3 Easy Ways to Come Up With Content Ideas

Ann Handley, author of the book Everybody Writes, believes in the Content Inc. concept for two reasons: It focuses on the needs of the audience, and it helps you, the entrepreneur, grow as an individual.

That means it almost forces you to evolve your thinking. When you’re creating content and you’re getting feedback from the audience, it allows you to hone your vision, as well as embed your vision ultimately with whatever it is you’re creating.

Look at any leading informational resource on the web. The content they first developed upon launch is always significantly different than it is now. Over time, the content has evolved to better meet the needs of the audience, and at the same time the content creators began to find their own sweet spot (which sometimes takes time to find, as we’ve discussed).

Finishing races is important, but racing is more important.” – Dale Earnhardt

To get to a point of Content Inc. success, we need to do the work. Now that you’ve identified your sweet spot and what differentiates you and your content, coming up with consistently compelling content ideas may seem daunting. Putting in the work makes all the difference.

Most entrepreneurs fail at developing ideas for their content because they fail to plan. If you are at a point where you are sitting in front of the computer waiting for inspiration to strike, you’re probably doing it wrong.

There is no one right way to develop ideas for your content projects, but you do need a process.

The content inventory

Before you can determine what kind of content you need, you first need to figure out what you have. In addition, you need to determine whether what you have is any good at all or, better yet, whether you have some raw content that is still incredibly valuable that you can leverage throughout your Content Inc. strategy.

Why is this so critical? I’ve worked with dozens of companies that launched new e-books and white papers and hired freelancers and editors, only to find out midway through the process that much of the content initiative had already been created. This simple content inventory will save you time and money.

50 questions

One of the amazing things about Marcus Sheridan’s success with River Pools and Spas is that he’s never actually installed a fiberglass pool, even though the majority of the world believes he IS the expert. His secret:

The ultimate content strategy is listening.

Marcus listens to customers, to employees, to podcasts … he’s a consummate learner. Then, he brainstorms for content ideas. “If you don’t come up with at least 50 questions, you haven’t tried hard enough,” says Sheridan.

Open a notebook and make a list of questions your audience would like to know about. At this point, there is no wrong answer — and don’t stop and correct anything — just write questions. Finish your list of 50 questions and take a break. After awhile, come back to the list to find the diamonds.


Mark Levy (author of Accidental Genius) gave me a crash course in something called “freewriting.” Freewriting, also called stream-of-consciousness writing, is a writing technique in which the person writes for a set period of time without regard for spelling or even the topic. Mark uses this technique with his clients to unearth the raw content at the heart of the content creator.

Natalie Goldberg, author of The True Secret of Writing, outlines the rules of freewriting:

  • Give yourself a time limit. Write for a set period, and then stop.
  • Keep your hand moving until the time is up. Do not pause to stare into space or to read what you’ve written. Write quickly, but do not rush.
  • Pay no attention to grammar, spelling, punctuation, neatness, or style. Nobody else needs to read what you produce.
  • If you get off topic or run out of ideas, keep writing anyway. If necessary, write nonsense or whatever comes into your head, or simply scribble: Do anything to keep the hand moving.
  • If you feel bored or uncomfortable as you’re writing, ask yourself what’s bothering you, and write about that.
  • When the time is up, look over what you’ve written, and mark passages that contain ideas or phrases that might be worth keeping or elaborating on in a subsequent freewriting session.

So, we will share more ways to develop ideas for your content, but these three, I believe, are the best places to start.

Ask yourself

What are the topics that you should cover that are the intersection of your passions and your customer’s needs?

Want to learn more about the model dozens of successful entrepreneurs have used to create a profitable business using content? Download our guide, 6 Steps to Building a Content Inc. Empire.

Author: Joe Pulizzi

Joe Pulizzi considers himself the poster boy for content marketing. Founder of the Content Marketing Institute , Joe evangelizes content marketing around the world through keynotes, articles, tweets and his books, including best-selling Epic Content Marketing (McGraw-Hill) and the new book, Content Inc. Check out Joe's two podcasts. If you want to get on his good side, send him something orange. For more on Joe, check out his personal site or follow him on Twitter @JoePulizzi.

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  • http://www.vinishgarg.com/ Vinish Garg

    Considering that we see, scan and consume such a variety of content from so many sources, isn’t it ironic that we are talking about ‘ways for content ideas’?

    I cannot believe that except for a highly specific industry or technology, people may be looking for ideas for content. If they are, they might be actually struggling with the editorial calendar, which means lack of clarity of thought, or clarity of goals.

    • http://contentmarketinginstitute.com/ Joe Pulizzi

      Hi Vinish…it’s a great point, but it’s a large struggle in many organizations. In most companies we go into, the editorial calendars look almost identical to those you’d find in competitive companies. So the big challenge is to make sure that our content provides a differentiated experience, and our “content tilt” is indeed something that people cannot find anywhere else. Sounds like you have it together though, so that’s fantastic.