When you sit down to write, do you know what needs to be done, right off the bat?
Do you know how long will it take?
Do you do everything in the same order each time and do it the best way possible right away?
Or is it more likely that you’ll return to the already published blog post to make a million changes?
Here’s the thing with content creation, no matter the format: it has a large amount of moving pieces. And this is true no matter how big or small your team is. You may be a one-person show running your entire content marketing, you may have a team of 15, or maybe you’re an agency working on clients’ content.
Whichever scenario applies to you, your content production is far from a single task.
All of your content needs to be planned, created, edited, published, promoted, and measured; it also needs to be designed, reviewed, stored, and so much more. Each of these can be broken down further, too (as if it wasn’t all too much already!).
And here’s the harsh truth: if you don’t master the process, your content will be flaky, inconsistent, and ineffective. You’ll end up spending time and budget with questionable return; you may as well not be doing content at all.
(Which, as you can imagine, is not what I’d recommend.)
Instead, you can invest some energy into building a solid content marketing workflow and benefit from it for years to come. The best thing about it is the possibility to improve and scale the process over time.
Is that what you’re looking to do? Read on!
What is a content marketing workflow?
Simply said, a content marketing workflow is a set of tasks you need to complete in order to publish a single piece of content.
As in, all of it. It goes farther from simply listing the tasks; it defines who completes them, in which order, how they affect each other, and when are they supposed to be done for the process to flow easily.
A while ago, I used to live in a delusion that I can get a blog post written and ready for my client in a matter of 90 minutes to about two hours. I believed this to be true because of my typing speed, but I didn’t know it takes far more than just typing 1,500 words to get a piece of content polished and live.
I was SO far from being realistic.
(Today, my content workflow allows me to be much closer to that 2-hour mark, depending on the nature of the project, the topic, and other things. Nonetheless, I was silly back then.)
As you can imagine, believing I can do something in 2 hours but spending 6 or 10 or 5 or whatever hours to actually get the piece of content ready, after topic brainstorm, writing, editing, revising, and about a dozen other tasks, turned into a frustration.
All of this happened because I didn’t have a content creation workflow. I didn’t work from a template, a plan, or a checklist; I was figuring out all the tasks, again and again, every time it was time to create.
Now that we covered the very basics of content workflows on my end, let’s look at why it matters to you.
Why do I need it?
Just in case you’re not yet convinced you need a content workflow, please remember:
The problem isn’t creating great content – it’s creating great content consistently and sustaining it over time.
Simply put, if you don’t have an established content workflow, you’re in the risk of:
- Low productivity and scrambling to get any content published
- Low-quality content just to reach your deadlines
- Lack of ownership and accountability in your content marketing team
- Missed deadlines
- Repetition of same tasks between team members
- Lack of time for review
Also, there’s a chance you’ll get frustrated. A lot.
Now that we have that out of the way, let’s get started.
How do I build it?
This is where you get to do the work. Remember, once you invest some time setting up your workflow, you will be able to streamline and scale all your content creation going forward. You’ll also naturally improve it over time and get faster at executing your tasks.
For your workflow, you’ll need to go through 5 steps to define:
- Goals: all content formats that need to be completed. For example: blog posts, videos, ebooks, and so on; you’ll also want to define the amount per month.
- Steps: all the steps included in getting these things done
- Roles: the people in charge for each of the steps
- Times: the timeframe for each of the steps
- A checklist as a result of the previous four steps
Define your production goals
Let’s start with the most obvious one: the pieces of content you want to publish. Simple, right?
It seems so, but here’s why I’m putting it here: way too often I run into and work with companies who have executed great content in the past and want to keep doing it in the future, but they’ve always done it sporadically.
I’d hear them say stuff like…
- “We’ll publish 1-2 blog posts this month, maybe more if we have time”
- “We’ll write about that conference we went to, if we have time”
- “Can you write about this sometimes this month? Not sure when, but we’ll figure it out”
These are wrong and perpetually misleading. You shouldn’t be figuring things out as you go. I mean, you can, but you’ll have a hell of a time getting any return on that investment.
So hear me out when I say: define the number of pieces of content that need to see the light of the day in any given month. Blog posts, emails, videos, and whatever else you do. All of it!
If you skip this step, none of the following ones will matter.
For me, I aim to work out a whole month ahead for whatever I do, including client content and my own blog posts. I am in the process of setting up some more channels of my own, too, so that’s coming into play very soon!
Action now: write down what you want to publish in the following calendar month. Note: you can tweak this list as you go in case you realize you don’t have the resources for all of it (or if you find that you have more bandwidth than you predicted).
Divide them into steps
This is where it gets slightly trickier: for each piece of content, you need to break the creation process down into steps you need to complete in order for it to happen from start to finish.
Let me walk you through the braindump process I went through when I first did this for myself! Bear in mind I’m still a one-person content marketing team. I do everything from brainstorm, outlining and sketching through to writing, editing, proofreading, optimizing, designing and publishing on my own.
Regardless of how many people you have in your content team, you can’t skip this step.
Here’s what my first draft of chronologically ordered tasks looked like:
- Topic brainstorm
- Keyword research
- Confirming it’s a valid topic
- First draft
- Write headlines
- Write content upgrade
- Source images
- Design social media graphics
- Design header graphics
- Design body content graphics
- Compress graphics for WordPress
- Upload copy to WordPress
- Optimize meta
- Upload images
- Optimize images
- Write social updates
- Schedule for publish
As you can see, my list is quite granular. To avoid making my workflow scattered, I consolidated some tasks that naturally go together, so this is my list now:
- Find the keyword and confirm the idea
- Write WIIFM (what’s in it for me, I talked about it more here) and outline
- Write the blog post
- Copy edit the blog post
- Write 20 headlines
- Design header, body and social media graphics
- Insert graphics into the post
- Optimize the graphics and the post (using Yoast) for SEO
- Write and schedule social updates
- Schedule the post for publish
Also note that I do my topic brainstorm in bulk (about once a month) so that task isn’t a part of this consolidated workflow.
See how beneficial this is? You’ll have a clearer than ever picture of what exactly needs to get done to publish a brilliant piece of content.
Action now: Think of all the tasks you have to go through in order to make a piece of content happen. List them down in detail, then consolidate them based on natural groupings. For each task, add a bullet point that specifies the expectations included.
Assign the roles
During this part, you’ll usually fall into one of the three scenarios:
If, like me, you’re on your own, you can pretty much just skip this part.
If you’re outsourcing some of the parts of the process like design or proofreading, this is where you get to write that down and materialize the fact that these parts of the process are not yours to take care of.
And if you have a team dedicated just to your content creation and publishing, this is your chance to identify the tasks that fall under their expertise and scope of work. This is also the ideal time to make sure that no one’s individual workflow is overspilling, and that you do have enough bandwidth to handle your planned content strategy.
Action now: Go back to your consolidated list of tasks and add owners to each of them. If you’re on your own, take some time to audit the chance of getting someone else involved to relieve yourself from the workload.
Allocate the time
And finally, you need to assign times to all the tasks involved. You simply need to go through your entire list and add your best estimate for the time it takes a single task to be finished.
The ideal way to do this when it’s your first time ever assigning times to these tasks is to keep them on the higher end. For example, if you’re estimating a task will take you 45 minutes, round it up to an hour.
And then, when you have your tasks, roles, and times, it’s time to map out the tasks backwards from your publish date.
- You want to publish a blog post on the 15th of the month
- It should be completely finalized and scheduled for publish 3 days before
- Social updates should be written at least a day before the publish, but ideally even sooner
- Copy should be finalized at least a week before scheduling, and images should be created at least 3 days before scheduling
…and so on.
Action now: Assign ‘days before’ and ‘time to complete’ components to each of your tasks. Again, initially give yourself more time than what you’re aiming. When you’re finished, it’s time for the very final step!
Then (and only then!), it’s time to make a checklist
Okay, now it’s time to take all the information you gathered in the previous steps and turn it into a workflow.
If you’ve completed everything up to here as detailed as possible, this is the easiest step of them all, because it practically comes down to filling in the blanks.
The best way for me to show you my final checklist – my blog post creation process that I always go to – is to give you a peek into my task list in CoSchedule:
Of course, you don’t need to use CoSchedule; there are many other tools to help you assign tasks like this, or you can simply use a spreadsheet, Google Calendar or whatever else suits you. As long as you are able to easily determine deadlines, timeframes, and roles for your task list, the mechanism doesn’t matter!
A note on tools: There are some brilliant content calendar tools, project management tools, and other pieces of software that can help you mobilize your content planning. However, if your process is broken, there’s no tool in the world that will help you achieve content marketing success. Fix your process first!
Here is the structure behind the CoSchedule task list I just showed you:
It is called ‘Blog post template’ because every time I define a date for a new blog post and add it to my calendar, I simply assign this checklist to it and it populates tasks in my calendar. Awesome, isn’t it?
As you can see, it contains all the elements my workflow need: task name, days before publish, and the time it will take me to complete it. The existence of this on my calendar weeks ahead of publishing means I can plan my day and week accordingly, and it’s incredibly satisfying to get a piece of content ready so early!
Action now: Using a method of your choice, create an actual checklist and make sure to include task name, days before publish, time to complete, and the person responsible. If you have a team, share this with them and get their approval to make sure everyone is on the same page.
Believe it or not, now you’re ready to kick ass!
Once you have successfully gone through your workflow several times and ensured it’s making you (and your team) efficient, you can start to streamline your content creation process and batch your tasks. This way, you will be able to create more content while keeping the quality high.
And that’s it! How are you building your content workflow? What strategies, processes and tools have worked best for you? Let me know 🙂
P.S. Pin this post so you can refer to it later: