Plan your content calendar strategically
Publish with confidence
It’s easy to get paralyzed by the thought of coming up with a strategic plan for content. It’s not that scary, though, once you break it down into its parts. And once you realize that content planning is much easier and works better with a strategy behind it, you’ll be all-in on the process.
Let’s start here. A marketing strategy and a content plan are not the same thing.
Digital strategy vs content planning
Digital strategy is the overview of your entire online presence. You’ll get clear on your business goals, audience, messaging, platforms, and content infrastructure. Ideally, you’ll have that strategy in place before you plan out your actual content.
I think people get scared about digital strategy because it seems like it requires so much preparation and research. But primarily, it’s an assessment of everything you have in place now and what you need to do to get where you want to be.
If you’re a creative solopreneur, or have a small team, you don’t want to waste time making videos, podcasts, or blogs IF they don’t serve your audience or your business goals. Strategy helps keep you focused and saves you time and money in the long run.
Content planning is where you brainstorm specific ideas based on your strategy and put each content idea into a calendar. With a strategy in place, it is much, much easier to plan purposeful content because you know exactly the kind of content you need and where it will live.
Plan specific content month to month or in bigger chunks such as calendar quarters. Or plan out over a year for sales, events, and holidays, then add additional items monthly. However it makes sense for you is absolutely fine.
Content planning requires a system and a calendar
You can choose from any number of planning methods, from simple to elaborate, but the one thing you really need is a calendar. Use whichever kind you’re most comfortable with, whether it’s on paper, or online where it can be accessed from whichever device you’re using.
If there is more than one person involved with content production, then each contributor should have access to the content calendar. You need a way to assign the project and follow it through to publication.
Online, there are some relatively simple project planning apps that are free or inexpensive. My favourite and the one I use on a daily basis is Ora.pm, but there are many others. A simple spreadsheet/calendar combination works too.
Big picture planning
Be clear about your goals for content marketing
Here are some common ones, but the point is to nail down the kind of people you want to reach and why. More goals mean more content to create. If you have gone through a digital strategy process you will have this information at your fingertips.
- stay in contact with current customers so they keep coming back
- reach a wider audience so you can build your business
- demonstrate your authority in your niche to help with goals like becoming a book author, teaching classes, or giving presentations
- supporting content to sell a specific program, product, or service
If you are a new business and you haven’t yet solidified your goals, but want to get things rolling so the planning doesn’t interfere with the doing, plan a month now and swing back around to do the long-term goal setting. Getting started is more important than getting everything exactly right. Just don’t leave the strategy on the back burner forever.
Establish your home base and all the places where you will promote your content
If you are at the planning stage, you should already have a blog set up, or at least have the structure for one available on your website or online store, even if you haven’t yet published. You might also be active on a social media account or two.
Your home base is your website or online store and it’s the central place where your media lives. If you create audio or video content, embed it in a blog post with some highlights.
After you add posts to your home base, you’ll amplify the post on your other profiles and, depending on the platform, link back to the content on your site.
It should always be at the top of your mind to let people know what else you have for them, whether it’s more content or something to purchase. Welcome them onto the next segment of the path – don’t lock the gate.
I often find that new clients have been neglecting this simple, extremely effective tactic.
Offline, in the Physical World
Link to site content on printed materials.
- handouts at your store or studio
- direct marketing, such as postcards
- handouts at live events
- product packaging or inserts
You’ll link to your main website address, of course, but you may also link to specific content items.
Use both these methods to cover your bases
Shorten the url
Use an app to generate a QR code. These weren’t used much for a time because the user needs a smartphone app, but the pandemic brought them back. Here’s how to do one in Chrome, but there are many choices out there.
How will all this get done and who will be responsible?
Will you do it yourself, assign it to a team member, or outsource it? Keep in mind that everyone involved needs access to perform their roles.
Three critical functions
- A way to manage projects
- An idea repository
- A calendar
You can use a single app or find some tools that work together for each of these functions. Personally, I use Evernote to capture ideas and Ora for planning and organization. Ora links to my calendar so I can see everything in one place.
If you’ve already taken the time to plan your big-picture goals, then shoot for a longer planning period. You don’t necessarily have to get down to the itemized level yet, but you can assign themes and come up with a tentative publication timeline.
Decide how much content you’ll produce and what your publishing schedule looks like. Once a week? Twice a week? Once a month?
Estimate how much time each item will take. If you haven’t produced content regularly in the past, estimate on the high side.
After a couple of months, evaluate your progress. Have you met your goals? If it turns out this is not a pace you’re able to keep, either revise your publishing schedule or hire someone to help. If you can’t keep up in the very beginning, chances are that it won’t get any better without some adjustment.
Themes and Topics
At the overview stage, you don’t need specific items. You need themes and topics.
Note anything that might pop up for a particular month around which you might want to plan an item. These include special occasions, your business anniversary, live event appearances, or holidays.
Grab a calendar that shows an entire year and add the themes you’ll cover for the planning period, whether that’s a month, a quarter, or a year.
Approaches to Content Ideas
You don’t ever want to find yourself sitting in front of a blank screen or standing in front of a camera not knowing what to say. When the moment comes to create content, you want to know exactly what you’re making. After all, that’s why you’re planning instead of winging it. An overall digital strategy completed ahead of the content planning stage helps immensely because you can just refer back to it for this information.
Here’s one other pro tip. If you get into the habit of saving ideas when you have them, you’ll never be stuck again because you’ll have a treasure trove at your fingertips. Here’s a resource that will help you get going with your idea stash.
After you’ve identified themes and topics, you can think about individual content pieces.
- What are the questions your audience needs answered? Put yourself in their shoes and think about their experience. Find more ideas from phone calls, emails, comments on social media, and direct messages.
- Have they expressed concerns about any aspect of your business? Address these objections in your content.
- Is there anything about what you do that’s not obvious but might make someone want to purchase from you?
- Is there anything about what you do that is completely obvious? State that too. Outsiders don’t always know about common practices but you can educate them.
- Do you have strong opinions about some aspect of what you do?
- Use news stories and blog posts for inspiration. Set a google alert or use an app like Feedly to keep tabs on what’s happening in your niche.
- Can you teach others how to do what you do?
Organize these topics however it fits with your goals. If you’ve devised a content strategy, you’ll have your offers and your audience path to them laid out already, so now you can focus on what’s really useful to your audience as they travel that path.
Divide your content by how far along the path your audience is. Some might be at the very beginning, while others are further along. Some might be ready to buy.
You might choose to do one theme per month, or you might divide your posts by type, and do each type at regular intervals. Here are some possibilities:
- a post about your latest design or project
- an opinion piece about a trend that affects your niche
- a video of a presentation you did
- a post about upcoming shows
- a post about the latest show
- answers to questions customers have asked (this one can be a gold mine)
- a walkthrough of your process, illustrated by lots of pictures
- a video tutorial about how to use one of your products
- a review of a product that’s complementary to what you sell
Questions to answer for each idea
- Why? What is the specific segment of your audience, and what do you want them to do once they consume the content?
- Where? If you have multiple channels, you might create multiple forms of the same content to suit each environment. The main ones are written, audio, and video but in addition, there are lots of little outposts where content lives. Identified in your strategy, these can include social platforms, webinars, live event handouts. etc.
- What form? Where you publish determines the form your content takes.
- How? Assign responsibility for deciding what gets published and who will produce it. Will it all be done in-house, or will you outsource some of it?
- When? Set up a reasonable schedule. Pace yourself. You might have ten good ideas, but doing them all in one week and then expecting to keep up that pace over time is not reasonable, and leaves no time for everything else that needs to get done.
- What offers are you making?
- What are your content topics for each of those offers?
- What’s suitable for potential customers at the beginning, middle, and end of the path/funnel? What about returning customers?
- Who is responsible for each step of content production?
- Where are you publishing?
- How often will you publish?
- Is each item on your publishing calendar?
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