For the seasoned content marketer, setting a budget is actually pretty easy. Take a look at how you spent money the past year, then take a look at your results. If you've seen good results from certain areas and bad results from others, increase your budget in the successful areas and decrease it from the unsuccessful areas. If everything is successful, increase your total budget, and if everything is unsuccessful, invest in new changes and strategies to try.

But what if you're just getting started in a content marketing campaign? You don't have a previous budget to model next year's budget on, nor do you have any results to draw motivation from. You'll be starting from scratch, which means your budget will be based on nothing more than the information you can gather in a Google search and your own personal intuitions.

Fortunately, you can also bank on my personal experience in the industry. I've helped hundreds of businesses in content marketing, from scratch as well as from existing positions, and this is the best way I've found to set a budget:

Step One: Consider Your Company and Industry

First, take a moment to consider your company and your industry. Almost any company can take advantage of content marketing to some extent, but some require more effort than others. For example, if you're launching a new journalism site or if your industry is ripe with new trends and technology, you'll need a bigger stream of content to stand out than you would in a manufacturing company with only a handful of competitors and rare news developments. The size of your company should also be a factor--for example, a big business would need more cash to build momentum in a highly competitive space, while a small company might need far less (and have less capital to work with, too).

Step Two: Establish Your Goals

Next, you'll want to come up with the main goals of your campaign, and be as specific as possible here. Don't go for a general goal like "get more customers." Are you focusing on increasing your search rankings to drive more organic traffic? Do you want more fuel for your social media presence? Are you looking to build authority and trust for the existing stream of visitors you're currently getting to your site? Your content needs will be dictated by this set of goals, as well as the urgency and demands of these goals. For example, if you're looking to build a large audience quickly, you'll need a higher budget than if you're looking for a long, steady build of trust with your consumers.

Step Three: Take Inventory of Your Position

If you're starting from scratch, this will be quick, but it's important to take inventory of any content marketing vestiges your brand currently holds. For example, do you have a blog? Do you have a social media presence? Do you have any whitepapers or old pieces of content that could be reused and repurposed? If you truly have nothing, a large chunk of your budget should be dedicated to establishing a foundation. If you have a solid foundation, you can direct more money to your ongoing efforts.

Step Four: Evaluate Your Options

For most businesses, there will be three main options to pursue a content marketing campaign:

Hire someone full-time
Work with an agency.
Work with freelancers and other staff.

There's no right or wrong answer here, so think carefully about how much money you want to spend and how quickly you want to see results. If you're just starting out and you don't know what to expect, an agency may be your best option--from there, it's a matter of deciding which price range and experience level you want to go with.

Step Five: Come Up With a Priorities List

Once you've established your main goals, your financial cap, your existing assets, and your main line of work, you can make a short list of priorities to accomplish with your budget. For example, you might set aside a specific amount of cash per month to generate new content posts, a stipend for a freelancer to publish and syndicate those posts, and a remaining amount of cash to serve as a discretionary budget, to be spent on publicity opportunities as they arise. This will help your content strategy take shape concurrently with your budget.

Step Six: Create a Contingency Plan

There's no such thing as a foolproof content marketing plan--or budget. Once you've established a main "working" budget, come up with a handful of contingency plans. What happens if your SEO expert quits? What if you aren't seeing results after a set amount of time? The further ahead you think here, the better.

Unless you're working for a strict, bureaucratic super-company, there's a relieving quality of budgeting in content marketing: it's flexible. If you spend a certain amount the first three months of the year, and you find it isn't enough to make meaningful progress toward your goals, step it up. If you find one of your most anticipated strategies isn't working, stop investing in it. There's a constant give-and-take in the content marketing world, and your success depends on your ability to navigate it--not on your ability to make an accurate prediction from the beginning. Do what you can and rest assured that you'll always have the opportunity to adjust.

Published on: Feb 23, 2016
The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.