No matter what business you’re in, there’s a pretty good chance you’re pumping out some form of content to bring attention, build trust, or attract new customers.
And whether that means blog posts, side projects, or podcasts, there’s one thing they all have in common: You need to have a plan.
Without a specific goal or strategy in mind, you’re really just pissing in the wind, hoping it doesn’t turn back against you.
At Crew, we run a number of projects that all fit under the ‘content’ banner—everything from our How to Build a Business series, to our Member Stories, to the Blog, Backstage, and our Makers podcast, not to mention side projects like Make This Year.
As this list grows (and it always does!) we don’t want to let anything slip or get forgotten. We all have our responsibilities, but having a central place to turn to whenever you’re feeling overwhelmed is an important part of your growth strategy.
In the immortal words of Lil’ Wayne:
“The more time you spend contemplating what you should have done… you lose valuable time planning what you can and will do.”
Sometimes the best thing you can do is go back to the drawing board
Organization was never one of my strongest skills. And when it comes to to-do lists, I’m more biased towards old school methods.
Sure, I’ve tried out all the apps and productivity hacks out there, but I find nothing motivates me like a big ol’ notebook full of things I need to get done.
But when it comes to long-term content planning, things can get pretty messy pretty quick if you don’t have a system in place.
Case in point…
Yeah, not my finest hour.
After years of working in publishing, both print and online, I’ve learned that deadlines are almost always fluid. Things move and change, and so creating a static list of dates for publishing is basically like accidentally taking the on-ramp to stress highway.
Instead, a calendar—especially one that allows you to easily move dates around—is a great way to visualize the content you’re going to produce and be able to see what’s on the horizon. You might choose to schedule monthly or quarterly or yearly (if this is you, please tell me your secret)—but regardless, there are undeniable benefits to having your content planned out.
As Kevan Lee from Buffer explained in a great post on creating a content calendar:
“The familiarity of the calendar minimizes the difficulty of our work and instead makes it exciting and fresh and fun—and we’re enthused to keep at it.”
Along with keeping you in check and enthused, here are some of the other reasons why content calendars are so key:
1. See where your gaps are before you reach them
With a calendar in place, you can quickly scan through the next few weeks of publishing and see where you might have issues coming up.
Instead of getting to the week prior and realizing that, yes, you actually don’t have anything written or ready for tomorrow, you can see those issues coming up and address them early on.
2. Get a high-level view of what you’re publishing (and when)
Being able to see clearly in advance gives you the opportunity to plan articles and posts around key events like holidays or product launches. Knowing this means that things won’t sneak up on you and you’ll be able to give each and every post the attention it deserves.
3. Make sure you’re appealing to all groups of your audience
A good content strategy involves deciding how often you’ll write about the topics that matter to your audience. For us at Crew, this is incredibly important as we have two very different groups of people that we want to provide value to.
So for us, we might break down our posts into:
- 50% for Freelancers and creatives
- 50% for Entrepreneurs
As part of our main goal to provide value (as well as entertainment) to our audience, we could also say that within those categories we want to publish posts that are both Actionable and Inspirational.
By knowing that I need to hit these types of posts every month I can create a calendar that makes sure we’re always appealing to our varied group of readers.
The nitty gritty of building out a content calendar
Just like everyone approaches blogging and writing differently, there are so many different ways you can approach building your content calendar.
The first step is always to know what direction you’re going in.
Start with an annual review or content audit, and then use the information you get to research around the topics you know resonate with your audience. Next, brainstorm ideas for posts that you can plug into monthly calendars.
When it comes to actually putting together your monthly calendar there are so many different approaches you can take.
You can print out annual and monthly calendars like these ones from CoSchedule.
At Crew, we’re big fans of using Trello for organizing ideas, so it was a natural choice for building out our own content calendar. While a more traditional ‘calendar’ view is helpful, I’ve found that scheduling weekly is the best for me as I’m able to easily create a repeatable template.
And using Trello’s labels, I can quickly scan through week-by-week to see what’s ready to go and what needs my attention.
This set up not only helps with organizing the publishing of content, but also the creation of it.
All of our blog ideas start in a huge ‘idea repository’ (aka a terrifying brain dump) until they’re fleshed out and assigned a specific date. Anyone involved in the post or project, from the writer to people helping with the distribution and promotion, are tagged, and we track progress on the individual card.
Once it’s been published, we move the posts into a ‘to syndicate’ list and send them out to our media partners.
While your content schedule can include everything from posts to interviews to social media, we’ve kept ours to just publishing projects such as:
- Blog posts
- Backstage posts
- How to Build an Online Business lessons
- Medium posts
- Newsletter campaigns
The most important reason to make a content calendar
While the main goal of building out a calendar like this is to keep you motivated, on-schedule, and accountable for the types of content you publish, there’s another important reason to get organized: reflection.
A calendar not only lets you look forwards, but backwards as well. When you’re able to see what you posted and when and align that with your metrics and goals, you get a better idea of what’s working and what’s not.
And what if you want to run some experiments?
What about trying out different types of articles, or repurposing/updating old content?
What about slowing down your schedule or ramping it up?
Sure, you can use Google Analytics for this, but your calendar gives you context. What else was happening at that moment that you were writing or publishing? What made this specific project work (or not)?
Without having a way to plan ahead and look backwards, it’s most likely that you won’t be able to tackle any major experiments like this.
Vague ‘growth metrics’ are great for defining what you’re going to be focusing on, but being able to drill down into the outcomes from specific projects is a much better way to kick yourself in the ass.
It’s all too easy to get sucked into reacting passively rather than constantly looking forward.
But planning and organization is your antidote to passivity. It’s your way to be active in all of your choices.
Want to use Trello for your content calendar? Here’s a blank slate set up with labels and cards to get you going. Just copy the board and you’re ready to go!
Lead image by Eric Rothermel on Unsplash.