In Part 1 of the series, we looked at The Why of small business blogging. This post will help you with The What. What on earth do you blog about week in, week out?
Coming up with ideas isn’t as hard as you think. And, having ideas waiting for you each week makes the writing part easier too.
Let’s look at how you start building a long-term asset for your business.
This post is the second in a series looking at how you can effectively plan out your blog posts. The series will cover:
Part 1: The Why - be clear about the benefits and why you are investing the time.
Part 2: The What - how to come up with themes and ideas for your blog content.
Part 3: The When - creating a simple editorial calendar so you can transfer your content ideas into an actionable, manageable plan.
PART 2: THE WHAT
What are you going to write about? Week after week, all year long!
Before you change your mind about blogging and run for the hills, go back to your small-business plan. Blogging must link to your overall strategy and purpose.
Blogging cannot be a standalone activity. If it is, you’re wasting your precious time and resources. Take a look at Part 1 to be clear in your mind why you blog.
We know inbound marketing helps us build and nurture relationships with potential and existing customers.
You're going to use your blog to show people why they should buy from you. Not by hard selling to them, but by demonstrating through blog posts that you know your stuff.
COLLECTING BLOG POST IDEAS
Having somewhere to store ideas from the start is essential. You’ll keep a running list and once you get started, you might be surprised at how many ideas you have.
As ideas often do, they'll pop into your mind at the most inconvenient times. We tend to think of ideas when our brains are busy doing something else. The wonders of the subconscious mind!
If you’re out and about a lot, a note or dictation app is the way to go. Make sure you collate these ideas centrally when you get home, in something like a spreadsheet or document, or an organisational app like Evernote or Asana.
Knowing there's a list of ideas waiting for you can really help reduce overwhelm and, dare I say, make content creation an enjoyable activity.
WHAT TO WRITE ABOUT
1. CHOOSE YOUR CATEGORIES
What categories will you cover? If you have a blog, you’re probably already working with categories. If you feel your current categories have become unwieldy, or your content has evolved over time, this may be an opportunity to review them.
If you're just starting a blog, you have the advantage of starting with a clean slate.
Aim for no more than 4 or 5. That might not sound like many, but you're aiming for a few broad categories at this stage. Don’t try to be too specific or cryptic. You want categories that are easily understood and say exactly what they cover in a simple (and, therefore, SEO-friendly) way.
If you’re not sure what to include, take a look at successful blogs in your niche for inspiration. Look for ones that have been blogging regularly for a few years. They'll have honed their categories and found what works.
Take action: List 4 Categories that cover your small business niche, thinking from a customer viewpoint.
Example: If you own a hair salon, you could choose Hair Care, Hair Styling, Product Reviews and Special Occasions.
2. ADD THEMES
These categories can be further divided into sub-categories or themes.
The broad categories will help your reader navigate your site. The themes will help you come up with ideas for blog posts.
Come up with as many themes for each of your categories as you can. You’ll add to this as you come across ideas in your workday. So, don’t worry if you struggle to come up with more than a few for each.
If you have 4 categories and just 4 themes for each one, that’s already 16 areas to write about. Writing a blog post a week, these ideas will cover you for around three months!
Each theme will have multiple blog post ideas (see below). You can see how quickly idea generation can multiply from a few, niche-specific categories.
Take action: Come up with 4 Themes for each of your 4 Categories.
Example: In our hair salon example, Hair Styling might be broken down into Long Hair, Short Hair, Straightening, Curling, Celebrity Styles, Trending Styles, Work Styles, 50+, Men, Women, etc. Hair Products might be broken down into Straighteners, Hair Dryers, Colourants, Treatments, Shampoos, Accessories, etc.
3. CREATE BLOG POST IDEAS
Now it’s time to get to the actual blog post ideas. You should be looking at a list of 4 Categories, each with 4 Themes, so a total of 16.
At this point, you're not writing perfect headlines - that's a skill in and of itself. You need to simply write down ideas for each theme.
Blog post ideas might turn into one post, a series of posts or be a sub-theme with endless post possibilities. In the Hair Salon example:
Updo could be a series of tutorials with each post demonstrating one style.
Quick Styles could be a list post and then a number of individual more detailed posts, one for each style.
Trending or Celebrity Styles could be, well, a never-ending supply of posts really. Ideas like this are great for a regular feature.
Are you starting to see how easy it is to come up with ideas?
The great thing about using Categories and then Themes is that your content is focussed on your small business niche and your customer needs, not wandering all over the place.
Do you feel that limiting your Categories will limit your post ideas? It might feel counterintuitive, but it actually has the opposite effect. There is such as thing as too much choice. If you can write about anything, you’ll find you write about nothing. You don’t know where to start and overwhelm sets in.
Take action: Write down 1 or 2 ideas for each of your 16 themes. If you find this easy, keep writing until you run out of ideas! Just 2 ideas for each theme will give you content for 6 months.
Example: If we take the Work Styles Theme from our Hair Styling Category, we might think of Quick Styles When You’re in a Rush, Smart and Easy Styles, Tips for Interviews, Updo Tutorials that Don’t Take Forever, Low Maintenance Cuts for busy Women, etc.
4. HIGHLIGHT EVERGREEN & RECYCLABLE IDEAS
Evergreen posts are one that don’t date quickly. They're a good foundation for any blog and will send you traffic long into the future.
The nature of your small business might mean that you're news focussed, so a lot of your content has a short shelf life.
Think about the questions you get from your customer time and time again. These often make great posts that will stand the test of time. If you've been asked these questions a hundred times, you can guarantee you'll be asked again!
As you look through your Categories and Themes with evergreen content in mind, you’ll find you start having even more ideas. If they are vague, jot them down anyway. I find many of my blog ideas are broad or vague but, when I plan them out, turn in to two or three blog specific posts.
Recycling posts, say annually to coincide with a seasonal event, is a great way to get free posts!
You have to write the posts once but, with a little updating each year, they can be republished indefinitely.
I find recycling useful with posts on social media, for example. Social media refuses to stand still and, as such, posts about social media need regularly updating.
The key to recycling posts is to make sure there is a need to update it and that you add real, additional value for those that may have read it before.
Take action: Look through the list of blog posts ideas you came up with in Step 3 and highlight any that have evergreen or recyclable potential.
Example: Although trends come and go, there're plenty of opportunity for Evergreen content with our Hair Salon. Keeping your hair in good condition between cuts, choosing a style to suit your face shape, etc. For Recycling, you could have a post you update every November with the latest trends ready for the party season. Have a few tried-and-tested styles, and add one new one each year.
So, I’m hoping you're now sitting there with 3-6 months of weekly blog post ideas in front of you.
You'll find some categories easier than others, that’s not a problem. If you find one category is enormous and another one has just a few post ideas, you may want to rethink your initial categories.
If you're struggling for ideas:
Do look at other’s in your niche and see what resonates with their audience in terms of comments and shares.
If you’ve been blogging for a while, go and delve into your blog stats and see what posts are winning the ratings war.
If you have a mailing list, you can simply ask followers what they struggle with or need help with.
Frequently asked questions are a mine of great blog post ideas. Think of questions you get asked regularly, no matter how basic them seem. If you work with others, ask your front-of-house staff or sales team for the questions they get asked.
You can also ‘spy’ on potential customers and see what questions they ask your competitors on social media.
Now you're awash with blog post ideas, we’ll be looking at creating a simple editorial calendar to keep your blog on track.