10 ways to streamline content creation - The Collative
Content creation

10 ways to streamline content creation

Whenever I speak to creatives about their content challenges, most of our conversations centre around one of two things:

  • I don’t know what to create content about
  • I don’t have time to create content

Of course, the first step towards solving both of these problems is to get a clear picture of who your target audience is and what the purpose of your content will be. Without this strategy underpinning everything you do, it’s easy to feel overwhelmed and unsure about what to prioritise.

But I also know there are lots of you out there who already know who you want to reach and what you want to achieve, but still feel overwhelmed by the content creation process itself.

I get it. I’ve just had a four-month blogging break myself, so I really get it! You don’t want to create half-hearted stuff, so you tell yourself you’ll hold off until you’ve got some real time and space to devote to it. Problem is, that so rarely happens.

Carving out space for content creation in your schedule (and guarding it as you would any other appointment) is a good first step. But you can also learn to think like a journalist when it comes to your content planning – and that’s where today’s post comes in. Here, I’m sharing 10 ideas for streamlining your process that can help you create great content even when you’re completely swamped.

Here are 10 content tips and ideas for the freelancer who never has time to blog…

1. Regular features

Most established publications have some form of regular feature that runs every week or month. This might be a specific type of interview or another type of feature that follows the same format each time (an ‘ask the experts’ column, for example).

No matter what medium you’re creating for, establishing some type of regular feature gives you a template to work from each time and saves you time when creating this content going forwards.

Regular features can also save you time and stress in the content planning stage and make the process a bit less daunting. When you start with these in your content calendar, you have a solid framework to build on and can think about how to fill in the gaps, perhaps with longer pieces around your cornerstone content areas (see below) depending on what your business needs that month. So long as the content is something relevant and valuable to your ideal reader, regular features can also help you set expectations and build a loyal following of people who look forward to these pieces.

2. Q&A interviews

As a journalist, you’re taught that face-to-face interviews are always best. Over the phone if that’s not possible. So much is communicated through body language, and when you’re having a conversation with someone you can also pick up on things they say and potentially uncover great stories you couldn’t have foreseen.

But the reality is there isn’t always time for the transcribing, writing or editing process that goes along with this type of interview. So far, for this blog I’ve done all my interviews via email. You can still produce a great interview via email by picking people with interesting stories to tell and asking the right questions. In particular, be sure to ask open-ended questions (which can’t be answered with a simple ‘yes’ or ‘no’), which tend to start with ‘who’, ‘what’, ‘where’, ‘why’, ‘how’ or ‘when’.

Ask open-ended questions (which can’t be answered with a simple ‘yes’ or ‘no’), which tend to start with ‘who’, ‘what’, ‘where’, ‘why’, ‘how’ or ‘when’.

Q&As can be a great way to build relationships with others in your space, and can also give you lots of original content that you can then repurpose in different ways. For example, I’m planning a new interview series at the moment and while some of the questions will be tailored to each individual, I’m intentionally asking certain questions to everyone so that I can collate the responses into a round-up post later down the line. I’ll also be pulling out strong quotes to turn into graphics on Instagram, and may even collate some of the best interviews into an e-book.

3. Round-ups

When done well, round-ups can be one of the most efficient ways to create original and valuable content. For example, you could pose a question to your Twitter or Facebook followers and then collate the best responses into a blog post or mini podcast. Or you could email specific people who have experience in a certain area with the same question(s) and round up their answers.

If you use Twitter for all or some of this, you could even embed the tweets within a blog post. This has the added bonus of enabling people to share that tweet or follow the account in question directly from your blog, as well as showing new readers that people are engaging with your brand. This can also be a nice way to give back to your followers by promoting them, which will work especially well if you serve other businesses or bloggers.

However, this type of post can work in the B2C (business to consumer) space too, particularly if you think more broadly about the sort of helpful content your readers will be looking for or interested in. For example, if you’re a wedding photographer who’s mostly booked by brides-to-be, you could ask your followers, former clients or even married friends for one thing they wish they’d known before the big day and create a round-up of their responses.

4. Submissions and user-generated content

I haven’t introduced submissions on The Collative but this is something I have implemented in publications I’ve worked for in the past. If you’re really intentional about it, you could even automate some of the types of content we’ve already mentioned.

For example, at Startups.co.uk the ‘Just Started’ Q&A is partly automated. Any new entrepreneur who’s started a business in the past three months can fill out their profile using a form and send over an accompanying image. The team can then edit and put together the profiles relatively quickly.

If you’re thinking of introducing submissions, my best advice would be to keep it as simple as possible to get involved. You could use a form service such as Typeform to collect the content, a collaboration tool such as Google Docs or have people email you what you need.

Either way, be clear about what you’re looking for and stress that you may not use every submission. Also, give clear guidelines about image size/quality and any other requirements, such as whether the content has to be exclusive. You also need to be sure that the content will really add value to your audience, will help you achieve your goals and won’t become too much of a time drain.

When asking for submissions, be clear about what you’re looking for and stress that you may not use every submission. Also, give clear guidelines about image size/quality and any other requirements, such as whether the content has to be exclusive.

5. Guest content

If you’re struggling to find time to create content, what better way to solve this than by getting other awesome people to create it for you!?

While most of us will naturally think of guest blogging, this type of content doesn’t have to be limited to the written word. Nathalie Lussier’s Off the Charts podcast is a great example of how this type of content can work in audio format. Nathalie invites different entrepreneurs and business leaders onto her show to share the one thing that has taken their own business growth off the charts – rather than a back and forth interview format, she invites guests to share 5-10 minute monologues.

When thinking of guest content, I tend to focus on two specific areas: people who generally have interesting stories that my audience would want to hear more about, and people who specialise in areas that I’m not an expert in, which are still relevant to my audience and goals. So for example, if I were introducing guest posts for The Collative, I might reach out to a sales expert or lawyer to offer an expert level of advice for freelancers in areas where my knowledge is a lot more general.

6. Repurposing

Be intentional with your content planning to make the stuff you do create go way further. For example, when I’m editing an article, I go through and pull out a few strong quotes that I can use later to trail the post on social media (usually as tweets or graphics for Instagram) and add them to the bottom of the post.

I look for quotes that are intriguing but will work well on a standalone basis (ie, not clickbaity!). In other words, I want the quote itself to offer something useful or inspiring, but also to be clear that there’s more to read in the article.

You could create an Instagram tips series and then collate the posts that got the most engagement into a round-up blog post or podcast (or expand on these topics in meatier posts). Or you could repurpose some of your best email content into a PDF for new subscribers.

You can check out a few specific examples in this post on how to repurpose content for Twitter.

But there are all sorts of other ways you can repurpose your content to see what works best and make the most of it. You could create an Instagram tips series and then collate the posts that got the most engagement into a round-up blog post or podcast (or expand on these topics in meatier posts). Or you could repurpose some of your best email content into a PDF for new subscribers.

It always pays to keep the big picture in mind when you’re planning your content; after all, you want to maximise the time and effort you put into all the awesome stuff you create!

7. Templates and style guides

Templates and style guides can also go a long way towards streamlining your content creation process.

Creating standards, templates and guidelines to determine how you’ll style, format and treat different types of images and content does require additional work upfront, but can save you so much time and energy in the long run.

It can also help you to: make a cohesive, professional impression; make your content more recognisable and easier to navigate; and maintain consistency and quality standards as your business grows, particularly if you begin to outsource any content creation to employees or freelancers.

8. Scheduling and automation

If you were baking cookies, you wouldn’t make them one at a time. You’d end up needlessly replicating parts of the process and taking a whole lot longer than you had to. Likewise, working on similar tasks in batches is a proven time management strategy, and if you’re looking to systemise and streamline content creation, scheduling can help you work a whole lot more efficiently.

There are a number of tools that can help with this. For example, I use Pocket to bookmark useful articles I come across on the web to read or share later, and Buffer to schedule a whole bunch of tweets in one go. This helps me to maintain a presence on Twitter throughout the day without having to keep interrupting what I’m doing to tweet live.

Another benefit of these tools is that most have built-in analytics which help you monitor levels of engagement with your posts (likes, comments and shares) which can help you to improve your content strategy.

You may also want to set aside blocks of time for creating and pre-scheduling content in batches – whether writing blog posts or recording video or audio content.

9. Cornerstone content and themes

Choosing monthly/quarterly themes to base your content around, which relate to the core topics you’ve chosen, can also help you to feel more focused and clear when it comes to creating your content.

If taking this approach, think about your cornerstone content – the key areas where you can really show your expertise, which your ideal audience will be most interested in and that you want to be known for as a creative.

Choosing monthly/quarterly themes to base your content around, which relate to the core topics you’ve chosen, can also help you to feel more focused and clear when it comes to creating your content.

Choose a topic and keyword/phrase that’s central to your audience and expertise. Think about and research what people would search for on Google (you can use the Google Keyword tool for inspiration) but don’t sacrifice legibility and clarity for search-ability. Also think about the messaging/wording you want to reinforce and you want your brand to become associated with.

Once you’ve decided on this topic, break it down into smaller chunks and create deep-dive pieces in each of these areas. Then, voilà! That’s your content planned out for the next month/quarter! At the end of this period, create a page/post which provides a great overview of the topic as a whole, with links out to all the different posts you’ve created.

Copyblogger recently published a great beginner’s guide to cornerstone content that’s also well worth checking out.

10. Curation

Finally, think about whether there’s scope to add value as a curator for your audience. In a world where content is everywhere, there can certainly be value in an expert editor uncovering the signal in the noise and sharing the best tools, resources, articles, tips etc that will be most helpful or inspiring for your audience (ie, you’ve done the legwork so they don’t have to!).

To date, my second most popular post on this site is a curated post: 30 of the best free fonts on the web.

However, while this wasn’t so much the case back then, the biggest downside to this type of content today is that it’s now all over the web and thus more difficult to make an impact. If you’re thinking of using this approach, taking some time to come up with something fresh could be well worth the effort.

With this type of content, also be mindful of how/whether you repost other people’s stuff. Don’t republish images or big chunks of text without the copyright owner’s permission and always make sure you properly credit and link back to the original source.

Alternatively, you could check out curation tools such as Storify, which enable you to pull together stories using tweets/social media posts, links and other content on the web, as well as your own images and text. Storify is particularly useful for creating content around events or a specific topic or hashtag.

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4 Comments

  • Reply
    Julia Dent
    February 23, 2016 at 3:06 pm

    I’m a new blogger, so this is super helpful! Thanks! 🙂

    -Julia
    https://www.bloglovin.com/blogs/philly-with-a-fjallraven-14621583

    • Reply
      Steph Welstead
      February 25, 2016 at 3:45 pm

      Hi Julia, thanks so much for commenting and I’m so glad you found it useful. Best of luck with the new blog! 🙂

  • Reply
    Mia & Court B
    February 28, 2016 at 2:12 am

    Also very new to the blogging world.. Gained some really good tips and love your down to earth vibe. Thanks for sharing!
    – Uninhibited (www.uninhibited.co)

    • Reply
      Steph Welstead
      March 4, 2016 at 5:31 pm

      That’s such a lovely thing to say, thank you so much and I’m so glad to hear you found it useful. Just checked out your blog and love the vision behind it – best of luck with it! 🙂

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