How are you managing your blog posts? If the answer is Post-its, never-ending email threads with your team or spontaneous brainstorming an hour before you publish, we’re about to make your life easier—and your content better.
The dynamic FreshBooks blog is managed by Content Editor Megan Santos who harnesses dozens of ideas, wrangles a posse of writers and makes sure great-quality, seasonal and evergreen content is regularly published.
How does she make it work? A powerfully good content calendar. Here she spills all her secrets so you too can make curating content easy and effective.
But First, What is a Content Calendar?
First things first, what is a content calendar and why would your small business need one?
A content calendar is an essential tool to help plan the execution of your content strategy. At a high level, it identifies what you’re going to publish and when.
“If you’re someone who publishes blog posts regularly, a content calendar will keep you on track and ensure you’re publishing as planned in your content strategy,” said Santos. So, for example, if your strategy identified that you should publish one infographic a week, marking this on a specific day each week with details about the infographic will ensure you keep that commitment.
“It’s essentially a giant organizational document where you map out your posts. It’s a macro look at the content you plan on producing, whether for the next month or an entire year.” It sets up an “advance planning” mindset that guarantees you’ll get the most out of every post and idea, rather than arriving at work and wondering “So, what will I write for the blog today?”
Moreover, the content calendar is a great way of giving visibility to the rest of your organization about what’s coming on the blog.
And What Does it Look Like?
Santos says your content calendar can take many forms, including spreadsheets, Word documents and calendars. Your favorite shareable calendar tool will work.
“[At FreshBooks], we start with a Google calendar and create a separate tab for each month of the year. We categorize posts by subject area to ensure we’re producing the right mix of content to support our content strategy. And we also note holidays, seasonal themes and world events so that we can plan thematic content well in advance, for example, a round-up of customers who run Green Businesses for Earth Day.”
We also keep an entirely separate tab where we list all our story ideas that we haven’t yet committed to writing—so we never forget a good idea and we’re never stuck with the “what do we write next?” question.
Who Uses a Content Calendar?
Of course, you’ll share the calendar with your content team, but you might even consider sharing it company-wide to involve others in brainstorming upcoming content or even producing some posts themselves!
When it comes to maintaining the calendar (identifying all holidays and industry events, updating it, rescheduling topics when necessary, tracking and plugging in performance), an administrative role within your small business could take it on.
How Do You Maintain It?
Just like managing your personal calendar, it takes a little bit of discipline to make sure you’re putting every assignment in your content calendar. But having this touchstone will be such a resource to help guide your content marketing. Santos says the FreshBooks content team is in there every day, thinking about what’s coming up, what the overall mix of content looks like and if there are better ideas.
It also encourages you to get ahead and dedicate the time and energy to make every blog post the best version of itself. For example, some posts require research, photos or an interview. You can use the content calendar to help you organize your time to make sure that gets done before you need to write and publish the post.
To overcome the “blank page” fear of looking at the calendar, consider having a “franchise” of post types as a regular feature on the blog. For example, FreshBooks publishes a Customer Story or Case Study every Monday. Every last Friday of the month, they do a link roundup. It helps to have some predictable, repeatable pillar content to hold it together. Then you can easily fill in the blanks with your other ideas.
Why a Content Calendar Matters
There are multiple advantages of building and maintaining a content calendar. Here are some of them and how you can make them work for you.
Instead of expending precious brainpower in frantic spurts, meet with your team weekly or monthly to brainstorm post ideas and decide when would be a good time for each to be published.
Taking on the task of setting up the calendar annually will save you the most time in the long run, says Santos. “Most of the work of creating a content calendar is in the beginning. You’ll find the calendar you want to use, lay out all the holidays and observances, categorize topics you want to cover and start brainstorming to make sure they’re all represented on the calendar.”
Keep Ideas Flowing
Simply noting the holidays and seasonal themes will become a springboard for discussing ideas and those repeatable, themed posts will leave plenty of freedom for coming up with your most creative ideas. Santos recommends adding a separate tab within the document for ideas. It can be a repository where you and your team can dump brainwaves as they occur to them. It’ll prove a goldmine the next time you need to brainstorm.
Take Advantage of Seasonal Content Opportunities
When you’re taking a big-picture look at your posting schedule, you’ll have a great visual of holidays, seasons and industry events for the year ahead and can tailor your posts to tie in with them.
Be a More Consistent Publisher
It’s easy to keep your resolve to publish a blog post once a week when you know what you need to write about and when. We don’t need to tell you that half the battle is coming up with ideas!
Have an At-a-Glance Legacy Document
When the year is done, you’ll have a living document that clearly shows every post you ever published. This is exceptionally helpful to avoid duplication and for ideas to tweak for the next year’s post.
Track Blog Performance
Using Google Analytics or another tool to measure traffic and put results right into the calendar view (or create a new calendar/spreadsheet tab expressly for this purpose). You’ll gain great insight into what topics work and which ones don’t.
“Making a concerted effort to track how well your content performs will pay off. It will allow you to refine ideas for better results in the future. It’s a way to ensure you’re continuously improving,” says Santos.
Use an app (Google Docs and DropBox work well) that allows access to your team and any external contributors. Anyone can take a look to see who will be writing what and when.
Santos encourages users to make use of colors and comments to keep track of what’s been done, what needs to be done and who is responsible for what. “When a post has been scheduled, cross it off or mark it in a different color so you know it’s been taken care of. And assign a color to each contributing team member to make it simple at a glance.
“It’s important to make those little marks so other people who also access document will be able to see the changes made.”
She cautions team members to communicate outside the document too. “A common mistake is making a change on the actual document but not telling the rest of the team. Just an email to say, ‘I’ve moved this post from three weeks from now to next week’ will keep them in the loop and ensure there’s no communication gap.”
Fill Your Content Calendar with Amazing Ideas with These Brainstorming Tips
Updating and maintaining the content calendar is a breeze compared to the brainstorming session. Here are some tips to help you make it productive:
- Each of your blog posts should support the content strategy, which supports the overarching goals of your business. “Don’t just think of them as one-off blog posts; they need to work together to support your audience and your brand. The content calendar is your skeleton and outline for a bigger content strategy,” said Santos.
- Think of your blog or social media accounts as the voice of your business. You can provide a wonderful service but it’s important to have an expert voice your customers can latch onto. Help cultivate that voice by writing about things like:
- Product recommendations
- Tips on how to DIY some of the expert service you provide
- Trends and information about your industry
- Your response to a newsworthy story
- Consider collaborating with another business in your industry to provide content for each other’s blogs with guest posts or write about an experience working together.
Don’t limit yourself to one brainstorming session every year. Keep track of post ideas as they come to you in your calendar or elsewhere. Sometimes just a scrap of an idea can bloom into great content when you have the time to focus on it.
About the Author: Heather Hudson is an accomplished freelance writer and journalist based in Toronto. She writes for a number of publishing, corporate and agency clients who depend on her to deliver high-quality, on-brand content and journalism with a fresh perspective. Learn more about her work at heatherhudson.ca.