How to create a content strategy that works

If you have a business, you’re going to need content. And if you’re making content, you’re going to need a content strategy {unless you like feeling overwhelmed}.

But a content strategy is one of those “must haves” that can get out of control reallllly fast. Sure, it starts with something small, like a blog post a week. But before long your content list is a mile long, your ideas feel uninspired or unorganized, and you’re left wondering why you even jumped on this crazy train.

Right. So this post is going to tackle the ever-elusive, constantly frustrating topic of creating a content strategy that actually works. One you can use again and again. One that feels good and fits your goals. One that doesn’t have you working until the wee hours of the morning.

Let’s dive in.

Feel free to skip around:

How often have you felt frustrated, tired, and uninspired by your content strategy?

Yeah, you’re not alone. In 2015, the content marketing institute found that only 9% of B2B companies considered their content marketing strategy effective. Yikes!

Whether you have so much to say that it feels as if you can never get to it all, or you stare at a blank screen wondering what the heck you’re going to write, content strategy can feel overwhelming.

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But if you’re an entrepreneur, you can’t let overwhelm stand in your way. High quality content is one of the best ways to show the world you know what you’re talking about. And if you identify as a thought leader it’s even more important to create content that helps your audience understand your platform.

This is why content is still king. Content helps you share your innovative ideas, establish your role as a thought leader, and prove your expertise. But content can be a ruthless king, always demanding more from you while neglecting his promises.

The pressure to create more content is only creating more exhaustion. Not only that, but the scramble to always create is leading to less focus, less depth, and fewer conversions.

If that’s not a recipe for business disaster, I don’t know what is. In effort to increase the amount of content we’re creating, we’ve sacrificed the value of the content.

And that’s a problem. It’s hard to establish yourself as a successful entrepreneur or thought leader if you’re not providing value and opening the door to new conversations.

So let’s re-examine this whole “content is king” idea, shall we?

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Back in the day {ahem, like five years ago}, the best way to gain visibility and reach more people was through content. The more you created, the more likely it was that you’d show up in search results, attract attention, and start conversations.

But those days are over. Take a look at numbers like these to see why: In January 2008, there were 8 million blog posts created on WordPress; in January 2018, there were 87 million. That’s a 987.5% increase.

Soak that in for a second. There’s been almost a thousand percent increase in WordPress blog posts in ten years. Your content needs to be strategic these days, because there’s a lot of noise out there. It’s not about more. It’s about better.

It's not about making more content.It's about making better content.

That’s because when you create strategic, high quality content, you’re going deep. Instead of surface-level value, you’re providing your audience a chance to get to know what you’re best at. This not only ramps up that all-important know-like-trust factor, but it opens the door to true conversation and connection with the right people. And that means more visibility and more sales {holla!}.

Alright, so we’ve established the idea that better content is the way to go. But you still need to create that better content. So…where to start?

With a content roadmap. {You can download a quick-and-dirty guide to creating your content strategy by clicking in the box below.}

Click to download your free content roadmap!

We’ve been helping thought leaders and businesses create effective content strategies since 2010, and in that time the industry has changed. Content has evolved, and we need to evolve with it. It’s not hard, but it does require a little bit of forethought.

The good news? Once you’ve got this system down, you’ll have a customized content strategy for your business that works time and again.

So let’s dive in.

Part I: Find your content sweet spot

One of the worst ways to create content is by opening a blank Google Doc and staring at it, willing inspiration to come.

Sometimes this works. Sometimes the creativity is flowing and you hammer out some amazing content. But waiting for inspiration to strike is not a content strategy. Sorry.

To create a true content strategy, you need a framework. No, this doesn’t mean you have to table inspired content creation. But it does mean that when your muse takes a holiday, you’re not out of luck.

To create a true content strategy, you need a framework.

To find your content sweet spot, you’re going to look at three different things: your objectives, your audience, and your point of differentiation.

Step One: Set key objectives

Content without a goal in mind is like dressing up with nowhere to go. It’s fun from time to time, but over the long-term, it probably won’t do much for you. No, every single piece of content doesn’t need to be tied to your objective. But if you have a clear goal in mind, and the vast majority of the content you create is in line with your goal, you’re much more likely to achieve it.

In our business, we batch our goals by quarter. Why? Because 90 days gives us a good amount of time to test something out without giving up too early (or spending too much time on something that needs adjustments). So ask yourself, “What do I want to achieve in the next 90 days?” Do you want to sign three new clients? Grow your list by 20%? Create five new, meaningful connections?

{Side note: Notice how each of those objectives are suuuper specific. It’s not, “grow my list”, it’s “grow my list by 20%”, which you can actually track.}

When deciding on a goal, make sure it’s one that serves you and your audience. My favorite question in the world is the one most-asked by two-year-olds: Why? Why is your goal important to you? Why is it important to your business growth? Why is it important to your audience?

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Once you’ve landed on your objective, you can keep it in mind as you create your content strategy. This will be important throughout the process, but especially when we get to tracking metrics and making sure your strategy is successful.

Step Two: Listen to your audience

Once you know your objective {let’s say your goal is to sign ten new clients for your content strategy intensives}, it’s time to start listening. What does your audience have to say about content strategy? What about content strategy is frustrating them?

This is also where you can take a look at where other content falls short. If your objective is to sell ten content strategy intensives — what already exists? And where is that content failing your audience? Are there obvious gaps in understanding? 

So {surprise}, we did some research on this topic and discovered our audience is:

  • Overwhelmed by content creation
  • Unable to stay on top of all the content demands of their biz
  • Unsure where to start or how content can help them convert their offers

Those bullet points are opportunities for new content for us.

You can do this same thing around your objective. Once you start getting feedback, write it down. It’s a wealth of content opportunity.

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Let’s be clear here: This part of the process is never finished.

The more you listen to your audience, the better your content will be. So always keep an ear out, and track what your people are saying. In fact, it’s a good idea to start a file of the questions and comments that come up most often, so you can reference them when you get to creating.

Not sure where to start? We’re big fans of Ryan Levesque’s Ask Method.

Step Three: Find your angle

Now you know your objective. You know what your audience has to say.

So…what do you have to say? How are you going to add to the conversation in a unique, new way? This is important, y’all. This is the difference between the same ol’ lukewarm content you’ve seen everywhere and content that connects with people.

So here’s what you do.

Ask yourself:

  • What do I disagree with in the existing conversation?
  • How do most people approach the topic, and how am I approaching it differently?
  • Why do I approach the topic differently?

Let’s jump back to our example. So far, our objective is to sell ten people into a content strategy intensive. Audience research has shown that people 1) Don’t know where to start, 2) Struggle to stay on top of their content needs, and 3) Don’t know how to turn their content into conversions.

So now it’s time to find our unique angle.

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We need to pinpoint how our approach to content strategy is different. My favorite way to do this is through two simple questions.

Question One: “What do I disagree with?”

Usually there’s something that comes up. Something you do, think, or believe differently from everyone else. For example, when it comes to content strategy, we patently disagree with the idea that more content is the answer. So that’s our angle.

Whatever you disagree with, it becomes your point of differentiation. It’s what makes you different from allllll the others out there.

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Question Two: What are my personal experiences with this topic?

One way you can guarantee you’re highlighting a point of differentiation is by honing in on your personal experiences. Have you ever felt the same frustrations as your audience? If so, how did you overcome it?

For example, we used to post half-hearted content in our Facebook group, and as a result we got half-hearted engagement and lackluster conversions. But when we decided to step up and show up, our engagement, audience, and $$ in the bank grew.

These stories are another point of differentiation. No one will have your exact story, but your experiences will often resonate with your audience.

Find your content sweet spot

Hooray! You now know your objective, you’ve figured out what your audience has to say, and you have a point of differentiation.

Now it’s time to find your content sweet spot.

To figure out your content sweet spot, we recommend a tried-and-true Venn Diagram model. Above the diagrams, write your objective to keep it top of mind. Then in one circle, write out what your audience has to say. In the other circle, take note of what you have to say {that’s your point of differentiation from the section above}.

The overlap? That’s your content sweet spot — the places where your audience’s frustrations, desires, and thoughts intersect with your own.

Content Sweet spot

Click here to download your own, blank diagram

Once you’ve created your Venn Diagram, take a look at your content sweet spot. These are the topics that will best help you meet your objective!

But now the question becomes…how do you put those topics out there?

Part II: Identify your core + supporting content

One of the hardest pieces of creating content is…well…creating it. You have to take your ideas and organize cohesively. And it’s not like there’s just one type of content you could create, either. That would be too easy. Instead, you have to think about your email list, your blog, your social media handles, your video game, and all of the other pieces of the giant visibility puzzle.

Overwhelming much?

We’ve got you.

Take stock of the content you already have

Not too long ago, I would approach every new season in business like a warrior preparing for battle. Whatever our objective was, I would look at it as this massive mountain of a goal. And to get there, we needed to create ALL the new content. New emails, new blog posts, new funnels.

No wonder I was always exhausted.

It took a few false starts, but eventually the light bulb clicked on.

Why was I creating new content for each and every project, when the old content would do just fine?

DON'T CREATE NEW CONTENT WHEN YOUR OLD CONTENT DOES THE JOB.

It’s not as if our content was worse because it was older. We produced high quality, valuable stuff. Yes, bits and pieces might need updating from time to time, but that takes a lot less effort than starting over each time. And we don’t have to worry about people getting annoyed with us rehashing old stuff. Our audience is always growing, so it’s new to some. And for those who’ve seen it before, it’s a good reminder.

Lesson learned. Instead of viewing your objective as something that can only be supported with new content, assess what you already have.

This means:

  1. Checking in with your content inventory {do you have one? If not, there’s some homework for ya!}
  2. Identifying what fits your objective—even tangentially.
  3. Repurposing those pieces and put them out to the world with a LOT less work.

Case in point: This very blog post was originally a live masterclass, which was then repurposed into a four-part video series, which is now being repurposed for our blog {which will then, inevitably, be repurposed into a bunch of other, smaller pieces of content}.

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A note on Content Inventories: If you don’t have a content inventory, never fear. They’re simple to set up. You can get fancy with software like CoSchedule, but we started off super basic with a Google Sheet that lists the title of the content, the type of content {blog post, Facebook post, video, etc.} and links to where it was originally posted.

Develop strategic new content

Sometimes, you don’t have content you can repurpose. Sometimes, you need to buckle down and do the work. But…that can feel heavy.

How amazing would it be if you never had to worry about creating more than a couple pieces of content from scratch?

It’s totally doable. Here’s how.

Step One: Create Core Content

Core content is the meat of your message. These are the big content pieces that align with the content sweet spot you identified and have a clear connection to your objective.

Your core content can use any medium. It can be written or recorded, audio or video. The important thing to remember about core content is that it is the foundational content around your sweet spot. This blog post is an example of core content, because it does a few key things:

  1. It lets you know exactly where we stand on the topic of content strategy.
  2. It gives you the tools you need to create your own content strategy.
  3. It allows you an in-depth view of our expertise.

Other examples of core content could include a video series, a masterclass, a webinar, a challenge or workshop, an audio training, and more.

Core content is not the sort of thing you’ll create every day. In fact, you probably won’t even create core content every week. Not only does it take longer to make, it also takes longer for your audience to digest. I would be amazed if any of you reading this sat down to absorb it in one sitting. This blog post is intended as a resource that you come back to, time and time again. {Although if you do read it in one sitting, you totes deserve a cookie}.

CORE CONTENT IS A RESOURCE YOU CAN RELY ON AGAIN AND AGAIN.

Because core content contains so much information, aim to create no more than two or three core content pieces per quarter. That’s one piece of core content a month. This isn’t just to prevent yourself from burning out. It’s also to give your content a chance to gain traction and be seen by as many people as possible.

Step Two: Create Supporting Content

Once you have your core content, you need to get it out to the world, but just hitting the ‘publish’ button isn’t enough. This is where supporting content comes in. Supporting content is what allows you to get away with only creating two or three new big pieces of content at a time. Once your core content is created you have the seeds for everything else.

Supporting content tends to be shorter, but it also has a bigger reach when taken all together. These are Instagram posts, Facebook posts, single email campaigns, short articles, and other pieces of content that can essentially be reworked from your core content.

For example, each section of this blog post can become its own series of social media posts. I don’t need to write anything new. At most, I need to tweak the verbiage that’s already there so it’s appropriate for the platform.

And the best part? I know, without a doubt, that all of the content I’m creating is supporting my overall objective.

Content Mapping

Click here to download your own, fillable template

Ramp up your engagement game

Alright, but what happens when you don’t even have time for your core content? Life happens. Sometimes we get lost in the weeds, and even creating one piece of core content is too much.

This is an inevitability worth preparing for. We can’t all be operating at 100% all the time, and your business should never feel like a cage.

When you start to feel like content creation is too much, it’s time to take a break. Yes, I said it. You can throw this entire post out the window and give yourself some time off. And during that time, instead of putting new content out there, you can double down on your engagement.

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Engaging with others is always a good idea, no matter what. It’s what allows you to create conversation and build real relationships {and when people feel connected to you, they’ll buy from you}. And while engaging with others may be a part of your strategy all the time, it’s a particularly smart focus when you’re feeling burnt out. This is because you’re still able to be visible, and still able to show off your skills, but without the burden of creating new content.

You’ve got your content topics. You have your core + supporting content identified. Now what?

Now we make sure it works.

Part III: Monitor, measure, and maintain momentum

You already have a clear objective, and you’ve given yourself time to get your content out there. Now it’s time to monitor that content and make sure it’s moving you closer to your objective.

Don’t get discouraged here. Remember that your content’s lifecycle can extend far longer than a few weeks or months. Truly valuable content can help support your business for years.

But there are ways to make sure your content is optimized and supports you in the best way possible.

Track your metrics

Earlier, we talked about setting clear objectives. That objective will have a measurable outcome. Add ten people to your program. Grow your list by 20%. Create five new meaningful connections.

But that’s not the only thing worth measuring. The progress you make towards your goal is important, too. There are tons of different ways to track metrics, so pick one or two that make sense for you

Here are some ideas:

  • If your objective is around making sales, look at conversion rates, click-through rates, cost per conversion, and impressions/reach.
  • If your objective is around visibility, look at open rates, engagement rates, click-through rates, SEO ranking, and landing page hits.

This list is by no means exhaustive, but it’s a starting point. If your goal is to grow your list by 20%, for example, one of the metrics you may track is the conversion rate of your opt-in.

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It’s also important to note that while you may have little control over your objective being met, you do have control over what you do to get there.

For example, if your objective is to use your content to sell ten spots in your program, don’t hang your self-worth hat on that. Instead, ask yourself what metrics you can hold yourself accountable to. You can’t force people to open their wallets, but you can get your content in front of 1,000 new eyeballs across all channels. This is something you can track, control and attain, yourself.

So yes: Track the outcome-based metrics. But also take note of the metrics that you can hold yourself accountable to.

Evaluate {and re-evaluate} your research

Back in the first section of this behemoth of a blog post, I mentioned that you’re never done listening to your audience. Here’s why: The more you listen, the more you understand. And when things aren’t connecting, it’s time to revisit those conversations.

One of the best ways to check your research is to look at the language and ideas you’re using. Does it line up with what your audience is talking about? Or are you falling back on ideas and words you would use and they’d never think of in a million years? Your job is to build a bridge between your idea and your audience, so make sure you’re keeping them in mind.

YOUR JOB IS TO BUILD A BRIDGE BETWEEN YOURSELF AND YOUR AUDIENCE.

Additionally, you want to check the context of your content. The more urgency your content has, the more likely it is to be shared, referred to, and seen as a solution. So if your content isn’t giving you the results you want, it’s worth checking to make sure it is addressing something that feels urgent to your audience.

For example, this blog post addresses the urgent frustration of creating content. Not only is it painful to stare at a screen and feel overwhelmed, but it’s a frustration that comes up constantly. Until you create a system for your content, you’ll feel the pain every time you sit down to create something — especially when inspiration has decided to peace out.

There are a hundred other small frustrations around content, but a clear, consistent strategy is the one that comes up most often, is most irritating, and feels most urgent to our audience. Which is why it’s the topic of this blog post, rather than how to write a specific type of content, like a Facebook post. While that’s a completely legitimate topic, it’s not as consistently urgent as an overall content strategy.

Check your frequency

How are you staying top of mind with your audience? Between your core content and your secondary content {plus a solid engagement strategy}, you should have plenty to say. But are you saying it too much? Too little?

There’s no perfect ratio, but keep an eye on how people are reacting to your content and how well you’re able to keep up with the distribution.

For example, we used to email our list five days a week. Monday through Friday we would send off an email. This went on for about a year before we realized that we were completely exhausting ourselves {and our peeps}. We tend to be long-winded, so each email was fairly lengthy. And there were five of them each week!

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After some experimenting, we backed off to three emails. As we did, we kept an eye on our open rates and click-through rates. We were hoping that in sending fewer {but still frequent} emails, our overall open rates would go up. And they did.

If our open rates had plummeted, we would have revisited the five-emails-a-week strategy and continued to play around until we found our sweet spot.

The main takeaway here is that it’s okay to experiment. You never know until you try, and your audience is going to have their own preferences. So keep playing with your content delivery until you find a frequency that works for you and your audience.

Let’s Review!

You made it! Let’s quickly review the key pieces of creating a content strategy that will help you be more consistent while feeling less overwhelmed:

  • Set a clear objective, so you know all of your content is moving you towards a set goal.
  • Find your content sweet spot at the intersection of your experiences and your audience’s frustrations.
  • Repurpose existing content that’s in line with your content sweet spot.
  • Create 2-3 pieces of core content around your topic.
  • Develop supporting content using your core content as a base.
  • Monitor your content and adjust course as needed.

And to help you accomplish this on a regular basis, you can snag our free Content Roadmap. This guide will take you through each of the steps above, so you can consistently plan content around any new objective. We recommend revisiting it about once a quarter, so you’re always on top of your content game.

Download Your Free Content Roadmap Below!

Click to download your free content roadmap!

 

Now it’s your turn

  • What content strategies have worked for you in the past?
  • What’s your current objective, and what core content are you super-excited to create?
  • How are you tracking your content’s success?

Let us know in the comments!

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