You have a great blog, or a blog that is about to blow up – I dig that.
You are creating great content, engaging your audience, doing some regular maintenance while seeing your blog grow to new heights. You also juggle with independent writers, keeping yourself abreast of things happening in your niche, ad networks, your partners, affiliate programs, track payments, and do a thing or two to maintain your blog. There are lot of activities in there. Activities that are critical, time-bound and sometimes frustrating to keep track of.
You think your personal organizer helps. But, the next minute Karen again calls up about the incomplete review, a post past due date, and about why you were walking your dog at 23:00? I mean, it can get to anyone.
While you can get organized better with more than one program, you cannot simply afford to stay on top of everything. And, when does your team help and do their part to keep sun shining? You realize that and become half-englightened. To attain the ultimate Nirvana, you want to act.
You want to organize yourself with your Blog content and work collaboratively with your team. I cannot guide you to Nirvana, but can certainly help to an extent in working with a content calendar.
Back story: How did I plan blog content in the past?
Well, let’s not glorify how sloppy can one person be. But, I can’t help but wonder how a simple shared list could have taken away my “planning worries” so much.
I have been a lone wolf when it came to creating content (or lack thereof) in the past. So my go to tool was a simple to-do in Outlook (pfft).
Outlook is good because –
- My mail and to do stay in the same program. I treat mails as to-dos’ and having an integrated tracker helps
- Creating tasks from emails is easier
But, Outlook for tasks kinda sucks –
- You cannot share the todos’ easily. Sending them over emails is inefficient and inconvenient
- Though I pride myself on being close to bare-metal and all that – writing todos’ in Outlook was boring and also, hard to do when you are away from the computer
- You cannot distribute tasks and “stay on top of them” so as to speak. Emails can be messy when it comes to following up with others for any dependencies
When I sought help from couple of people later on, my workflow went for a toss.
What is a blog planning calendar?
Before we go further into how we solved a problem, it may be prudent to know just what problem do we want to solve.
A content calendar organizes the most important part of a blog – content. I find the following components to a content plan useful.
- Description: what the post/task will be about. I used to track titles but don’t do that anymore – I am used to changing them towards the end
- Planned dates: A date or date range for specific posts. Tracking due dates helps put pressure on how I spend time
- Track owners and status: Assign ownership and breathe easy I say. Other people love to be accountable too. We seldom pass/hand-over high-level tasks, but do create task templates (e.g. tasks from concept through the publishing of content) and assign task owners
- Category and tags: Helps me focus on what I am writing content for and how I see the blog expand.
- Keywords: Track primary/secondary keywords for posts.
- Justification for posts: Often ideas are pitched and find their way to posts board – especially for “sensitive” topics in the niche. Capture why and how planned content benefits or affects people
- Research notes: Track notes that help in content writing. In most cases, this is just a preliminary pitch that I or other writers pick up and start building the real thing
Why use a calendar?
There are many uses of a blog calendar, a few key factors are outlined here.
1. Get organised, save time
Your target audience loves you not because of your awesome personality, but because your awesome personality shines through your content. How else could you reach them without putting content out there?
It is equally important to consider the frequency of posts. While I have not been disciplined enough for a few blogs in the past, I have proven to myself (?) that I could do write quite well in topics of interest on a daily basis (this continued for more than a year!).
Being organised around a calendar helps set expectations to yourself and your team on how you want to take the blog forward. It also helps set expectations to your audience on what they could expect out of your blog and when.
Also, you get to plan your content better. You have chosen a niche for your
You may also work with guests, ad partners, affiliates, etc. to get relevant content out. This needs advanced planning over weeks or months, needs someone to coordinate and track tasks (you, most likely), and mark dependencies out to map the critical path of execution.
A calendar helps you do all that – and better still, you can do all the planning and show progress to all stakeholders involved in getting content out.
3. Better Quality
When you schedule things on a calendar, you not only mark the final due date, but have tasks against individual pieces of content. This can be –
- Collaboration – create support materials, videos or images
- Reviews and editing
The stages allow you to create a repeatable process that can be applied to a different set of stakeholders. At some point in time, you can take yourself out of the equation, replace the position with your staff, and still have a reliable process in place that can churn out content for you.
4. Make a business out of your blog
Think long term – what do you want from your blog?
You certainly want people to recognise your content and your esteemed self, of course. But, how do you get there? How do you reach more people? What are the things that people want to know more about? What do they read, listen or watch? How can you get your message across?
While planning your content tactically does not answer all of these questions, it certainly makes you think about “why” you are doing what you are doing. By planning a calendar you invest time in continuous evaluation of where you are and where you want to be.
How did I change my content planning process?
I became acutely aware of the shortcomings in my workflow when I started writing daily posts as part of a challenge. It was in the technology niche, and I had a hard time keeping up with planning medium to long term, avoiding repetitions and overlaps across posts, and reevaluating content based on quantified metrics.
I often started questioning my sanity with the daily pressure to keep up. I often went 2-3 days without posts and lived with poor tracking that did me no good.
That brings me to the two tools that I experimented on.
Trello is a great program for planning – personal or for small organizations. Trello’s free plan is great and the paid options are not quite expensive. So, I was initially ecstatic to plan work items on a Kanban board.
I could –
- create items for self and others
- transfer ownership to others where needed and track those items
- color code categories, priorities, track due dates and even assign checklists to detail out a task (standard checklist templates are of great help btw)
- create custom fields (like Category, Keywords, etc.) through a Powerup
While this is all good, there was a time when my organization’s expenses were a bit under the weather. Cutting down costs meant non-essential services like blog planning had to go. You see my life (unlike “real awesome bloggers”) does not get powered by my blogs alone – I have servers to maintain, people to hire for client work, and more such stuff. So, Trello’s paid plan had to go.
The free plan supported only one power-up, and I did not quite see myself working with those resource limits. That brings to my next experiement.
2. Google Sheets
I have been an Excel freak all my adult life. So, it was only natural that I went back to “trusted things that work”. Since Excel is super local, I did the next best thing – use Google Sheets.
With Sheets, I could –
- Create as many columns as I liked and track all the values in the world
- Adding items or changing the plan was done with fewer clicks
- Filters, finding for specific phrases, etc. was a breeze
- Tracking edits is a really cool feature that saved lives
Since a sheet is just rows of data, I created a simple summary page and hooked it up to send emails so that I can “monitor things”.
However, there was a problem. You see – Sheets are good, but not quite “visual” (at least not like other beautiful looking tools). Combine that with my unwillingness to experiment with formatting styles, or to use more than fifty formulae on a sheet and such irrational behavior, the process flow did not inspire confidence colleagues.
I could solve that, sure. I could just stitch Trello with Google sheets with a touch and click with solutions like Zapier, which could bring the best out of the two applications. But, I was not really confident in putting together an easy to use the main workflow that will not confuse new users or take one forever for them to “get the process right”.
All these minor annoyances culminated in my current solution.
Create a content calendar using Notion
Notion.so is inspiring – not just because the application is minimalistic, and has some powerful functionality built-in on a simple interface, but also because it is welcoming to users at all levels of computer literacy (well, almost).
While I had used Notion in the past, I took it more seriously only when Notion removed their restrictions on the number of “blocks” of content for free users.
I was impressed –
- I could use different views of the same data. For e.g. I could look at the blog plan as a table/list, as a Kanban board, or in a calendar
- Create custom fields on the free plan
- Color code stuff everywhere
- Put long-form content without being awkward (for e.g. research notes).
So, do I have everything? Well, almost. Apart from the fact that the ‘team’ plan costs $8 per seat on Notion, I am not particularly happy to use multiple tools for an end-to-end workflow.
- Comprehensive tracker – plan content, plan outreach, and continued marketing efforts
- Track how keywords perform after the post is posted
- Track social media performance
- Compare competition
Of course, this kind of workflow will neither be cheap nor easy to implement. I have to build a tool someday to get this done – soon.
While the planning process is cool and everything, it does not yield results on its own. Execution counts and executing to the plan depends on your plan for the blog. That is not something I am proud of with technosanct, but things always change for the better – right 😉 ?