Here’s the thing with content marketing: (almost) everyone wants to do it—and starts doing it—because it has an extremely low entry barrier. You already know the ins and outs of the industry, so why wouldn’t you create content that can potentially accelerate your reach and business growth? While it makes sense on paper, there are a few challenging scenarios that follow:
- You already have a lot on your plate, so you get less consistent with your writing
- You hire writers, either in-house or freelance, but you don’t have the time to onboard and brief them properly
- You’re churning out mediocre content that doesn’t bring you results
By working on content marketing with dozens of brands across the software and marketing spaces, I’ve witnessed marketers go through all of these scenarios (and many more). The aftermath? A stressed out marketing team and a bunch of wasted time. Luckily, there are several strategies that can be implemented within a short time-frame that can make a tremendous positive impact on your entire content strategy, from production to results. I’ll walk you through three processes I’ve set up with many of my clients, from fast growing SaaS companies to Fortune 100s.
Organize and centralize your content production
One of the easiest way to fall off the content creation track is by not keeping proper track of it in the first place. When you’re not sure where you’ve stored all your content ideas, who you shared your drafts with, or how long until you receive the edits back, your chances of getting things done in time get pretty slim. The more you try to delegate or outsource your content marketing, the more complex it becomes to organise it. Instead of managing an email thread with hundreds of responses in order to hunt for Google Docs links, notes, suggestions, and more, you can store your entire process, including all correspondence and feedback, on a single platform. From my experience in managing content projects, you can go as simple or as robust as your organisation requires.
Option 1: Free and simple
Free tools like Asana and Trello allow for a lot of space to:
- Brainstorm your content ideas
- Place your content pieces on a calendar
- Assign roles for each task and milestone
- Communicate with others involved in tasks
This is an example from one of my recent projects, where my client used Trello to add all the notes for a blog post we agreed on, including links to include, as well as competitor research and other resources I might find useful. This is a much quicker and simpler way to communicate projects compared to a long email exchange. Asana is another great way to achieve this with even more capabilities. You can create templates for tasks, as well as choose between list- or kanban-style projects to manage all your tasks. Make sure to check out Asana’s editorial calendar video if this is your tool of choice.
Option 2: Low-cost and full-stack
CoSchedule is another great way to centralise your content marketing operation in one place. Pricing starts at $40/month and depends on the size of your business and the features you need. On top of an editorial calendar with tasks, dates, and roles, you also get:
- Scheduling of email campaigns and social messages
- Chrome extension to easily curate content for your social channels
- Templatised workflows
- Social analytics
One of my favourite capabilities of CoSchedule is the clarity of ownership between tasks and workflows. Because it’s so calendar-centric, it’s impossible for content projects to fall through.
Option 3: Robust for agencies and enterprise
My final favourite is GatherContent, a true solution for creating a content inventory, a solid version-control system, and an easy way to bring content contributors on board without sacrificing quality or timeliness. Where GatherContent really shines over any other solution is the level of depth it provides because you can:
- Define rules and requirements for formats, word count, and more
- Write, review, and approve content in one place
- Create workflows that work for your organisation and process
- Monitor the progress of each piece of content
Whichever option you choose to organise your content creation process, make sure it’s working for your requirements and truly making your job easier.
Streamline your writer briefing process
Once your content production process is formalised and loaded onto a platform, you want to make sure that everyone involved in content creation knows exactly what the end product needs to look and feel like. This is something I’ve learned after I’ve hit a wall a few times during my writing process. Instead of sitting down for a few hours to research, outline, draft, and edit a blog post of around 2,000 words, I’d stare at a semi-blank page without realising why it’s taking me so long to make any progress. After talking to some freelance writer friends, as well as some in-house content managers and editors, I found the cause of my struggle: lack of clarity. This happened because I would agree on the blog post topic by only defining a working title. You know what you can do with only a title (especially when it’s on a topic you’ve already written about)? Not very much. You don’t know what’s the desired outcome of the piece, the next best action for the reader, or even the level of depth you should go into. This is when I started working on my own creative brief form, something I can give to my clients to fill out after we had defined a loose topic. I even added an intro to it so that its purpose is perfectly obvious and worth my client’s time: Here are the (word-by-word!) questions I use in my blog post brief. Please feel free to copy them and adjust them to your own preferences, needs, and processes:
- Post title: 2-3 options for headlines/titles
- Post summary/objective: 3-5 bullet points summarising the topic of the post and what the reader should have learned after reading it
- Target audience: Key pain points the audience is facing
- Focus keyword: Keyword phrase to naturally be worked into the post (one or more phrases)
- Stage of the customer journey: awareness, consideration, or decision
- Product features/capabilities to spotlight: How can the product solve those pain points, plus the features/benefits that the target audience cares about
- Internal links to be mentioned/linked to: blog posts, free downloads etc.
- Competitor articles: Feel free to add comments on anything you like or dislike about them
- Other external links that can serve as inspiration and great, linkable reference:
- CTA: What the reader needs to do at the end of the post to take the next step
- Goal word count: ballpark range
When your questions are ready, test them out within your team or with a freelance writer you’re currently working with. This way, you can continuously iterate and improve it!
Create a rock-solid editorial style guide
Finally, you want your content to be consistent and always read the same, no matter how many contributors or ghostwriters you work with. The way to always ensure this is by defining editorial guidelines that will make it easy to follow your writing style, as well as your overall voice and tone, just like folks from CoSchedule summed it up: In the beginning of this guide, I promised to give you strategies that are easy to implement, so instead of sending you on a weeklong mission to create a 20-page guidelines document. Instead, I’ll leave you with some key questions to answer to get you up and running as soon as possible—you can always expand on this later. Write down your answers to these questions, sort them together in in a document, and share with your strategists, writers, and editors.
- What tense should content be written in: past, present, or future?
- What point of view should be used: first, second, or third-person perspective?
- What words and phrases are considered jargon and should be avoided? What words and phrases should be used instead?
- What are standard content formats (e.g. blog posts, email)? What is their average/maximum word count and how many sections do they typically have?
- How are images being sourced and created? Which colours and styles should be used, and which should be avoided?
- How do you want the reader/viewer/listener to feel once they walk away after consuming your content?
It’s time to take action
If you ever struggled to stay consistent with content production in the past, these three activities will help you get right back on track—and stay there. Remember to share your progress with people involved in any of your content processes so that you can collect feedback and optimise your new workflow and make it truly organised and eventually streamlined. It’s not about adding more to your plate, it’s about making the content creation process run itself thanks to the responsibilities you’ve relayed onto others. Happy creating!