Creating content: why I plan ahead

No, I didn’t write, edit, publish and promote this post today. Making out that I’m so productive that I can teach full-time while writing every week would be a total lie. It takes half an hour to write each post, half an hour to edit them, and another half hour or so to create the thumbnails and schedule my socials. That’s two hours, more or less, per blog post.

If I didn’t backlog my content, I would not be producing it every single week. I’d drop off the blogging bandwagon, as I have done so many times in the past, and any sort of consistency I have would fall away.

Like the attitude of most of us who go to the gym, we would think ‘tomorrow; I’ll write tomorrow’, and tomorrow would never come. I once went a full 14 months without posting at all because of this attitude, which is a shame, because I really enjoy writing. Ever since I revived Hardly Hamilton all the way back in May 2020, things have changed. Here’s how I produce content and why I plan ahead (and why you should do too).

Phase I: Planning

Before I started freelancing, my planning involved detailing the post’s title and publication date in a spreadsheet. That was it. However, taking my first steps into the world of freelancing meant that I had to be more professional, since I was finally being paid for my work. My planning moved into three columns: title, publication date and content outline.

The final column summarised briefly what I’d include in each post. One that dealt with Valentine’s Day on a Budget, for instance, would be broken into three sections of roughly 300 words apiece (which I learned is what SEO likes). Those sections dealt with each aspect’s activity, cost and why I thought it was ideal for a first date.

Now, I’ve gone one step further. I’ve moved all of planning to OneNote, the note-taking app that I’d recommend, and have incorporated a fantastic budget stylus into my tablet setup, so that I can handwrite every little detail.

Handwriting may be slower, but I just feel more committed to the task if that’s how I’m recording data.

Every post in my July-December (and beyond) plan includes an in-progress title, a breakdown of the content I’ll cover, its series (you’ll notice that this one is ‘productivity hacks’. Because you’re here, you might like to give my other productivity posts a read), and its publication date. At the bottom, I’ve chronologised my content to ensure that there’s a good variety of posts every month. This is to stop both the read and myself from getting bored from reading the same stuff every Friday.

Phase II: Writing

With everything planned, I begin bulk-writing. At the time of writing, this is the eighth post that I’ve written in a week. I choose this method, as opposed to planning, creating, editing and scheduling one post at a time, because my creative juices prefer flowing in one way or another. If I feel creative enough to create content, I like to keep to that vibe, rather than switching to editing or scheduling.

Does that make sense? I hope that makes sense.

Taking a step back from one post as I move onto another has other benefits. For one, taking time away means that I’m refreshed when editing and more likely to spot typos or grammatical mistakes. On top of that, it just feels nice to have a lot of content written and under your belt, doesn’t it? Being able to tell my family and friends that I’ve written through to the end of September sounds a lot better than ‘oh, yeah, today I scheduled a post’, doesn’t it?

My content creation technique is actually one they’d recommend at University: plan, create, leave alone, edit later. You return with a fresh eye, able to notice that a joke I’d included in my ‘A Productive Day in the Life During Lockdown’  post had missed the mark and needed removing.

Sometimes, all we need for greater clarity is a little time away.

Phase III: Making thumbnails

Only after my posts and written and edited is it time to create their thumbnails. I’ve used free stock images from Pexels for years as it’s yet to let me down. You do see some rather wacky photos though – some which I can’t ever imagine being used. If I happen to have suitable items at home, though, I won’t shy away from snapping a picture of my own.

With a suitable photo found, I open it in the free app, Adobe Spark Post, on my iPad. I keep my brand consistent with every post, so include my logo, a banner screaming my website URL, an alternative title for the post that delivers extra information for my readers, and the series that the post is part of. I then reformat the image so that it’s appropriate to post across every social media platform, which all (upsettingly) require photos of varying dimensions.

Phase IV: Promotion

So, my blog post has been written and edited, the thumbnail has been produced and it’s scheduled for so many weeks in the future. Cool. What next?

When each post publishes, it’s automatically shared to LinkedIn. Then, an hour and a half later, it’s shared automatically using Later, another piece of free software, to the rest of my social media. I only recently discovered Later after a conversation with my Melissa Snow, a book blogger and freelance copywriter. She uses it for her content as it allows users to schedule multiple posts months in advance and is great at getting ahead of the game. You can even share captions – which I’ve used to save frequently-used hashtags, because you’ve no idea how many times I’ve misspelled variations of the word ‘productivity’ to target multiple hashtags.

Previously I’d been having to manually share everything which, if you’re as busy as I tend to be, is a massive pain.

As for the hour-and-a-half gap between publication and social shares? It’s to give you incentive to subscribe to my blog, of course! (Which you can very easily do on the widget at the top right of the page).

Was this insight into my planning process useful? Which tips are you going to take on board?

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6 thoughts on “Creating content: why I plan ahead

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