5 Idea-Generating Techniques We Use on the Copyblogger Team

“Help! I have no idea what to write about!” We’ve all been there — and when you produce as much content as the Copyblogger team, keeping the idea stream flowing is a top priority.

Today, I’ll talk about five practices we use at Copyblogger and Rainmaker to come up with plenty of high-quality ideas. These are the habits and techniques that keep us (more or less) sane in the face of an insane volume of content.

I’ll also talk briefly about our community for content marketers, Authority, because we’ll be opening up to new members again soon — but just for a brief period.

Let’s get into it!

In this 23-minute episode, I talk about:

  • The one thing you truly have to do if you want a solid stream of workable ideas
  • Some of the ways we manage the idea firehose at Copyblogger
  • The life-changing magic of getting your content organized
  • Finding the right rhythms for your content
  • My favorite quick fix when you need more ideas (or confidence)
  • Serving a larger purpose with your content
  • A massive pile of useful free stuff you can use immediately

The Show Notes

Sonia Simone: Greetings, superfriends! My name is Sonia Simone and these are the Confessions of a Pink-Haired Marketer. For those who don’t know me, I’m a co-founder and the chief content officer for Rainmaker Digital.

I’m also a champion of running your business and your life according to your own rules. As long as you don’t lie and you don’t hurt people, this podcast is your official pink permission slip to run your business or your career exactly the way you think you should.

Today we’re going to talk about how to get ideas for content. I’ll share some of my favorite ideas when I don’t have any ideas, and some of the little tricks or hacks we have at Copyblogger to keep producing so much content.

You may know that over on the Copyblogger blog, we’ve got at least one post every weekday at the moment. That number has gone up and down over the years, I think Brian started off with two posts a week.

I also have two podcasts running right now. What the Heck Should I Podcast About is a thing in my life.

And then we have a new site over at DigitalCommerce.com, and we’re coming up with ideas for that. And for email sequences. And for product ideas, like new courses to add to the Digital Commerce Institute, as well as some content-focused courses we have in the work. And I’m working on a bang-up keynote for our event in October.

A few words about Authority

We also produce four sessions a month in the Authority community. A quick “ad” for that — that’s our community of content marketers, and a lot of my time and creativity are spent there with that group. It’s meant really to answer that question,

What does high quality content mean exactly, and how do I get it created?

We have writers, we have business owners, we have digital entrepreneurs, especially folks who run online courses or other kinds of premium content, like ebooks. We also have some folks who run small content “agencies” — basically loose teams of freelance professionals who help folks with their content. And it’s the “continuing education” hub for our Certified Content Marketers, who are writers and content strategists that we actually certify — the editorial team looks closely at their work and says, “Yes, this person is a well-qualified content marketer.”

So you can think of it as, Copyblogger is known for content, and Authority is the “professional upgrade” — the next step to Copyblogger.

We also do a lot of community cheering and support. Every month we have a Q&A where we literally do mini-coaching to help people get out of stuck spots. If you want coaching from me, at this point that’s the only way to get it.

Every month we have a mastermind-style “hot seat” where we look deeply at someone’s business and help them see and make critical changes. Everyone in the community really learns from those, they’re some of best-loved content.

That’s open on a limited basis, so that we can spend most of our time making great stuff for our members, and a limited amount of time marketing the community to new members.

We’re going to be opening that up again soon, so if you want to know when that’s happening, boogie over to Copyblogger and look at that PRODUCTS tab at the top of the page. There’s an option there for Authority, and I’ll also give you a link of course in the show notes.

That’s a lot of ideas …

That comes down to a lot of ideas coming out of a small editorial team. That’s a lot of creative energy just to get the ideas, before we actually implement them, whether in writing or audio.

So over the years, we’ve come up with practices to generate all of the ideas we need. Today I’m going to share 5 of my favorite practices — the ones I’ve relied on for years and years.

You can use these for product ideas, posts, podcasts, videos, live talks — you name it.

#1: Idea capture and retrieval system

Any kind of creative person — and really if you’re going to survive in the 21st century, that’s all professionals — needs to be able to generate creative ideas, which is actually more about capturing and retrieving ideas than it is about coming up with them.

You have creative ideas all the time — but they come and go like clouds. You need to be able to catch them as they drift past, then find them again when it’s time to come up with some work.

You have to have something with you all the time to capture ideas. I’ve been playing around with my index cards, as I talked about a few weeks ago in a podcast.

Then have something in your life that stores all of the ideas. If you like the index card thing, it can be a nice box or a card wallet that holds them. If you’re a more digital sort, there are so many options — you probably already have a solution you use to keep track of notes, like Evernote or Google Docs.

Let’s say you need to create a piece of content right now — in the next hour. Something has fallen through, someone called in sick or something. Where do you go to find your ideas that are ready to be developed?

If you know exactly what to do, you’ve got the right system. If you don’t — come up with the answer for that, then enter a few ideas.

One thing that can be very useful is to keep ideas in various stages of development in there. For more on that, take a look at Pamela’s post on creating one strong piece of content a week. The stages she outlines can be adapted for pretty much any kind of content.

#2: Editorial calendars and content rhythms

It surprised me how much getting organized about your content production will make it easier to come up with the ideas you need.

I suspect that knowing you’ll be writing, let’s say, a long list post on the third Thursday of every month gets your “background processors” looking for the material for that post, so you notice things when they float past you.

Our process includes three elements:

  1. A production schedule — for example, every Wednesday I go to a coffeeshop and write podcast scripts. Every Thursday is a recording day, and I try to schedule any interviews for that day, as well as doing solo recordings. Mondays, Tuesdays, and Friday afternoons are for writing. On Friday we also hold our sessions for Authority. Break this down however it makes sense to you.
  2. A publishing schedule — we use an editorial calendar so we always know what’s getting published and when. Every piece of content we’re responsible for producing has a publishing schedule — and obviously this dovetails with a production schedule. So for example, we have folks who work on getting the Copyblogger images created — and they need to have the headline, themes, and some options for quotes by a certain number of days before the post runs. The more people you have, the more essential this becomes — but it’s incredibly helpful even if it’s just you.
  3. Publishing rhythms — daily, weekly, and monthly. For many years now, we’ve scheduled our strongest, “chewiest” Copyblogger posts for Wednesdays and Mondays, because those have always been strong traffic days for us. Right now we do “Throwback Thursday” posts, bringing a post forward from the archive. Coming up with these kinds of rhythms makes it so much easier to latch onto a content idea — you’re not looking for “a post,” you’re looking for, let’s say, a “behind the scenes” post, or a “case study” podcast, or a “quick tutorial” video. The more specific you get about the rhythms, the easier it gets to come up with ideas.

#3: Conversations

Once you have your processes and your capturing tool in place, you’ll spark a lot of ideas from conversations you have.

These can be on social media, phone conversations with other creative people, lunch dates, live events and conferences. I keep index cards on the desk any time I’m doing an interview, either for my own podcast, for some premium content, or for someone else’s show. Because there are always ideas that fly by — and this way I can catch them.

#4: Q&As

One of my favorite ways to generate ideas is to ask folks to ask me questions. So if you follow me on twitter, you know that from time to time I’ll throw out a request for questions to answer on the podcasts.

The Authority community also gives me lots of opportunity to answer questions — and when you start answering questions, you start seeing the themes and issues that people need you to speak to.

I’ve said this before, but one of my favorite exercises for any content entrepreneur is to hold a Q&A session. It can be a webinar, a Google Hangout, even an Ask Me Anything on Twitter. It’s particularly helpful to get the questions in advance — if you have an email list, you can just shoot them a message asking them to get questions back to you. This lets you give answers that are more in-depth and informed.

#5: Look ahead

And finally, if you’re creating content that has a larger purpose — you’re promoting a project, you’re marketing a business, you want to find a new job this year, you’re advocating a political change, whatever — make sure you’re looking ahead at what’s coming up on your calendar.

As we have significant events coming up like the re-opening of Authority for new students, or our live event in October, it’s natural for me to weave those into these podcasts.

There’s a real art to getting strategic about this, and no one is smarter about content strategy than Brian Clark. He actually wrote an entire ebook on this, you can snag it for free, along with 14 other titles, by joining our MyCopyblogger marketing library. There’s enough free stuff in there to keep you improving your content marketing for quite awhile.

The easiest way to get rolling is to go to the Copyblogger blog and click the “Get free training” green button near the top right of the site. It’s also in the Products menu at the top of the site, under “Free! My Copyblogger.”

You can find that ebook from Brian in the EBOOKS library, it’s called A Content Marketing Strategy that Works. I’ll drop you a link in the show notes if you want to get right to it.

From there, you can go onto the aspects of content strategy you need the most help with — so maybe it’s creating content that converts, or specifically landing pages, or search engine optimization, or email marketing, or promoting your content. There’s a lot there that you can make use of — it’s a total of 15 ebooks, each of which will give you a lot of focused advice that you can start putting into place right away.