I’ve been a big fan of trying all sorts of beer ever since I took a trip to Germany for seven months back in 2008. To me, that stuff was going to be the best I’d ever taste with the classic pilsners, bocks, and wheat beers.
And when I got back to Minnesota, I tried some of the… well… domestics. Those macrobreweries definitely had their processes down to produce massive quantities of light-bodied stuff. But when I started exploring craft beer—the idea that smaller breweries could produce what I considered to be better quality than most commercial brands—it really got me thinking.
Just because big companies are competing with you in your niche, it doesn’t mean they are necessarily better at it than you are.
And you can apply that idea to your content marketing.
Here is how to improve your content development process to take control of your workflow to create content quickly, hit every deadline, and improve every piece of content you publish to grow your audience. And you can do it all with a scrappy, iterative process that helps startups and small businesses like microbreweries achieve some pretty tasty results. (See what I did there?)
Define The Roles You Need To Develop Content
In Kristi Hines' post on content marketing team structure, she mentions a variety of roles you could include in your content development:
- Content marketing strategists set the stage with the entire marketing strategy, helping your team understand your audience, the topics you'll cover, and the goals you're shooting for.
- Content strategists turn the strategy into a game plan complete with understanding what content and channels your team will use to reach your audience. These people fill up your editorial calendar with the content your team will develop.
- Idea contributors are exactly what you'd expect: These are the folks who are listening to your audience and help with unique angles. They have the stories you want to tell, and the ones your audience really cares about. These people could be anyone within your company or even your customers and subscribers.
- Content creators are the linchpins responsible for executing your content strategist's game plan. They are your designers, writers, videographers, and podcasters (among possible others). They are making your content.
- Content editors make sure your creators fulfill your content strategist's expectations. They focus on editing for the story of your content, and also on the nitty-gritty grammar stuff. Editors are the ones using your editorial calendar every day, keeping your creators on task, and publishing content as you expect.
- Content promoters are the magical creatures who amplify what you created to inspire interest in your content. If your content is the party, these folks send the invitations to attend. They use social media, email, forums, and tons of other content promotion tactics to increase your traffic.
- Community managers monitor the ensuing conversation your content creates. They respond to social media mentions and comments, and help build a strong network of brand advocates.
- Content analysts check out the stats behind the scenes to know how your content contributes to your goals. They'll check out Google Analytics and Kissmetrics (or whatever analytics tools you use) to help your content strategist plan even better content. This is where that iterative approach—the secret ingredient to your content development process—really comes into play.
Now, that may seem like a lot of people. But what you're really looking at here is roles, not titles.
These roles make for a very solid content development process, so now you can choose which roles are necessary for your own process and who among your team will fill these roles. A solo marketer could do all of these, or you could divvy them up among your team.
Jay Acunzo recently published a super entertaining post about marketing team structure and how it kind of... well... sucks sometimes. Here's a memorable quote:
...team be huge, team be slow, team is gonna totally blow.
As a former Googler, he mentions how Google's sales team is organized into pods to capture the talents of folks with tons of different skill sets. And I loved this thought to find the right people for your team to kick off your content development process in the right direction.
Jay says teams should be:
- Small to be nimble, quick, and focus on developing content instead wasting time on office bureaucracy.
- Complementary to have multiple skills for the different parts of the process.
- Singular to have one clear goal instead of tons. Finally get some focus to understand why you're developing content to collaborate and celebrate when you reach your goal!
- Shared to work together toward a common mission or purpose.
In the end, Jay recommends narrowing the list of roles down to three players, as he calls them:
- A strategist to provide the vision, lead the team, look at analytics, and plan the content.
- A producer to be "the artist, because God knows, SOMEONE has to care about quality, craft, creativity, and emotional or intellectual resonance with the audience." I had to include that quote. :)
- A marketer to promote the content, generate interest, and convert traffic into subscribers and customers.
I'm with Jay: We do a lot with a small team leading our content marketing efforts at CoSchedule right now, and Jay's suggestions are similar to the roles we have on our team. It helps us move super fast to publish quickly, on time, and consistently.
- Download the worksheet and choose who among your team will fill each role.
- Cross off the roles you won't have in your content development process.
- Meet with your team and their supervisors to help everyone understand their roles and responsibilities, and how you will improve your processes with this new approach.
A Quick Note on Upper Management Getting All Up in Your Business
The goal of figuring out “who does what” specifically curtails upper management from messing with your projects and deadlines. By agreeing as a group of doers and getting your supervisors all on the same page, y’all agree to give the power to publish to your strategists.
Seth Godin writes about this concept a lot in his awesome book, Linch Pin (which you should seriously buy right now if you've never read it):
- Write down the due date. This is the date you will publish—whether the content's done or not.
- Capture every idea about your project, inviting anyone who wants to contribute. Seth says, "This is their big chance."
- Record every idea in a way everyone can see, ask them to check it out, and let them know this is it—after you get approval, there's no going back.
- Organize everything into a comprehensive outline of the project now that it's completely approved. This is your project blueprint from start to finish.
- Take that blueprint to the big guns in your company and final approval from the people with sign-off control.
- Then ask them, "If I deliver what you approved, on budget and on time, will you ship it?"
- Don't move forward until they say yes. No maybes, no "I'll know when I see it", nothing other than your yes.
Nice job, linchpin.
Choose Task-Based Workflows Over Status-Based Workflows
Now that you know who on your team will serve in specific roles to help you create your content—and how you'll publish quickly while avoiding office bureaucracy—it's time to develop your workflows. Essentially, you want to meet with your team you just defined to understand how you'll work together to create consistent content that will always hit your deadlines.
This is the actual planning of your content development process—understanding exactly how you’ll do this with the resources available to you. Since we’re talking through the experience of an agile startup, keep it simple to error on the side of shipping rather than too many steps that slow down your publishing.
Status-based workflows make it nearly impossible to understand every task that you and your team need to check off your to-do list before you publish your content. Just think of the typical statuses you see in WordPress:
How will you know who is responsible for each status, and what exactly they’re supposed to be working on? Who has the final say before you schedule your content to publish?
Nah, there has to be a better way. And there is.
Task-based workflows help you dissect all the work that goes into creating a piece of content—whatever it is (blog posts, e-books, webinars, you name it)—to help you choose a specific person accountable for each task, along with deadlines for every task.
By dissecting your content into tasks, you can provide a ton of direction to your team to avoid any confusion about who’s doing what and when they need to have their work done. Here’s what a simple task-based workflow looks like any blog post we publish at CoSchedule:
When you look at this, it’s helpful in a ton of different ways:
- Begin every task with a verb that demands action. Make your tasks super clear by highlighting exactly what the task entails, while also being brief.
- Assign each task to a specific person who clearly knows they are responsible for helping you create some part of your content. Send a notification that specifically communicates with each member of your team when you assign them a new task.
- Set clear deadlines for when you expect each task to be complete.
- Understand the difference between deadlines and your publish dates. Help your team understand the date on your marketing calendar is the publish date for when your content will be 100% complete, while assigning tasks with deadlines for days or even weeks before the content is set to publish.
- Remind your team before their tasks are due. Unless you’re that chick from Ex Machina, your team is full of humans. Subtle reminders of task due dates help those busybodies know when their tasks are due so they don’t forget and accidentally cause your project to miss its deadline.
Task-based workflows are especially helpful so you can have multiple team members working on different tasks at the same time, which is slightly lost with status-based workflows. Those steps above are exactly how we do it at CoSchedule, too, and it really works for us.
Communicate Efficiently With An Agreed-Upon Tool
The five parts of your task-based workflow may sound like a lot of manual work. But it really depends on the tools you use as a team to manage your content development process.
When Raven Tools wanted to improve their process to eliminate endless emails, they focused on implementing one clear source for communication. Spoiler alert: That source—as a marketing project management tool—is CoSchedule.
- Task manager: Define as many workflows as you need for the different types of content you use in your marketing strategy. You can then easily assign those tasks out to your entire team with clear deadlines super fast.
- Comments: Raven Tools was able to send 75% fewer emails because of CoSchedule. Comments keep your project record right in the tool you’re using for your content development process, which helps you work even more efficiently.
- Notifications and reminders: When you assign tasks or leave comments, your marketing calendar pushes an email notification to remind your team to check on the project. The day before any task is due, your calendar automatically sends an email to remind your team members to knock out their tasks.
- Dashboard: It’s rare that you’ll only work on one project at a time. So it’s nice to see a dashboard of all the comments and tasks that are due on specific days to keep a to-do list of your projects right in your marketing calendar.
While using CoSchedule as your marketing calendar is a great way to manage your content development process, you can rock this advice with any project management tool:
- Agree as a team to communicate with tools that help everyone stay involved and see your progress.
- Avoid long email forwards to prevent missing copying someone and eliminate confusion overall. Because, seriously, those get crazy.
- Maintain one version of the truth for your marketing projects. Consolidate your project management tools and content calendars to better understand your deadlines, manage multiple projects at once, and easily see your progress toward completion.
Manage Multiple Projects At Once While Nailing Every Deadline
You experience a learning curve every time you take on a new project. For example, if you’re adding blogging to your list of marketing tactics, you have an entirely new process to learn as you get started.
So take your time.
When you start any new project, quantity isn’t the goal. Consistency isn’t important if what you’re publishing is junk.
Here's how we do it at CoSchedule:
- Do one thing well. Actually, as we like to joke, "Don't half-ass two things. Whole-ass one thing." It's silly, but there's a lot of truth to that.
- Set your deadlines like Seth Godin suggested earlier, ship on time, then reflect on what worked, what you could do better next time, and what you should stop doing.
- Once you have your process ironed out for that one thing, add in another project. And do it slowly, just like you perfected your first project.
- Plan time to reflect on your growing pains as you add more projects to your to-do list, reviewing again what's going well, what you could improve, and what you should quit doing.
So start slow and build your publishing momentum as you learn something new, building toward publishing more content consistently. At first, you’re perfecting your content and workflow process to build the expertise you need to publish even more.
Organize Your Content Development And Naming Conventions
While everyone on your team could create content differently, it’s much more efficient to have one version of the truth for the tools you use in your content development process. You might be a bit surprised that a huge majority of the team at CoSchedule doesn’t even have Microsoft Word on our computers, so we opt for Evernote instead.
Here are a few reasons why Evernote is awesome for blogging and marketing:
- You can use Evernote for anything. We use different notebooks for marketing strategy, managing larger projects like new feature releases, and actually creating our content. It’s so dynamic that we use one tool for so many use cases that we decided to integrate Evernote right into CoSchedule to help other marketers like us plan and create content better than ever.
- You can capture your content ideas and inspiration wherever you are. Use Web Clipper and Evernote Helper to save ideas from the content you’re perusing on the Web, rock Skitch to take screenshots and mark them up with text and arrows, email your thoughts directly into notes and notebooks with the syntax "Note Name @Notebook Name #Tag Name !YYYY/MM/DD", scan handwritten notes right into Evernote notes, send pictures from your phone into Evernote, and even highlight text in Kindle and see the quotes you highlighted right in Evernote. Whew!
- Evernote is perfect for distraction-free writing to help you write blog posts faster than ever. I’m writing this post in Evernote right now with instant messaging and emails turned off, social media shut down, and really no apps to distract me from getting these ideas out of my head. I love to open up the posts I’ll reference in tons of tabs before I start writing to have inspiration at my fingertips, and then I'll turn off the Internet to avoid getting sidetracked with anything else other than writing. Evernote is helping me do just that. Oh yeah, and I’m on an airplane—so I can use Evernote anywhere, online or off.
- Narrow your content development tools down to a few your entire team has access to.
- Choose the tools that match well with your team’s working styles (ex. if your team is always on the go, that means you need tools that don’t require immediate Internet access and are mobile-friendly).
From here, Meghan Frazer has some great advice to help you in your file and folder naming conventions.
The ultimate goal is simplicity and helping you and your team find the information you need when you need it. So Megan suggests avoiding special characters other than hyphens or underscores, using the ISO date standard for dating your file names (YYYY-MM-DD), and using descriptive keywords to be able to find your information quickly.
This is an example of what Meghan says a great file name might look like:
I’d take this a step further with a couple common conventions SEOs use for naming their files: Lowercase every word while separating every one with a hyphen and no underscores. If you don’t need the date, eliminate it, and focus purely on the keyword of the file itself.
Whatever you decide for your naming conventions the point is this: Collaborate on a team and understand where you save content and how you name your files, folders, and notebooks so everyone can easily find the information they need quickly.
Plan To Develop Better Content Than Anyone Else In Your Niche
Well, that’s kind of a scary headline. But Brian Dean and Austin Kleon have some awesome advice that will help you do just that!
Austin is an author who has an awesome approach when it comes to creating content: Steal like an artist.
Sujan Deswal covered Austin’s theory on this a bit in a recent post about personal productivity, saying that nothing itself is original, but rather, artists are influenced from others. The key is to build on the great ideas out there, providing a new perspective and something even more valuable than what existed before you explored the topic.
Brian takes that idea to the next level with what he calls the skyscraper technique. This is essentially it, and the best part is that anyone can do it for any niche they’re in and with whatever types of content they’d like to develop:
- Come up with a super cool idea your audience will love.
- Find the keyword your audience would use to find information on that idea.
- Enter that keyword into Google and read every single one of the top 20 search results.
- Outline how you will build upon the content that already exists—making sure your content is more detailed, actionable, researched, and robust than any other source.
- Create and publish that awesome content.
- Find the websites and blogs that are now linking to sub-par content and use outreach marketing to ask them to link to your content instead… because, hey, your stuff is way better. :)
When you steal like an artist, you build on the awesome ideas that already exist while providing something truly unique and more valuable than any other source. With that in mind, it’s finally time to outline your content and start creating.
Recommended Reading: How To Write Better Content In A Competitive Blog Niche
Finally! Develop Your Super Awesome Content
Now you’re ready to provide direction to your content creators—even if it’s you—to help them cover the best information, create something better than any other source, and stay on task to avoid a complicated content editing process later on.
Michael Hyatt follows a simple formula for his posts to take an idea and build on it:
At first, Michael focuses on the importance of the topic rather than simply understanding what the post will cover.
We do this at CoSchedule, too, by coming up with our ideas, finding a keyword, drafting a simple headline that shows off the angle of the post, and then a brief summary of the idea and angle itself. We’ve found that focusing on the desired outcome helps our content creators stay more focused—basically, they understand what we want our audience to do as they read our content.
Think of it this way: You want to publish content to convince and convert your readers. So how can you position your inbound marketing to do that? A lot of this has to do with the content ideas you choose to publish and which you pass on, building your niche and reputation in your industry.
From there, our very own blogger, Julie, follows a comprehensive 10-step process when she drafts her blog outlines:
- Find the big idea.
- Understand what the end result must be
- List what you have to mention
- Figure out what you don’t know
- Figure out what you do know
- Organize all of the lists into related groups
- Create summarizing headings
- Reorder and cut the heading groups
- Refine each heading group
- Start writing your draft
After that, you can dive in with a pretty good grasp on the content quality that will ultimately result from your process.
Optimize Your Content For Discovery And Conversion
Sean Jackson from Copyblogger coined the term optimizing content for discovery and conversion. He mentions it as an alternative to search engine optimization, or SEO, because that term kinda has a bad rap for creating content that targets robots instead of human beings.
But what is really cool about this approach is its holistic nature. Sean says that optimizing your content for search engines alone doesn’t mean anything without the human aspects and turning that traffic into reaching your goals.
That’s pretty brilliant, and it’s a solid part of a content development process that focuses on continuous improvement.
- Write emotional headlines to instantly connect with your readers. A lot of times, your headline is the only way for potential readers to judge the quality of your content. That's why we often write more than 25 headlines for every post we publish and A/B test our headlines to find the best headlines for our content.
- Create relevant visual content to get 94% more pageviews. Visual learners appreciate breaks in long-form content, and images increase your chances at receiving social shares, especially coupled with social sharing buttons.
- Focus on your first 100 words to keep your readers reading.
- Include content upgrades and bundles to convert your traffic into subscribers. Since your first 100 words are the most important text (other than headlines of course), include these right after your introduction to turn traffic into subscribers.
- Target keywords to position your content for long-term traffic growth. Yeah, you already looked into this when you followed Brian Dean’s advice on the skyscraper technique. But while you chose a keyword, there are a few ways to use it even more effectively in your content.
- Clean it up with solid editing and grammar checks.
- Promote your content. Some folks say for every hour you spend writing, spend at least 15 minutes promoting your content. The point is that promotion optimizes your content to be discovered, which is exactly what you want to increase your traffic to get the opportunity to convert it into subscribers and customers.
- How to Improve Your Keyword Research With Latent Semantic Indexing
- Your Ultimate Content Marketer's Guide to Keyword Research
How Do You Rock An Awesome Content Development Process?
These are a few tips and tricks we've learned through agile content marketing. We'd love to hear about your marketing workflow, your team, and your current content development process. Let us know in the comments by answering one of these questions:
Do you have higher-ups or someone that just gets in the way of a clean content development process? How are you working to resolve that?
Thanks for reading! If you liked what you read, please give us a share (we love you, by the way)!
This post was originally published on Oct. 21, 2015. It was updated with new information on Feb. 27, 2017.