Ever wonder how a few small businesses have become veritable content marketing powerhouses?
Do you lie awake at night contemplating where they find the time, the inspiration, the skill to publish such amazing content on a regular basis?
Sometimes the answer is just plain hard work or natural-born talent. But in this case, there’s a trick. One thing you can do to take your content efforts from meh to mind-blowing – one tool that can make regular, high-quality content appear on your website out of almost thin air...
An editorial content calendar.
Why do I need a content calendar?
I know what you’re thinking: A calendar sounds way too simple to make such a big difference in my content efforts. You’re right – it’s simple. But in this case, the old adage of the simplest solution sometimes being the best solution rings true. A content calendar allows you to:
Be proactive about scheduling new content. Instead of working late tonight to find a suitable topic for tomorrow’s blog post, you can plan much farther ahead. That means a crisis of inspiration won’t slow your content roll.
Be accountable and follow through. The simple act of writing down a topic and assigning a deadline has a huge impact on the likelihood you’ll follow through. Deadlines help us wrap our minds around projects, making them easier to accomplish.
Plan content around important holidays and events. Instead of scrambling to get that National Entrepreneur’s Day blog post ready at the last minute (or missing it altogether), you can plan for the opportunities that key dates provide.
Have the flexibility to outsource content creation. When you’ve planned content at least a few weeks in advance, you have the flexibility to outsource the actual creation – time to find & vet a freelancer and time for them to actually create it.
Create a focused, coherent content experience for readers. When you’re creating content on an ad hoc basis, it’s easy to flit from one topic to another and lose track of the overall content strategy you’re trying to follow.
Step 1: Find a System That Works
The whole point of an editorial calendar, like many tools, it to actually use it. That means you need to find a system that works for you, well enough that you’ll use it on a day-to-day basis. Finding the right process involves some trial and error – after all, your business, industry, and working style are all unique to you.
There are few things to consider when looking at the systems you can put in place. To get started, here’s what you should look for:
Easy to use. If the tool you choose isn’t easy to use, you won’t use it, period.
Flexible. You, your business, and your content are all unique – your process should reflect that and offer the flexibility you need to work your way.
Scalable. Whether you’re publishing new content five times a day or once a month, the ultimate goal is to grow – so find a system that enables that growth.
Project view & calendar view. One thing we’ve found helpful in creating content for Grasshopper is to be able to essentially zoom in and out. Find a tool that lets you look at the broad picture (calendar view) and narrow in on the project at-hand (project view).
We’re here to make your life a little bit easier, so we’re sharing the very template we use to create our own content calendar at Grasshopper. We use a tailored Trello board to plan, schedule, and coordinate each blog post you find here on the blog, as well as larger content projects in Resources and Grasshopper Academy.
Here’s what the stripped down version looks like:
To use the template:
Follow the link to view the template.
If you don’t have one already, create a Trello account.
Copy the board and give it a name.
Customize everything from labels and lists to due dates.
If necessary, add freelancers or other members of your content team to the board so everyone has visibility and can collaborate.
Pro tip: Use the color-coded labels to denote the content type for each piece (article, video, slideshare, etc.) This way, you can see a visual representation of variety in your content – a key part of any content strategy.
Step 2: Brainstorm Content Topics
Now that you have a system in place to make a comprehensive content calendar possible, it’s time to fill it with content. I recommend brainstorming potential topics at least a month in advance, so you have plenty of time to gather research or quotes, create or outsource.
To get started, set yourself up for success by cultivating the right environment for you to be creative. Next, step into your target audience’s shoes. Every piece of content you create should be targeted specifically to them. Consider their struggles, their needs, and what makes them laugh.
My favorite part of the "Content Ideas" list in the template is that it helps me keep track of new ideas whenever inspiration strikes. I just pull up Trello and create a new card – then the idea’s front and center the next time I have a content planning sprint.
Where to get ideas for new content:
Customer struggles and pain-points
Frequently asked questions of your support or sales teams
Comments on past content or social media
Competitor blogs and other content hubs
Google and other content suggestion tools (Moz, Buzzsumo, etc.)
By the time you’ve pulled from all of these sources, you should have a good, long list of possible content topics.
Step 3: Plan & Schedule Content Pieces
Creating an editorial calendar isn’t entirely about finding topics to write about. That’s why this last step is so important. Before you schedule any particular content, have an idea of the content creation schedule you want to follow. For example, we publish a new blog post every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday at Grasshopper.
Take your big list of brainstormed topics and begin to fill in the calendar according to this publication schedule. Start with any relevant holidays or events that you want to weigh in on, and work outward from there.
In addition to scheduling publication dates, now’s also a good time to plan for any additional materials you’ll need, assign content to outside writers, etc. The more planning you can do upfront, the more seamless it will be to follow throughout the month.
That’s it! Now you have a workable, well-researched, and inspired content calendar and a concrete plan for the month ahead – all that’s left is to follow through on your content creation plans. We’ll see you back here next month to do it all over again.
Do you have other tips for building an editorial content calendar? Share with us in the comments below.