Maximize your timing and impact with a content calendar
Have you ever wondered how a newsroom manages to stay on top of the news with hardly any effort? The secret is simple—they’re prepared ahead of time.
It’s almost as if they know ahead of time what’s going to happen. Reporters magically appear in place, trailing cameras and sound crews, looking confident, poised and ready to tackle the issues. However, actual breaking news—the stuff that’s happening that no one expected—is only a small percentage of what newsrooms cover. Every newsroom has a beat—city news, local politics, state and national news, local features, and so on. And every beat editor has a calendar of upcoming events at his fingertips. From political town halls or demonstrations to a school graduation or Valentine’s Day—each editor will make sure it’s covered.
In the same way, a content calendar will help you keep your content fresh, organized, and on time.
What does a content calendar look like?
You can make a simple calendar in a spreadsheet or table. Let’s say you own a chocolate shop and budding chocolate franchise. Some of the things you need to be publishing on a regular basis are print ads, radio ads, email promotions, blog articles, social media content, and promotions, as well as a monthly newsletter for potential franchisees. You may also want to make a professional video featuring your store (and explaining why it would make a great franchise opportunity) as well as an ebook of holiday chocolate ideas.
As you acquire more confidence, you can add entries reminding you to follow up on getting text from your copywriter, then illustrations from your graphics person, and finally a tested and hot-linked email template from your email guru.
Identify dates important to your clients and business
Look ahead and get creative about identifying dates you’ll want to cover or base promotions around, or ones that might inspire creative content. For a chocolate company, Valentine’s Day, Easter, and Christmas are big dates, but the months of May and June are also big for birthdays, graduations and weddings. A realtor will want to do outdoor and landscaping topics in the spring and
A realtor will want to do outdoor and landscaping topics in the spring and summer or write about how to winterize your home or refresh your heating system in the fall.
A travel company will want to look up all the local wine, food and art festivals and offer promotions and content well in advance of those dates.
Ask yourself: Are there local events or destinations my customers would want to do or see? Is there something my customers should prepare for? Is there an event coming up that would be a good time to invite media—news, TV, radio?
You should also add a reminder to your calendar to get some professional photos when new inventory arrives or right before it’s released, so you have high-quality images to use during promotions. Also, plan ahead for trade shows and sponsored events. Give yourself plenty of time to produce brochures, flyers, buttons, logo items and order forms.
Choose your content type for each date
Pick the medium you want to devote to each calendar event. If you’re putting in an appearance at a local trade show, for instance, you’ll want some local ads and social media promotions in advance, but you’ll also want to make sure someone is taking photos or video at the show, as well as interviewing visitors.
Assign tasks and deadlines
Does this sound like a lot for one person to handle? Sure! But as the saying goes, many hands make light work. You can use the content calendar to assign tasks and deadlines as well.
By using a content calendar wisely and interactively, you can outsource a lot of projects: writing, photography, graphic design, editing, and videos. You can even hire professional voice-actors to give your firm’s videos professional polish.
Give yourself enough time to review, edit, and approve work before moving on to the next stage. To ensure you’ll make your launch deadline, choose that date first and work backwards. Ask yourself: When do I want to see the final edit? How long will it take the graphic artist to prepare this ad? How much time will the writer need to come up with the initial text?
With a content calendar, you can see at a glance where there’s too much work piling up. If holidays or other significant dates are important for your business and you need to get a lot of content out around them, start pulling some tasks farther forward in the calendar and get them done much earlier.
You do want to remind your customers of important holiday offers and impending deadlines for things like shipping cutoffs, but you don’t want to overwhelm them with too much mail. Think about what your customers like in terms of frequency and set up a regular rhythm that doesn’t feel forced.
If you have clusters of activities on the calendar and no way to space them out—like special offers and advertising timed to go with trade shows and all the craziness that involves, give yourself plenty of time. Start your projects well ahead of time on the calendar when things are slower.
Fill in the blanks
There may be certain times of the year when your content calendar is just a blank desert. Nothing’s going on, and you can’t think of anything particularly fascinating to cover. Use these open times to work on longer projects—those things you really like to have, but that always get pushed to the bottom of your to-do pile. Think about creating some evergreen material like how-to tips, white papers, interviews, and ebooks.
This would be a good time to tackle a project like making a video. You may want to use raw footage you took with your cellphone, or maybe you can hire a videographer. Before you start, though, you’ll want a writer who can put your ideas together in a well-planned script. Then you’ll need an editor to pull it all together in a classy package. To make all this happen, you’ll have to schedule your team of experts and make sure the project is handed off to each member seamlessly and on time.
Got a new project or idea you’d like to get off the ground? A crowdfunding campaign is another big project you can tackle during the slow season. You’ll want good product photos, a short video (it doesn’t need to be super-professional, just clear and sincere). Some great text and a reward plan for your backers. You’ll also want early products and maybe some logo clothing and gifts for rewards. You should also get your customers and mailing list excited about funding, and that will require a series of emails and news updates. And you’ll want press releases for the news media. All this should be in hand before you launch.
Automate your calendar
To make things easier, there are a ton of great tools out there that allow you to upload and schedule your content ahead of time. So once it’s done, you can put it in the content funnel, schedule it and move on to other things. Some well-known automation tools are HootSuite, SocialOomph, Hubspot, and Buffer.
A content calendar may seem like a big project at first, but you’ll be surprised at how quickly it fills up. Once you get started, ideas will come more easily, and you’ll soon be filling the gaps with exciting evergreen projects that are—finally—getting done!