A thought-out and robust content production process is necessary to create any content, regardless of scale and scope.
If you don’t have a process to rely on, your content projects will be delayed, your publishing schedule may be ad-hoc and the content itself could be inconsistent and poorly executed. It also means the content won’t help you achieve any business goals or the needs of your audience, so any resources you’ve spent creating content are wasted.
If you’re a small (or one person) team, it may seem like you don’t need a process at all. But here’s the problem with that: without a process, there’s a chance your content isn’t serving its purpose.
Creating a process, collaboratively
By creating a solid content creation process it ensures that every person on your team knows:
- The goals they’re working towards
- Tasks they need to complete
- Time allocated for them
- Any due dates
- Other team members they depend on
- Where each piece of content lives
Before you try to scale and streamline your process, you first need to establish a solid process that will resist the challenges your team and business will go through.
To get started, you need to get your content team together and a way to document your process, like a whiteboard, a blank wall with post-its, a spreadsheet, or GatherContent.
You will create your content production process by defining each of the six factors involved:
- The goal
- The tasks
- The roles
- The order
- The timeline and due dates
- The content inventory
Let’s look at each of them in more detail and go through the actions you need to take for each factor.
If your content is not mapped to your business goals and audience needs, no process can help you move your business in the direction you want.
When each piece of your content has a defined goal, you have the power to measure its performance and optimise your future efforts. Knowing whether your content aims to increase your search rankings, brand awareness, lead generation or anything else of importance to your business helps you make an actual difference with this content.
How to do it: The best time to assign goals to each piece of your content is at the topic planning stage. Defining goals could also happen during a discovery or kick-off phase for website projects.
Planning your content topics in bulk is the most common and efficient way to define your content calendar for a quarter or even a whole year ahead.
For example, after you list 13 blog post topics for the first quarter of next year, use the space next to your topics column to add a goal for each topic. When you list all 13 goals, some of which will expectedly appear more than once, review your list and see if it aligns with the goals the business as a whole is trying to achieve.
If your overarching goal is to increase lead generation by 15%, but the majority of the goals you assigned to your topics are aimed at growing brand awareness, you will need to go back to your topic planning with this goal in mind.
This is also the reason why it’s valuable to plan at least a quarter ahead—it gives you a chance to review the effect your content will have on the big picture, and it gives you time to revisit and adjust your entire content marketing strategy based on that.
Not knowing the tasks involved in content production can delay and derail projects with content never getting published on time, or at all. When you set aside the time for writing and editing, but not for design and revisions, you will suddenly need extra time from others that simply may not be possible. This results in delays and lots of frustration.
How to do it: Your task here is to list every single action that needs to be performed for a piece of content to move from the brief to being approved and published.
Sounds simple (and obvious), but it’s easy to forget about certain steps, and particularly sub-steps. Go ahead and list everything that happens during your production process. And I do mean all of it!
A good approach here is to be as detailed as possible and not consolidate your tasks just yet. For example, list every single revision that needs to be done, like copy revision, headline revision, graphics revision, instead of simply listing general revision as a task.
Don’t forget stages like fact checking, proofreading, translation, or legal review, too. This ensures you don’t forget any of the smaller tasks that become a bottleneck in the process when forgotten.
This may result in a long list that seemingly made things worse instead of better, but the steps that follow after this one will help you refine the list and make it actionable.
Before that, check in once again with everyone involved and confirm no task is missing. When that’s done, you’re ready for the next step.
Each of the tasks should be assigned a person who is responsible for getting it done. If it isn’t, more than just your deadline is at risk as it becomes a ground for blame-shifting and unhealthy team relationships, which can carry long-term consequences.
How to do it: Go to your task list from the previous step and add a name next to each task. Make sure everyone involved is on the same page, and each team member agrees on the scope of their responsibilities.
If you find that there is more than one person responsible for a single task, look into it further and see if there are multiple subtasks you can break that task into.
This way, you’ll ensure there are no confusions as to who is in charge of which specific part of that task and reduce the chance for confusion.
The only situation that makes this step redundant is when you are the only person involved in the process. Even then, you shouldn’t skip any of the remaining steps.
If the order of tasks in your process is broken, you will have people waiting on each other to finish tasks, instead of maximising their time and working simultaneously whenever possible to shorten the production process.
How to do it: Go back to your task list and verify the position of each task.
For each of them, you need to ensure:
- No tasks before it depend on it, and
- It doesn’t depend on any of the tasks after it
Here is a simple example. Let’s say you have two people who look after all graphic elements for your content, but one of them sources photography and graphics, while the other edits them based on your brand guidelines. The task to edit the images should never come before sourcing the images; otherwise, one person will be wasting their time waiting for the other one to complete their task.
Another time-saving activity here is to look at your content production stages from a higher perspective and look for any tasks that can be done concurrently. For example, while your copy is still in its second revision, the person in charge of sourcing images can probably get started with their task.
The timeline and due dates
This is the final building block for an effective content production process. It’s what glues all the pieces we mentioned into a repeatable process defined by dates and milestones.
How to do it: There are two parts to this step, which I like to call ‘time to complete’ and ‘days before’ components.
Each of your tasks now have their owner and is positioned correctly. Work with each of the task owners to add the estimated time it takes for a specific task to be finished.
If this is your first time mapping out your production process, make sure to keep these times rounded up at first; for example, if you and the task owner believe it takes 45 minutes to complete a task, round it up to an hour.
This is also the best time to look into consolidating tasks and the time it takes to complete them. Obviously, you’ll only want to do this when multiple tasks are of similar nature and a single person is in charge of them. This will also give you a cleaner overview of the entire process and everyone involved.
The second part of this step is to map all the tasks backwards from your publish date.
For example, let’s say you want to publish a piece of content every Tuesday, and you want to have it in your CMS by Friday of the previous week. Working backwards may look something like this:
- Blog post goes live every Tuesday
- Schedule blog post for publishing in CMS: 4 days before, Friday
- Write and schedule social messages: 5 days before, Thursday
- Insert graphics into post: 7 days before, Tuesday
- Design header, body and social media graphics: 8 days before, Monday
- Second revision and final proofread: 11 days before, Friday
- First revision: 13 days before, Wednesday
- First draft: 15 days before, Monday
…and so on.
Work with everyone involved in the process to adjust this to what works best for them. By doing this, they will get a clear picture on what amount of time needs to be allocated for content production each week.
And the best thing about this is? The more you go through this process, the better you get. Over time, you may realise you can consolidate more tasks, coordinate roles that can work closely together to get something done faster, and allow for more time for reviews and quality checks to impact the value your content is bringing to your audience.
The content inventory
Content inventory responsibilities must be defined so you never misplace a piece of content. Just like responsibilities over tasks, each team member should be certain about their role in the content inventory.
How to do it: Most of the tasks you defined will come with a specific addition or a change to your content inventory.
For example, the person in charge of writing the first draft will create a document that will contain that draft. The person reviewing it will make changes to that same file. The person sourcing your images will share it with person in charge of editing those images. That person then needs to store the new graphics they create, which need to be accessed by the person that will upload them to CMS and write social updates for that piece of content.
So your action here is to assign a content inventory responsibility—if there is one associated with the task, of course—to each of the tasks. So if the task is “Write 10 headline versions: 11 days before, Friday”, you can add “Create a Headlines file in post’s folder” to it. The specifics will depend on whatever system you use to organise your files.
This way, no one will ever wonder why isn’t there a file available when they need it.
Wrapping it up
This 6-step process will get you on the path to creating high-quality content without delays, pushbacks, misunderstandings and frustrations.
Before you dive into these steps for your upcoming piece of content, the best place to start is to look at your most recent content and audit your actions that led up to it.
Take note of:
- Any delays that happened
- Anything that was put on hold because it depended on another team member
- The state of your content inventory and any fixes to it you had to make after publishing that content
- Any occasions where ownership over a task wasn’t clear
The list that comes out as a result is your set of weak spots. Now, set aside several hours with your team (or for yourself if you’re on your own) and go through the six steps with these weak spots in mind. Complete all the tasks and document everything you discuss.
And then, you’re ready to implement your new process for the first time and grow it into a challenge-resistant process.