Of course, writing is hard. Making videos is hard. Doing a podcast is hard.
But for many of us, identifying what to write about, or make a video about, or discuss on our podcast is just as frustrating and daunting as the actual development of the content itself.
I struggle with this too.
Audience Axis is a relatively new venture for me, and providing helpful content is going to be critical in getting it noticed by the people I want to reach. My blog is a core component of my content strategy.
But it’s not always easy for me to stay focused and consistent when it comes to developing content, given all the other stuff I’ve got to accomplish in a given week.
Thankfully, with some help from a friend, I’ve developed a process that has been very effective for me in getting focused about topics, generating new ideas and keeping my writing plans organized.
It’s not only made it easier to determine what to write, but it’s made the whole process much more fun and less stressful.
Here’s how it works.
Step 1: Identify the problems you’re trying to help your audience solve
If I were to define my target audience as small business owners, it would be difficult to figure out what I should be writing about other than the ridiculously broad category of “small business”.
But if I consider the problems I’m trying to help small business owners solve, I can identify my target audience as struggling with one or more of these three issues:
- They don’t know who their ideal customers are
- They don’t know how to find and engage with the right prospects
- They don’t know how to shift their business to do only the work they really want to do
Since these three problems are the focus of what I’m trying to put out in the world, they should also be the backbone of the content I want to provide to reach and support small business owners struggling with these issues.
(By the way — if you haven’t clarified the problems your business is solving, you’re missing out on a mind-blowing way to define and grow your business with your ideal customers. I can help!)
Step 2: Pick a tag for each problem
This sounds like a dumb step, but at the urging of my friend and digital marketer Chris Lee I did this, and it’s made a world of difference.
I’ve chosen the following tags:
- Discovering who your ideal customers are: AUDIENCE
- Attracting the right prospects: ENGAGE
- Doing more of the work you love: WORK
Note that each tag is only a single word. This is important for some functions I’ll discuss later in the post.
These tags help me in a few different ways:
These three words are a simple guide to what I should be thinking about, writing about, choosing podcasts to target for interviews, etc.
If I think of a fun blog post topic but it doesn’t seem to fit into any of these areas, I add it to my “write about someday in a different venue” list. (Maybe for a personal blog, or another business initiative I haven’t thought of yet.)
Just having these words in front of me gives me ideas about for what to tackle in my blog. I can muddle one of these and come up with all kinds of questions that small business owners like me might have and how I might be able to help answer them.
In addition to my online to-do lists and calendars, I keep a paper planner (I love the Passion Planner) that helps me focus my efforts every day. I write these three words on each weekly page just to keep the juices flowing, and it’s amazing how glancing at them can stimulate a few blog post ideas I can add to my list.
One of the hardest things for me to do is sit down and start writing a post. I struggle with distractions, and if I have to go hunting for where I scribbled that great post idea last week, or to try and figure out what to write about before I can start writing, the chances are that it will be hours (if ever) before I actually begin the writing itself.
Armed with my three tags, however, and with the help of Ulysses (which I started using last month and just LOVE), this process becomes much more streamlined.
Step 3: Get your ideas organized
I’m using Ulysses to store my blog post ideas, to write the posts, to export them into my WordPress blog and to store completed posts. You could use another writing program like Scrivener if you prefer, or a storage program like Evernote, but I’m liking Ulysses — it isn’t overcomplicated for what I’m trying to do, the interface is clean and distraction-free with some nice functions like typewriter scrolling, and it’s easy to see my organizational structure and tags.
Set up topic groups
In Ulysses, I set up three topic groups, each with its one-word tag and the main objective of the problem I’m trying to solve:
- AUDIENCE: Discover ideal customers
- ENGAGE: Attract perfect prospects
- WORK: More work you want
Set up automatic filters to create collections of posts
Under each group, I have set up four different filters that will automatically collect posts together based on their group tag and the following completion states:
- To Write (These are ideas I have for posts, but that I haven’t started writing yet)
- Writing (These are posts that are in process, but not finished)
- To Post (These are posts that are finished, but haven’t been posted on my blog yet)
- Posted (These are posts that I’ve published on my blog)
Step 4: Tag posts
Every time I have a new post topic idea, I create a new sheet in Ulysses and tag it with the following:
- Which group tag applies (AUDIENCE, ENGAGE or WORK)
- Which complete state applies (To Write, Writing, To Post or Posted)
If you produce content with different access levels (such as free content available to anyone, content that will require an email address or content requiring a fee to access), you could also incorporate a tag for access level as well. (The different goals of different types of content was a HUGE revelation to me, thanks again to Chris Lee at PurpleCRM.)
Step 5: Fill ‘er up
Once I got this organizational system in place, the first thing I did was to go through all of my various stash places for blog ideas. I had some on my to-do list, I had others in an Evernote notebook, I had a few in an old Excel spreadsheet, and some in my notes app on my phone.
I looked at each idea and, if it fit into one of my three topic areas, I created a new sheet for it in Ulysses and tagged it appropriately. Some were just ideas, so those were tagged “to write” with the appropriate group topic tag. Others I’d started working on but hadn’t finished, so those were tagged “Writing”.
If a post idea didn’t seem to fit well in any of my group topics, I stashed it in an “Other Ideas” sheet in Ulysses for a different time.
Once I had collected all my post ideas and put them into my organizational system, I sat back and took a look at what I had.
It was very easy to see where there were holes — topics that had few post ideas, or those with nothing in process.
Knowing that I wanted to provide a balanced mix of posts across my three topics, I just dug around and picked one post for each topic that I wanted to write.
Step 6: Write
Since getting organized, knowing what to write about has been easy. I just pick the topic (I try to rotate pretty evenly between the three), and look in my “Writing” filter under that topic. If there’s nothing there, I have to find something in the “To Write” group and get started.
When I’m having a good week, I might even find something in the “To Post” category that I’ve already finished. Score!
I know that everything in those groups will be something that’s a fit for the particular topic I’ve chosen. I just need to sit down and start writing. Once I have, I change the tag on the post from “To Write” to “Writing”. When it’s finished, I change it to “To Post”.
(By the way, Ulysses has a really neato export option that hooks into my WordPress blog and automatically formats headers, subheads, bullets, links, etc. so I all need to do is add images and I’m ready to go! Really speeds up the process vs. the old copy-and-paste approach.)
BONUS Step 7: Make it easy for site visitors to find relevant posts
One of the great benefits of this tagging process is that I can make it very easy for visitors to my blog to find posts about a particular group topic.
By including the one-word tag in the URL of each post, I have been able to set up a link on my Resources page to a page that automatically collects all posts with that tag in the URL. It happens automatically, so I don’t have to do anything other than adding the tag to the URL when I’m preparing to publish the post. (And again, hat tip to Chris for this suggestion.)
All in all, this process has made my blog process so much more efficient, clear and motivating than ever before, and for the first time in years I’m publishing a post every week.
I hope it helps you too! I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments.
Read more about problem-based audience targeting and why it’s so powerful in helping you reach your ideal customers.