Productivity is a universal challenge in content marketing, where success often depends on consistent performance, not isolated genius.
Under the right circumstances, many professionals are capable of preparing great content for blogs, books, and online sign-up incentives. But only a few can consistently produce quality marketing content on a daily basis.
Those who do usually have a system or process in place to help them meet the daily deadline challenge.
There are three productivity tips I would like to share from the world of writing and publishing (where deadlines are absolute). Use them as the core of your own system for preparing content on an ongoing, stress-free basis.
1. Study the right examples
Resist the urge to reinvent the wheel.
Content marketers often waste time by starting from scratch with a blank screen, rather than looking for models they can use as the basis of their current project. Save time planning your next content marketing project by looking for examples of what’s worked in the past.
Bestselling business and personal development books offer a wealth of ideas you can easily adapt to meeting your content marketing needs — regardless of the types of projects you’re currently working on. Here are a few examples:
- The three-act structure: An excellent starting place is to analyze the three-act structure Carmine Gallo used in his book, “The Presentation Secrets of Steve Jobs.” Gallo organized his book around the same three-act structure Steve Jobs used for his famous MacWorld presentations — a structure adapted from many of Shakespeare’s plays.There are a lot of ways you can use the three-act structure. For example, you can set the stage in Act 1 by describing a challenge your market frequently faces (for example, the need to come up with fresh content ideas each week). In Act 2, you can show how to take action, such as identifying several core topics that can be addressed from different perspectives. And in Act 3, you would describe the outcome and share tips for optimizing the results — perhaps by delegating content responsibilities, crowdsourcing content, or repurposing existing content.
- “7 big ideas:” Another classic way to organize a complex topic is to base your content marketing project on a few major principles (such as “best practices” or your key observations), and list out your recommendations for each principle.One of the best examples of this is Stephen Covey’s perennially popular book, “The 7 Habits of Highly-Effective People.” It’s a great example of how a complex topic (i.e., human behavior) can be simplified by organizing it around a few key ideas. (“You mean, there are only 7 things I need to know?”) Grouping your message on a few key ideas makes it easier to plan and write your content. The numbered key ideas also help readers track their progress through your content. (Bonus:After you’ve identified your key ideas, you’ll also have the foundation for an autoresponder-delivered e-course or a “sticky” series of weekly blog posts.)
And remember, there’s a bit of magic to titles with numerical specificity. (Look what happens when you remove the “7” from the title — “The Habits of Highly-Effective People” has far less impact.)
- The procedural: Another classic book approach is to help readers solve a problem or achieve a desired goal by breaking a complex project into a series of tasks that readers can address one step at a time. Used as a title technique, this approach adds urgency by emphasizing how quickly readers can achieve their goals. Examples include Jay Conrad Levinson’s “Guerrilla Marketing in 30 days,” which shows how firms can improve their marketing by completing one step in the process each day. Likewise, Lorrie Thomas’s “McGraw-Hill 36-Hour Course: Online Marketing” shows how firms can gain improved results from their online marketing in 36 one-hour sessions.
- The almanac: If you want to share a lot of short, detailed ideas and tips, consider an almanac, or one-idea-per-day approach. Few of today’s time-strapped prospects want to read marketing content that reminds them of textbooks and encyclopedias; but, they willrespond to relevant information that is concisely delivered in short, bite-sized chunks.An excellent example is “Thou Shall Not Use Comic Sans: A Designer’s Almanac of Dos and Don’ts: 365 Graphic Design Sins and Virtues.”
- Each page is devoted to a single idea. Designers can jump in at any point, and still be rewarded with fresh inspiration and perspective.
Other resources, such as “#Book Title Tweet: 140 Bite-Sized Ideas for Compelling Article, Book, and Event Titles,” provide easy access to examples you can adapt to the requirements of your projects, with brief discussions of each example.
2. Choose the right tools
Content marketing success involves using the right planning tools — especially those that visually illustrate your ideas and their relationship to your project’s “big picture” before you begin to write.
Knowing the structure of your content marketing project before you begin writing helps you avoid false starts and wasted time. Think of it like this: Although you could drive from New Hampshire to Los Angeles without a map, you’d probably waste a lot of time and resources along the way, arriving tired, broke, and hungry.
In the past, authors and journalists have used planning tools like index cards, sticky notes, story boards, and white boards to visually organize their ideas before they begin to write.
Today, however, mind mapping software, like Mindjet’s MindManager, can help you display the structure of your articles, blog, books, and eBooks in a format you can export to your word processing and presentation programs for writing and formatting. With these programs, you can also schedule, delegate, and track your progress using the same mind map you use to plan your project.
Speaking of Word processors, don’t assume that your current word processor is your only writing option. You may be thrilled, for example, to discover highly focused writing tools like IA Writer, with its uncluttered writing environment. Or, if you want to keep your ideas and online sources in front of you as you write, explore Scrivener, which uses an index card motif.
Until recently, authors and journalists had to carry notebooks and pens with them to capture ideas wherever they were. Today, mobile apps running on smartphones and iPads permit you to capture your ideas as mind maps wherever you are. (In fact, I began this post on my iPad, before I got out of bed this morning.)
3. Master the right habits
Your habits determine your success. Whether it’s diet, exercise, or content marketing, your habits either work with you or they work against you.
Unfortunately, many of us have gone through life without developing the habits needed for efficient, stress-free writing.
Here are some of the ways you can replace the stress of last-minute deadline-driven writing with habits that can contribute to sustainable content marketing success.
- Execute daily: Many are seduced by the caffeine-like “rush” that can accompany last-minute deadlines. Yet, the thrill of all-nighters and “binge” writing also contributes to wasted effort, embarrassing mistakes, and lost opportunities. The key habit in sustainable writing success involves short, daily, scheduled writing sessions. Schedule 30 to 45 minutes a day, turn off phones and Twitter, and watch your ideas take shape. View these “sessions” you spend with your content to be as unbreakable as your appointments with your most important clients.
- Keep your brain engaged: In addition to your daily writing sessions, cultivate the habit of short beginning-of-day and end-of-day review sessions. All you need is a few minutes of quiet time at the end of each day to review what you’ve written and preview what you want to write tomorrow. In the morning, review your writing goals for the day. These sessions can be as short as five minutes, but that can be enough to keep your brain engaged so you can make the most of your upcoming writing sessions.
- Know when to edit: There’s a time to write, and a time to edit. Avoid the temptation to self-edit while writing. Instead, let your ideas flow; concentrate on finishing the first draft as quickly as possible. Once you finish the first draft, you can put on your editing hat — or pass your content on to others for comment and review.
- Know when to stop: Another reason to schedule short, frequent writing sessions is that your brain quickly tires, so productivity drops during long writing sessions. Explore resources like The Pomodoro Technique, which boosts productivity by reminding you when to take a short break.
Undoubtedly, as you cultivate the habits of writing success, you’ll come up with a system that works for you — one that you can use to efficiently prepare all types of content for years to come. And, in the meantime, please share your favorite content marketing productivity tips with us, as comments, below!
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