Generating content ideas is easy, but actually creating and publishing content is hard. So often, I’ve seen optimistic “content producers” get into the game with a handful of fantastic ideas and an overly-optimistic idea of how often they’ll publish new content.
But when it comes to actually creating and publishing content, many of these fledgling content producers fail – because they don’t know how to set themselves up for success. Ideas are great, but actually creating and publishing content requires more than ideas. It requires work.
Thankfully, there’s a way to do a lot of that work in one shot – by creating a reusable content calendar that makes it easy to organize, schedule, create, and publish content that your audience will love.
Below, I’ll walk you through how I put together Butler Branding’s most recent blog content calendar – and explain how you can apply our content calendar process to your own channels.
Brainstorm Content (and Begin Organizing Your Ideas)
The first step to assembling a content calendar is thinking up some content ideas. But when I say “some,” I don’t mean ten or twelve. The last time I assembled the Butler blog content calendar, I jotted down roughly 60 ideas of topics we could write about – knowing that we might not actually write a word about some of them. I listed as many ideas as I could in one shot, so that:
- I would definitely have enough usable topics to create content around (even after throwing some out because they’re not good enough), well into the future. (Right now, the Butler blog content calendar runs through roughly April 2020.)
- More importantly, I could begin sorting topics into content categories – which are the real engine behind my content calendars.
As I sorted through the many topics I’d jotted down, patterns emerged. Topics began to fit naturally into larger categories, allowing me to link groups of related ideas together. When you brainstorm your own content calendar, your own sets of patterns and categories will emerge – and you’ll want to keep pushing ideas into these groupings. Because nailing down a focused set of content categories is the real key to creating a content calendar.
Finalize Your Content Categories
When I created Butler Branding’s most recent blog content calendar, I settled on six content categories that I wanted to publish within. If you look back through our recent archives, you’ll notice we’ve been publishing posts that fall within these six categories since July 2019 (I’ve linked an example of each):
- Posts About Things We Like in our Industry (and Why We Like Them)
- Posts About Things We Dislike in our Industry (with Constructive Criticism)
- Book Reviews (Relevant to our Industry)
- Summaries of our Core Value Celebrations
- Meet the Team Interviews
- How Tos, Explainers, and Deep-Dives (aka SEO Bait)
Assuming you’re not planning to publish new content daily, I would recommend that you DO NOT create any more content categories than this. Four to six categories should be more than enough from which to start building a content calendar. And for many reasons (search engine optimization, meeting audience expectations, actually hitting your publication dates, your own sanity), it’s better to stay focused than to try and publish content on anything and/or everything related to your industry.
But when in doubt about how many categories to add to your content calendar, remember that you want your calendar to make producing and publishing content EASIER for you. If you think adding more categories would make it easier for you to publish more content, go for it (but be wary of content bloat). If you think focusing up would help you publish more regularly (it definitely helps me – I like having lanes to stick within), start trimming categories.
Assign Each Content Category a Set of Calendar Slots
After you’ve settled on your content categories, you can start actually creating (and assigning publication dates within) your content calendar. At this point, you’ll need to determine how often you (or your team) can realistically publish new content – and I recommend aiming lower, rather than higher, when setting your initial publication schedule.
For example, I know I have time to write (and edit and add images to and write supporting content for) roughly one Butler Branding blog post a week, so we publish weekly. I could definitely stretch and try to publish two posts per week, especially now that my teammates are helping out. But I know that trying to publish twice a week puts us at risk of missing our target, whereas publishing weekly gives us a bit of wiggle room when we get stacked with client work or things (inevitably) go wrong.
Because we publish once per week, within one of our six content categories, our current content calendar looks something like this:
- (Week 1) Post About a Thing We Like in our Industry (and Why We Like It)
- (Week 2) Post About a Thing We Dislike in our Industry (with Constructive Criticism)
- (Week 3) Book Review (Relevant to our Industry)
- (Week 4) Summary of our Latest Core Value Celebration
- (Week 5) How To, Explainer, or Deep-Dive (aka SEO Bait)
- (Week 6) Post About a Thing We Like in our Industry (and Why We Like It)
- (Week 7) Post About a Thing We Dislike in our Industry (with Constructive Criticism)
- (Week 8) Meet the Team Interview
- (Week 9) Summary of our Latest Core Value Celebration
- (Week 10) How To, Explainer, or Deep-Dive (aka SEO Bait)
- And so on, until the Sun goes out …
Notice how repeatable that content calendar is. I usually alternate between publishing a Book Review or a Meet the Team Interview (you can read books only so fast, and we have only so many team members), but otherwise, our current content calendar categories could cycle near-endlessly.
When our current list of topics does eventually run dry, I’ll repeat the process I laid out in this blog post again – and we’ll have a new set of content ready to run us through the end of 2020.
You Can Be a Bit Flexible – But Only If You Hit Your Deadlines
So again, to create a content calendar, you should:
- Brainstorm and write down a number of relevant content ideas – way more than you think you’ll need.
- Assign each of your ideas to a larger category, and then (in most cases) streamline your set of categories to the most robust four to six.
- Create a content calendar (with hard dates attached) that alternates through each of your content categories. For example, if you decide on four content categories and plan to publish weekly, you’ll end up publishing content within each category roughly once a month. (And when planning how often to publish, aim lower initially, rather than higher.)
My last content calendar tip might seem counter intuitive, but it’s saved my bacon many times – and that’s to remain just the tiniest bit flexible when actually producing and publishing your content. At times, you’ll happen upon something timely that you want to write about, or find yourself feeling dispassionate about a topic that’s approaching on your calendar. When that happens, don’t be afraid to deviate from your calendar (flipping topics around or even scratching them out), as long as you HIT YOUR PUBLICATION DEADLINE. Remember, a content calendar is just a tool to help you publish content. As long as you’re publishing regularly, your content calendar is doing its job.