I thought for years that if I just made a good enough content plan it would solve all my problems and I’d be wildly successful within 6 months. Content planning was the very first thing I tried to do when I went self employed. At the time I thought it was all about spreadsheets and colour coding.

And I know I’m not alone when I say the lure of that idea is still INCREDIBLY STRONG. I bet at least 1% of the reason you’re here right now reading this is because you’re hoping that maybe this time, maybe this article, will contain that magic bullet and everything will be perfect from here on out and forever.

I don’t usually aim to start a blog post by disappointing people, but this time, I think I’d better share a few reminders…

  • There’s no such thing as a perfect content plan
  • If you don’t stick to your content plan you’re not a failure, you’re normal
  • You need more than just a brainstorming session and a calendar template to pull a decent content plan together.

So there, 2017 Katie… If only you knew!

“There’s no such things as a perfect content plan.”

What do you need to make a good content plan?

Now, if we need more than a brainstorming session and a calendar template, let’s start by having a look at the things you do need to have and do, to put together your next content plan.

You will need:

  1. An understanding of your customers and what they need (try these Customer Persona templates)
  2. An outline of your customers’ Awareness Journey
  3. An app, spreadsheet, or paper and pen to make a list (This REALLY needs to be something you won’t lose or forget about…)
  4. Search terms or topics that matter to you and your customers
  5. Time
  6. Practise

I know you can’t “gather” time and practise like they’re ingredients for a recipe. I’ve just kept them in there to remind you that this isn’t a one-and-done activity. You’ve got to start somewhere and keep at it.

“This isn’t a one-and-done activity.”

Creating a customer-focussed content plan

Step 1 is to review your customer personas and your customer awareness journey. Get really focussed on THEM and what THEY need, and write down as many ideas as possible for content ideas that would be useful for them when they’re trying to achieve the goal or do the thing or solve the problem that you help with.

For each awareness stage, you could ask yourself:

Unaware – “If I were [your customer] and I didn’t yet realise I had a problem with [their problem], what kind of information would catch my eye?

Problem aware – “If I were [your customer] and I was worried about [their problem], what kind of information would I be looking for?

Solution aware – “If I were [your customer] and I wanted to [your solution] to solve [their problem], what information would I be looking for?”

Product aware – “If I were trying to [your solution] and I wanted to buy [your product], what questions would I have?”

At the “most aware” stage, people are typically interest in more static content, like sales pages and emails, rather than the kind of thing you’d find in a blog or podcast episode, you could skip this one in your content plan, if you prefer.

For each question, write down as many ideas as come up. I always get the most in the solution-aware stage, but I think that’s because of my love of “How to” guides, like this one!

How to make a content plan that’s good for your website SEO

Step 2 is to review the search data, if you have it, or to look at your social media data, website traffic data, etc. Use this to work out what topics or keywords are valuable to your audience – what are people searching at different stages of their awareness journey.

A lot of these topics will relate to what you’ve covered in the problem- and solution-aware parts of the customer awareness journey. This is where people do the most active searching for information, without including brand name keywords that are hard to compete for.

Make a list of these keywords in a different column/place than your list of ideas. If you’re doing a spreadsheet, probably a different tab, rather than a different column.

Now take your list of keywords and this famous list of content prompts and match them up, and write all these content ideas down on your first list. If you can match them up with awareness levels, even better.

How to make sure your content plan stays in your niche

Once you have this list, it makes sense to go back through it and check that everything that’s included fits into your niche – or your job description, or your area of expertise, or however you’d describe it. That’s step 3.

This is a really important step for your sanity, and to make sure you’re offering the right content to your audience.

OK, story time.

I’ve been working with a client recently who we’ll call Melinda. She has a YouTube channel where she makes craft tutorials, and promotes related equipment and software through affiliate links. Her target audience are mostly women who want to use the crafts to build themselves a secondary source of income, so when she was thinking about what they needed and the problems they wanted to solve, a lot of her answers were to do with running a small business, packaging and shipping, and other practicalities beyond the initial crafting.

This had caused a lot of stress because she was worried about researching these topics and creating authoritative, useful content, which didn’t just repeat what everyone else was saying.

But here’s the thing – all of these topics Melinda was worried about were outside of her niche. Yes, her audience are potential small business owners, but Melinda is not, and doesn’t want to be a business coach. She’s a craft teacher. Different job description. That clarity meant we were able to go through her list of ideas and easily eliminate the ones outside her niche that were causing stress, leaving her with a more manageable list of topics that she could get excited about working on. Success.

You may need to do the same – make a note of your job description, or your niche, and then run through your list of ideas and cross out anything which doesn’t fit, and especially anything that you’re stressed about creating! Then you can be confident that everything you create is going to attract the right kind of people, and you’re going to be offering them the best content that you can.

“Don’t create content that’s outside your job description – or which stresses you out.”

Creating a realistic content plan that you might actually use

Here’s the kicker, the hard bit. 

The part about making a good list of topics and ideas – you’ve probably done that a hundred times, if you’re anything like me. 

The part where you actually decide what to create and post, and when? Ooft, hate it. Mess it up all the time!

Which means Step 4 is where the practice and experience elements come in. If you’ve only been creating content for 5 minutes, then you’ll be taking a shot in the dark – which is fine, by the way, you’ve got to start somewhere!

But if you have a little bit more to go on, then think about what kind of content you’re good at creating, and in what volume/ frequency.

  • Can you, for example, make 5 easy-going reels in one hour?
  • Can you write a blog post every week? Or once a month?
  • Can you make a podcast episode every week, or a video?
  • Can you make an Instagram carousel post every 2 days
  • Can you go Live on Instagram every Wednesday morning?

I’m nervous about including these examples, because I’d hate for you to think they reflect what you “should” be doing. When it comes to a realistic content plan, then “should” is your worst enemy.

I don’t give a crap what you should be doing. Ignore what the marketing experts say.

You’ve got to know what you CAN do! Or what you WILL do. The shoulds are completely and utterly irrelevant. “Should” is the source of guilt, berating yourself, and all kinds of bad feelings. 

One thing that helps is to have core content and then extras.

Pick a small number of things – ideally one thing you publish on your website, something for your email list, and one or two things for social media – that you’ll do for each topic, and work out how often you CAN do those things together. Once a week, once a month, once a quarter? This will be your core content

On top of that, you can then add in other stuff – extra social posts are usually the main thing – where you might cover additional topics, or expand on the main one from your core content. Or you might add in extra emails which are a different format that go out on alternating weeks or a different day. Whatever appeals to you – not the things you think you should do, remember, but the things that feel doable and interesting.

I’m a marketing consultant, so MOSTLY, I do a cycle of core content once per week. It doesn’t always happen, but most weeks I muddle through. Remember, I’m a marketing consultant, so spending a day a week on marketing – that kind of comes with the territory. Your business is different, which means the pace and quantity and structure of your core/extra content can be entirely different too.

So, decide on your plan, what’s core content, what’s extra. Sketch out the outline of how this looks for the next 3-6 cycles (6-12 weeks worth), leaving space to write in the topics you’ll cover with your different content items. This is the step where you can make that cool colour-coded calendar, if you want to. Or set up a Trello board or make a list of dates or whatever works for you.

“Don’t think about what you ‘should’ do. Focus on what you CAN do!”

Finishing off your perfect content plan

I’m JOKING! OK, there’s no such thing as the perfect content plan. But this is the fun easy step, if you’ve gone right through steps 1-4.

Step 5 is simply to assign a topic to each content cycle. For me, that means picking four topics a month. For you, it might be different. I like to have a bit of flow between the topics, which helps with linking ideas together and that helps people to read or come back for more than one thing! But other times I’ll do a big jump to a new topic, which gives me the chance to make sure I’m covering a range of different things that matter to my customer. 

You can structure it however works best for you – maybe some seasonal things come up, maybe all your ideas are evergreen – they work any time. This step at least only needs to take a few minutes

How to actually complete your content planning

Now, if you got Step 4 right, you’ve got a better chance of following through with Step 6. This one is all about the execution. The planning part’s done. 

You might need to tidy up your list or transfer the content ideas for the month onto a post-it note, so you don’t forget about them. Or you might have task tracking software and you can put all the separate sub-tasks of content creation into that. 

Maybe you’ll dive straight in and start outlining that first piece of core content – strike while the iron’s hot, so they say – but make sure you’re thinking about when you’ll finish it it off, when you’ll do the next one, when you’ll make the extras alongside the core content, etc.

I’ve talked before about habits for content creation, so I won’t rehash those all here – have a listen to some of these podcast episodes instead!

Some tips on sticking to content creation habits:

Don’t worry, I’ve got more on this to come. I know that working through a content plan is the bit which requires the most support, accountability and perseverance, so you can bet there’ll be more content in the next few weeks about how to stick with your plan once you’ve created it! We’ll be looking at batching, scheduling, motivation and accountability etc – keep your eyes peeled!

The 6 step process to create your content plan

Just a quick recap – here’s all 6 steps in a list for you to work through

  1. Review your customer personas and awareness journeys to find content ideas
  2. Review SEO and keyword data to find content ideas
  3. Review your content ideas and prune topics that are outside your niche
  4. Decide on how much core and extra content you’ll create, and how often
  5. Assign ideas to each content cycle over the next 6-12 weeks
  6. Set yourself up for success by adding content tasks to your calendar or to-do list.

And a summary of all the resources and further reading from this post: