Recently I wrote a post about setting business goals as a solopreneur, and mentioned my content calendar. I immediately got several questions from readers and subscribers asking about content calendars and how they actually work in practice. So much so, that I re-jigged my own content calendar to write a post that would answer some of those questions (lesson no. 1 – your content calendar should always allow for flexibility).
The perfect content calendar is specific, but always flexible. I like to plan in quarterly increments, at a quite detailed level, but also make a rough plan for the whole year at the beginning of the year. I map out the details for the next quarter about a month in advance. So even though I have 2017 planned (roughly) with all my big goals in place, only the first quarter of the year is mapped out in detail, and at the end of February I’ll map out the second quarter in detail.
This allows me to stay flexible, and not get too disheartened if I’m not exactly where I thought I’d be at any given time (my detailed plans are sometimes a little over-ambitious).
So let’s actually answer the questions I received from my lovely readers and subscribers.
So what exactly is a content calendar?
It’s simply a plan of all the content you’ll create this year, tied to your content marketing strategy and your overall business goals.
Some bloggers use the phrase ‘content calendar’ interchangeably with ‘editorial calendar’. I tend not to, simply because I work as a freelance writer and an editorial calendar, to me, is the calendar publications and magazines put out for both freelance contributors and advertisers, with the various topics they’ll be covering each month. This helps freelancers contribute something relevant and advertisers plan their schedule.
As a freelancer, I tend to think of editorial calendars as something other people produce, and I work to, so I tend to call my own plan for my blog and business a content calendar, just to keep things clear for myself and my team.
What tools do I need to create a content calendar?
Honestly, any old calendar (paper based or digital) will do. You can use all kinds of fancy software if you want. Or you can download (or buy) various blog-specific calendars and planners. I loved the Biz Plan Book last year, and I hear good things about the free downloadable planner over at A Well Crafted Party. But any calendar you buy at the dollar store will work, as will a really basic free online calendar such as Google calendar.
Having said that, I’m releasing a new success kit for bloggers this month (as my success kit for freelance writers received some great feedback) and I am including a content calendar template in there. It includes various holidays and little known national and international celebrations, which I thought some bloggers might find fun to tie in to a blog or social media post. You can sign up here to find out when the new kit goes live. But let me repeat this – you don’t need a blog-specific calendar. A regular one will do.
If you’re going old school and working with a paper calendar, consider some colored pens and pencils to color code everything you’re producing (products, blog posts, guest posts, newsletters, social media posts etc).
What are the exact steps to create a content calendar?
You can create a content calendar in any way that works for you, so feel free to experiment. But here’s how I do it (just for inspiration).
- I plan out the products and services I’m offering this year. Books, info products, courses, freelance services, coaching opportunities and so on. I include affiliate products and services I want to promote.
- I plan the sales funnels for each product I’ll be selling, usually starting with a free opt-in or content upgrade. I don’t have a sales funnel for everything, and some things tie together in a complicated way (I may give away a freebie to promote a book, but I may also give away the book itself for a while, to promote another book or coaching opportunity).
- I check which programs offer a freebie to promote their affiliate products and make a note of those too (for example, Coachglue, who I’m an affiliate for, are currently offering a free training, 5 Ways to 10x Your Business in the next 90 days).
- I work on blog posts that promote the offers and sales funnels above. I don’t plan every blog post in advance, but I have a topic and a working title.
- I plan guest posts to drive extra traffic to my own blog, offers, and sales funnels.
- I plan out my monthly newsletters to promote all of the above AND provide valuable extra tips to my subscribers. In many ways my newsletter content is the most important because my subscribers are my core community and I want to make sure I’m providing them with excellent value. I try to keep my monthly email short (because you know, life is, too) but I never send out a newsletter that doesn’t give my subscribers something for free (such as a link to a free ebook I think they’ll love, or a free tool they can use to grow their business).
- Lastly I plan out my social media content. I used to wing it with social media, and still do to a certain extent. I share my latest posts, freebies and products, and random posts I come across online that I think my audience will love. But now I also do some planning and scheduling too. Apart from anything else, I’ve started to use Instagram (come connect with me over there) so I spend some time each week making perfectly square, pretty, branded images to share on there (after working with words all day, working with images is kind of therapeutic).
I find if I plan in that order it really helps me tie everything together.
Once I know what products and services I’ll be offering and when, I can think about sales funnels and plan my freebies and upsells. Then I can plan blog content to promote and compliment them. That will help me know what kind of ideas to pitch as guest posts, and the type of content I want to send to my subscribers in my emails. Finally, I’ll have a good idea of what sort of content I want to schedule for my social media platforms each month, based on everything else that’s going on.
So that’s how a content calendar works for me. But as I mentioned they are very personal and there is no ‘right’ way to do it. Have a content calendar related tip to share? Feel free to do so in the comments. Want to hear about my new success kit when it goes live? Or just grab some awesome freebies? Sign up below.