Caution! This is a long ass blog post!
If you should ask me “Winston, what’s the number one factor that separates those who are successful with starting and running a blog, and having a Content Marketing strategy?” I would give you one word Consistency. Yet, this is one of the greatest challenges bloggers face when starting and running a blog.
From my own experience blogging, and looking at what separates those who are tremendously successful from those who aren’t I have realized Consistency is the main factor. It’s not who writes the longest blog post, or who has the most marketing resources or dollar spend, or whether it’s a Fortune 500 company versus a no-name just starting out.
According to a study done by Converkit at the end of 2016 on the current state of the blogging industry, out of over 850 bloggers surveyed Finding/Dedicating time to blog was the number 2 out of the top 5 challenges they face. This affects consistency in posting to their blog. Also, 52% wait until the day before and the same day to actually write and publish their blog post.
With these numbers it’s very easy to see that there is a definite challenge with consistency in posting.
In this post my goal is:
Break down how I created content in bulk months in advance, and how to help you do the same so you won’t have to wait last minute to publish your post
How to streamline the entire process and increase efficiency, so you can use your time on more important things such as promoting your blog posts and brand
Show you how to find the time to blog consistently, even if you have a ridiculously busy life and schedule
How without fail I am able to publish consistently every Sunday at 1pm Eastern time, how to help you do the same, thus increasing your credibility and trust with your audience
I started blogging in 2009, mainly because I like writing and sharing my thoughts through blogging. When I first started it was a hobby for the most part. From now until then I’ve started 5 blogs, focused in the areas of Personal Development (started 2 in this area), Relationship advice, Online Marketing, and Mobile Marketing. I have blogged both casually, and professionally at a corporate level.
The reason I share this is to help you understand 2 things before I get into the topic:
I’m no stranger or newbie to blogging
I now know what it takes to make a blog successful long term
As mentioned I started 5 blogs. However, my latest blog 5 years 2 Mastery (5Y2M for short) is the only one I have been as committed, and as consistent in. I looked at all the factors to understand why I am so consistent with this blog, but struggle to be the same with other blogs I’ve started in the past (even when the posting schedule and requirement was less demanding).
So to help you I decided to share the exact strategy I have used to help me remain consistent with both my posting and blogging schedule, and my Content Marketing schedule (this includes Social Media and Email). Not only has it helped me with consistency, but also with being more productive, efficient, and effective in running my blog as a one man army.
Quick side note: I wanted to go as detailed as possible with this one to be as helpful and useful as possible. So I’ve also included a link to a video at the end of this post that gives a behind the scenes look at how my Blogging and Content Marketing strategy is structured.
A Step-by-Step Break Down To Create Consistency in Your Strategy
Just to give you a better idea of how this strategy has helped me in my blogging let me share a few things with you.
I started my latest blog January 1, 2017
By August 2016 I had already created drafts for 85% of the content to be published for all of 2017 (these also include videos that extend 20-25 minutes in length)
By August 2016 I already had content created for up to the end of December 2017
I already have topic ideas for blog posts that extends as far as the year 2020 (yes you read correctly)
What you’re seeing aren’t typos, but what I’ve been able to accomplish using the strategy I’m going to give you in this blog post. This strategy has allowed me to be more productive and efficient in my blogging and content marketing strategy, frees me up to focus on promotion of my blog posts and brand, and creates a safeguard to ensure consistency in the event any technical challenges arise.
It may seem daunting, even impossible, but as long as you’re consistent with your writing activity then it should be easy enough for you.
Now let’s break down the entire strategy I used to accomplish the above.
I would recommend getting comfortable, this post is going to take a while.
Prepare the Proper Mindset and Expectation
I know you want me to jump right into the strategy and tactics. However, I could give you all the information in the world and it would be pointless with the wrong mindset to approach this.
First of all you have to think of your blog as a business, not a hobby. This is extremely critical because it affects the value you place on your blog. In other words the more you value your blog (or anything in life), then the more you’ll prioritize it, and the more you prioritize it then the more time, effort, and attention you’ll put into it. This is why you can’t see it as a hobby, because as humans we don’t prioritize our hobbies, they’re simply things we do on our down time when we have nothing else better to do. However, if you see it as a business then you’ll be more than willing to schedule time and make the effort to put in the work to make it work.
When I started my other blogs I saw them all as hobbies (except the blog I started for my former employment). This would mean that I didn’t think to spend much time writing and publishing for them because I prioritized other things. Therefore, other things always came first…ALWAYS. However, when I started 5Y2M I saw it as a business. This means I spent sleepless nights working on it up to 2am sometimes 3am in the morning, because for me this blog is a priority. So the first step is to see it as a business, even before you begin.
Secondly, set the right expectation for yourself. In starting my other blogs I realized that it took me around 15-18 months before I really saw any consistent traffic or engagement. Using my first Personal Development blog as an example, it took me around a year to see consistency in traffic to the blog, and another 6-12 months to see consistency in engagement. This means it took me almost 2 years before anyone even commented or shared what I was posting!
So for you set the right expectation. Don’t expect that within the first month or two you’re going to see a surge of traffic and engagement to your blog because you won’t. Even if you hear of it happening for others, understand that’s not the norm, those are exceptions. Even if you get that initial high boost of traffic in the beginning, because of the generosity of friends and family patronizing you, eventually after the first 2-4 weeks it’s going to taper off, and then you’ll get a real idea of your daily and weekly traffic numbers. So I would advise set at least a 6-12 month expectation, expecting little to no traffic coming to your blog in the first 3-6 months. However, understand in order for you to start to see consistency in traffic and engagement, it first starts with consistency in your posting.
The right expectation helps you to keep emotionally stable, avoids feelings of discouragement when you see it isn’t happening as quickly as you would like it to, which increases the chances of you staying consistent and sticking with it.
Plan and Prepare for Execution
Now you may wonder what planning has to do with being consistent, and the answer to that is EVERYTHING! If you have a plan and a strategy, and you know exactly What you intend to do, When, How, Where, and Why, then you can execute like an optimized machine systematized to maximize. However, without it you will always be wondering what’s next, and spending wasted time and mental effort trying to figure out what to do. It’s like habits. The reason our brains create habits is so it takes less mental effort and energy to execute on several things simultaneously such as walking and talking while you’re breathing. Without habits it would be too strenuous for the brain to process and execute on even one of these things, much less all of them at the same time. So just think of planning as your Blogging and Content Marketing habit formation to maximize and optimize your efforts.
Lack of preparation is why many Bloggers and Content Marketers fail very quickly in their blogging and Content Marketing strategy. For bloggers it’s starting a blog for the sake of starting a blog because they get that initial boost of excitement at the thought of sharing their thoughts, or making a lot of money and recognition from blogging. For Content Marketers it’s the thought that their competitors are blogging, they see how it’s working for their competitors, so they decide to do it.
This sounds all well and good but without preparing a proper blogging and Content Marketing plan and strategy it will inevitably fall apart.
Here’s what I focused on when starting my blog and what you need to know when developing your own plan and strategy.
Why are you starting a blog? If your answer is “To make money” then you’ve already failed. Nothing is wrong with wanting to make money, because I do too. However, if your main reason is to make money, it isn’t a strong and emotionally compelling enough reason for you to stick with it and be consistent, even on the days it’s boring and you have more important things to do, or when the inevitable challenges and opposition comes. Like your family or your boss wondering why you’re wasting time on this ‘blog thing’. Even worse is it will begin to show in your behaviour towards your audience, and then you will ultimately lose whatever trust and credibility you’ve built with them. You need to identify why you want to start a blog that’s important to you or your company that’s worth putting in the work day in and day out, while keeping your audience in mind, and adding value to them. The best advice I can give for this is to have a mission and a vision bigger than yourself or your company. All the other blogs I started was because I love writing and they were hobbies of mine, but it wasn’t enough to keep me doing it long term or with consistency. With 5Y2M my reasons are more compelling and go beyond me. I started it not for me or as a hobby, but because I knew I had the answers that could help others struggling to overcome what’s holding them back from achieving their goals and dreams. So for me sharing that knowledge is important and goes beyond me, because seeing others realize their true potential is emotionally significant to me. Find your or your company’s significance.
Identify your end goal or objective. This may seem like one of those ‘Duh!’ moments, however just because you know what to do, doesn’t mean you’re doing it. Everyone knows they should have an end goal, especially if you’re blogging as a business to generate increased sales for your company, or make money for yourself. However, too many get caught up in the idea of Likes, Shares, and Comments, and lose track of why they started the blog and what they’re trying to accomplish in the first place. Knowing your end goal allows you to reverse-engineer an effective strategy to get to and achieve that goal. This is important in consistency because when you know where you want to go, it helps in identifying what are the monthly, weekly, and MOST importantly daily consistent activities you need to focus on to get there. Focusing on the daily helps you identify what you should be doing every day, instead of getting overwhelmed by confusion and uncertainty, which then affects consistency. By focusing on the daily activities, it’s less likely you’ll get discouraged when you aren’t close to your end goal
Identify your overall theme. What I mean by your theme is what is the overall message and focus of your blog? What value do you plan to add to your audience? To give an example, for 5Y2M my overall theme is “To equip and empower others to finally break through and overcome the mental barriers and limiting beliefs holding them back from taking action, and achieving their dreams and goals”. I guess you can consider it my mission statement in a way. This allows me to focus on specific topics relevant and in-line with that theme, and nothing else. It also ensures my brand message is consistent not only in my blog posts, but across Social Media, and Email Marketing as well. This is important, especially to your brand. I have seen where I subscribed to a newsletter for a specific theme or topic, and then suddenly I’m getting emails for something else completely unrelated to what I signed up for. This damages your brand and can cause you to lose credibility and trust with your audience. If your goal is to position yourself as an authority in your industry using your blog, then you can’t take this step for granted. Just last week I experienced this. I signed up for a blog whose theme is to provide science-based articles to help improve habits to improve your life. It started out as this then suddenly I received an email speaking about elements of a high converting thank you page, and how to turn Instagram followers to subscribers. My first reaction was “Huh?! Where the hell did that come from?!” It went from a Personal Development blog to an Online Marketing blog literally overnight. Obviously you can see how this will damage a brand. If you have people who trust you enough to sign up for your newsletter expecting a particular theme or topic focus, and you suddenly change it to something they have absolutely no interest in, or the reason they signed up in the first place, then you can lose your subscribers. Even more drastic losing your credibility and trust instantaneously. Carefully choose an overall theme you know you can produce content for at least the next 3-5 years, and stick with it!
Identify your sub-themes. Even though you have your overall theme, there is another level that you can further break it down to help you better identify topic ideas. I’ll go into how to come up with topic ideas later. For now let’s talk about sub-themes. Sub-themes make it much easier to come up with topic ideas in excess, instead of scrambling trying to figure out what you should write about this week. So again using my own blog as an example, I have my overall theme, but then my sub-themes for 2017 are around the topics of Consistency, Identity, and Habits. To go even further and deeper, I also have identified how long I want to post on each theme for 2017. For Consistency I plan to post for 6 months (January to June). Identity for the following 3 months (July to September). Finally, for the rest of the year Habits (October to December). This ensures I am able to create content months in advance, because I already know what topic areas I will be focusing on, and during what periods of the year. Additionally, this will make your job easier once you start creating your Editorial Calendar, which details your postings schedules, and topics (again will get into this later). This strategy has been so effective for me that I not only have sub-themes for 2017, but even sub-themes for up to 2020. This is how I am able to already identify the exact topics, and even created headlines, for what I plan to post on for up to year 2020.
Identify your posting schedule. In other words identify how often you will be posting to your blog. Will it be once per week? Twice or three times per week? Will it be every day or multiple times per day? There isn’t necessarily a right or wrong answer. The most important thing to keep in mind is whatever you choose Consistency in your posting is absolutely key. Choose a posting schedule you are certain you can stick with. I recommend starting off with once per week (if you’re super busy then twice per month). Reason being is it’s just enough to help you gain traction over the next few months, but not too much that it will quickly overwhelm you by committing to too much too soon. Even if you want to post more than once per week, start with one first, find your flow, and work your way up to higher numbers. Consistency is far more important than quantity.
Identify how far ahead do you want to create content for. By this I mean do you want to have one month’s worth of content in advance? Two, maybe three, or if you’re super ambitious like I am do you want to create content for an entire year in advance? This is important as you will now know how much time you will have to dedicate to creating this content, and helps you to be more consistent. For example let’s say you want to create 2 months content in advance, and you are posting once per week. This means that you need to have at least 8 articles written in advance. They don’t have to be proofread and finished, but you need to at least have written the first draft copy for all 8.
Another area to finally identify is your blog topic ideas and headlines. This is a topic that needs to be discussed in greater detail on its own so I will write on it separately.
Identify and Create Blog Topic Ideas
Coming up with topic ideas has been a challenge for many Bloggers and Content Marketers. However, if you know where to look and how to come up with ideas, it doesn’t have to be as challenging.
I personally love Hubspot Academy’s advice for coming up with topic ideas. Reason being because it’s practical and my personal favourite actionable. Hubspot suggests 4 approaches to coming up with blog topic ideas (in this order):
Gathering raw materials. This means doing research, reading books, watching videos, listening to audiobooks. Basically gathering info from any and everywhere you can find. However, I would caution not to get caught up with the gathering of info process, and use it to justify you not take action to actually WRITE a blog post
Digesting the material. This means taking time away from the actual material to internalize it and what it means, and figure out how a particular idea can be turned into a blog topic
Unconscious processing. This means the opposite of number 2. Instead of consciously internalizing and thinking about the idea, you want to take time away from the idea. What I mean by this is don’t think about it, take time to do something else completely unrelated to the idea itself. What you will find (as I have) is that your best ideas will come when you least expect it. Just yesterday I experienced this while shaving. I recommend having a notepad handy at all times, you never know when inspiration will hit
Eureka moment. The final step is the Eureka moment. This is now when you actually come up with the idea for the blog topic, and write it down. This is where your trusty pen and pad comes in handy
Some additional ideas where you can blog topic ideas, based on what I use:
I watch interviews of very successful people like Tony Robbins and Brendon Burchard. Since the 5 Years 2 Mastery blog is all about helping people take action to achieve their goals, I watch interviews of other successful people A LOT. It’s mainly for me, because seeing others who have succeeded before me inspires me, and I learn from them. However, I realized that some of my best ideas for both blog topics, and even ideas for the business typically comes when I am watching an interview. It doesn’t have to be an interview for you, this is my muse, so I suggest trying different things to figure out what inspires your creative juices
I read other blogs and websites that interests me. These are typically business, marketing, and personal development blogs. The author may say something in a post that immediately strikes an idea for a blog post in my head. I also look at topic ideas that other bloggers in my niche have written about, and see what topics tend to get the most engagement from their audience. Then I see how I can put a different spin and inject my own personality on a similar topic. I may also register for webinars or download content from these sites as well
I research on Buzzsumo. I have to thank Neil Patel for this one as he ALWAYS emphasizes researching on it. Buzzsumo is a great tool to research keywords in your niche to see what are the most shared and engaged topics in your niche. Then you can take the same topic and write about it. More than likely if a topic gets a lot of shares and engagement, it’s because it’s something people are actually interested in reading
I look at questions being asked on Quora. This one is a goldmine for me. It’s literally like digging the ground and striking and endless supply of oil. I love this one the most for two reasons: 1). The questions are based on what other people want to know about, instead of my assumption of what I think they want to know about. Therefore, I can write a solution specifically based on their need, pain-point, or challenge. 2). It allows me to know EXACTLY how I should structure my blog topic headline that will not only grab readers attention, but also entice them to click the link because it speaks directly to their problem. It’s not so much the headline itself, but more the wording and phrasing of the question. With this I know exactly how to word my headline that it appeals to the reader
Let me give you an actual example of a question, and how to use it to create a blog topic headline.
This is an actual question taken from my Quora account that I answered. I can take that question and now turn it into a blog post topic and headline such as How To Stop Procrastinating If You Have a Fear of Failure. It seems simple, and pretty obvious. However, it’s not just about restructuring the question into a blog topic, it’s also using the EXACT wording the person used. Why is this important? Because more than likely if they are doing a Google search this is how they will ask the question in Google, which means your blog headline will more likely rank first because it is the closest wording to the question. Ensure that whatever questions you choose to answer are within your niche, and relevant to your blog
I sent out surveys to my network. When I started I wanted to ensure that the value I was adding to my audience was based on what they struggled with, instead of what I wanted to write about. I structured a survey asking them specific and targeted questions based on the information I wanted that would help me come up with blog topics. Mainly the questions were focused on certain challenges they were experiencing in their lives relevant to what my blog would be about, which is Personal Development. The good thing is it doesn’t have to be a lot of people. You don’t need a huge email list or audience to do this. I got feedback from around 25 people, and that 25 was enough. Though the answers were completely different, what I was looking to identify were certain patterns common to all, or most of those surveyed, so it would give me a good framework to start with
Total randomness. I like to have conversation with people and ask them about their challenges, hopes, and desires. This is like a survey, but more real-time and personal. Other ideas are just to sit in total silence. This may sound weird, but when I’m alone my thoughts tend to flow more freely. I also visit the park from time to time and just observe everyone walking by. I don’t know why but for some reason that helps me to come up with ideas. The point is find what works best for you
Once I had my blog topic ideas I grouped them in terms of my sub-themes. So for Consistency I placed all the topics under that heading. For Habits I did the same.
I also suggest creating 3-5 headlines for each blog topic. Many times the first headline you come up with won’t necessarily be the best one. Create 3-5, and see which one seems to grab your attention more, spark curiosity and interest, and you would most likely click on to read more.
Create a Digital Marketing Plan and Strategy
Another thing to take into account when planning your overall content and blogging strategy is your DM plan and strategy.
I know it has been said many times before but it needs repeating: 20% creating content, 80% promoting it. For me it’s more like 5% creating content, and 95% promoting it. This is based on creating the graphics for the Social Media posts using Canva and posting them (check my Instagram for examples). Doing guest posts and podcast interviews on other blogs relevant to my niche, topics and sub-themes, that links back to my own blog. Reposting on third-party sites such as Medium and Quora. Plus answering questions on Quora with links back to relevant blog posts on my blog based on the question asked.
Thinking that simply hitting ‘publish’ on your article is enough to gain traction is a mistake many bloggers make. Doesn’t matter if you like the idea of trying to do Social Media or any other form of promotion. However, if you intend for your blog to be more than just a hobby that generates an income for you, then I would suggest figuring it out, because more than likely that’s where your audience will be, and your biggest success lies (not on your blog).
My greatest traffic source is Social Media with 47% of the traffic, and for me social provides the greatest medium for brand awareness through social shares each post receives. Referral sites, meaning sites that are third party that links back to my site, thought generates the lowest amount of traffic back to the site have the lowest bounce rates. More than likely because it’s a more targeted audience.
Immediately my analytics allows me to know that if I want greater brand awareness use Social. However, if I want a more targeted audience of people who would most likely read and share my content, I need to focus on Referral sites.
I would recommend having a plan for promoting your blog posts. This allows you to have consistency even in your Social Media postings, and your online brand.
For this plan I would include:
Which channels do you plan to use. Personally I would recommend testing EVERYTHING for 3 months to see where your greatest traffic source is. This is important because there’s a difference between who and where you think your audience is, and who and where they actually are. A good example of this is when I started 5 Years 2 Mastery I assumed that Facebook would be my main traffic source, and Twitter would be a close second. Instagram was meh and I wasn’t even looking at Pinterest or LinkedIn. Podcasts were pretty much non-existent. Even though I didn’t consider using Pinterest or LinkedIn initially, I still promoted on these channels. To my surprise Facebook was the greatest source, but the second was not Twitter, but Pinterest, the site that I wasn’t even considering, much less taking seriously. The first day of posting to Pinterest I got over 30 visitors in under an hour. Also, my content ended being shared consistently the most on LinkedIn than any other channel. Outside of Facebook, my guest post drove the most visits to my website within that 3-4 day period of it being posted. If I had ignored LinkedIn and Pinterest completely, and other channels, I would have missed out on great sources of traffic and social shares. This is why I say test all and see where your greatest source of traffic is, then you can focus on the top 2 or 3 only if you wish
What time do you intend to promote on each Social Media site. This is important as different audiences use each medium at different times of the day and different days of the week. I won’t get into this but you can check out an article by Hubspot, Coschedule, or Shortstack, or you can just Google “best times to post on Social Media”
How often will you post on these sites. Just as you need to know how often you will publish your blog post, you need to also know how often will you publish on Social Media, and how often on which specific Social Media sites. For me personally I publish Monday to Saturday to maximize, and post several times for the day on each
What format will you use to promote on each channel. For example I mostly use images with quotes that strategically link back to each blog post. I also do videos on Fridays to promote as well. So for me the formats I use are images and videos, and very soon I will be doing infographics. Know what it will be for you
Execution Of Your Strategy
Are you tired yet? If not great!
The greatest time and effort will be spent on the preparation, but once you have done that then execution takes way less time.
Now that we’ve gone through what you need to plan and prepare your strategy for consistency, let’s now dive into the actual step-by-step approach I used.
Schedule and Dedicate a 30 Day Time Period for Writing
Once I came up with and document different ideas and headlines for blog topics, I first categorized them in my sub-themes of Consistency, Identity, and Habits.
Next I scheduled a 30 day period from the beginning to the end of August focused on just writing, and nothing else. Note this is in 2016, 5 months before the blog was even to be launched. At this first stage my goal was just to write the drafts, not the final finished and edited article. My goal was simply to write one 1,000 word article each day, though my articles later extended to 1,500-2000+ words. However, I didn’t focus on trying to do a whole lot in one go, and I wasn’t focused on being perfect either. My only goal was consistency in my daily writing.
For me it takes roughly an hour to write a 1,000 word article. For some I know this may not be possible to write that many words in 1 hour. Also, you may live much busier lives than I do. So to help I recommend writing 500 words per day. Not necessarily a 500 word article, but to write a max of 500 words in a day. So let’s say your articles are 1,000-1,500 words. That means it would take you 2-3 days to write one article at 500 words per day. That’s 2-3 article per week, and 8-12 articles per month. That means just by writing 500 words a day consistently at the end of one month you would have 8-12 articles ready to be published. If you post once per week you already have content for 2-3 months.
The point here is not to try to be perfect or try to get too much done too soon. Write without any limitations of perfection. Don’t focus on getting it perfect, just write what comes to mind. As you can see from my math break down, just by taking small actions consistently you can achieve this goal.
This strategy isn’t limited to text blog posts by the way. It can be done for any content whether you are doing video, or audio interviews for a podcast (I used it for my videos as well). The point is to ensure that you are consistent with the daily activity it will take to create content in bulk
For a step-by-step break down of how to be consistent by taking small actions, read a blog post I wrote on the topic.
There were other things involved in getting the blog up and running such as the design, the functionalities and tech for the blog. I won’t get into all of that since that’s not the point of this blog post. However, you can check out Blog Tyrant’s post on how to start a successful blog.
Create an Editorial Calendar
Next I created an Editorial Calendar. For those who do not know what this is, it’s simply a document that outlines your posting schedules (time and day), and other important things to help you keep organized and efficient in your posting schedule. Some things I included in mine are:
Date each blog post would be published (e.g. January 1, 2017)
Time each blog post would be published (for me it’s 1pm Eastern every Sunday)
Content (this is the blog pots headline so I know which article would be published that week)
Format (this is whether it was a text post or video)
Repurposed format (this is for other formats I will be converting the post to)