Creating an editorial calendar

Creating an editorial calendar

One challenge we keep finding with small businesses is a lack of structure in their content marketing. We’ve encountered many a company that started a blog, posted every couple of days and quickly ran out of steam. Frustration set in, attention turned elsewhere and their content marketing efforts came to a halt.

If you’re going to use content marketing as a part of promoting your business you should plan. Editorial calendars and content plans may sound the stuff of corporations, but they will give you an edge. Instead of scrabbling around for ideas, you’ll have a clear view of what you need to produce, how it supports your goals and plenty of time to prepare it yourself or get quality work from an agency.

We have a clear approach for creating editorial calendars and content plans. For small businesses it might only take a few hours to run through, larger ones it could take longer. The result is a clear picture of what to publish over the coming year to support your business and customers.

The Editorial Calendar

We start with an editorial calendar. This shows us the major events over the year that could influence content. Examples include company announcements, plans to launch new or updated products, seasonal patterns and regulatory changes.

This gets captured onto a planner, usually in Excel, that gives us a month-by-month view of what’s going on in the outside world. When it’s finished, we recommend you print it out and put it on the wall so everyone can see what’s happening.

An example editorial calendar, showing key business events and how the business will create content for them

How often can you really post?

Publishing frequency is something most companies struggle with when they start content marketing. We’ve often seen people start with daily or twice weekly blog posts and quickly run out of ideas. Quality drops, the results don’t come in and interest fizzles out.

Creating content takes time to plan, research, write, edit and format. A few hundred word blog post can easily take a day, feature articles much longer. There are also the social media promotions to set up, images to find and edit, and other jobs that quickly mount up into a full-time job.

Our suggestion is to start with a single quality post once a week. This is manageable for most companies and as experience grows, or if there are unexpected developments you want to take advantage of, there’s nothing stopping you from upping the pace, even if only for a week or two.

Finding your editorial rhythm

Content marketing is like producing a magazine, only you publish each article instead of waiting for the end of the month. Like a magazine, your content will have recurring themes and topics that you’ll come back to, or styles of content that will appear regularly.

We call this your “Editorial Rhythm”. It shows the when, what and how of your publishing. For example, a fashion business might publish something every Thursday in time for weekend shopping and alternate themes between tops, bottoms and dresses.

Filling in the Editorial Calendar

Once we’ve established a realistic editorial rhythm, we block this into the calendar. There are no specific topics at the moment, we just know on a date in December a type of content about a particular theme will be published.

The content on the calendar might shift around a little to match the wider business context. For example, a motor dealer we worked with would publish extra blog posts around the Frankfurt and Tokyo motor shows, and the twice annual changes to UK number plates. They also knew when new models were coming in, which they could free space around to promote, or slot into their rhythm.

Updating what’s been published before

As well as the shiny new content, we also factor in maintenance. Certain content is likely to need reviewing periodically, and there will be changes to the business that are worth reporting on. Maintenance should happen outside the editorial rhythm, although it will probably call on the same people to do the work.

Planning content ahead

As the calendar populates, it becomes easier to see what effort is needed and where there are “pinch points”. We’ve found editorial planning makes it easier to cope with these, particularly where content doesn’t have to be timely.

For example, an online retailer knew Christmas would be a busy time, so they commissioned a series of articles in June when workloads were light. These were ready to go out later in the year when their content manager was snowed under with seasonal promotions.

We’ll populate the editorial calendar with topic ideas as early as possible. Usually these are around the major events affecting markets, such as Christmas for retailers or the end of the tax year for accountants. They could be vague at first. “Something about product X” is not uncommon to see on early calendars.

Filling in the detail

For a small business we’ll recommend a simple monthly planning session and weekly review. The weekly review is to make sure everything is tracking the way it should and to make sure tasks for the coming week are in hand. Normally it takes only 10 minutes.

The driver behind our approach to monthly planning is to make sure we know exactly what is being published in the coming month, exactly what planned long-form pieces are coming in the next month and have an idea of what’s being published in the month after that. This gives us enough lead time to research, write, edit and format content. Short blog posts can usually be produced in a few days, but long-form can run over several weeks, especially if they involve interviews and research.

Example working plan, taken from the editorial calendar example above

Planning for more than words

It isn’t only the words for the website that need creating. Social media posts, newsletter teasers, illustrations, photos and other supporting content might also be needed. These will have to be sourced and have their own lead times.

If there’s promotional video or audio involved, we’ll also want to plan it further out. There can be significant time needed to script, find talent, record, perform post-production and get it ready to post.

On top of all this, if you’re using a small pool of trusted freelancers or an agency, you may need to give them enough notice to fit your work in. Asking for something on a Monday to be published on a Tuesday rarely leads to good work.

Adapting to changes in the business

Having an editorial calendar and a content plan to support it is great, but you don’t have to follow it slavishly. Unexpected developments can pop up which have to be slotted into the workflow. We’ve found it easier to accommodate these by referring back to the plan and looking to see what options are available. Sometimes swapping pieces around works, other times it needs producing separately.

Reviewing the editorial calendar and plans

We’ve found the plans work best when they’re reviewed periodically. Extending the editorial calendar every three months is usually enough for a small business, with an annual review to sanity check it against business plans.

The weekly and monthly planning sessions work well if they’re used to focus attention and agree firm action. Where a small business has a single person responsible for content, we’ve found regular “sanity checks” with an outsider good for keeping them motivated, fresh and developing their skills.

Lessons for leaders

When we work with small businesses on their content our starting point is always the editorial calendar. It gives focus and helps you make the best use of limited resources. Rather than scrabbling around for what to write each month, you can focus on delivering a steady stream of quality content that’s efficient, supports your business strategy and communicates effectively with your customers.

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