Seven Lessons Learned from Three Years of Content Creation

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Life and business are full of lessons if you look for them.

Some you learn the easy way, and some you learn the hard way.

A few years ago, I started creating content for my brand-new site. It wasn’t easy — I didn’t consider myself a writer, so cranking out blog posts on a consistent schedule was daunting at first.

But over the years I’ve become more comfortable with content creation, and I’ve even added to my writing workload. I now write a weekly newsletter, and I write guest posts regularly for some pretty big sites, some of which you may know. ;-)

I have learned a few valuable lessons along the way.

You don’t need a three-year learning curve to take advantage of what I’m about to share. Just take note of these ideas so you can benefit from the stumbles, facepalm moments, and happy accidents that came along as I built my own website.

1. Survey the horizon before you plan your content

My most productive weeks have been the ones I’ve planned in advance.

Look ahead and decide what you want to promote in the upcoming months. Break your subjects down into your weekly post topics.

Do this on a quarterly basis when possible, and you’ll have the first step for your posts mapped out ahead of time — the idea.

And yes, your topics may end up changing if your plans change. But having even some of your post topics lined up beforehand will save time and stress.

2. Batch write when you can

The secret to stress-free content production — I’m convinced — is batching.

Want to gain freedom, time and flexibility? Plan a marathon content creation session.

Crank out a month or two of posts, video, or audio. Then sit back and devote your energy to promoting those posts when you publish them.

3. Offer levels of engagement

When prospects first come across your site, they may be skeptical. Before they’ll do business with you, you have to earn their trust.

To help make their transition to customer easy and natural, offer free information that’s simple to consume. At first, don’t even ask for an email address in exchange.

As you deliver value with your free materials, prospects will be ready for the next level of commitment — an email address. Offer something valuable in exchange to motivate them to invite you into their inbox.

Once they’re ready to take the next step, have a low-priced item available to buy. Exceed their expectations with your low-priced offering, and your prospects will feel more comfortable investing in higher-priced products.

4. To get to know your reader, step down from the pulpit

Blogging is not about standing above your readers and preaching. Some of my most-successful posts have been simple ones where I ask readers a question.

I give my readers the mic and ask them to share their thoughts about a topic. The results have been posts with many more comments than average.

The key to making this work is to ask a question that’s related to your topic, or to the challenges your readers typically face. Ask them to share their experiences, frustrations, or advice.

Make yourself available to interact in the comment section. Then step back and watch the comments flow in.

5. Don’t be afraid to swim against the tide

Last year, I decided to start offering webinars. You may have heard the conventional wisdom about webinars:

  • Don’t offer webinars on a regular basis — that way more people sign up to the ones you offer randomly (which should increase your conversions)
  • Don’t offer a replay video — you’ll force people show up live (the better to pressure them into buying)
  • Keep them on the webinar long enough that you can present your entire pitch (the better to convert them to customers)

I decided to break all of these rules with my Brown Bag Webinars.

  • They’re held on the same day and at the same time every month
  • I offer a replay video to anyone who signs up
  • Most Brown Bag Webinars are about 30 minutes long. A few have been a little longer.

My ideal customer is a small business owner who’s juggling a lot. I wanted them to be able to fit these webinars into their lunch hour, or watch them on a break.

As a matter of fact, I encourage them to eat while they watch.

This decision — to create a webinar experience that worked for my ideal customer — has added thousands of names to my mailing list over the past year, and thousands of dollars to my profits.

6. Build a series that breaks up your list

Brown Bag Webinars are held on different topics, and to send out the login link and replay, I have to gather email addresses. I have a separate email list for each webinar I offer.

The result for me? I now have 12 mailing lists that are targeted to specific topics and themes.

This works out well, because when I have more content related to the topic they signed up for, I can send an invitation to these targeted lists.

7. Present your ideas in more than one format

It took me years to realize how much people enjoyed consuming content in different formats.

My courses and products all included text, audio, and video. But my blog posts tended to be mostly text.

And that’s a shame. Because with a little extra effort, your content can have a presence on iTunes (with a podcast) and YouTube (with video), among other important venues.

This month I’m remedying that with a ten-part video series on design basics. It’s my Design 101 lessons converted to short educational videos.

I’m repurposing something I wrote in the first weeks of my blog into a completely different format with new information.

It feels like my content has come full circle.

Over to you …

What content creation lessons have you learned over the years? Let’s make this post a place to share our best hard-earned lessons.

Share yours in the comments!

About the Author: Pamela Wilson founded Big Brand System to help business owners combine the power of design and marketing to build recognizable brands. To learn more about using the power of design in your marketing, get her free Marketing Toolkit, which includes the 10-part Design 101 series.

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Comments

  1. Thank you for this great article Pamela! ;)

    I got many ideas from it, some I was leaning towards and you pushed me over the edge.

    I am in the process of getting my first Podcast online. Exciting times these!

    I will definitely check out your book.

    Cheers!

    Phil

  2. Re: “Plan a marathon content creation session.”

    I need to do this. Heck, even a week will do. I have tons of articles in draft mode waiting to be finished/edited and published.

    • Sounds like you have the beginnings of lots of good stuff, Ricardo. Time to brew some coffee and get to work. ;-)

    • Ritika Rakshit (@ritikaaaaar) :

      Totally relate to this! Especially because by the time I’m done writing, I’m too tired to spend that extra time with promoting.

  3. Pamela, this is such a great article! It’s refreshingly straight-forward and applicable.

    I especially like your section on “offering levels of engagement”. It’s the element of my business that I’ve been working most to develop recently — I’m convinced its the secret to having a successful business online.

    Thanks for your thoughts.

  4. If you can sit down and keep going than a marathon writing session is always a good idea. Why stop when you are on a roll? It makes fighting through the slow times that much easier because you aren’t nearly as desperate for content.

  5. Pamela, I also started 3 years ago. I consider you a cousin in my journey.

    I’ve learned:

    1. No matter how much you plan, your customers will surprise you.

    I planned to serve mid-career professionals in the music and tv business. Who I attracted were students and aspiring types.

    I planned to talk about ‘personal branding” and I did. But my audience goes crazy over “networking” and “salary” tips.

    Lesson learned: it’s impossible to learn about your market until you start serving them. And content is a great way to get that feedback.

    2. Publishing content is emotionally taxing. I now understand what stand-up comedians go through. Comics and bloggers have to suffer through immediate feedback from an audience.

    I’ve gotten stuck many many times because of my sensitivity to feedback. And it’s not just haters! Admirers also through me into analysis paralysis, because I can’t quite understand how to recreate that positive experience for them.

    Lesson learned: use tricks (like advance planning and batching) to continue to make progress, even during emotional times.

    3. Serendipity multiplies with each piece of content. My website accounts for my last two full time gigs, and my last freelance position.

    I went from producing a cable TV show to working at marketing agencies. How? Why? The opportunities came from publishing content.

    Lesson learned: producing content increases your luck

  6. LOVE number 4! Writers, step down from the pulpit. This really resonated with me. I feel like in blogging it’s so easy to step up and start preaching away. You have a subject of expertise and you want to share it, but really, connecting with readers is the best way to do that.

  7. Pamela,

    This was a really timely post for me as I’m in the process of planning some webinars and was considering “breaking the rules” myself. I see that you’ve developed a system that compliments your business objectives (which should be the reason for using nay marketing tactic in the 1st place!) and works great for your ideal reader/client. I also liked the tip about batching. I’ve heard it before and really need to block some time to give a try. Like Ricardo, I have a bunch of articles that I need to finish!

  8. Whatever you’re doing Pamela, you’re doing it right. I have purchased and benefitted from all of your products.

    I do like the option of being able to listen to a replay of your Brown Bag webinars. As a small business owner, I can’t always arrange my schedule around a webinar. So it meets my needs (your customer) by having flexibility.

    This was a great article with very helpful information.

  9. My favorite on this list is ‘swimming against the tide.’ The experts out there are only going on their experience and expertise with their unique audience. What they do isn’t always the best for your audience.

  10. Batch writing is a huge one for me. I often go in and out of spells where it seems like I could write for ever. Then a day later the river runs dry. When I’m on, I try to write as much as I can and backlog my content. That way I always have something ready to go when I need to put something out.

    • I agree: it’s best to take advantage of inspiration when you’ve got it.

      (Although I find I get inspired when I know I have a deadline to hit ;-) )

  11. Multiple forms appeal to a wider audience. Some enjoy audio, written, videos and such. Depends on when they find the info and if they have time to read or time to listen or watch. Mix it up!

  12. the brown bag webinar link doesn’t go anywhere.

  13. Hi Pam,

    I’ve been called out on occasion for being too Canadian – shy about trumpeting my stuff. Well, now I can say the same about you.

    Your article is really good, as are all your communications. You’re gifted. But what you don’t say, and you should, is that without the strategy you use, this simple “just write” idea will turn into concrete pylons blocking the road.

    Since I’ve known you I’ve learned that content marketing without a staff is really hard work and every decision has consequences; ones that, if not made carefully, will create a ton of work.

    I like to think I’m smart enough to figure stuff out, but I know it takes your expertise to pull all the thought bubbles down, keep them alive, and fill them with just enough stuff that they become sales rather than pylons.

    You’re really talented at helping turning ideas into reality and if you won’t blow your horn, I will. You’re a find and I’m glad to know you.

    Here’s to your success!
    David

  14. Archan Mehta :

    Pamela,

    Your post resonated with me: it really did, so thanks for your contribution here.

    Since you asked, on my learning journey I have discovered that individuals tend to have different styles of learnine.

    For example, Michael Jordan and Tiger Woods and Kobe Bryant are Kinesthetic, so they learn best by moving their bodies.

    On the other hand, Albert Einstein could play with the images in his mind’s eye, which made him a great visual learner.

    I tend to learn best by reading texts, which is why I did well in school. Our education system tends to reward people like me, like it or not.

    Other individuals learn best through the use of their hands, like sculptors and painters…Pablo Picasso comes to mind, although scholastically he was quite a mediocre student.

    We need to be adaptable and flexible enough to accomodate individual differences and need to be more sensitive towards those who do not fit the normative standards.

    There are millions of examples of high school drop-outs who eventually made their marks in life. Not everybody is cut from the same cloth.

    Success is not only for those who are great test takers: we need to move beyond standardized tests and target those who are different.

  15. Great advice. I especially like the idea of 30-minute brown-bag webinars. It seems so many of us are too tied to the 1-hour format.

    One thing that’s working for our content creation is short brainstorming sprints, where 2-3 of us get together and come up with as many content/topic ideas we can. If a few people from different parts of the company get together, it’s often easy to come up with new ideas.

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts!

    • I love the idea of brainstorming in a group!

      And for those of us who operate solo, we can use our mastermind groups and social media pages to bat around post ideas and get feedback.

  16. Hi Pamela. Nice article!

    I am just starting out and am unpleasantly surprised at how s-l-o-w I write. I’m trying to be kind when evaluating, but sheesh, at this rate I’ll either have a blog or a life, but not both! I’m going to give batch writing a try, for sure.

    I love point 5. There are so many great people out there who are so generous with their information for what has worked for them. I’m definitely soaking it up like a sponge. But every once in a while I think of something I want to take another way, but I’m too chicken to go against what everybody else preaches! Your post has given me a reason to be brave. Thank you!

    • It’s all about knowing your audience, Melissa. Experts give advice, but — as you say — it’s often based on personal experience. What works for them isn’t necessarily what will work for you.

      Batch writing works great, and I highly recommend mindmapping software, too. There’s something magical about being able to dump a bunch of ideas and concepts into a mindmap, and then rearrange and expand on them until it all makes sense.

      That’s how this post was written!

  17. Hi Pamela,

    Fantastic, Informative article… ‘batch write when you can’ to spend time promoting later, that’s pure gold.. for someone like me who leaves things to the last minute ..

    nervous about video and webinars but you’re right, its important

    thanks so much, gonna check your your brown bags :)

    warm thanks,
    Caroline

  18. Great post, Pamela. As a brand new blogger, these are exactly the kind of tips that I love to read. Real-life examples of things people have learned when they started out.

    I love to batch-post as well, and that really works for me trying to publish content while working a full time job.

    I really like your idea about planning things out months in advance. When I sit down to write and think, “Gee, what should I write about today,” it’s always difficult to get started. Thanks for the tips!

  19. Ok Pamela, you’ve inspired me. Last night I started working on my new blogging strategy for my new site, and I was going through a little bit of analysis paralysis. Your post has spurred me to launch it THIS WEEK. Thanks Pamela!

  20. Thank you Pamela. I write for a living and am always looking for tips on how to improve my output. I have read about batching before, but your precise presentation of how to combine it with a quarterly plan brought it home.

  21. One of the things I do is to create a video weekly series – short topics but a new one each week.

    For our Video Marketing business – I do Video Marketing Minute

    For another site, I do Lessons From My Grandson on the website of the same name.

    Search YouTube and we rank highly. Follow our blog, and a story unfurls.

    And batching: OH, yes… batching. I do at least 6 at a time and then schedule them for release on set days during the week. Allows me to focus on the work I do and then get it out to the world.

    Pretty easy to do that way!

    Charlie Seymour Jr
    one of the Video Marketing Guys at DrMarcAndCharlie.com
    the granddad at LessonsFromMyGrandson.com

    • Thanks for this, Charlie. I’m a big proponent of batching everything: writing, filming, image creation.

      The video series I have up right now is filmed one right after the other, so I can set up lights, camera and teleprompter once, and just run with filming. It’s so much easier than trying to tackle them one at a time.

      • As I mentioned, I batch too… at least 6 of my episodes at once.

        To make things even easier, I have two “bumpers” already produced – the opening and closing are already set for each of these series. I just edit the middle, put add the bumpers (think bumpers on a car, to get the idea), render, and upload.

        And we have a TV studio in my lower level. Green screen, blue screen, black screen, bookshelf, seating area, table and chairs, etc. Lights are always there and the tripod is set. All I need to do is add one of our several cameras and hit record.

        As you and I know… the easier it is to DO, the more often we’ll actually do it!

        Charlie Seymour Jr

        • I’d love-love-love to have a space that was permanently set aside for video. Maybe in my next place. ;-)

          • I agree… we are blessed – our kids have moved out, I had a lower level that neither my wife nor I went down into very often, and I finally one day decided to set up the studio.

            And I’ve never looked back!

            Charlie Seymour Jr

  22. Great post!

    I really like #2, and I’ve been doing it sort of intuitively as of late. I’ve found that I have spurts of extreme productivity and great writing, and then it slows down. Lately, I’ve been trying to take as much advantage of this productive period and get as much writing in as possible.

    Thanks for all of the awesome tips.

    Jake Johnson

  23. Scott Finkle :

    Thanks, Pamela. This is great advice. Looking forward to trying all seven suggestions.

  24. Thanks for the encouragement and ideas Pamela! Easy to get overwhelmed by all the options and this is a nice simple outline for action. Great work!

  25. I agree! Especially on your last point. There are people who don’t read blogs but do watch videos.

  26. Good post Pamela. I like the idea of batch writing the best. I struggle to be consistent with my content curation. This would help me get it done.

  27. I’ve honestly read hundreds, if not a thousand articles already about what to do, how to do things with content creation.

    What I admire the most are the articles written by experienced bloggers because I know that whatever they’re going to teach has been tested and proven. This, is one of them.

    Your points may not work for everybody, but at least I know for sure that it worked for you and that maybe if I incorporate them, I’ll benefit from it too.

    Thanks, Pamela! Learned a lot. Well written. :)

  28. Pamela, thanks a lot for your wisdom. I particularly liked Nr.3: “Offer levels of engagement”

  29. This is all excellent advice. I’m suffering from some serious stage fright when I look at the idea of making videos, even though under different circumstances I have no problem with public speaking.

    Can you recommend any ideas to overcome this?

    • I’m not an expert by any stretch, but the same attitude I adopted when it came time to start blogging is working with video. That is:

      1. Just start somewhere, and count on getting better at it as you go along.

      Keep in mind:

      2. Make your videos short: they’re easier to produce, and more people will stick with them until the end.

      3. Try not to compare your efforts to people who have been doing video for years. They started somewhere, too.

      Plan out some topics ahead of time so you’re not fishing around for what to say.

      Good luck, Maureen!

    • Maureen,

      Hey, it’s Charlie (my comments are a few ahead of yours).

      Here’s what WE teach people when it comes to making videos when they are on camera – start small.

      Think what it’s like to be at a neighborhood BBQ – you probably don’t have any problem talking with someone new. And since you’re good at speaking, you’ve already figured out what to say and how to say it.

      So think that you’re speaking to ONE person (like at the BBQ), assume a question that was just asked of you, and give the answer into the camera – either looking directly into the camera (as if you’re talking directly to one person) OR slightly off to the side of the camera (like you’re speaking to an interviewer who just asked you a question.

      We recorded a “here’s how you do it” near the middle of our presentation at AWeber (when Dr. Marc and I spoke there last month). If you want to see that whole presentation (and perhaps fast forward to watch Cynthia – who won a short contest with audience members – present herself on camera, here’s the link: http://DrMarcAndCharlie.com/aweber-presentation-how-to-turn-your-video-marketing-on-its-head-to-power-your-profits/

      AND REMEMBER: if you don’t like what you see when you record a short video, THROW IT AWAY! It’s digital – only 1s and 0s. Start over until you get what you like!

      Charlie Seymour Jr

  30. First of all, great post PAMELA. The seven steps clearly gives the content marketer how to build a thriving blog or market their small business.

    The seventh idea where you tell “Present your ideas in more than one format” is something I will consider in the coming weeks. Started with the eBooks and the response rate to get the emails are fantastic.

    Also what I have realized is before writing, doing your own Keyword Analysis to see the demand for that particular keyword phrase gives the perfect idea to produce content that ranks well.

    In my personal experience, when I search for something I want to read and wasn’t happy with the answers I’m getting, I use that keyword to write content and share with my audience and social media networks.

    Thanks for your 7 points and just loved reading it during the lunch break.

  31. I too have learned to plan my posts and create batch posts. It hasn’t been easy and some days I struggle with this strategy. I either create blog posts, or open a blank WP post and list my idea. I choose the top three or five and leave the rest; I can always tweak headlines later.

    Planning and batching can be challenging, but I know my readers and I will be better for it.

  32. This is a very helpful article. I think I may disagree only with #3, and I only started to disagree very recently. The content marketing approach that we have recommended to our clients up until now has taken the approach you suggest — 1) Convince with top tier awareness content 2) obtain email in exchange for value 3) eventually convert with sales pitch.
    While I think that this approach might work eventually, I also think that it is such a long route to a sale that it can lead to a lot of slippage — and may forever keep content marketing in the “exploratory” or “branding” budget area, and not let it compete for dollars with more demand focused channels like search.
    Recently, I have seen a few brilliant examples of content marketing that follow a different pattern: 1) top of funnel awareness content with 2) A call to action– not to an email, but instead to mid-funnel demand generating content–highlighting a common customer problem 3) which then leads to a sale, or a value exchange. For example, check out carryology, (Top of funnel) which leads to the fat wallet article (mid funnel) which then leads to a sale. I think this is going to be the new state of the art in CM, at least for ecommerce.
    (I have no relationship with any of these brands)

  33. Great tips. A lot of times, I feel like my creative juices are just flowing, so I can write like 5 posts a day and schedule them ahead of time on my blog. It’s great cuz sometimes I’m just not in the mood to blog.

  34. Some really good tips here thanks. It can be quite daunting coming up with fresh and new content all the time but with a bit of forethought and planning it can become a lot easier.

    Each point has its merits but the batch writing particularly resonates with me right now, I’ve been doing exactly that all day! It’s a bit of a chore, for sure, but it’s also a great feeling to have lots of content prepared and ready to roll out.

  35. Every one of those reasons is why I consider you one of my favorite mentors!

  36. Excellent article, Pamela. You’re definitely thinking out of the box. It’s more than just content production… it’s what you do with it afterwards in order to get a response. Great article.