This blog post comes from guest writer Fancy Morales, Content Lead at Contenido.
So much to publish, so little time. Am I right?
It’s no secret that we content marketing folk have got our hands chock-full. Publishing mass quantities of blog posts, white papers, landing pages, videos, and social media posts every year is no small feat.
But what’s often overlooked is that as we’re laboring to plan engaging content (often for multiple audiences), we’re also hustling to wrangle our production teams, manage our time, delegate tasks, analyze our content’s performance, and monitor our allocated portion of that coveted marketing budget.
The tasks seem unending and it’s plain rough trying to gauge the real cost of our latest best practices blog post - or worse, calculating the sunk costs after our CMO killed production because of a business objective pivot. Many projects never even get published and the budget seems to run out before we’ve hardly touched it.
There’s no silver bullet that’s going to solve all our needs, but solid processes and smart tools help streamline our management workflow and keep our tasks, time, and budget above water. Here’s a few I’ve compiled from my own time in the trenches.
Start with a Plan
Outlining your plan is easily the most daunting task to tackle, but it’s also the most crucial guard against workflow catastrophes. The process of putting together a plan should take up a sizable chunk of your entire production time investment.
Focus on Audience Needs
Ultimately, the purpose of your content marketing is to woo someone. Without getting to know them, you won’t be winning affections from anyone. Love at first sight is fleeting at best. If you want lasting customer relationships, you need to build trust over time by providing content that shows that you understand what they need.
Familiarity with your audience will also provide a lot of foundational direction in the early content planning stages. Take a look at each piece of content from your market audience’s shoes and ask yourself, “Would I want to read this or share it with my colleagues?” This process will also give halt to dozens of irrelevant productions that may have initially seemed like brilliant ideas.
I highly recommend buyer-centered strategy tools like a buyer persona building kit. If your production is not relevant to your audience’s needs and interests, they’re not going to waste their time consuming it. Don’t waste yours producing it.
Align productions with business needs
The other foundational piece of building your plan after establishing your target audiences(s) is outlining your business goals. Don’t start creating content and try to force-fit it into your business plan. What you create should be driven by what you want to achieve. Reverse-engineer your content for your business results: start with the objective and work backwards toward the beginning.
It works on a large-scale and on a small scale. Goal-oriented thinking restrains big campaigns from falling off track and fosters copy that packs a powerful punch. When you plan the ending first and craft the plot of a story to easily lends itself to a conclusion, your audience will have a much easier - and probably much more frequently travelled - path to follow.
Content mapping framework templates are hugely helpful here. You can also use a simple flow chart to determine where content marketing will be working toward your business goals (and where it won’t be) - especially handy when you’ve got someone in management making content requests that you know don’t fit your business objectives.
Create a proactive plan
It’s easy to measure results after an asset is put out into the wild, but the best marketers finetune their forecasting.
Before spending time picking topics, planning what to say, and how to say it - look at the past performance of your content inventory. Applying analysis - whether it’s comparing similar mediums (owned media, social), content types (blog post, white paper, video), targeted buyer personas, topical themes and messaging, or call to actions - will give you a powerful hypothesis for how valuable your effort will be for your brand and your buyer.
We can also be proactive about our budgets. Do you know the real cost of that latest best practices blog post you published? Do you know what it cost to produce that last white paper versus the video series? Some assets take considerably more investment in the earlier stages of production than others. Killing those kinds of projects may leave you at risk for greater sunk costs in terms of team resources.
You might be surprised to learn that the asset you thought was more cost effective actually cost your company more in the long run. Maybe the price tag of hiring a vendor shied your team away from a video in favor of a white paper developed in-house. But how much time did the white paper production actually take your top designers, copywriters, editors, and subject matter experts away from other business interests? Analyzing the investments of time vested by your team will give you better insight for more effective and lean content productions. Know when a production won’t add enough business value for the investment.
It doesn’t benefit you or your audience to treat your content as just a task to mark off on your marketing checklist. If you know a certain topic tanks in terms of collecting marketing qualified leads, sales accepted leads, or even just views and click through rates, don’t throw time and resources at it. If a project doesn’t align, it’s not worth your time.
Know when to say no, and say it early
This is a tough one: get used to saying no to good ideas - or at least saying not right now.
To get things done, you have to prioritize and keep realistic expectations about what your team can accomplish. The unfortunate reality is that you can’t say yes to every brilliant idea without going insane. We don’t have endless amounts of time, so we need to be strategic about what we approve for production.
Assess the urgency of each project. How urgent is the information to your prospects? How practical is it right now to your current business objectives? Keep in mind that every new piece of content you approve is taking time away from other productions you have in your docket. Can you postpone any of your current tasks in favor of these new ones?
The more we try to juggle, the more we risk dropping. Being sober-minded about how much you and your team can tackle will save you the pains of project delays, missed deadlines, and killed productions ...and help you maintain your sanity.
Stick to the plan
You can make things more manageable by doing the following:
Break things down into smaller bites
Look for ways you can break tasks down into tangible, measurable goals. For example, “do design for white paper” is daunting because it’s too generic. Aim to make tasks as specific and realistic as possible. I like to break tasks down according to their revision stage (eg, have a v1, v2, v3, etc), but you can also break them down by sections (eg, chapters, topics, or page number) or types of tasks (eg, icons, layout, other graphics).
If you have a complex topic with a lot of ground to cover, cluster the topic by smaller themes or even a series of related sub-topics that you can make things snack-sized. You have to start somewhere; you can’t tackle everything on your plate at a time. Stay focused by making the first thing happen. After you knock it out of the park, move on to the next thing. Not only will breaking things down make tasks less overwhelming, building related series of content could increase your domain authority for your main idea.
Master the art of the outline
I’m preaching to myself here. It’s so hard to resist the urge to just jump straight into creating, but organizing your thoughts in advance saves loads of time when you finally dive into production. Start with a big brain dump, then map your content out with a simple bullet point list to give it some structure.
This is a hard one because it seems like that great line of copy always comes to us when we’re in the middle of something else. Just jot it down and drop it into your outline, but wait on full-fledged editing. Filling in the copy will flow naturally after you’ve drawn up the full blueprint.
Start with what’s easiest
Once you’ve drawn up the outline, start with the easiest thing. Maybe you think systematically and the easiest thing is to start from the top and work through the roadmap you’ve created with your outline. Maybe catchphrases are your thing. Start with the epic title or the chapter of that ebook that you’re most excited about and build off the momentum.
Create deadlines - even if there aren’t any
Deadlines create a sense of urgency - even if there’s no real sense of urgency. Draw up a calendar - one shared with your entire content team - and work back from the deadlines to allot time for the drafting and revision process. Keeping a calendar will help prioritize your day-to-day tasks, hold you accountable to complete them, and keep your goals in sight. If you take the extra measure to make deadlines dependant on each other, you can harness that feeling of urgency and also make the bigger deadline that’s a month out feel less distant.
Unplug from distractions
This seems like a no brainer, but it’s worth reiterating: don’t get sidetracked! Don’t let boredom of a topic or procrastination lead you to scanning over gossip columns or BuzzFeed videos (hey, this is real world stuff we’re talking about). Finish what you set out to do. A production dropped or delayed is money down the toilet.
Small epiphanies are also a big distraction for me. Sometimes an idea will come and burn straight through everything I’m working on. Having a convenient system ready for jotting it down so you can come back to it later keeps me from veering off course. Keep a stack of post-It notes to the side of your desk if you work offline or use a tool with a browser extensions like Asana or Buffer so that your workflow is minimally interrupted. Bonus about Asana and Buffer: you can drop thoughts into collaborative spaces to search-ably capture those spur-of-the-moment thoughts. This gets thoughts out of your head and into a place where you or someone else can come back to later - and protects your deadline from a major derailing.
It’s easy to get looped into an office conversation or distracted by a list of tasks or sudden great idea when you really need to focus on producing. To remedy, I keep a “Time to Focus” playlist full of epic instrumental tunes to help tune out everything around me that might slow me down. Maybe catchy pop songs are your thing, or maybe music itself is distracting and you need to be in a silent space. Do what works best for you to tune out distractions.
Have a “get s**t done” mode - and make sure people know when you’re in it.
Budget your time and use it effectively
Manage your time as carefully as you would manage your money.” - Roger C. Parker
Dedicate time to create
Content creation takes time - big ol’ blocks of time. For writers especially, time management is a tricky beast.
Balancing task management and content creation takes dedication. Carve out chunks of time to make yourself read and write daily. The more you consume and produce, the easier and faster things will flow in and out - you’ll have more insights to pull from and more to share.
Automate what you can
There’s a wide variety of opinions about what you should and shouldn’t automate. In my opinion, less is more. Advertising is marketing is sales - and sales needs to have a human touch. That said, there are still a wealth of time-consuming tasks that a little automation can tighten up and make more efficient.
Setting up a powerful tool will take a few extra hours investment up front to get things in order, but the time you’ll save through streamlining will pay off in long term productivity.
You can also recycle “anchor” content by repurposing it for a new audience or a different buyer stage without having to reinvent it. Have a great white paper? Design some new infographics or make a teaser video from some of its most impactful quotes. You’ll have a steady flow of fresh content that doesn’t take tons of effort or time.
We can be some of the most self-conscious and simultaneously egotistical people. Am I stepping on some toes here? In my experience, this is one of the biggest productivity killers.
Creatives must walk a thin line between confidence and humility - and it’s a huge publishing bottleneck when it’s not kept in check. I promise you, you will stumble with phrasing. You will get stuck on an idea. Your mind will go blank. You will lose focus. That doesn’t mean you don’t know what you’re doing or you’re not good at what you do. Give yourself permission for that bad first draft. Take a moment to celebrate something you accomplished in the past and find a spark of motivation.
Plan for moments of inspiration
Sleep on it
Don’t be afraid to take some time to clear your mind. When the words aren’t flowing, take a break.
Take a short walk or stretch. On days I work from home, I love to do an intense 5-10 minute workout like running up and down a few flights of stairs to clear my mind and get my blood flowing. Put it aside overnight and work on something else - clean off your desktop, organize some folders. When you come back later, you’ll have fresh eyes and less mental fatigue.
Stay open to new ideas
We write down all of our ideas before dismissing any.” - Kitterman Marketing
Stay curious and experiment with new marketing concepts and workflows. Study the people who are doing well - and those who aren’t. Today’s ideas will become tomorrow’s content. Write things down and keep a healthy vision board or backlog of ideas to stay inspired.
Sometimes an idea will lead you in a different direction than initially intended. Don’t switch gears right away. Tuck it away somewhere safe, and then come back after you’ve finished what you’re currently working on. If the new concept still seems valid when you revisit, you have a ready-made topic on hand for your next project.
If you’re a linear thinker, spreadsheet will do it for you. Minjet’s MindManager or The Brain help organize ideas in a brainstorming style. I find inspiration in visualizing final deliverables so I love using Pinterest and Tumblr to keep a vision board of great content and design.
Keep your thoughts in collaborative spaces. The more eyes on the vision board, the more minds will be inspired, and the greater your wealth of ideas. Be careful to limit the collaborators in the actual production process - too many cooks in the kitchen will slow you down - but in the ideation process, the more brains the better.
Log written requests for content projects in one place. Look for tools that are built for collaboration with others - they are great for daily productivity and save loads of time on revisions.
Making these kinds of changes won’t happen overnight, but a few steps at a time will increase your output and reduce frustration, stress, and misdirected efforts that get us off track. Baby steps, as they say. Get out there and make great stuff!
Thanks again to Fancy Morales for this guest post. You can hear more from the Contenido team at their blog here.