Fresh Start 2019: Better Content Planning for Your Blog

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Photo courtesy of Hubspot

If your goal for the New Year is to launch a new blog or refresh the one you already have, an easy place to start is with content, namely story selection. It can be a challenge knowing what to write about as you stare at a blank page or computer screen.

If you’re constantly wracking your brain for story ideas, it could be that you haven’t planned your content ahead of time. Any successful blogger can tell you that having good content and posting frequently are keys to attracting and keeping readers. A content plan (what I sometimes refer to as an editorial plan) can help you develop your story ideas before you begin to write them and schedule them over the coming weeks and months. Having a content plan helps you sort through all your story ideas by theme and by month, while giving you some flexibility to add stories as news breaks that is worth following.

The blog planning tool I use is very simple and straightforward. It consists of three columns: the topic, keywords and date posted. (See image below for sample form.) You might be able to find similar planners online or adapt one for your own use. Make sure there are enough rows to write down your list of stories.

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Here’s how the blog content planner works:

1. Begin brainstorming story ideas. Think of as many as you can related to your blog’s central theme and jot them down on a blank sheet of paper or your laptop. For example, if your blog is about budget-friendly travel tips, you might come up with stories such as using Groupon to plan tours and visit restaurants, cheaper alternatives to hotels, and cheap or free things to do at your destination.

If you struggle to think of story ideas, have a friend help you. Sometimes they may think of angles you had not considered. It might also be helpful to keep a file of news stories that may be worth covering on your blog.

2. Assign each story to a category.
As you complete your list of story idea, you may notice common themes developing. For example, you may notice six stories about tours and sightseeing trips and a few others related to overnight accommodations. In the space next to the story idea, write the theme or category. Most if not all of your stories will fall into one or two categories.

3. Jot down categorized stories on the planning worksheet. For every story categorized under tours and sightseeing, for example, write them down under the topic heading on your planner. In the line that says theme, fill in the blank with your category (Tours and sightseeing trips). Each category will have its own page, so you will want to have multiple copies of the planning worksheet. One sheet will be story ideas related to overnight accommodations, another for cheap eats on the road, and a third for tours and sightseeing, and so on.

You may only have five or six story ideas per category. That’s okay. You can add to the list as you think of more stories.

4. Determine which month your stories will be posted. For example, you might post a series of stories about springtime weekend getaways that would be ideally suited for posting in March or April, while stories about staycations might be a good choice for late fall or winter. My theme for January is “Fresh starts and new beginnings,” so my stories have that theme. February will have a different theme and my story selection will reflect this new theme.

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5. Keep to a schedule.
As you post a story, enter the date in your blog planner. Most important, set a schedule of posting and stick to it. Write regularly and consistently. That way your readers will know when to expect to see updates to your blog. Consistency is key to driving readers to your site.

A blog planning worksheet can simplify your thought process and save you a lot of time down the road. Once you’ve done the brainstorming and assigned categories to each story, the hard work is over. Planning content around a monthly theme means you don’t have to scramble looking for ideas. It’s especially helpful when you’re pressed for time because you don’t have to think about what your next story will be. Just refer to your blog planner for your selection of stories. Then begin writing.

How an Editorial Plan Can Help You Create Better Newsletter Content

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Newsletters are a valuable tool to help promote your business to clients and customers. When done well, they help keep your business top of mind so clients will contact you when they need your product or service. They also help you engage with your clients and customers on a regular basis — key when building a relationship with them.

But coming up with fresh content can be a challenge. After all, there are just so many ways you can write about decluttering your home or saving for retirement.

If you feel your newsletter content is getting a bit stale, here are a few ideas to rejuvenate your stockpile of story ideas.

  • Check out industry magazines and websites for stories that might be of interest to your clients and customers. Notice how they present information. Do they use graphics, photos or other images to enhance their material.
  • Consider adding infographics. Many businesses use infographics to present survey data in an interesting, more reader-friendly way. Infographics is one more tool you can use to make your content more interesting while getting your message across.
  • Sign up to receive newsletters from similar types of businesses, including competitors. Note what kinds of stories they are sharing. Are they covering different topics than you are, or are they writing about topics in a fresh and interesting way?

As you review these publications, take notes about what you like. There’s always something you can learn from what other organizations do.

Next, sit down and brainstorm potential story ideas. Feel free to borrow ideas from competitors, industry publications and the news headlines. If needed, hire a writer who can help you find different angles for old story lines that you’ve covered before. They can also help you organize your content for each issue.

It might also be helpful to think of a theme for each issue. For example, when planning the August issue, think of summer, vacations, the beach, and barbecues – and try to connect your articles to the summer theme. September might be an issue related to going back to school, so the newsletter might include articles related to education and learning. Having a theme adds a specific focus to your content, and because each issue has a different theme, no two newsletter issues will be alike.

Finally, start planning. The key is to think of content in blocks of information. Structure the newsletter in equal chunks and separate them by topic. For this purpose, use a simple template that includes blank spaces to fill in the month, the theme and three or four slots for story ideas. Below is an example:

Article 1: Message from you, the company president, vice president or CEO. The message can be brief, no more than 300 words, and can be written by the CEO himself or another representative of the company on his behalf. Be personable and conversational. Talk about any new changes at the company.  What do you want your clients to know about your business that they did not know before?  If your CEO or director is uncomfortable leading off the newsletter, use that first article to introduce a new product or service, or any major company news your clients might find helpful.

Article 2: Highlight a specific feature of your business, something that has been established for some time that people may not know about. For example, an apartment community might feature the reopening of the outdoor patio and swimming pool for the summer with gentle reminders for using it safely. Another idea for this article is to do a Q&A with a key member of the management team.

Article 3: Share a light-hearted, general interest story that your clients will appreciate. This could be a focus on neighborhood news, like a list of local street festivals, or tips for keeping pets cool during the hot summer months. For an apartment community, ask residents what they enjoy about living at their community.

If you really want to be organized, plan several issues at a time. By organizing your content this way, you can be sure you aren’t repeating stories.

Conclude each issue with a call to action. Mention any special offers, ask for feedback about your business, or end with a thoughtful, meaningful inspirational quote. Be sure to include your business contact information so clients and customers can reach out to you if they have questions.

Perhaps the biggest challenge many managers and business owners have about newsletter content is not that there are not enough ideas, but that there are too many. With so many topics and angles to work with, it can be difficult to whittle down the most important ideas you want to present.

Setting up an editorial plan for your newsletters will help you focus on three or four ideas for each issue that will help you engage with your clients, promote your business and present your name and company in the best possible light.

 

Case Studies: Overcoming Event Planning Mishaps

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Photo courtesy of Hub Spot Marketing

If you’ve ever had to host an event or workshop for your company, you know that things don’t always go as planned. Events and workshops are prime settings for the unexpected – a speaker cancels at the last minute, the electricity goes out just as the opening presentation is about to start, or you inadvertently publish incorrect information on all your promotional materials.

The mark of a professional organization is not how well they put on a workshop or event, but how they respond when things don’t go as planned.

Recently, I attended two professional development workshops where I experienced firsthand how businesses deal with misinformation or miscommunications when promoting their events. One organization handled their mishap professionally, while the other seemed not to notice that anything was wrong.

Here’s a closer look at both scenarios, what they did wrong, what they did right, and what we can all learn from these experiences.

Scenario 1
My alma mater Illinois State University recently hosted a professional development workshop for women on a weekday afternoon. The email announcement showed that the workshop time was noon to 1 p.m., but the registration page on the website showed that the full program was noon to 4 p.m. with the luncheon taking place from noon to 1 p.m.

Naturally, the mistake caused a lot of confusion and upset individuals who could not leave their jobs to attend a full four-hour session.

How the university responded:
The organizers were genuinely concerned about the mistake and quickly rectified the situation. They worked with the speakers to restructure the program so it fit into a two-hour window, from noon to 2 p.m. The school then sent an email to everyone apologizing for the mistake and offered a full refund to everyone who planned to attend, whether or not they were forced to cancel or not. That meant they ran the program, including lunch, for free. Since this was the first time the university had hosted a professional development workshop of this kind, they used it as a learning experience for themselves to plan future events.

What they did wrong:
By all outward appearances, it seems one person posted the details on the website (which was correct) and someone else created the email blast. They failed to proofread and cross check the details to make sure the information was consistent.

What they got right:
The university immediately acknowledged their mistake, accepted responsibility and apologized. They went further by offering a full refund ($25) for every person who registered for the event, whether or not they cancelled or attended. They essentially ran the program for free – including box lunch.

Takeaway: By acknowledging mistakes and quickly rectifying the situation, you demonstrate your professionalism more clearly and directly. Clients and customers are more likely to continue working with you because of the way you handled the mishap.

Scenario 2:
Raby Institute, a medical clinic, hosted a free evening workshop about women, wealth and wellness. According to the promotional material, two speakers would discuss money management and workplace success for women. The promotional copy focused primarily on the money management aspect, but when I arrived, only one of the presenters spoke about networking etiquette and how to make stronger impressions in the workplace, not at all what was advertised in their marketing materials. The woman who was to speak about money management never spoke at all, but acted as a greeter and introduced herself to everyone as they arrived.

In addition, at the end of the program, they encouraged everyone to complete a “feedback form.” Fine, except the feedback form had nothing to do with the program. Instead, it looked more like a new client intake form for a local financial institution where the financial expert worked.

How the business responded:
Neither the office staff nor the speakers seemed to notice or care that the program did not match the advertising. Not even the attendees seemed to notice or care. When I mentioned to a young woman sitting next to me that the program was not what was promoted, I was baffled by her response. “Yeah, that’s true, but it was still a really good program.”

Not sure if there was a miscommunication between the clinic staff and the speakers about the topic of the program, or if the program was changed without the office staff knowing about it. In any case, I walked away feeling cheated because I expected one type of program and got something else instead.

What they did wrong:
Clearly organizers were either misinformed about the program or the speakers changed the format without notifying the office staff. It might have been an honest mistake, or it might have been an intentional move to mislead attendees. To make matters worse, the so called “feedback form” had nothing to do with the program but instead was an intake form for a financial services company. It was dishonest and misleading.

What they got right:
The third element of the evening’s program centered on wellness, which made sense considering the workshop took place in a doctor’s office. On hand for the program was a nutritionist and chef who brought in samples of healthy appetizers and refreshments, which we all enjoyed. She was the hit of the night. And the price for the workshop was right too – free.

Takeaway: Make sure your advertising matches what the program is about. Make sure someone is confirming the details about the workshop before promoting it, even if it means having the presenters review your marketing copy.

When planning and promoting workshops, it’s easy to let the details get away from you. Be clear in all your communications, get the details straight and have someone proof all the information before sending it out. If mistakes occur, accept responsibility and offer a genuine, considerate response. Offering a refund or a discount on a future events can also help restore customers’ faith in your business. Remember that everything you say and do reflects directly on your reputation and professional integrity.