clockContent marketing is not magical.

Don’t get us wrong, we love it. Heck, we’ve built an entire business both using it and selling it. The stuff works. But people want to point to it as the solution to every marketing problem out there.

It’s not.

The biggest thing that content marketing costs is time. Yes, there’s the time needed to create the bait that draws those customers to your site, whether that’s blog posts or emails or white papers, but inbound marketing is a cumulative beast. Every piece you create, every tweet you send and blog you write, builds on what you’ve written before. It’s compounded in the Google search algorithm, it grows as your influence spreads on social networks. But none of that happens over night.

In most cases when we’re working on content marketing with a client, we start to see results around month four. That’s how long it takes to get all the pieces in place and build up enough content and credibility for people to start taking notice. The only downside? Most clients get cold feet after month three. No matter how we try to prepare them, three months of building is a long time to invest without immediate returns. The result? Month four is their best month ever…but they’ve already moved on to marketing solutions that “work.”

For companies who have the ability to be patient, content marketing can pay off in a major way. But let’s face it: not every company can afford to be patient. Sometimes you need a blast of customers now, not four months from now. Maybe this is it, your do-or-die moment. You probably need to advertise or use another outbound form of marketing that will get people in your door quickly. There’s no shame in that, it just means you need to wait to try content marketing until you’ve got your feet on firmer ground. It’s why some emerging businesses will spend most of their marketing budget on one Super Bowl ad: the traffic they get from that quick upsurge in business will carry them a long way.

Don’t start content marketing if you aren’t willing to wait at least six months before seeing major results. Period. Yes, there will be some immediate trickles, but to really get things in gear, you’ve got to put in the time on the front end. You’ve got to find and cultivate an audience, discover your unique voice and find what content doesn’t just get traffic, but actual conversions.

Once you know all that? Inbound marketing can be pretty magical after all.