Content marketing doesn’t work without a consistent flow of high-quality content. But how do we get all of that created … on a schedule?
“Create lots of high-value, interesting content to fuel your content strategy.” Sounds good. The tricky part comes when it’s time to actually produce all of that.
What’s the best way to organize our time and energy so we’re producing good material consistently?
Today, Sonia unpacks a four-part process to do exactly that. In this 32-minute episode, she’ll talk about:
- Where to find excellent writers to understand content strategy
- Deciding how much content you actually need to produce
- The simple creative habit that makes content generation so much easier
- A weekly process to create one high-value piece of content a week
- The techniques decent writers use to get really good
- Using the “Rule of 24” to dramatically boost your content quality
- The keys to getting good shares and links to your content
The Show Notes
- Our list of Certified Content Marketers
- Pamela Wilson’s post on A Simple Plan for Writing One Powerful Piece of Content a Week
- Brian Clark’s How to Write Magnetic Headlines (free with MyCopyblogger registration)
- A Simple, Powerful Creativity System to Generate More Ideas (AUDIO)
- Larry Brooks, The Rule of 24
- My Copyblogger post on Subheads: The Deceptively Simple Steps to Persuasive Writing that Works
- Pamela Wilson’s post on formatting your content for best readability on the web
- My post on how to craft a Call to Action (you’ll probably want a good one on every piece of content)
- Ask me a question or follow me on Twitter @soniasimone
Sonia Simone: So glad to see you again, and welcome back to CopybloggerFM, the content marketing podcast.
CopybloggerFM is about emerging content marketing trends, interesting disasters, and enduring best practices, along with the occasional rant. My name is Sonia Simone, I’m the chief content officer for Rainmaker Digital, and I hang out with the folks doing the real work over on the Copyblogger blog.
Note: See the show notes for all the links!
So CopybloggerFM, as well as the Copyblogger blog, are about content marketing. Not just “write when I feel inspired” content, like you might have on a personal blog, but creating content that serves some kind of a business purpose.
That purpose might be to grow your list, to answer objections, to give background information that paves the way to a sale, to widen your network of content publishers.
There’s a lot that content can do. But to do that … you need to create a lot of content. And you need to create that content consistently.
So this might not be an issue for you, you might be one of those people who’s got terrific processes in place and you make it happen each and every week, on time, high-quality and relevant. And if so, I will give you a round of applause, because that’s not most people.
Creating consistently useful and on-target content and being able to publish reliably are very tough for most folks. So today I want to highlight one of my favorite Copyblogger posts, and talk about how to get that consistency going — particularly if you don’t have the resources to hire a team.
Where to find really good content writers
If you do have the resources to hire someone, that can be a very powerful way to solve this problem. Sometimes, let’s say you have a digital business that gives you a very comfortable side income, there are better places to put your creativity and energy than into content. As much as possible, you want to try to maximize the things you’re good at and that you like, and minimize the ones you’re not too excellent at.
If you go to Copyblogger.com, there’s an item called Certified Writers in the Products menu of the site.
That gives you a whole list of people who have taken an in-depth course from us on how to create strategic content, and then every writer on that list is someone whose work we’ve looked at in depth and said, “Yes, this person is good.” Good writer, good strategy, good business judgment. So that may be an option for you.
Whether or not you work with a writer, though, you really still want to have a solid, flexible but robust process around creating your content. It makes such a difference.
If you’re struggling with consistency, you need a process. That’s a general business rule, actually.
So here are some thoughts about how to use a content process to make creating content more fun and more effective, whether you’re the writer or you’re managing that writer.
This one is a little longer, because I wanted to really unpack the week for you so you could re-create this for yourself. Also, do yourself a favor and visit Pamela’s post on this, as she has even a few more details for you.
The value of a content process
I want to start by saying that a lot of times, we have trouble producing because we think we need more content than we do.
If you aren’t Huffington Post, you don’t need to blog every day. Truly, your publishing schedule will depend on the context of your topic and your audience.
Tech news site? You probably already have a great process in place, and if you’re still listening it’s just to refine that a bit.
Brian Clark started Copyblogger on two posts a week, when it was something like gospel that you “had to” write every day.
Once a week is a great rhythm for a smaller site. Keep in mind that some of what you create might end up on another site. So you might publish your own content on your site every other week, and then create two guest posts a month. If you have the process set up, it’s not too bad to turn up the volume gradually — to increase your volume of content over time, or maybe go to a weekly text post and a weekly podcast episode.
That’s because the process does a lot of the hardest work for you — deciding what to write about, deciding when to get to work, deciding, deciding, deciding. When we use our willpower muscle to decide to do something, it gets worn out pretty quickly. We all know that from all those books on brain science that are out right now.
Processes turn those decisions into habits, and habits are just a lot less exhausting. And that frees your brain up for better creativity and more fun. Which are good things.
An idea collection process
Before the actual “writing content” or “recording content” part begins, you want to start building a very rich stockpile of ideas.
Ideas beget ideas beget ideas. The more you capture, the more your brain will give you. So the first thing to do, like today, is to start cultivating that habit of catching your ideas as they fly past, and then putting them somewhere you’ll be able to find them again.
I outlined a whole process for this on Confessions of a Pink-Haired Marketer, if you want more details on that you can get a link from the show notes.
OK, so let’s say you have at least one idea you can stand to turn into content. What next?
The weekly content plan
(The Copyblogger post with additional thoughts on this was written by Pamela Wilson — see the show notes for the link.)
I’ll call these days Monday through Friday, but of course, you don’t need to do the steps on those days. Maybe your Day One is Thursday, because your schedule gives you a nice block of time to go to a coffeeshop and get a little noodly. Then maybe Friday is always a disaster, so your Day Two is Saturday. You get the picture.
There are five days to the process, and how you map them is up to you — the one thing you do want to do, though, is assign a specific day of the week to each step, and probably you want to do them in order. It’s hard to edit a post you haven’t drafted yet. 🙂
So let’s start with Monday, or Day One.
Day 1: Concept, topic, and angle
This is the day when you want to take your rough idea and think about how you want to approach it.
Pamela likes a mind map to do this, I’ve never been able to warm up to mind maps so I open a text document and start roughly blocking things out there.
You want to give some serious brain power to your headline. Remember that we do have an ebook that walks you through how to craft really good ones — the sad fact is, content with badly constructed headlines has a lot harder time getting traction. So come up with something juicy.
The next thing is your subheads — those mini-headlines that break up your content and give the reader guideposts so she can stick with you. Subheads are brilliant. They help distracted readers to pre-skim your content so they can stay focused. They help you stick to your topic. If you’re going all over the place with tangents and side notes, your subheads will tell you. Today, before you’ve done a lot of writing, is the day when you take those tangents, open a new document or a new mind map, and clip them out as the start of a new piece of content.
Sometimes a few sentences for the actual content will come to me during this point. If they do, I write them down. If they don’t, I don’t stress.
If I need quotes, this is when I look for them. Sometimes I poke around in my Kindle saved quotes, or I’ll look for blog posts from people whose take on the topic I admire, or I’ll listen to podcasts and pull out a quote or two.
Of course, any time you capture a quote, make sure you document where you found it. If it’s something you can link to, link to it. Be very clear any time you quote someone else’s words.
Doing this work on its own day gives your “background processor,” what Stephen King called “the boys in the basement,” a chance to come up with the specific writing that will flesh this out. But that’s tomorrow.
Day 2: S***** first draft
OK, on Tuesday, or whatever your Day Two is, you’ve got the basic structure of that post — the subheads, the promise of the headline, and maybe a few stray phrases.
Now it’s time to create what Anne Lamott called, and I’ll paraphrase since iTunes doesn’t like swearing, a Crummy First Draft.
Why crummy? Because you need to keep this very free.
Spill the words out. Say them out loud if that helps. Dictate them if that helps. Write them in crayon if that helps.
The faster, the better. It’s totally fine if it looks like it was written by a dyslexic orangutan at this point.
The faster and crummier you let this be, the better the final version will be. Some of our most interesting writing comes when we write faster than our inner critic can come up with ways to shoot us down.
You are not writing for The New Yorker here. You’re not writing a dissertation. You’re just explaining the ideas in your subheads. Don’t worry about sounding fancy or smart or authoritative or anything. Write it like you would talk it, even if the grammar is a disaster.
For me, this is the hard day. This is the big gun day, so it needs to be a day when I have good bandwidth, and of course then I have to schedule the writing work so I keep good bandwidth. Tuesday and Wednesday mornings are both good writing days for me, and Thursdays can work if I have a big project. Mondays are a disaster and Fridays are when I do our master classes and coaching calls for the Authority community, after which I usually have the intellectual firepower of Spongebob Squarepants.
Over time, you’ll learn the good times for you to do the different kinds of work in your process. Creative people are all different, but very nearly all of them have processes and rituals like this — it’s just so key to creating work consistently.
One thing you can do when the word part is done is look around for some post images. The ideas are all fresh in your mind, and looking for images is a nice way to refresh your brain after you squeezed all of those words out of it.
If this isn’t written content, then this would be the day you probably record.
You can also build one additional day in, there’s room in the week. For audio that’s usually what I do — for this show, I flesh out a concept on Tuesday, write out my script on Wednesday, and then record on Thursday. If I was doing my own editing, I’d push that to its own day if I could.
Day 3: The life-changing magic of editing
Larry Brooks wrote a really lovely post for us called The Rule of 24, and it’s so powerful. If you run into a crunch and you have to edit your work the same day you draft it, you’re pretty well guaranteed to come up with a less awesome piece of content.
It’s kind of like putting a loaf of bread dough to rise. Give it the time it needs to get awesome.
When you pull up your words, they’ll be full of errors and problems — but that’s totally okay because it was your goal yesterday to write something crummy and quick.
Polish and edit and polish and edit. The more time you can give this phase, the better it will be, in my experience. For me, this is much easier mentally and emotionally than rough draft. I’ll go over a post again and again and again, looking for an extra word here, something clunky there.
90% of what you’re looking for is things that can be simplified. Simple words instead of fancy ones, simple sentences instead of convoluted ones, clear ideas instead of murky ones, and a single point you’re trying to make instead of four or five sort-of-related ones.
Remember that you can always take whole chunks and put them into a new document as seeds of new content.
This is also when you want to format the post so it’s nice and readable for the web. Plenty of subheads, use bulleted lists where they work, keep your paragraphs fairly short.
It’s not about making anything dumb, it’s more about creating some air and white space around your ideas so they can be seen more clearly.
Oh, and make sure you have a call to action. Surely there’s something you want this reader or listener to do. Figure out what that is and get it in there.
Day 4: Publication and promotion
On Day 4, you publish. You could do it on Day 3, but for written content, another Rule of 24 day is going to show any last little weird things you want to clean up.
This is also promotion day. Think about anyone in your network who might really enjoy the post, and let them know. Don’t spam, just focus on the folks who you think it will really resonate with.
And of course, you’ll post it on your social accounts, email the content to your list, all that good stuff.
Most of the time, try to schedule your publication day on a day you’ll be available for the conversation — you’ll want to be able to approve any comments fairly quickly, reply to the ones that resonate with you, as well as making some space for conversations on Twitter or Facebook or wherever you like to be social.
Day 5: Renewal and well-filling
Pamela didn’t include this day in her list, but I think it’s a good idea to think about how you can get this regularly scheduled — think about how you can get yourself outside of your usual topic, so you can start getting content ideas and sparks from other places.
If you’re a writer, maybe you take music lessons or an art class. If you’re a podcaster, maybe join a hiking club or take salsa dancing lessons, or cooking lessons.
Do other things that are outside of your topic. Read books that have nothing to do with your regular topic. Meet people and go places that have never even heard of your topic.
it’s so easy to get lost in the echo chamber. I like to travel, to draw, to learn new languages, to work out, even, yes, to hang out on social with people who have no idea what content marketing is.
If you feel like your content is a little bit “me-too” and you have a hard time coming up with content ideas that are really different, it may be that you’d benefit from widening your worldview.
And of course, you capture all of those ideas — whether or not you can see the relevance right now — and when Monday comes around again, you’re ready with a lot of juicy new ideas to work with.
And on a final note, it’s time for me to make an “Ask” — it really helps the show when you give it a review or a star rating on iTunes, so if you’re an iTunes listener and you feel moved to show us some love there, that really helps us. And a big thank you to everyone who has already left us reviews and ratings, it’s so appreciated. See you next week!