A 9-Step Content Process That Will Grow Your Business
People have probably told you that two things every business should be doing is generating content and building a list. The problem with this advice is that it usually comes wit no “how” or a “why”. Writing content as a marketing strategy is a slow burn with abstract benefits. But a solid strategy can bring in more customers, help you build relationships, and help you position yourself as an expert to others. And writing content that does this is not as hard as it looks.
One of the scary factors of creating a content strategy is that publishing consistently is valuable, but that requires a commitment. When you don’t knowwhat to write about, how to write about it, or how to get readers, it’s easy to feel overwhelmed. Here’s my 9-step process I use to generate content; A Roadmap you can use to start mapping out your content strategy.
1. Keep A Swipe File
If you are solving people’s problems with your work, then you have more than enough jumping off points for pieces of content. Content is providing value at scale. If you are providing content in a one-to-one or one-to-few manner, you can turn that into content to provide that value to potential customers on the internet.
To keep track of these events, I keep a swipe file. My swipe file is a collection of thoughts, notes, and links that could become articles one day. Here are my sources for potential content ideas:
- Interesting Conversations. Did you have an interesting discussion that relates to your business with someone in a sales meeting or even just at the bar? Put it in the swipe file.
- Problems You Solved. Did you solve any interesting problems this week? Put a note in the swipe file. These notes are the source of my technical articles.
- Email. Did you write a good email response to someone or have an interesting discussion? Put it in the swipe file.
- Forums and Social Media. Did you write a good response to someone or have an interesting conversation on Twitter, Facebook, Reddit, or some other forum? Put it in the swipe file.
You’ll see from above the easiest way to build content is to have conversations.Writing content is just a one-to-many way to build relationships, so any one-to-one conversation you have is a solid jumping off point.
2. Make Writing A Habit
Nathan Barry talks about how the biggest difference maker in his business was making a commitment to writing 1,000 words a day. If you want to produce a lot of quality content, you need to make it a habit. Make time every day, even if it is only 15 minutes. If you don’t know where to start, that’s why you have a swipe file. Open it and pick one of the following:
- The note in the swipe file that excites you the most.
- If nothing is exciting to you, then just grab the oldest one.
Another benefit to a consistent habit is that you can work on ideas while they are still fresh and exciting. If you write an idea and don’t flesh out the idea until six weeks later, you might find that your interest in that topic has waned.
The emotions you feel when you write will transfer over to the people reading it. Bored writers write boring content.
3. Outline and Brainstorm
Before you start hammering away at the keys, take a few minutes and figure out what it is you want to say. Sketch out the key points you want to hit and what you want to say about them. Having some idea of where you are going will make steps 4 & 5 a lot easier and more efficient. Mind mapping can be useful here.
4. Choose A Template
Good content has structure, and you don’t need to reinvent the wheel every time you sit down to write. Songs have a verse-chorus-verse structure that can be repeated infinitely without losing people’s interest. In fact, following a pre-defined formula makes the content more accessible to the reader.
- Pain, Dream, Fix. I got this one from Amy Hoy. Talk about the problem, and then talk about how great things would be if your reader didn’t have that problem, then talk about how they can solve that problem. The pain you an engaging starting point.
- Lists. They can be cheesy, but the internet loves lists. If your content makes sense in a sequential order, then consider taking that approach.
- Stories. If you want to take a more entertainment based route, you can tell stories. Each story has a protagonist (either you or the reader), a conflict, and how they overcame that conflict.
- Comparisons. Write about ‘this vs. that’ and compare and contrast two products or opposing viewpoints.
- Essays. An essay starts with a thesis, then provides evidence to back up that thesis. Paul Graham is a master of this.
- Tutorials. Write a ‘how to X’ article. These are the easiest to write for me. Most of my tutorials are for my benefit. If I run into a previously solved problem, then I can quickly reference what I wrote previously.
- Roundups. A Roundup is a collection of resources from other places online. This template is useful if you don’t have a lot to say on a subject but want to get something out there.
5. Write A Terrible First Draft
You should have a clear vision of what you want to say, and how you are going to say it. Now it’s time to get to work. The main goal of your first draft is you put words on paper. The best way to this is to remember to do one thing:
Give yourself permission to suck.
Just write. Don’t edit. Don’t worry about filling in links or notes. If you need to find links or do research to back up your points, leave yourself notes to do that later. The most important thing here is that you are getting words down.
I like to give an article some breathing room, so I don’t write an article and publish it on the same day. When you are building a writing habit, you may consider have 2 – 3 writing days and 1 – 2 editing days.
No one produces something great on the first try. That’s why we don’t even attempt it with our terrible first draft. Now it’s time to take the marble slab of our terrible draft and carve out our traffic generating Statue of David.
When editing, we want to keep a few different people in mind.
- Edit for your readers. Read your content, fill in any blanks, and do any ‘TODOs’ you left yourself. Remember when I said you didn’t have to find research links or fill in every section earlier? Time to take care of that.
- Edit for your haters. The internet is not always the nicest place. If you make an assertion, you need to back it up. One unclear or unsubstantiated claim is enough for someone to not give your entire piece any merit.
- Edit for your English Teacher. If there is another thing the internet doesn’t take kindly to, it’s spelling and grammatical errors. These can hurt your authority. I’d recommend reading Strunk & White’s Elements of Style, and using Grammarly to automate the process.
When Optimizing we focus on the beginning and end of your article. The beginning is your headline, and the end is your call-to-action. These will be the artisan bread that accents the meat and toppings of your delicious content sandwich
The headlines j is to get people to read the rest of your article. Much like the structure of the article, it’s nice to have some templates in place for this. Here are a few I learned from CopyHackers that I use:
- Timed premise: “How to Make A Delicious Sandwich in under 15 minutes.”
- Even If: “How to Make Delicious Sandwiches Even If You Can’t Afford Top-Shelf Ingredients.”
- How-To: “How to Make a Delicious Prosciutto Sandwich”.
- Quantity: “Make 100 Sandwiches Instead of Hiring A Caterer.”
- Lists: “35 Unlikely Sandwich Combinations.”
- Why: “Why You Should Be Eating Peanut Butter Banana Bacon Sandwiches.”
- Ultimate: “The Complete Sandwich Playbook.”
- Simile: “Make Sandwiches Like Alton Brown.”
Remember that your headline needs to engage the reader and leave them wanting more. It should spark emotion and curiosity. Try writing a couple and coming up with the best one. It’s also important to note that you don’t want to over-optimize your headlines. Don’t be Upworthy. If your headline is salacious and your content doesn’t deliver, you will leave your potential customers feeling disappointed, frustrated, and lied to.
The call-to-action is what you want readers to do after reading the article. Your CTA doesn’t have to be a hard sell, nor should it be. You want to focus on engaging with the reader further. Here are some ideas:
- Ask a question and ask people to respond by commenting.
- Ask people to join your mailing list.
- Offer people a lead magnet or bonus benefit, which is just another way to get them on your mailing list.
- Ask people to email you or fill out your contact form.
- Ask them to follow up with more information, like a survey.
If you have a product, you can include a call to action here, but it depends on what you are selling. I prefer to get people to opt-in to further engagement where I can continue to interact with them and build trust, and try to make the sale later. The important thing is that without a call-to-action, your content is not going to be doing as much work as it should for you.
Content sitting in your notebook or on your hard drive isn’t going to do you any good. You have to get that content out there. It doesn’t matter what tools you use, just pick one and go with it. For your content, Your mailing list, WordPress, or SquareSpace are all fine outlets to use.
I’d recommend publishing as regularly if you can. Once a week is ideal; It doesn’t take a huge commitment, and if you are writing every day then having at least one good piece of content per week should be attainable. However, while consistency is important, I favor missing a week over putting out sub-par content.
9. Publish Again
You can use content more than once. Here are the publishing channels I put my content on, in order of preference:
I space these out over a couple of weeks for each article. Also, every article doesn’t go on every platform; I only publish it when it makes sense. I mentioned earlier how publishing consistently helps you build a following and your expertise. When you can publish each piece of content up to four times instead of just one, publishing content consistently becomes much easier. You get a chance to get in front of more eyeballs and further grow your audience.
If you still aren’t sure how to start generating content, or why you should do it, leave a question in the comments.