You’ve been putting it off for ages, haven’t you? I’ll bet even reading this article about creating a content calendar is making you sweat.

But, honestly, creating a content calendar is in your best interests. It may seem like hard work, but if you spend the time to create one now, you’ll reap the rewards in the future.

Once you have a calendar in place, it’s easier to ramp up content production. Want to start publishing two guest posts every week on top of your regular blogs? Not a problem. Need to double your content output? No problem — your content calendar has you covered.

Here’s everything you need to know about creating the kind of publishing schedules that agencies and big companies rely on.

Why a Calendar Is So Important for Your Content Team

Personal bloggers and small agencies can just about get away with not having a content calendar. Bigger companies and agencies that run campaigns for enterprise clients can’t, however.

Having that calendar takes away a lot of the daily stress that comes with creating great content, says Express Writers CEO Julia McCoy. When everything is planned in advance, including titles, keywords and publication dates, writers and editors don’t have to waste time scrabbling around for topic ideas. Instead, they can just open up their laptops, look at the content calendar and get to work.

A calendar also means everyone ends up singing from the same hymn sheet, writes Quuu COO and cofounder Matthew Spurr. “Using an editorial calendar means that everyone involved with the content creation process is fully informed about their objectives, important dates, and can see where their contribution fits into your overall content strategy.”

Ultimately, this gives your efforts the direction they need, writes Hinge’s Austin McNair. When everything is planned out in advance and everyone knows what they are doing, the work tends to get done — and done well.

Finally, a content calendar provides a big-picture view so you can make sure that any new initiatives, product releases of events get the coverage they need ahead of time.

two women look at a laptop; content calendar concept

Step 1: Create a Content Strategy

Why are you even bothering to do content marketing? I’m not being facetious. It is a serious question you need to answer before you can go any further.

Content marketing can be used to achieve a lot of business goals, from lead generation to customer service. By understanding which goals are important to you, you can start to develop a content strategy that addresses those goals. Without that goal alignment, you can’t have an editorial strategy, explains writer Nathan Thompson. It informs everything else.

Otherwise, as B2B marketer Dayana Mayfield writes, you’ll have a wealth of content but a dearth of meaningful results.

In our case, we use our client’s business goals to guide our content marketing strategy. Sometimes, clients will want to build awareness for their business or a feature of their product. Other times, they’ll have traffic or lead-generation goals in mind, and we’ll develop a strategy to achieve those.

At this point, we also consider how we can make our clients heard in an increasingly noisy online space. That means identifying very specific audiences and understanding what messages would be relevant for them.

Jodi Harris, the director of editorial content and curation at the Content Marketing Institute, recommends thinking about how you can differentiate your messages from those of your competition. “What unmet industry needs can be addressed with the content you create?” Harris writes. “What gaps exist in your current content creation efforts – or the efforts of your competitors? What industry events can you tie your content to for added exposure potential?”

Step 2: Use That Strategy to Create an Editorial Plan

You’ll need something to populate your calendar and ultimately write about. Enter content themes and topics.

“Every good editorial system is built on an organized, thoughtful foundation of categories and topics,” writes Jacob Warwick, CEO of Discover Podium. These give focus to your editorial team and ensure you are speaking directly to your target audience with a relevant message.

Categories are broad buckets that each of your topics will fall under. When creating them, think about the broad conversations the target audiences you identified in Step 1 would want to read about. Anywhere between three to six categories will be sufficient for most publishers.

Next, you’ll want to get your editorial team together and brainstorm every conceivable topic related to those categories that your target audience would want to read about. Think about their pain points, their desires and what the competition is publishing.

Make sure you consider where specific topics fit into your sales funnel, advises content strategist Maddy Osman. You’ll want to have content that reflects a broad range of intents, Osman says. This includes content for people just looking for information at the very top of the funnel down to those looking to make a purchase.

Note: At this point, you should also establish editorial guidelines for your blog or clients if you don’t already have them. This takes a bit of effort off the bat, but it makes things unbelievably easier when you’re publishing multiple pieces every week.

The more content you create, the harder it becomes to retain consistency, writes JotForm’s Chad Reid. A style guide will outline the particular writing style your content will adhere to, including things like tone, grammar and punctuation preferences. It doesn’t have to be set in stone, however. Reid and his team think of their style guide as a living document, something they are constantly adding to and editing. 

hand holding dozens of post-it notes; content calendar concept

Step 3: Create a Calendar and Flesh It Out

You now have everything you need to fill in your content calendar. Now, you’ve got to actually create the calendar. There are a lot of tools out there that can act as editorial calendars, but we run everything through Google Sheets. It’s cheap, everyone knows how to use it, and it works seamlessly with Google Docs, where we do all of our writing.

Even enterprise content calendars don’t need to be complex. At a minimum, however, we’d recommend creating columns for:

  • The topic
  • Who’s writing it
  • Related research and keywords
  • The due date
  • The date of publication

Give thought to how your team will interact with your calendar and design accordingly, writes Brian Dean at Backlinko. His team’s own calendar is designed specifically with collaboration in mind because so many people need to interact with a post before it goes live.

The clearer you can be and the more information you can provide, the better. For instance, Dean uses checkboxes so everyone can quickly see the various statuses of each article.

Step 4: Plan Ahead, But Be Ready to Roll With the Punches

Filling out your content calendar is not a one-time job. It’s something you and your editorial team will need to return to again and again.

Initially, you’ll want to fill out your calendar as far into the future as possible, advises Ben Sailer, inbound marketing director at CoSchedule. “That means allocating space for holidays, seasonal events, and other calendar items you know are going to crop up eventually.”

Going forward, you’ll want to set aside time to generate new topics, keep your calendar up-to-date and improve it where possible. Editorial meetings are great for this and can give you and your team a chance to reflect on your entire process.

Make sure you spend time discussing whether the calendar is still working for you, writes the team at Campaign Monitor. This isn’t limited to the calendar itself, although small tweaks can make it a lot more user-friendly. Reflect on whether your content is meeting the goals you outlined in Step 1 and whether changing the tone or style could improve it.

Get to Work

Follow this advice, and it shouldn’t be too difficult to create an enterprise-level content calendar.

Or don’t follow it. The truth is, while the strategy above works for us and the brands we’ve mentioned, there’s no such thing as the perfect content calendar. What works for one team may not work for another. The right content calendar for you is the one your team will use.

So, feel free to steal our ideas, but don’t be afraid to add your own flourishes, either.

Images by: Brooke Lark, Brooke Cagle, Kelly Sikkema