love to know how you spend your average week. What those hours look like. If you’re ever interested in being a featured case study here on TSL, featuring how you spend every hour of your week, I’d really like to talk to you. I think it could be a huge help to others.

Hmmmmm ;-)

Marcus

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Dan Moyle September 19, 2013 at

Marcus – I’m always happy to chat with you my friend. I’d guess you have my email so feel free to hit me up. Have a great weekend man!

Cheers.
Dan

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Lee Kirkby September 17, 2013 at

Marcus: My experience says that ten hours is a good estimate of the minimum although I would lean to twelve to fifteen as a good potential for a company trying to really ramp up. It takes time to build momentum at this content game and therefore more is needed earlier. As you refine techniques there will always be a desire to produce more polished material and that will also take more time even as you get better at it.

Example I put in over an hour yesterday to create a new CTA, build a non gated landing page for it, link to some key industry news affecting one of our suppliers and then put the CTA into the website page so people can find the material. Kind of a long term news jacking strategy. That did not include any of the research time making sure I had the right material for the links.

The one area I think that also should be stressed is this is a fluid activity so your learning time will always be required. That means some offline time spent keeping up with the process and learning from blogs like Sales Lion.

Thanks for reminding us the effort is needed and worthwhile.

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Marcus Sheridan September 17, 2013 at

Lee, really appreciate the break-down. It’s always so very interesting to me how other spend/manage their content marketing and social media “time.”

Have a great week my friend,

Marcus

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Dave Kenny September 17, 2013 at

10 hrs is a bare minimum needed, for successful use of content marketing as part of a business strategy
My answer to that need and the attendant cost is to contract with
someone who will fulfill this function and perhaps more on the tech front and pay them a percentage of the increased revenue we would expect to see doing all this
Bottom line is always results that show profit
That has not changed since business began

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Marcus Sheridan September 17, 2013 at

Very true Dave. None of this is “good,” at least for a business, if it’s not profitable.

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Adam September 17, 2013 at

A great post…again! Yea, between time reading blogs, writing content, research, promoting content, building relationships, etc. I bet I spend 20-25 hours/week on it. I never really calculated it, but it certainly takes up a good portion of my week.

Creating content is building an asset for any business, so I know the “in the trenches” work now will pay off in the long run. It already is paying off, but know that it will continue to pay off.

A blog post can generate leads for years, a cold call cannot do that.

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Marcus Sheridan September 17, 2013 at

That’s exactly it Adam. Done right, it can be a snowball rolling down the hill….and btw, count the hours you spend the next time you get the chance, it may be quite telling!

Thanks for stopping by,

Marcus

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Leah Hoppes September 17, 2013 at

I really enjoyed this Marcus. Two hours a day is nothing if it involves creating/managing multiple social media platforms AND blog writing. If they want thoughtful, quality content – it’s going to be more than that. I love that you have that disclaimer – you rock!

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Marcus Sheridan September 17, 2013 at

Hahaha, thanks Leah, I think responsibility disclaimers like mine are a must for the occasional slacker clients! ;-)

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Iain September 18, 2013 at

I think it makes total sense.

I like the fact that you give companies a tangible number to say hey this is the minimum.

If you do less, your chances of failure dramatically increase.

By doing that, I think it allows people to wrap their head around the whole concept of content marketing. I mean if they don’t realise what is involved they may start wondering why they aren’t getting the results they want.

I like it. The ten hour rule.

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Steve Freeman September 18, 2013 at

Marcus,

If you had told me this when I first started blogging I don’t think I would have gotten into it.

Now that I’ve been in it for 1.5 years I am beginning to see what work it takes. And I’m doing it. I seem to be doing closer to 3 hours per day, sometimes more. I find it fairly time consuming looking for and learning the different platforms and methods of content marketing.

I am slowly finding my path and my voice, some people are even beginning to talk back, of course maybe it’s just the voices in my head…

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international decor September 18, 2013 at

It’s very useful article, thank you for sharing it with us

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Prateek Pandey September 18, 2013 at

With less than 10 hrs content marketing can never succeed. Barely a hour each day that is not much, I would rather say it should 2 hrs daily to get good results…

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Prateek Pandey September 18, 2013 at

With less than 10 hrs of content marketing can never succeed. Barely a hour each day that is not much, I would rather say it should 2 hrs daily to achieve some good results…

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Semidoppel September 20, 2013 at

As I noticed some of my friends who are into content marketing, most of them are updating twice a week and they are consuming more than 10 hours an article before they finish it. Probably it depends on their technique and approach.

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Sahahzad hasni September 22, 2013 at

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Keith September 23, 2013 at

I tend to agree with the remark about consistency rather than a given number. It also depends on your definition of “success”? If its to increase traffic only then what is success – 50% increase? 100%? But its rarely just about traffic – conversions are more important in many cases and while more traffic should/might lead to more conversions (sales etc), that often depends on the type of traffic coming to your site.

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Glenys September 24, 2013 at

The breakdown of a typical week is so useful! And I agree with Carla that everything always ends up taking longer than at first estimated. So beginners, especially, would need to allow more time for most of the 6 tasks. Great post, thanks.

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Clare September 24, 2013 at

I think that ten hours of commitment is a minimum when they are attempting the work in-house. However, initially at least, I would always recommend they outsource their on-site and off-site activities including blog posts and SM marketing, for maximum results. I can get great results for a client based on blocks of 2 hours. They can expect results that build in relation to those blocks. I sometimes think that undertaking the work in-house, usually with an untrained member of staff is a false economy.

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ganoderma coffee September 24, 2013 at

superb article, very informative! It is very time consuming to be active on all social media available, yet it is an important cornerstone for online success and marketing.Thanks for the post.Thanks!

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Mitch September 25, 2013 at

Hey Marcus,
i think how much time you spend on content marketing your business depends on how old and how big is your business,
if i was a startup business, no reputation, no famous name , no links etc… i would say 9 hours per is too few, you should probably even spend 75% of your time content marketing, but an old already grown established business doesn’t need to content market as much as start-ups, few hours per week could b enough or even per month, just a couple of new posts will do.
Many thanks and Best wishes!

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Moucon September 25, 2013 at

Marcus- I understand the need to try to quantify “how much is required” – how much time, how many posts, yadda yadda – it gives noobs something to latch on to for preliminary planning purposes and kind of weeds out the tire-kickers.

But- the truth is not “N hours per week” – it’s “What are your business objectives….and what do you need to do to achieve them? ” True entrepreneurs (including yourself) know the true answer is “Whatever it takes” – especially at first. If someone is looking at their business like a 40-hr/week job and thinking “Ok…25% of that I’ll spend doing X”… they are sadly mistaken and probably going to be severely disappointed. If you’re an experienced writer, 90 minutes per blog post might be perfectly adequate – or it might take someone 3x that much time – but either way the posts must go on. And three posts might be enough – or not. If you’re going to use social media and “content marketing” to market your business -it really needs to be a lifestyle and not a numbers game. If the work created is not authentic, it will not generate business, regardless of how many hours were or weren’t devoted. That authenticity is what is missing from so many agency-generated campaigns, and that, in-turn, is why so many content-marketing strategies completely fail to bring any results. It’s a rare third-party agency that can bring the authenticity that the owner of the company (or someone else in Sr. Management) can bring to a content-marketing campaign. Authentic – that’s the key. A blog post filed on-the-run by the company owner – from an iPhone – is going to be much more effective than some generic dribble generated by a marketing firm.

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Tiffany Cavegn September 26, 2013 at

100% TRUE!

And if you are brand new at the process, add another 10 to identify and build REMARKABLE content, modify your website for the customer experience instead of just product listings, etc. We have 4 out of 6 employees working on this in some way each and every day. And that doesn’t even count the many blogs I like to read to learn about what’s working for other people.

The good news: never a dull moment and the days just fly by :) Talk to you soon!

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Lalitha September 26, 2013 at

One of the best strategies to help you attract increasing numbers of visitors to your website, encourage their frequent return, and grow an ever increasing fan base is to use content marketing strategies

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Lalitha September 26, 2013 at

One of the best strategies to help you attract increasing numbers of visitors to your website, encourage their frequent return, and grow an ever increasing fan base is to use content marketing strategies.
KEep working on these to achieve something great.

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Mark A Carbone September 26, 2013 at

Couldn’t agree with you more. I’d say it’s more like 15 hours a week to be successful no matter what industry or topic.

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Marcus Sheridan September 27, 2013 at

Yep, no doubt Mark. The more, the merrier in most cases :-)

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Krisz October 14, 2013 at

Marcus, my number is 15 hours per week – at least! If you’re doing PowerPoint videos and you also have a podcast running you definitely have to add even more hours. Awesome topic; I’m glad you wrote about it. Thanks.

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Luis Arias October 15, 2013 at

This is great. For someone who is just starting this is more than enough. I wish i had this information when I did. Thank you Marcus

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ivan October 21, 2013 at

I love your understanding of a small business, less than a 100 million in sales a year LOL

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