Working at an agency has given me a wide perspective on what it really takes to produce great content. I’ve worked with “content teams” made up of just one person (the founder of a small business), small, nimble teams of marketers whose time is stretched and resources are limited, and massive global marketing teams with multiple people in multiple times zones who do nothing but generate content focused on one tiny step of their sales funnel.
But here’s something I’ve learned that unites all of them. To get really good content out of your head and into the world, you need two things:
- Interesting ideas.
- A strong process.
If we’re oversimplifying, that’s literally all you need. But it’s rare to find writers, marketers or business leaders who have both.
Some people have ideas. Tons of them. Great ones. They’re legitimate and proven experts in their field. But they’re paralyzed when it comes to getting the ideas out of their head and communicating them to other people. Maybe they don’t recognize that their ideas are unique and interesting. Maybe they freeze when they think about writing an article. Maybe they’re just too busy to add anything else (like content marketing) to their schedule. They save half-written drafts and promise to return to them later (but months go by without any progress). Or they chase down their internal experts but can never get any time on their calendars.
On the other hand, some people have the process part down. They’ve figured out how to pump out content all day every day. They’ve built word factories. They can publish 10 how-to blog posts a week. And they do. But the quality is mediocre and the ideas behind them are stale. In today’s insanely crowded content landscape, they might as well be publishing nothing at all. They’re missing the core value that turns content from fluff to fascinating.
The powerhouse teams have both ideas and a process. You want to be in the center with them. Here are a few ideas to get you moving closer to it.
Uncovering Great Ideas
Feeling short of inspiration? Here are a few places to look:
- Interview the people who have been at your organization the longest.
- Talk to the founder or CEO about why and how the company started.
- Look at the questions your customers ask your salespeople and customer service teams.
- Go to industry events and conferences and report on the trends and ideas you hear there.
Mapping Our Your Process
If your content marketing falls apart in the execution stage, you need a reliable content process. We wrote an ebook that details how to set up a content team and process. I’ve found that people often overlook and discount the nitty-gritty tasks that turn a nebulous idea into a published piece of content. Those tasks matter, because they’re what hold so many people back — and keep ideas stuck inside our heads and rough drafts.
The details may change, along with who does which part, but these steps are all essential:
- Plan. What is the core idea of this piece? What questions do you need to answer? Who do you need to talk to?
- Research. Interview sources (inside and outside your organization). Find research and stats that show overarching trends. Read what others have written on the topic.
- Write. The writer might not be able to write the entire piece in one sitting. Give your writer (whether it’s you or an internal expert) time to work through their thoughts, but set a clear deadline so the draft doesn’t languish forever.
- Edit. Someone other than the writer should edit the draft, asking questions and poking holes in the arguments.
- Design. Turn the draft into content that’s ready for the world. That might mean putting a blog post into WordPress with images, call-out quotes and a call to action. Or, it might mean designing a full ebook or white paper.
- Publish. You made it!
- Promote. Distribute the content to your target audience — on social media, in email, to the sales team, to customers. Create a schedule that wrings long-term value out of the piece.
- Revisit and update. Periodically review the content to make sure it’s still accurate and reaching the right audience. You might find that in six months, it’s time for a refresh or a response to your original piece.
The key to a smooth content process is a team. One person doesn’t have to own every step. If you’re overwhelmed by one part of the process, or you’re seeing consistent bottlenecks, figure out who you could pull in for help. Do you need an outside editor? Could you partner with your social media team to streamline promotion? Do you need to find a ghostwriter to get ideas out of your executives’ heads? Adding others to the process holds you accountable and takes all the work off one person’s shoulders.
Finally, make the process transparent to everyone, including the subject matter experts whose help you want. If they can see your final publish date and the steps that need to happen to get there, the process will be less mysterious and overwhelming. They’ll see their contribution (the ideas) as one initial step in a collaborative effort to create amazing content.