Growing your MSP means investing in marketing. Here's how much you might have to spend
How much does MSP marketing cost? Isn't that the question of the day? It's like when a prospect asks you, 'How much does IT support cost?'
The answer to both these questions is "it depends on what you need and want"... but there’s no reason that the ballpark costs should be shrouded in mystery.
In this guide we'll look at all the possible costs you might incur while building up your MSP's marketing. We'll also look at the costs you should expect to pay for a marketing suppliers, as we know these vary wildly - anywhere between $100 and $10,000.
Actually, let's not call them costs, but investments. Marketing is the best investment you can make into your business's future. You can have a great tech stack and epic customer service, but if you don't have any clients, well...
All the suggestions and costs listed here were correct as of January 2023.
Cost of essential marketing resources for MSPs
Let's start out with the 'DIY' route, because with all the great products and resources that are out there, there’s no reason you shouldn't decide to have a go at tackling your marketing yourself.
There is a caveat here though. While you might be tempted to try to do all of your marketing yourself, you personally as the business owner or manager should do as little of the actual work as possible.
Why? Because you have better things to do! Your job is to drive growth in the business and make things happen.
One of our founder Paul Green's favorite sayings is: You should only do what only you can do.
For everything else, ask yourself, "Who can do this for me?" It might be someone in-house, or you might need to find a freelancer. They might be someone local, or more likely a specialist you find on Fiverr or Upwork.
These are the essential resources we believe you will need, with an indication of their price range.
Price range: $1,000 to $5,000+ for a new site, then project work for major updates
This is an agency or person to build your website in the first place, and then perform major works in the future. These might include creating a new page template, or a design refresh every 2-3 years.
Don't be tempted to build a "cheap site" through Wix, Squarespace, GoDaddy or some other builder. Get a proper site built in WordPress and make sure every cent you spend is there on the screen.
Remember, your website is your MSP's storefront, so this is not a place to skimp.
Price range: From $50 for a one off task, to $150+ a month
This person does the day-to-day updating and tweaking for you. That would include keeping all plugins updated, checking backups, adding new content for you, and making any tweaks you need to be done.
There are a number of services now that offer WordPress maintenance; some on an ad-hoc basis and others offering an all you can eat on a Monthly Recurring Revenue (MRR) basis. You'll also find a thousand freelancers willing to help on Upwork.
Just make sure you do some due diligence before giving someone admin access to your site (sounds obvious, but we've seen MSPs sidestep their usual security precautions when it comes to their own website). And ensure you always have access to an automated daily backup in a private storage account, just in case.
Price range: $20 to £100 an hour
We know this is a job the majority of MSPs we meet are very happy to outsource. And no wonder. Writing great original content is not a fun task for most technically-mind people. So why put yourself through that pain?
Don't be tempted by AI writing tools like Jasper.ai. They will definitely be useful in the future, but our opinion is they're not quite ready for the average business owner just yet. If you go down that route you will need to check and edit all thr work, and ut some personality into it. An alternative is to get a writer from Upwork/Fiverr.
You're looking for someone who will take on the full burden of the job:
- Coming up with ideas
- Getting content out of your head (perhaps by interviewing you or editing a transcription of your voice notes)
- Creating fully finished blog articles that you love
We've got a blog on our Learning Hub which explains how to go about finding a good writer on those platforms.
Also, try to look out for an experienced writer who's only just become active on the platform. This means their hourly rate will be artificially low until they get some reviews and build up a following. You may be able to get them to commit to regularly writing for you at a lower rate than other buyers will pay in the future.
Price range: From $100 to $500, one-off
While you may not be a fan of having your photo taken, it's an absolute must as part of your MSP's marketing strategy (you can watch our founder Paul Green explain this on our YouTube channel).
Getting photos done is a once every 2-3 years job. You need an up-to-date headshot for LinkedIn and your website, and team shots for your website.
Photography is a commodity purchase these days. There are more photographers than paid photography work. Find someone local whose portfolio you like and ask them for their best price.
Wedding photographers are a good target. They often have little work during the week, so may be motivated to do a deal with you. Some cash is better than no cash, right?
Price range: This is the widest possible range, from $0 if you DIY with your phone and use free editing software, up to thousands to hire a studio and professionals. We suggest you invest no more than $500 in your website home page video, and take it from there
How can a video person be an essential resource? Because it's the 21st century, and it's now expected that you will use video in your marketing. At the very least you need an intro video on your website - even better than that would be a testimonial or case study video with existing clients.
You may also choose to produce ongoing videos featuring yourself on screen (a great way to improve trust and perceived credibility), or even start a YouTube channel. Why not? There are only a few MSPs who are doing this well right now. which creates a massive opportunity for you. You may need different people to film and edit. Or you might find someone to do it all.
Of course you could always film your own videos using your phone or a camera built for vlogging (such as the DJI Osmo Pocket) and get them edited by someone on Upwork/Fiverr. These are fine for blog posts and YouTube videos, but won't cut it for creating a homepage video.
We're in an age where the technology and knowhow to produce TV-quality video is abundant. People really will judge the quality of your MSP by the quality of your videos.
Try our full guide on how to use video as part of your MSP's marketing strategy, which breaks down everything we've mentioned here a lot further.
Price range: From $10 an hour offshore up to $35 an hour
Now we're onto the most important resource in your people stack. Your virtual assistant, or VA, is the gasoline in your marketing engine. Unlike the specialists we have been talking about so far, your VA is a generalist with a specific mandate: Get things done so you don't have to.
The classic way to get started with a VA is to give them a tight brief on a specific function you want them to perform for you - such as posting regular social media. Then once they have proved their competence, you give them more and more jobs to do on your behalf. So long as you have systems to monitor the quality of the work, this is an excellent way to get things done.
In our business we share repeating tasks across a range of VAs, leveraging specific skillsets. You can find VAs in your country local to you, or offshore through Upwork/Fiverr, or through a VA agency. The price varies of course, and buying something just because it's the cheapest is never a smart strategy.
Remember, you will always pay out less cash to a VA to do a job for you, than the cash you can bring in during the time saved.
Cost of essential marketing tools for MSPs
Those are the people that you need. Now lets delve into the specific marketing tools that you need to do your own marketing.
These are the very basic tools just to get functional marketing set up for your MSP. In most cases, there is an alternative free version which could be perfectly adequate for your needs. The beauty of the 'freemium' business model used by much software is that you don't pay anything for light usage, but you know greater capacity or better support is there when you're ready to upgrade.
CRM (Customer Relationship Manager)
Price range: Free to $500 a month
This is your most basic and essential tool. Your CRM should allow you to do these basic functions:
- Keep useful data about all of your leads and prospects in one place
- Send broadcast emails to them and track what they open and click
- Track your hottest targets so you can use other marketing tactics to move them through your sales funnel
You'll find that the newer CRMs contain all this functionality, but its not as easy to use or as closely-integrated as some of the longer-standing CRMs.
Because of the freemium model, it's easy to write off "free" tools as not being good enough for your MSP. But actually, tools such as Mailchimp can be the right solution for the majority of MSPs.
If you're just using a CRM to hold some data and send email broadcasts, then make sure you don't buy a Ferrari when a simple SUV would do. Here's an in-depth article answering the question which is the best CRM for your MSP?.
We've used: Keap (formerly called Infusionsoft), Mailchimp, MailerLite, Pipedrive
We know MSPs like: HubSpot, ActiveCampaign, Growably (from The Tech Tribe), Zoho CRM
Other popular alternatives: Less Annoying CRM, Salesforce (an enterprise solution) and Microsoft Dynamics 365
Social media scheduler
Price range: Free to $50 a month
This is intended to save you time posting your social media every day. You can bulk load content and schedule it to be posted on multiple platforms. This saves lots of time when using a service that gives you MSP marketing content.
You can also monitor social media activity and reply to comments and messages through a single platform. Having everything in one place makes it easy.
We've used: Publer, Hootsuite
We know MSPs like: Buffer
Other popular alternatives: SocialBee, Sendible
Price range: Free to $50 a month
This is an unusual category. There are lots of tools, but for most MSPs there's only really one answer: Just use Canva. You don't need any design skills whatsoever. Canva lets you produce great designs quickly (they have thousands of templates to choose from), without the pain of a steep learning curve for specialist software such as InDesign.
We've used: Adobe InDesign, Canva, Stencil
We know MSPs like: Piktochart, Publisher
Other popular alternatives: Adobe Express, Figma (now part of Adobe), Sketch, PicMonkey
Screen capture and recording
Price range: Free to £300
You probably already have a solution for this. If not, there are tons of ways to screenshot and annotate an image, or record your screen. This can be a useful marketing tool to illustrate blog articles, brief a VA, or even create onboarding videos for new clients.
We've used: Camtasia, Monosnap, Loom
We know MSPs like: Scribe, Snagit
Other popular alternatives: TechSmith Capture (formerly called Jing), Filmora X
Personalized video messaging
Price range: Free to $40 a month
Creating videos isn't just for mass consumption on YouTube. We highly recommend you use specialized software to create personalized videos for your prospects.
Some of the platforms allow you to see who's opened a video message, and even how many times they have watched it (sometimes you realize the message is being passed around your prospect's business). This is a powerful insight into how hot your prospect is, and allows you to take more follow-up action.
We've used: Loom, Vidyard, BombBomb
We know MSPs like: Bonjoro
Other popular alternatives: Hippo Video
Price range: Free to $100
Everyone knows what a video editor does. And you probably have a free one on your phone, never mind your laptop. Having a basic editor to hand is essential for tidying up any of the videos you've created with the previous tools.
We've used: Camtasia
We know MSPs like: CyberLink PowerDirector
Other popular alternatives: Adobe Premiere Pro, Final Cut Pro, Lightworks, DaVinci Resolve
Price range: Free to $99 a month
There's a simple answer here: Just use YouTube. Building up your YouTube channel has a ton of marketing and SEO benefits for your MSP. Plus it's free. And you can use it in other places (ie embed your YouTube videos in blog posts etc).
There are established alternatives if you want greater control over how your videos look and are presented. The downside is you lose the ability for people to stumble across them.
We've used: YouTube, Vimeo, Wistia
Cost of advanced marketing tools for MSPs
Those are your basic tools. That's not an exhaustive list of course, and every MSP will need a different marketing stack. But that's a good set of tools to start with.
You'll see that, so far, you're more likely to spend big chunks of money on people rather than software. The free solutions really are very good for many of those tools, especially if you're only doing a low amount of marketing.
Let's get into the advanced tools now (although you can skip this section and head straight for 'Cost of marketing suppliers' if your mind has already been a bit blown).
We're going to take you through some of the tools you could need and make just one recommendation per category. This is based on our direct experience of using the tool. If we don't have direct experience, we'll find one that looks popular and say that we Googled it.
Every business is different, so our advice is still to do your own research on the best tools for you. Often, it's as simple as Googling "alternatives to xyz-brand".
Project management software
Price: $11 per month, per user
Using software that's designed from scratch to allow your team to collaborate on complicated projects is a smart move. The tool you use to handle technical projects is probably not a great tool for handling marketing and other business growth projects. We use Basecamp extensively for every project when we're working ON the business not IN the business, especially our own marketing improvements.
We've used: Basecamp, Asana
Live & pre-recorded webinars
Price range: From $99 to $499 a month
We might all feel a little webinar weary after the last few years, but the reality is they have their place. Live webinars have a buzz and excitement you don't get with video alone, so long as you understand you'll get more people watching the replay than the live event. With some webinar software you can also set up automated on demand webinars, so the webinar plays when it's most convenient for the person watching.
We've used: EasyWebinar
Website behaviour recording
Price range: Free to $33 a month
Far too many MSPs make changes to their website based on gut feel, rather than using data. It's easy to see what people are actually doing (and not doing) on your site using a website behaviour recording tool. You can see heatmaps of where their attention has been, and more powerfully, anonymized videos of people actually using the site in real time.
We've used: Hotjar
The concept of A/B split testing is to optimize your marketing so every element is contributing towards the desired outcome. This is easiest done on webpages, where you start with an A version and then tweak one element (such as your headline or image) to create a B version. The split testing software then splits your traffic between the 2 pages, until it decides one produces a better outcome than the other.
We've used: Google Optimize (sadly defunct from September 2023)
Search Engine Optimization (SEO) service
Price range: $119 to $449 a month
There are countless SEO tools you could use (to get your business bumped up Google Search results). It's probably better value for money to hire an SEO agency that can come up with a strategy for your MSP's SEO, and has access to all the tools. But if you wanted to DIY, this is the toolset to look at.
Suggested on Google: Semrush
Price range: $20 to $59 a month
Live chat gives your prospect what they want - instant gratification. They want to talk to someone NOW! Of course, that creates a burden for your business of someone being at the other end most of the time.
Having no live chat is actually better than unanswered live chat. But, if you can figure out how to do it reliably, either using your team or outsourcing it to a call-handling agency, it's very much worth looking at.
Suggested on Google: LiveChat
Price range: $90 to $225 per month
Landing pages are exactly as they sound - pages designed for people to land on. You can build these on your website, and many CRMs have landing page builders. There are also specific software solutions that specialize in this, and will give you high converting templates.
Suggested on Google: Unbounce
Web form creator
Price range: $25 to $78 a month
Web forms aren't something you think a lot about. In fact, you're only likely to notice them when you have a bad experience filling one in. That's where a specific web form creator tool is the right solution. We don't want any barrier that stops a prospect from getting in touch, right?
Suggested on Google: Typeform
Price range: Free to $16 per seat, per month
The best Call To Action (CTA) on your website is for someone to book a 15 minute video call with you. This is a convenient and low commitment for them. And actually, if you ask the right open-ended questions (about them and their business), you'll often have a much longer conversation that leads to a full appointment. Some MSPs use Microsoft 365's Bookings for this, but we prefer this dedicated tool. It just works and it looks great.
We've used: Calendly
LinkedIn Sales Navigator
Price range: $83 to $130
LinkedIn is the number one prospecting platform for MSPs - no debate. And while you don't necessarily need Sales Navigator, it does open up a set of useful tools for you. If you use LinkedIn for prospecting more than a couple of hours a day, or want to start maximising what's on offer, it's worth looking at.
Price range: Free to $51 per user, per month
Sometimes it's good to just get a shortcut. A data enrichment tool plugs into your browser and can enhance data that you are looking for, often providing contact names and email addresses.
We've used: Lusha
Cost of marketing suppliers for MSPs
There's one last area to consider in figuring out how much it costs to market your MSP: Marketing suppliers.
There are so many different types of suppliers available in the channel. And the prices range from free up to $10,000 per month, maybe more. As we said right at the beginning, it all depends on what you want and need.
If you want to compare individual MSP marketing suppliers, we have put together a bunch of comparison articles where we’ve done a lot of background research for you (trying to stay as neutral as possible).
But broadly, there are four categories of marketing supplier available to you.
Free marketing materials and tools
Often provided by large vendors as a benefit of being a partner. There are pros and cons. The most obvious benefit is there's no cash input from you.
But on the flip side, the quality of what you're getting in return can vary wildly. We've seen some great marketing materials and some really ropey content. Often they are provided without any strategic direction. The vendor is churning out marketing to desperately show they are providing extra value to you!
The other downside is if you switch to a different vendor, your access to marketing content is immediately shut off. That makes sense, as the materials are primarily provided as a retention tool.
Marketing Development Funds (MDF)
This is another version of free marketing provided by a vendor. There is millions of dollars of MDF available to you (this subject featured in Paul Green's first ever MSP Marketing podcast back in November 2019).
Speak to all your account managers to see what MDF they have available. You'll probably be surprised how much you can get your vendors to commit to spending with you.
One word of warning with MDF. Some vendors insist that you spend their MDF in very specific ways, or that it must be co-branded. This is often because some vice president somewhere wants to be able to tell the board that their million dollar spend resulted in 320,000 more impressions of the company logo 🙄.
The risk is that the marketing campaign they insist you run is not in any way focused on the normal business owner or manager you want to reach. It's too technical and full of inside language, and so it has minimal impact.
You could argue that doesn't really matter as it hasn't cost you any cash, but doing any marketing chews up a much more valuable resource - your time. Guard that carefully.
You will be able to find vendors, though, who don't really mind how you spend the money, as they know being part of your tech stack means they win as you win. Find out more about MDF on our YouTube channel.
White label marketing services
Price range: From $49 to $249 a month
We include our MSP Marketing Edge service in this category. These tend to be low cost but high quality, because they are run on a subscription basis.
Often these MSP marketing suppliers will provide you with enormous value for your $129 a month, because they are making a huge set of high quality marketing materials and distributing it to all of their clients.
Some white label marketing services also protect you from any kind of marketing 'clashing' with your competitors, by only supplying it to one MSP per area.
Another advantage of using a white label marketing supplier is that they are 100% focused on creating MSP marketing materials and helping you implement them. Unlike a vendor that gives you materials for free, they are laser-focused on one thing and doing that to the highest level of quality.
And you know all those resources and tools we've discussed in the previous section? They should be able to give you guidance on which to get, and be at the end of the phone/Zoom/Facebook to help you implement them as part of the deal.
We've broken down the kind of content you can expect to get from a white label marketing service into three areas; weekly, monthly and evergreen;
Every week you could expect to be supplied with a set of 'ready-to-use' marketing materials, including;
- A video (fronted by a 'presenter' which you can put on your website/social media/share with your clients etc)
- A blog article (which some suppliers will upload straight to your website to save you the hassle)
- Social media content
- Talking points to easily create original LinkedIn posts
- A printed newsletter to ship to prospects
- Educational emails with versions for prospects and clients
- A media release you can send out to local media to help you get free publicity (which gives you creater credibility)
- Extra video and social media content you can pick and choose from in case you have time for more marketing in your schedule
A white label marketing provider will likely have a library with evergreen marketing tools for you to use at your leisure, including things like;
- Lead generation campaigns
- A book that you can brand as your own and send out to prospects
- An IT Services Buyer's Guide that people can download from your website
- Smart tools you can add to your website to encourage engagement, like a password checker, 'Have I Been Pwned' email check, and a pricing/downtime calculator
- Lots of extra videos you can stick on your website for extra credibility
Services available: MSP Marketing Edge, IT Rockstars, Technibble, MSP Advantage Program
MSP marketing agencies
Price range: From $500 to $10,000 a month
When you hire an MSP marketing agency, you are taking a shortcut. You're asking another business to strategise and implement your marketing for you. Is this a good idea? After all, it's what you're asking normal business owners to do with their IT.
The answer is - it depends on which agency you use. There are some very good agencies out there that care a great deal and do a lot of solid work. And there are others that generate lots of activity, but not necessarily in the right places.
Look back at the marketing strategy we suggested at the start of this article. You want an agency that's doing an enhanced version of that. The activity needs to be happening in the right places.
You should be aware that the standard agency model is to have the impressive people at the top of the business sell you their services, which are then delivered by the cheaper younger staff at the bottom of the business. And in bad agencies they're doing this unsupervised...
Also beware any agency that says something like "refreshing your logo" or "putting together a brand bible" is a key activity. Having a great looking logo didn't win any MSP any new business, ever. And if an agency thinks TikTok is the answer to generating you more leads, run away. Immediately.
Our founder Paul Green owned a marketing agency between 2005 and 2016 (in the healthcare sector). He says the five most important things to know when hiring an agency are:
- It's OK to delegate the activity of your marketing, but never delegate the responsibility. That must always stay with you. Don't be afraid to hold your agency to account. Judge them by long-term results (new clients), not how many social media posts they put out
- Make sure the agency genuinely understands how the MSP business model works. Hiring a local marketing agency rather than an MSP-specific one could be a false economy
- Make sure the agency is working on the areas that make the biggest difference: Lead generation, warming up prospects, creating sales meetings. And then make sure you and your team take those sales meetings seriously. The biggest complaint of agency bosses is their clients not hungrily jumping onto the sales opportunities they've created for them
- Assume it will take twice as long and cost twice as much as you think to start seeing new business coming in
- Stay focused on the Lifetime Value (LTV) of a new client. If a new win tomorrow means $1,000 of MRR and that client stays for 10 years, that's an LTV of $120,000. If you've had to spend $5,000 to achieve that, it's a win.
Services available: Marketopia, Wingman MSP Marketing, Purechannels, Tech Pro Marketing, Pronto Marketing, Marketing for MSPs, LeftLeads, Lemonade Stand, Resource IT, Ulistic
The cost of traffic and attention
The final marketing cost is something few people talk about - traffic and attention. Just because you have a website doesn't mean people will visit. "Build it and they will come" (aka the Field of Dreams strategy) worked fine... in 1998. But not today.
You need traffic and attention in order to feed targeted prospects into your marketing machine. And that means investing one of two resources: Cash or time. If you're just starting out then use your time. The second you can start using cash to pay other people, do that. You now know all of the people and tools you need, with an indication of how much they are likely to cost you.
How to drive traffic and attention? The amazing HubSpot marketing blog has an in-depth look at this.
Finally, the ultimate 3 step marketing strategy to remember
It's important to remember that all these resources and tools should all be part of a strategy to achieve one goal - getting new clients. Without a strategy, you're just burning cash.
Here's a simple but powerful 3 step marketing strategy that works for all MSPs. If you don't currently have a marketing plan, this will work for you.
Step 1: Build multiple audiences
You want to find people who could go on to buy from you and get them to listen to your marketing. You can do this by building audiences of people.
For most MSPs the two audiences you MUST build are your LinkedIn connections, and your email database.
Get on LinkedIn every day and connect to 10 new people. Make sure they are decision makers at the kind of businesses you'd like as clients. One easy way to do this is to connect to everyone within a specific vertical, such as connecting to all the CPAs (accountants).
Another way is to find someone in your area who's very well-connected to other business owners. Connect to them, and then work through their connections. It's a little sneaky, but it's a good shortcut.
For your email database start by collating any data you've got from years gone by. It'll be in different places and you need to gather it together. Check your emails for every prospect enquiry that's ever come in. Your website for every web form or live chat. Rifle through your desk drawers for every business card you've been handed at networking events.
This is the data equivalent of putting your hand down the back of the couch. Gather it all together and add it to your CRM. Don't overthink it and certainly don't allow yourself to be held back by your local data protection laws. These are aimed at stopping massive spammers, not a small business owner such as you. People can always unsubscribe.
Going forward, you need a system to ensure the email address of every single prospect you have any contact with in the future goes into your CRM.
Those are your two basic audiences. There are many others you could build such as YouTube, other social media platforms, local business groups, a podcast and a physical direct mail list.
Step 2: Build a relationship with your audiences
Now you have people to market to, the goal is to build a small relationship with them. So that, on the day they are finally ready to fire their incumbent MSP and move to someone new, you have a much higher chance of a place at the selling table.
This is done with content marketing. You don't sell to them, you educate and entertain them - called edutainment.
The goal is a never ending stream of content. In fact, you must systemize it so that your MSP is sending out content:
- Daily: Social media postings and comments
- Weekly: Educational email + LinkedIn Newsletter
- Monthly: Printed newsletter shipped out
As mentioned earlier, you can use a white label marketing service to create this content to save you the hassle, but we've got a quick and easy guide to systemising your MSP's marketing here.
Step 3: Commercialize that relationship
This is the most desired part of the strategy and also the hardest to do. To turn a lead into a prospect and qualify them as an opportunity, you need to talk to them 121.
The good news is, you personally shouldn't do this. No MSP owner likes hitting the phones 50 times a day! So don't even try.
Instead, hire a part-time phone person to do this for you. A back-to-work-mom who loves being on the phone would be a great choice for this. She can work 2-3 hours a day, for 2-3 days a week.
She'll be calling your audiences asking them open-ended questions about their favorite subject - themselves and their business.
What she's really trying to do is find the right moment for you to have a deeper conversation with them.
The hardest thing about MSP marketing is how long it takes. This is because people only buy when they are ready to buy. And for managed services, you have a tiny window of just a few weeks, and that only happens every few years.
Your phone person can figure out when that window is approaching. Her goal is to book in the prospect for a short video call with you. That's why she doesn't need to know anything about technology or your business. She's not doing any selling; she's just booking appointments for you.
And then, you can work your magic 😃
What questions do you have about the cost of your marketing?