Make Your Life Easier with a Content Calendar
If you're trying to make content marketing work for your small business, the first thing you need is a plan. While you always want to save a little room for staying on top of current or breaking events, a long-term content plan will help you to keep your blogs focused, your social media accounts in sync, and your readers coming back for more.
The Content Calendar
Newspapers and other publications have been using editorial calendars for ages – and with good reason. An editorial calendar will let you take a look at the entire year as a whole rather than a series of weeks or months, and give you perspective on seasons, important holidays, national and local events you participate in, and more. Editorial calendars also help the ranks of writers and creators stay on task and keep the production lines moving so publication deadlines are met.
Blogs and social media feeds should be no different. While there's always room for fresh news, the basic bones of your content schedule should be planned out well in advance.
How Planning Helps
Having everything planned out in advance will help you avoid having to scramble for content and topics at the last minute, but is that all there is to it? No way! Here are just a few of the benefits of content planning:
Consistent Publishing. The most important part of blogging and social media marketing is consistency and an editorial calendar will help to keep you accountable. You'll have an actual plan that you can “fall behind” on instead of a vague commitment to post to your blog twice per week and daily to your social media feeds.
Organization to the Extreme. Your content plan is compact and easy to review. You can refer to it over and over again without having to flip through or search your own archives looking for posts. You can quickly find old posts to link back to, drop in new ideas as you think of them, and tie it all together in one spot.
Easy to Delegate. If you delegate or outsource your content creation, having a long-term plan will make it even easier to give these assignments and to keep track of them. You can make a note of who you plan to give the assignment to, when you want it completed by, and any notes for your writers to start with. This makes the job easier for the writer, too, who can get a block of assignments and work on them well ahead of time rather than constantly writing to deadlines.
For my own content creation, a content calendar helps me to come up with ideas during a time when I'm feeling the most creative. There are plenty of days that my well of ideas is pretty dry, and those days are perfect for executing existing plans. When I'm feeling inspired, I plan. This is also one of my biggest reasons for having a calendar: I always have fresh ideas waiting to be executed rather than hopelessly trying to make an idea happen when there's nothing in there.
For my clients, planning is absolutely critical. I do my best to accommodate last-minute requests, but constantly working on a last-minute-request basis is chaotic, stressful, and doesn't always produce the best results. Plus, with no planning, there's usually no cohesive strategy and content marketing and organic SEO isn't going to work without a strategy. Lastly, planning with clients saves an incredible amount of back-and-forth time. We do it all at once, and from there you can sit back and enjoy a steady delivery of words.
How to Do It
There are lots of easy-to-access templates around the web. Hubspot has a good one, or you can search through some freebies shared on Google Docs. Whether you download one to use, make one from scratch, or tinker with one that you downloaded to make it work for you, there are a few things to keep in mind when creating your editorial calendar.
First, you want an organizational plan that works with your schedule. I prefer to use Excel or Calc spreadsheets because of the handy-dandy tabs at the bottom. If your blogging goal is once per week, each page can represent a month. If you plan to blog daily, each page can represent a week. No matter what your frequency, tabs can be used to separate everything into logical breaks while also keeping it all in one spot.
Second, you'll want to have plenty of spaces to put in details without making it too cramped. For each planned blog post, you'll want somewhere to enter the date you want it completed, the date you plan to publish, the topic or title of the post, plus a few details about what you want included, such as a list of keywords and which call-to-action you'd like to use.
Lastly, you don't have to be too fancy. Remember, you're just generating ideas and creating a rough outline for a specific period of time. All you need is a jumping-off point for when it's time to create the actual content. Don't spend a bunch of time on hashtag research (these change so much anyway) or drawing up bullet points for your blog post if it's a struggle. A sheet of paper and some handwritten dates and topics can be enough to get started with your content calendar--especially until you've perfected the method you want to use.
Leave Room For Flexibility
Sometimes, the best-laid plans fall through. Maybe you pull up this week's content plan and think the topic has run dry, become stale, has been overdone, or is otherwise not going to work right now. Or, there's been an exciting development, breakthrough, or news-worthy headline that you'd rather talk about. In these cases, it's important not to be too rigid. The important thing to remember if you're deviating from your plan is what impact it may have on your overall strategy and close any necessary gaps.
For example, if your content for the week was meant to target a specific keyword but there's a hot story you want to be covered instead, remember that you'll have to make room somewhere to create content for that keyword or cross it off your target list for now.
Content planning can sometimes seem like a boring, tedious activity that takes time away from creating the actual content that will get results. The truth is that executing a plan is always going to be more efficient than having to come up with one week after week, and adjusting a plan to meet your current needs will always be easier than constantly working on the fly. Plus, you'll get better results from your strategies when you have a plan that's directly tied to your objectives and your goals.
Planning, for the win!