Firstly, I thought it sounded really complicated. Secondly, it sounded overly ‘corporate’. Weren’t content calendars just for large brands?
Both assumptions I found to be untrue.
In addition, I was unsure if one was really necessary.
How would it really benefit my business? Was it worth the effort to create one?
However, as I’ll show you, I not only found creating a content calendar far easier than I thought, but it also has big benefits for content creation and marketing as a whole.
This post gives you the following:
- What a content calendar actually is (and is not).
- 12 top benefits of using a content calendar for your business. I can practically guarantee this includes some benefits you won’t have thought of.
- The easiest way to create and start using a basic content calendar, from today. Want to get more advanced? Sure, I also give you another couple steps for that too. You’ll find it’s far easier and less intimidating than you may have anticipated.
- Templates you can use today: download two templates, a more basic Word template to get you started immediately; and a more advanced Excel template for later on
- How to keep your content calendar maintained over time and in focus. There’s no point creating one, only to let it languish, unloved.
What is a Content Calendar?
Also known as an editorial calendar, a content calendar defines your publishing schedule for weeks, if not months, in advance.
If you’re publishing content across multiple content platforms, you might find it easier to have different content calendars for each platform. Or simply put all the information you need within the same one.
As we’ll see, there’s no single format that works for everyone. It’s whatever works best for your business.
Plus, the format you choose isn’t set in stone. Allow it to simply evolve over time.
So What’s It Actually For?
Your content calendar is a shareable resource for all the relevant people on your team:
- It means everyone’s clear about what content is expected — and by when
- People on your team can contribute to it by:
- Keeping it up to date in terms of progress
- Contributing ideas for future potential content.
It’s a valuable and important document that helps systematize your business. Rather than creating content on an ad hoc basis, which always wastes time and resources, it gives you a content creation and publication process that all relevant parties can then follow.
Doesn’t It Stifle Creativity?
Some might find the whole concept of a content calendar as restrictive.
The objection is that, rather than following your ‘inspiration’ and creativity at a particular moment, content needs to be created instead based on what’s on the calendar for the date in question.
Isn’t it just overly rigid organizational planning better suited to large corporations?
In practice, you’ll find it helps creativity to flow.
Creativity is a combination of discipline and a childlike spirit
In creating content, you’ll often get creative ideas for new future content. These can be added:
- To the calendar directly
- To an idea bank (see #2 in the list of benefits below), with a rough sketch of what the content should include.
You can then continue with the content in hand. With this practice, you’re less likely to run out of content ideas for your calendar.
If an idea comes to you at some other time for content you say want to publish in a week or two, the content calendar can be adjusted as appropriate.
Rather than stifling creativity, a content calendar helps clarify your thoughts, clear the mind, and stimulate your creative juices.
12 Top Benefits of Using a Content Calendar for Your Business
Consistency of Content Creation
As I’m sure you’re aware, for the best results with content marketing, you need to be consistent with your content output.
That’s a lot harder to achieve without a content calendar. If you’re selecting content topics at the last minute, the whole process becomes more stressful and you’re more likely to miss publishing when you should.
It can derail your whole content strategy.
A content calendar helps keep you on a regular publishing schedule, and means your output is far more consistent.
It’s also far easier generating a number of different content ideas in one sitting and adding them to your calendar, than desperately trying to come up with one as a deadline fast approaches.
Increase Idea Flow
As just mentioned, one of the challenges of content marketing can be generating new content ideas.
Your content calendar acts as a central repository for such ideas, and by seeing them all listed in one place, it can stimulate more ideas.
As you get into the process, you’ll also find more ideas occur to you on a regular basis.
Develop an idea bank where such ideas can be noted down as quickly as possible.
The most effective method for doing this is probably to use your smart phone. Personally, I find the Wunderlist app really useful.
You can create a list for ideas that can be shared with colleagues and added to at any time. Plus you can access it from your desktop as well as mobile or tablet.
Use Time More Efficiently
With more organization comes better planning. If you’re the one who usually creates all the content, a content calendar can literally put hours back into your day.
As you can see the publication schedule for weeks in advance, it means you can start outsourcing at least some aspects of content production.
For example, other people can start helping with research, such as sourcing appropriate statistics, images and quotes.
If you’re creating blog posts under your own name, a writer can create a rough outline of a post. You can then go through it, put it into your own words and add additional content based on your own experience and expertise. It’s a lot quicker than starting with a blank page.
Or you can start assigning content to others weeks in advance so it’s all prepared and ready for publication well before needed.
No person will make a great business who wants to do it all himself or get all the credit.
Without a content calendar, content is more likely to be completely dependent on you. You can easily end up running on really tight timescales.
This makes it far harder to take advantage of other people’s contributions. There simply isn’t the time to organize it or for them to deliver in time. As a result, you do far more of the work than you really need to yourself.
Increase Resilience, Reduce Risk … and Enjoy Vacations!
A content calendar for content marketing means you can have posts in place and ready to publish well before the publication date.
Preferably, you should work towards being at least 4 to 8 weeks ahead.
It means that if an emergency happens, or something else occurs that would otherwise knock you off course, your publication schedule continues as normal.
It gives you back control, and frees you up for taking time off rather than feeling trapped in your business.
Be Part of the Conversation
For your content to engage with your audience, you need to be part of the conversation already happening in their minds.
Planning content on your content calendar around national and international events – for example, national holidays and big sporting events – can help you do this, and do so more effectively.
There may also be events within your own industry and of interest to your audience that you can plan to create content around.
Although the majority of your content should be more evergreen, this type of content can attract more immediate engagement, including higher levels of sharing.
Increase your Relevancy
On a similar note, a content calendar can also help increase your relevancy to your audience.
As newsworthy events occur within your industry, you can slot in relevant content on your calendar and move the publication of other content around as required.
The increased level of organization a content calendar provides makes this far easier to achieve.
More Coherent Content Creation
Do you ever feel that the content you’re creating is a bit ‘all over the place’ with no real sense of structure or direction?
If so, a content calendar helps your content output to become more coherent, and more structured as a whole.
For example, you might:
- Plan a series of content items on a particular topic
- Build up anticipation for future content you have in development
- Create a publishing policy where you publish a set number of different types of content topic each month, such as:
- How-to pieces
- News-related content
- Content aimed at those who are more advanced in your particular niche
- More basic content for beginners
- Opinion pieces
- And so on…
This can give a more professional, polished feel to your content output that can attract higher engagement levels, and ultimately lead and sales conversions.
Increase content production and publication
After a few weeks, you’ll be more familiar with using the content calendar and keeping it updated.
With the time savings and increased organization, it can allow you to more easily increase your content output.
If you’re currently say publishing a blog post once a week, you might find you can add an extra post or two a month. Before long, this could increase to an extra post a week, with no discernible drop in quality.
It also means you could potentially start taking advantage of traffic-attracting content contributed by others, requiring far less input from you and your team.
If you’ve been publishing a blog for a while, you’ll no doubt be receiving regular guest post requests from a plethora of potential contributors.
While most should rightly be ignored, the odd contribution might stand out and be a good fit for you. If you’re currently publishing ad hoc without a content calendar, it becomes very difficult to take advantage and add into your publishing schedule – because you don’t have one.
Support marketing campaigns.
Let’s say you have an upcoming launch of a product or service, or even a live event.
A content calendar means you can plan appropriate content to support these, for example, to increase anticipation levels and lay the groundwork with your audience.
Attract More Leads with Improved Content Upgrades
As you may be aware, content upgrades are a specific lead magnet that’s highly relevant to a particular piece of content. They’re mostly used on blogs, but as this post shows, can be used on other content platforms too.
A content calendar allows you to think about what really works with your post. You have time to invest more resources into creating something special that harmonizes well with your content, reflects the needs of your audience, and converts at a higher level.
Improve Your Stats
Over time, your content calendar is likely to get more sophisticated as it adapts to the needs of your business.
Part of this can involve starting to track different stats associated with your content.
This can include:
- Visitor numbers
- Responsiveness and engagement levels on different social platforms
- Revenue created
- And so on.
With this information tracked on a regular basis, you can start identifying trends, such as content topics that seem to attract the most response. In other words, it gives you better insights into your audience.
Use this information to help decide what content to schedule for publication on your content calendar, including guest post contributions. As your output more closely aligns with the needs and interests of your audience, your results will improve over time,
Keep on Top of Your Content Strategy
This is probably the most important benefit a content calendar gives you.
If you’ve taken the time to create a content marketing strategy, you need to plan how you’re going to achieve the goals you’ve set. This is what a content calendar allows you to do.
Assess the content you are planning against your content strategy, and adjust as required.
Easy Ways to Create a Content Calendar
Many available resources on how to create a content calendar make it way too complicated.
They’re advising you how to get started based on where they ended up. That can be intimidating.
Instead, try this three step plan … but slowly. Stick with step 1 until you’re ready for something more.
Keep It Simple, Stupid
All you really need to start is an outline of what you’re going to publish and when.
That doesn’t mean you need a complicated multi-column, colour-coded spreadsheet.
Just start with a basic document in Word or Google Drive, with a rough sketch of what’s coming up along with relevant publication dates.
List out content you’ll be publishing for at least eight weeks in advance, possibly with help and input from others on your team. Aim to extend this further as you get used to using a content calendar.
You’ll find it easiest to do this in a single session. Spend an hour or two brainstorming, let the ideas flow, and then narrow down to the strongest ones.
See this post if you’re stuck for content ideas or you’re not sure where to start. Most find that once they get started, it’s easier than they think.
In brief, for each scheduled content item, you just need the following:
- Content title – provisional
- Rough outline or notes of what the content will cover
- Date of publication
As you publish, just remove, or cross through, items you’ve published.
This allows you to get started with a content calendar really easily and quickly, and start to feel some of the benefits.
After a while, possibly quite a short time, you’ll begin to feel this basic content calendar doesn’t quite meet your needs.
It’s at this point, you’ll need to graduate to steps 2 and 3…
As you start needing additional information on your content calendar, the next logical choice is of course a spreadsheet.
Spreadsheets within Google Drive are ideal for easy access from anywhere, and collaborating within your team. You can also collaborate on Excel spreadsheets in a similar way.
For example, you’ll start to find you want to keep track of additional data such as:
- The type of content
- The stage a particular piece of content is at
- Keyword information
- Publication platform
Download the template of this more advanced type of content calendar. It includes the following to help you get started straight away:
- An easy dropdown to select the relevant publication platform
- A similar dropdown to select the relevant contributor
- A progress indicator so you can see at a glance what stage you are at.
Keep Adapting Over Time
The third step is simply where you adapt and refine the format of your content calendar over time to meet the needs of your business.
It’s only through putting the calendar into practice and using it day to day that you discover what works well for you, what doesn’t quite match up, and additional information that would be useful.
There’s no one set format that works for every business. Aim to have one that works optimally for yours.
Adjust as required!
Keeping Your Content Calendar Maintained and In-Focus
Of course, there’s little point creating a content calendar if it then gets forgotten about.
Instead, it needs to be a living, breathing document, and become a central asset for your content marketing activities.
Along with your team, refer to it and keep it updated regularly. Hold contributors to account with regard to publication dates shown.
How to Keep It Updated
Many businesses find it works well to organize monthly or quarterly content meetings. Content topics can be brainstormed or retrieved from the idea bank (see benefit #2 above), discussed, agreed upon and added.
For example, schedule a meeting at the start of each quarter to plan out the content for the quarter after that.
Or you might find it best to plan further ahead.
Some prefer to sketch out content in rough form for twelve months ahead, to take account of national holidays, company promotions and other relevant factors. Fill in the gaps and firm up content ideas through more regular periodic meetings.
As we have seen, there are multiple benefits in having a content calendar for your content marketing activities, whatever the size of your business.
Above all, it helps keep you in line with your content strategy, so you can actually achieve the goals you have set.
The best bit is, it’s super easy to get started (get the templates to help). You can simply start with something really basic, and make it more sophisticated as required over time.