We’ve probably all seen the following scene from Alice in Wonderland: The white rabbit who was always, always late:
But when it comes to scheduling your content marketing, are you like him? Always overdue, overtime – and over budget? Let’s fix that.The downfall of most great content plans is that they aren’t actually planned very well. If you want your content marketing schedules to go off without a hitch, you need to do some serious planning.
Of course, I’m not going to leave you hanging there; I’ve done some of the work for you. No matter what the content process, here are the different stages you’ll need to have adequate time and resources to support, as well as some personal tips from my own experience to make each stage easier to plan and schedule.
Critical Stages of the Content Marketing Process:
1. Content ideation
Coming up with great ideas doesn’t just happen. There’s a process to it, with time required for research, vetting and organization. One of the biggest snags in content plans is relying on content creators to generate reams of great ideas out of nowhere. This is especially prevalent when content creation is handled in-house by people who have other tasks and job descriptions; content ideation is usually put off until the last minute.
Tip: If you’re planning an ongoing content campaign, it makes sense to do a massive ideation session upfront so that you’ve got ideas to chart out across then coming months instead of constantly trying to come up with ideas in the moment.
2. Approval Process
If you’ve got other stakeholders (like a client or boss you answer to), you’ll need to get them on board with the content you’ve come up with – or risk getting denied (over and over and over…)
Tip: Include them in the ideation process, and you can more or less eliminate the administrative hassle of this step altogether.
This one is easy to overlook – but especially if any of your content is outsourced, plan on factoring in administrative time to assign projects out to your creation assets. This will involve preparing briefs and templates, responding to e-mails, adding projects to your project management software, and so on. It’s a very real time sink, especially when content is being created at a larger scale.
Tip: Use automation tools like Zapier to speed up the mundane parts of your process, like sending out assignment e-mails notifying content creators of pending/overdue deadlines or collecting invoices. There’s a great example of how this is done here.
Creating great content takes time – and typically, the higher the quality of work you demand, the more time it will take to pull together. There are two key factors to account for here: Time, and creative energy. If your content creators are doing so on the side (like a business owner who blogs), then you not only need to create a schedule they feel they can realistically handle – you need to spend extra time on the ideation phase to give them a list of topics to choose from so they don’t avoid creating due to creative block.
Tip: Be realistic about how much content one asset can create without burning out. If you expect 25 high-quality, 2,000+ word blog posts a month, you are never going to get that from a single writer – it would mean turning out more than one piece per workday, meaning they’ll be rushing through it and compromising quality. Content doesn’t just burst from a creator – they need to research, plan, outline – and then create. If you’ve got a large-volume goal, bring on multiple creative assets or risk hitting a production wall.
5 Review & Quality Assurance
This is another one businesses fail to account for. No matter how good your content creator, never, ever assume that the work they’ve handed you is just good to push “play” on. You will need to invest time in reviewing what is being created for editorial correctness and adherence to your briefs/templates (especially if outsourcing).
Tip: While some view it as an added cost, hiring an editor is a huge win for most businesses. Editors can not only enforce guidelines, but make already good content creators even better over time with personalized feedback.
Pretty simple: Allow your content creators time to revise the work they’ve created.
Tip: It sounds obvious, but it’s not: The more talented the creators you work with, the less revisions will be required. Sourcing your work through oDesk might save you money upfront, but more expensive content creators tend to come with more talent, a broader depth of experience, and far fewer revisions that throw snags in your timelines.
Great content doesn’t promote itself. The promotion phase can take just as much time – or more – than the creation phase. Involved here is planning your targets, collecting contact information, the outreach itself, and follow-up. In most cases, businesses brush over this part and focus all of their attention on just getting things produced.
Tip: It’s far better to scale down your content production numbers in favour of upping your promotional time/budget than it is to scale up your production to the detriment of promo. Even if you have the capacity to produce a ton of content, consider scaling back to give every piece the promotional effort it deserves.
Cornerstones of Effective Scheduling
To close out, I’ll leave you with 4 key cornerstones that will make you far more effective at planning your content schedules:
1. Document the Process
When you force yourself to sit down and write out the stages of the content marketing process, you’ll be confronted with the realities of the process you might have otherwise breezed over in your mind. You’ll also have a roadmap you can share to team members, and be able to make your process a collaborative process. I’ve written more on the importance of documentation here.
2. Be Realistic About creative Assets
As I mentioned earlier, you need to be realistic about the actual time and creative energy involved in producing a piece. You also need to remind yourself that even the best writers/designers are human; there will need to be time for revisions, editing and quality assurance. Don’t optimistically factor these out of the equation – but do know that working with more experienced creators will help cut down on the time required, saving you money in the long run.
3. Look for Bottlenecks
As you map out your content process, look for tight spots where just one person is shouldering a huge load. This could be in creation, editing, promotion or even the approval process. Wherever you can, create protocols and leverage automation to make things go faster – but know when you need more hands at the plow.
Also keep in mind the other obligations of those you’ve assigned ownership of the stages of the process to – if they have other jobs, their capacity can be suddenly reduced.
4. Test on a Smaller Scale
Nobody seems to do this, but it just makes sense. Test your process before you go whole-hog on a huge content undertaking. Vet your writers with projects, test the creative energy of your content creators prior, look for bottlenecks at lower levels of production to see where things will go nuclear if you scale up.
If you fail to plan, you plan to suck.
Don’t wing it. Don’t be overly optimistic. Don’t count on assets who can’t deliver. And above all, don’t shirk documentation – because process makes perfect.