4 Steps to Create a Simple, Yet Effective Content Calendar

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Social media and content strategy are hot topics in the creative entrepreneurial world - and any business-field for that matter. It constantly goes from top of mind to the bottom of the day's task. In turn, we feel like our marketing suffers and we can't quite figure out how to stop the cycle.

In the popular words of Benjamin Franklin, "If you fail to plan, you are planning to fail."

So, how do you cope? Enter: a simple, effective content calendar. Consider it your new best friend for content creation, advance planning, and getting your ideas ready to share.

What is a content calendar and why do you need one?

A content calendar may be one of those things that sound familiar, but you somehow scratch your head in terms of really knowing how to create one and why it can greatly help you grow your business. Creating a simple, yet effective calendar is a crucial part of your business because it’s essentially the do part of content creation. It’s the action-step or the actual execution of your material. It will help you get all of those ideas and plans off of paper and onto the screen to share with your ready and waiting audience.

This is also imperative for teams who have different members involved in different parts of the content creation process, but it’s just as important for solo-entrepreneurs who wish to deliver some seriously valuable content on a consistent basis. Not to mention, setting yourself a publishing deadline gives you that little bit of urgency to get it done and let go of the pull of perfection. Now, let’s walk through 4 brief steps to creating a content calendar of your own!

STEP 1: DO A SOLID BRAIN DRAIN

I’m a Trello fan so I have a board dedicated to “Editorial” that contains a box for various content ideas that come my way. You can use whatever medium or program you prefer for recording quick ideas. I don’t even bother to perfect the headlines at this point, I just jot down whatever I think of in it’s raw form. For example, I could be washing dishes and if a concept for a blog post pops into my head with a few main points, I’ll grab my phone, open the Trello app, and jot them down.

I visit this board frequently and move ideas around in order of timeliness or priority. You can do this on-go method, or aim to do it every so often all in one sitting. However your brain works clearest, just be sure to capture those flickers of genius!

STEP 2: GET IT ON PAPER

If you’re not a paper-loving entrepreneur, I suppose you could skip this step, but in my experience, most people need to “feel” it out with real pen and paper before typing away on their keyboard and solidifying things in a more formalized manner. I recommend getting one of those large desk calendars and/or a thin monthly planner where you can see a month at-a-glance.

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Bearing your social media strategy manual in mind, start taking note of what you’ve committed to posting and when. For example, do you send out a weekly email on Mondays? Great! Grab a pencil and write something like “Subscriber Email” at the top of the box for each Monday on your calendar view. Beneath that, you’ll start plugging in the topic/subject for each of those weekly emails.

If you want to be super efficient, you can even highlight and color-code each type of content - i.e: emails in blue, blog posts in green, social media in pink, etc. Highlighters or not, as soon as you jot down that first piece of planned of content, you’ll suddenly experience a breath of fresh air as you realize you’ll now be able to start creating more intentional, cohesive, and less last-minute content for your readers.

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Give yourself a couple of hours and try to complete a month’s worth of content at a time. Maybe each month has a particular theme or is focused on a new product launch, or perhaps there’s a big event you’re promoting. (More on this in Step 4.) Note: You’re not creating all of the actual content right now, you’re just getting all of it organized and determining what will need to be created; by-when.

Feel free to use this type of paper calendar as your sole method if you’re a solo-entrepreneur, but I prefer to use it as my “drawing board”, so-to-speak, and then move on to step 3. (Which is a good habit to get into if you have goals to expand your team one day.)

STEP 3: START PLUGGING IT INTO THE OFFICIAL CONTENT CALENDAR

Based on what you’ve brainstormed, organized, and now planned out, you’ll transfer that shorthand into a program like Google Sheets. A word for the wise: simpler is better. There are hundreds of content planning templates out there that would overwhelm even the most advanced of digital marketers at big agencies.Ideally, you just need an uncluttered Google Sheet for your blog posts and your emails, so you know what is being posted, when, and where you’re at with it in the process.

When it comes to social media, and particularly Instagram, that’s made easy for you with visual-planner apps like Planolythat serve as a content repository. I use these for managing my social media and don’t even bother to record the captions and images elsewhere as I feel that it’s double the work.

I simply refer to my calendar for what I’ll be writing about that week and try to create social media posts around those themes to ensure it all flows cohesively. The great thing about these scheduling apps is that everything is drag and drop, so it’s not cemented in stone in case something changes, or if something more relevant spontaneously occurs (after all it is insta-gram.)

Here’s an inside-snapshot of my own Planoly account. You’ll notice it actually has a lot of loaded posts (on the left), but they haven't been given a schedule date (on the calendar portion) because I’m a fan of the flexibility to switch things up. I know I have a goal of posting ~5x/week and go with what’s most fitting for that day based on all the content I’ve pre-created.

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STEP 4: BATCHED DAYS FOR CONTENT CREATION

Now that you’ve got it all on the calendar, it’s time to evaluate what’s been created, what needs editing or graphics, and get to work! Content creation feels a lot less stressful knowing there’s a plan in place and you’re not mindlessly typing away without intention. Another way to effectively do this is to create “batched days” in your weekly schedule - where one day is dedicated to one type of task. For example, every Wednesday could be a content creation day, where you spend 4-6 hours writing and editing blog posts.

The next day you could spend an hour or so sourcing or taking photos to go with them. The idea is that you do related tasks in one sitting, rather than losing focus and going back and forth. For example, you wouldn’t bake one muffin, while getting out all the pots, pans, and ingredients to do so. Instead, you’d make a whole batch!

Using your preferred app you can now also keep track of what’s left for you to cover, or what’s already been scheduled. If you are working on a team this also makes for a great place to delegate tasks or use it as a reference point. Like most things with digital marketing and social media, don’t overcomplicate it! Do what makes the most sense for your business and remember why you’re doing it - to save precious time and of course, your sanity!

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A Work in Progress

Lastly, remember it’s a work in progress. Try to see it as a constant flow of value you’re working to provide your readers with, rather than a quick task to just be done with. I promise it will be worth it and will free you up to spend more time on the parts of your craft that you love the most. Good luck and remember myself and the Station Seven team are always here to answer any questions you may have.

Do you currently have a content calendar? What's your favorite platform to use? Do you stick to the schedule once it’s planned? We want to hear in the comments below!