“Failing to plan is planning to fail.” (Benjamin Franklin)
As an entrepreneur/marketer/the CEO of your company, you need to have a plan for your content marketing campaigns.
You see, true CEOs and professional marketers make plans of action. Then they implement them. After a time, they come back and review, revise and tweak the plan to perfect it.
When it comes to planning your content, it all begins with a content calendar.
In this guide, I am going to walk you through creating a content calendar for your business, and how to begin working inside of it over the next quarter.
I’ll share some free content calendar templates you can use to create your own content calendar, along with some concrete examples. We’ll also cover how to make sure your content calendar is aligned with your promotional activities, so you can get the absolute best results from your blogging efforts.
Are you ready to get started? First, let’s briefly cover the basics…
What is a content calendar?
A content calendar (a.k.a. “editorial calendar”) is a resource that marketers use to plan what content will be published over a specific period of time.
A good content calendar answers three questions:
- What content will you publish?
- Where will it be distributed?
- When will it be published?
Having a content calendar takes out all the guess work. No more asking yourself, “What shall I write about today?”, or creating content that you hope will gain the attention of your ideal audience. Your content calendar will tell you exactly what to publish on your blog, social media, or email newsletters to get real results for your business.
There are several other big benefits to having a blog content calendar:
- It helps you stick to a consistent publishing schedule.
- It helps you to maintain a good balance of topics.
- It allows you to coordinate your content around product launches and promotions.
- It gives you a bird’s eye view of what’s working and what’s not working in your content marketing campaigns.
The most beautiful thing about a content calendar is that nothing is set in stone. If you want to readjust, you can!
For example, if you’re writing a series of blog posts on a brand of makeup that you enjoy using, and are seeing amazing results in your traffic, then you can adjust your plan to include more content within that topic.
OK, now that you know what a content calendar is, there’s one very important ingredient you need to have before you begin to create your own. You need the “secret sauce” to any successful content marketing plan…
How to Create a Content Marketing Strategy that Works
The secret to a content marketing plan that gets real results for your business is choosing the right topics.
You could have an entire year’s worth of blog posts filled out in your content calendar, but if the topics don’t attract your ideal audience, then your calendar will do nothing for your business.
So if you want to have a successful year ahead, you’ll need to plan your content around the actual needs of your ideal audience.
Now some of you may be saying, “But I don’t have any blog post ideas!”
Or on the other end of the spectrum, you may be saying, “But I have so many ideas, I don’t know what to even focus on!”
Don’t worry. In the next section, I’ll show you how to find the right topics to fill your content calendar easily and effortlessly, even if you don’t have a clue what to write about, or you don’t know what to focus on.
3 Tips to Fill Your Content Calendar with Blog Post Ideas
So how do you find the right blog post ideas for your content calendar?
Here are three tips that will give you an endless supply of blog post ideas to attract your ideal audience…
1. Frequently Asked Questions
When you tell someone what you do for a living, what questions do they ask you? How about the questions your email subscribers ask you? Or your family and friends?
Each and every one of us has our “frequently asked questions” that people are always asking us. We don’t even have to think anymore because it’s so terribly common that we know the answer before the question is even done being asked!
These frequently asked questions are perfect topics for attracting your ideal audience. So why not write about these questions? Why not turn your answers into a blog post, a video, a social media post or a podcast?
The added benefit is that you can then point that person to your content (instead of repeating yourself like a broken record).
2. Market Research
Market research is what smart marketers do to better understand the audience that they are trying to attract. Doing market research will give you an endless supply of blog post ideas, and helps to ensure that your topics are right on target.
For example, what do you do after you’ve answered all of your frequently asked questions? Those are great blog post ideas, but there are only so many. That’s where market research comes in.
Unfortunately, this is where most bloggers make the fatal mistake of writing what they want to write about. You see, your audience doesn’t care about what you want to talk about. They only care about what benefits them and fulfills their needs, right now.
So if you want to attract an audience to your website, you’ll need to conduct market research.
How do you conduct market research for your content calendar? Here are three techniques I have used inside of my own business, and that can work for you too.
Call Your Ideal Audience
Do you know people who need to work with you, but they haven’t yet? You can discover excellent blog post ideas by simply calling these people up and asking them a few questions about what they are struggling with.
Write down 5-7 people who need your services but they just haven’t bought yet. Come up with a short questionnaire of 4-5 questions that will take between 10-15 minutes of their time. Then, call them on the phone or on Skype. You can start the conversation like this,
“Hello, I am researching how to better serve you and my clients right now, and have put together a few questions that will only take a few minutes of your time. I would appreciate your time and your answers, so I can continue to provide great value to you, and others like you.”
This will not only give you highly targeted blog post ideas, but you’ll build rapport with these people because you’re including them and asking them for their feedback. (Plus, you can take the wording that these prospects are giving you and use it for your sales pages, blog posts, social media posts and more!)
But what if you don’t know anyone in your target audience? Here’s another tip for you…
Share a Survey
You can easily turn the questions you wrote for the above and turn it into a survey. Then, you can share the survey on Facebook groups or on other social media channels to collect responses.
Let the people in these groups know who your ideal audience is, and if they fit that description, let them know that you would appreciate their time to answer a few questions.
You can use Google Forms to create the survey itself. I have done this for my own business, and it has given me plenty of blog post ideas to fill my content calendar, and sales copy to work with too!
Do Keyword Research
Another great way to validate your blog post ideas is by doing keyword research to see what people are actually searching for online.
Here are a few content calendar tools that I have used to validate my own blog post ideas. These tools help to ensure that the topics I’m using to fill my content calendar are topics that the public is actually searching for.
- Answer the Public
Answer the Public is a free tool that allows you to put in a simple keyword, and then it will find all the questions that are being asked on Google and Bing associated with that keyword. It’s simply amazing, and I love using this tool to gain the knowledge of what is being asked on two of the most used search engines!
BuzzSumo is another free tool (with a paid version) which allows you to find all the most popular content around a particular topic. Just type in a broad topic, and it will sort articles on that topic by the total number of social shares. You can also enter a competitor’s URL to see what content is working really well for them.
- Quora and Inbound.org
Quora and Inbound.org are sites are where people can go to ask questions and get responses from experts like yourself. This is an excellent resource to gather market research for blog post ideas, determine what people are asking, and see how others are responding.
Study the Competition
Finally, look at your competition. They are talking directly to your audience right now!
Don’t steal or plagiarize from them, just go to your competition’s website and see what they are writing about. What questions are they answering that you could be answering?
See how you can answer the same topics in your own way, and what gaps they have in their content that you can fill.
Where to Publish Your Content
So far, I’ve shown you how to answer the first question for your content calendar, “What content will you publish?” Now you need to answer the second question, “Where will it be distributed?”
Will it be on your blog? Your social media accounts? Your YouTube channel? A guest blog post?
When choosing the primary medium for your content, think about what will lend itself the best to explaining your topic.
For example, some questions are best answered in writing, whereas a video recording of your screen may work best for some tutorials.
Regardless of where you choose to distribute your content, make sure that you are also posting content to your blog. You own and control your blog, so it’s easier to turn your audience into leads and customers there.
For example, a YouTube video or a podcast episode can also be embedded into a blog post. Or, a social media post can be expanded upon and turned into a blog post (or visa versa).
When to Publish Your Content
Next, you’ll need to answer the third and final question for your content calendar, “When will your content be published?”
Will it be daily? Every other day? Bi-weekly? Weekly?
There is no right or wrong answer here. It is completely up to you and your budget/bandwidth.
Now that you’ve answered these important questions, you are ready to create your content calendar!
6 Free Content Calendar Templates
When filling out your content calendar, it can be really helpful to have an editorial calendar template that is designed for bloggers and publishers. Here are 6 free content calendar templates you can download and use to create your content marketing plan over the next quarter.
Now that you have your template, let’s take a look at a few content calendar examples…
Content Calendar Examples
I personally publish a blog post every Monday, and I send out an email newsletter to my subscribers about the blog post every Tuesday. I publish to my social media accounts multiple times daily. I also make room in my content calendar for guest posting, writing articles for magazines, lead magnet creation, and creating email sequences.
So here’s a content calendar example that I might use for the month of January.
As you can see, you will likely have different forms of content being distributed on various platforms (including your own blog) at different times and on different schedules. However, all of this should be included on your content calendar.
Here are a few more content calendar examples that you can emulate…
- Inc. Editorial Calendar
- Forbes Editorial Calendar
- Time Edit/Franchise Calendar
- CoSchedule Annual Calendar
- Buffer’s Trello Calendar
Making Your Content Calendar and Promotional Calendar Align
As you are filling in your content calendar, it is really important to keep in mind any promotions that you have coming up. In other words, your content calendar and your promotional (“marketing”) calendar should match.
Think of the two like a married couple: they are one, and inseparable. Once you have a content plan that is in alignment with your promotional calendar, you’ll be able to effortlessly warm up your audience with helpful content that leads them directly into your promotion or launch.
Your products or services will be the next logical step, which makes selling so much easier.
Here’s an example on how to do this: say you’re planning a webinar. If you want your audience to get excited about your webinar, then you need to begin creating content around that webinar weeks or even months beforehand. That way, when you do mention that you’re having a webinar (sure to give them even more of the great value they’ve come to enjoy), they will be perfectly primed for it.
When I hosted one of my webinars, I prepped my audience with blog posts and social media posts on the topic for two months before I even talked about the webinar. My content was in alignment with my promotion activity, which allowed me to promote my webinar with ease, and sell more of my services to an eager audience.
Here’s how you can do the same…
First, begin by picking out a few promotions that you want to do over the next 90 days. This could be a webinar, running a flash sale, or announcing your brand new online course.
Next, list out all the steps that a prospect will need to take before they will say “yes” to your promotion.
Here’s an example. Let’s say you are launching an online course about email list building. Your content should also be on the topic of list building.
Your steps might look something like this:
- Prospect discovers your website (e.g. reads a blog post about list building).
- Prospect downloads your lead magnet (e.g. “11 Tricks to Getting Your First 1,000 Subscribers”).
- Prospect receives a series of educational emails (e.g. a list building mini course).
- Prospect receives a final email announcement about your webinar on list building.
- Prospect attends the webinar, where they hear a sales pitch about your online course.
- Prospect purchases the course.
Now that you know what steps your prospect needs to take, go ahead and outline your action steps over the next 90 days.
Here’s an example:
Each bullet point is what you’re going to do every week. Just take it one week at a time, so you don’t go insane with overwhelm. No step is too small to be included. (Remember: small steps lead to big impact!)
With this outline, you’ll be able to see at a glance what content you need to create to have a successful launch for your online course. (You should create a simple outline like this for each of your promotions over the next quarter, so that you can easily pop the content-related activities into your 90-day content calendar.)
Now it’s Launch Time
Launch time is when you’re going to be promoting your online course like crazy! Your blog posts will be reflecting this, your social media will be buzzing about your course, and your emails will be getting your list excited about the course as well.
This is the time to really be engaging and getting out to talk about your course so you can reap the benefits of all your hard work.
When you have a plan for a promotion, break down that plan into baby steps, and prep your content marketing strategy to reflect this plan, you’ll be able to breathe easier knowing exactly what you need to do to meet your financial goals over the next quarter.
Review, Revise, Repeat
In this guide, I showed you why you need a content calendar for your online business. You learned the “secret sauce” to a content marketing strategy that works, and you saw a content calendar example. Finally, I taught you how to align your content calendar with your promotional calendar to make the most of your content marketing campaigns.
So what’s next?
Pick a date near the end of your 90 day period to review. Reviewing what your quarter looked like will help you to answer the tough questions, like:
- What worked well?
- What didn’t work?
- What could I have been done better?
- What lessons did I learn?
No matter if your promotion was a flop or a success, you are in the process of learning and growing. It takes time. The only way you’re going to learn is to review your progress.
After taking time to review, now it’s time to revise your content and promotional calendars. If something didn’t work so well, what could you do differently next time? If something did work well, do it again (or do it even better)!
Perhaps you need to do more market research, or maybe you want to gather a few affiliates next time. Maybe you want to guest post more, or start promoting your lead magnet sooner.
Whatever the case may be, now is your chance to reset and get a fresh new start.
Then, repeat the process outlined in this guide for the next 90 day period. What are your new content marketing goals and promotions that you want to accomplish in the next quarter? The possibilities are limitless!
It’s a brand new year with brand new possibilities. Let’s make 2017 the year to grow our online presence, our marketing activities, our incomes and our learning curves.
Taking it 90 days at a time, let’s make this year our best year yet!