I didn’t realize it at the time, but I was an early blogger.
I launched a website when we moved to Belgium in 1998. We were going to be there for two years and our oldest (and only at that point) son was only a few months beyond his second birthday. I figured what better way to keep friends and family apprised of his goings on and in the loop on our adventures than to post stories and pictures along the way,
I’d created a website for the engineering firm I worked for before we went overseas, so, I had a particular set of skills that made creating web pages within my grasp. That was before the days of WordPress and the like—talk about hardship. I wrote HTML code in Notepad while walking miles in the snow barefoot. It's a wonder I lived to tell the tale.
It may have taken me longer to whip up the pages, but what I didn’t struggle for back in the day, was stories to share. We were determined to cram as much exploring as possible into those two years. Fantastic travels, sure, but even silly stories about play dates I attempted to attend with the boyo made the cut. Plus, our younger son was born while we were there—yup, we got into a lot of day-to-day life on the site. You’d be surprised how many stories you can weave out of living your best life in a foreign country! Like, how long it took me to figure out how to use a shopping cart at the local grocery/department store. Hint: it involved a 20 franc piece.
Flash forward twenty years later, and I figured starting a blog for my sparkly new business would be a piece of cake. Back to my roots, as it were. Like riding a bike. That was, until I sat down and really thought about it. Yikes. What the heck was I going to blog about?
Good thing I learned a thing or two from my communications colleagues during the dozen years I worked for the federal government. I like to think they'd be proud of me for realizing that I needed to create an editorial calendar!
I’ve been blogging since early summer and though I’m not sure I’ve truly hit my stride yet,I thought I’d share my approach to establishing an editorial calendar for my blog. Perhaps it’ll help someone else trying to break into the wild world of blogging.
Here’s how I went about it.
I got to know my audience!
Who am I talking to? Who am I trying to reach? Isn’t this the cardinal rule of communications? Know your audience! It’s a huge deal when starting a business, too. I’ll have more about getting to know your audience and creating customer personas in a future post. Suffice it to say, before you do anything, it’s critical that you know who you’re trying to reach and what they need from you. Who are the customers you want to have? What are their problems? How can you solve them?
I determined a schedule.
I thought about how frequently I wanted to post. I thought I’d try for weekly, so then I had to narrow in on a specific day of the week. I weighed the pros and cons and settled on Tuesdays. One word of advice here. Make sure your eyes aren’t bigger than your stomach. Be realistic. Don’t over commit. A consistent post once a month or every other week is better than promising weekly and pushing posts back or missing them entirely.
I explored possible categories.
I thought through the types of posts the people I’m trying to reach might be interested in. Those audience groups I’d identified early on? What type of info would they find useful? If I’m aiming to reach entrepreneurs for personal branding services, well, branding might be a good category. For my lifestyle clients, how about sharing my ideas about things to do in and around DC (where I do business). Local families might need some ideas for fun places to explore. Who knows, perhaps someday they’ll want to do a nice family photo shoot in one of those locations! On the fine art photography side, I love to capture a different perspective on a typical or common landmark or sight. Thus was born my perspectives category. Get the idea? So, what would your audience find interesting and useful?
I brainstormed story ideas.For each of the categories I narrowed in on, I did a little story brainstorming. I opened the floodgates and spent about five minutes on each, writing anything and everything that came to mind. I also scanned through some of my favorite bloggers and sure, the competition, to see if their approach sparked any ideas. Keeping in mind, of course, I was looking for topics that would be useful, interesting, or entertaining for my potential customers. I took the stream of consciousness route. Jotted down every idea—didn't really worry about the specifics of what I would write. Knew I'd have plenty of time to go back over the lists with a more realistic eye.
I plotted out holidays and events.Partially due to having made a study of other bloggers, I realized holidays and other such events might be useful when dreaming up story themes. Even some of those silly national days like “talk like a pirate day” could be a fun way to get your creative juices flowing. When you think this through, don’t forget special events folks in your industry might regularly attend. And if you have a product or service that lends itself to special offerings during a holiday season, well wouldn’t the blog be a great way to advertise that? Be sure to plot this out for the entire year before you start mapping topics to dates.
I mapped out topics.
This is where the “calendar” part of “editorial calendar” came into play. I grabbed a calendar, jotted down all the Tuesday dates for the upcoming six months and dove into shuffling topics around. I started with those holidays and the few silly national days that caught my eye. Anything of a timely nature got plugged into the calendar first. Then I rotated through the different categories to fill in the gaps. For each entry, I identified a loose title, a general description (in case six months from now the title doesn’t jog my memory), the appropriate categories, and any supporting resources I’d need (such as what images I’d use, any links I’d include, etc.). You may also want to include the specific call to action you’re looking for from your reader. That’s the one thing I’ve neglected. It could be as simple as an invitation for them to engage in the comments. Or, as much as having them sign up for an email list or buy a product.
I dove in.
Ready or not, once I got my website up and running, I dove into my weekly posting schedule. I realized I needed the structure of a specific cadence each week. So my weekly to-do schedule has the following tasks: I aim to publish on Tuesdays, so I try to write the first draft the Friday prior. That way I can put it aside for a few days and come back with fresh eyes to review on Monday. Sometimes I totally re-write the post come Monday. I try to prep any images on Monday, but honestly, that often slips to Tuesday when I also do a final read-through (or ten) before I hit publish!
I kept it fresh.
Let me be clear…my editorial calendar is a wholly living, working document. At the beginning of each month, I review the posts I’d planned for the coming weeks. Sometimes I tweak them. Sometimes I change them outright. Sometimes they morph later, as I’m writing them. Sometimes I post exactly what I originally planned. The moral of the story here is, be flexible! Things come up. Ideas come to you. I keep a running list of ideas as they pop into my head. They’re sitting at the bottom of my already plotted dates. Before the end of each month, I set a task to plot out another month of planned posts so that the calendar is always six months ahead of me.
One last thing...
Before I hit publish on this particular topic, one last thing to mention. I know there are apps and tools out there that will help you plan all of this out. I’m a planner freak—love them! But when push came to shove with my blog calendar, I knew I’d’ve wasted a ton of time researching and trying out all the different options. What’s that motivational quote? "Done is better than perfect?" Well, for me, it’s “started is better than perfect.”
Use a calendar. Use a Word doc. Use post-it notes! Whatever you’ll actually use. I went with Evernote. Yup, there are definitely more robust options out there, but my low-res approach fits the bill for me for now. Find something that works for you—that’s the most important feature—it’s got to be something you’ll do. And start planning!
Do you have any tips or tricks do that help you plan out your blog posts? If so, by all means, share them in the comments!
[See what I did there? I'm trying to be better about including a call to action!]