On some days, time is on your side. Other days, it seems like it’s your worst enemy. When it comes to producing and promoting content, the key to corralling time is in your marketing workflow management.
Workflows aren’t always a top concern for small marketing departments. Most days are spent just trying to keep your head above water.
But part of the reason things may be so frantic is that your processes aren’t designed, documented and executed. There’s no go in your flow.
To help us catch that tiger by the tail, we’ve turned to Nathan Ellering at CoSchedule. Based in Fargo, North Dakota, CoSchedule has designed workflow software specifically for content marketers.
Why is building a good workflow so difficult for small marketing departments?
The Internet is full of advice for marketers on how to build a good workflow. The problem is the content is typically focused on big marketing departments, where strategists spend their entire days tweaking workflows.
You might not have that luxury, as small marketing teams are typically both the strategists and the implementers. It can be difficult to focus on workflows when you’re the worker. You usually follow a process in your head, or one that you and one your designer/writer share.
But there is always room for improvement — sometimes dramatic improvement. So let’s go with the flow and take note of our top 10 tips:
1. Reduce your work by 30-50% by detailing your process
Nathan shared with us a technique highlighted in the book High Output Management by Andrew S. Grove, a founder and CEO of Intel.
The idea is to methodically detail your entire process. That’s every single step — don’t sugar-coat anything. “Then you can look at every step in the process and ask ‘Hey, do we really need to do this?’” Ellering said.
From that point, you can modify your process and shave off the 30-50% of extraneous work in your workflow.
2. Be realistic about your workflow and set limits — especially with approvals
I used to work for a big company, and I recall them painstakingly developing a complicated approval process for projects. The lengthy process was always ignored, however, when a quick deadline came up.
Instead of an overly “optimistic” workflow, like the one I experienced at the big company, Ellering suggests that you “approach it as realistically as possible.”
For example, in the event of a quick deadline, how can your approval process work so you can get materials out the door as quickly as possible?
Pro Tip: One way to ensure the workflow stays on schedule is to give deadlines. “If you don’t approve in 3 days, we publish.” Let people in the process adjust their own workflow to meet your publishing timeline. Give them a deadline, otherwise your performance will suffer in the end!
3. Train people on their specific role in the workflow
Be specific about what needs to be done in a workflow to keep it moving. Let’s use the approval process as an example again.
When I send out an article for review, I tell the reviewer, “Make corrections right on the document (we use Google Docs). If there is a substantial rewrite, don’t bother rewriting large chunks. Contact me and I’ll handle the rewrite.”
I’ve had many articles sit with reviewers simply because they felt like they had to rewrite large chunks. If you’re the writer, that’s your job. Once people are aware of this, I’ve found the process moves much more quickly.
4. Talk about the big idea upfront, then trust your people to do the work
Ellering says if you “talk about the big ideas first,” then you can trust your people to do the work.
I’ve found it’s really important to get clarity on the intent of a blog post — especially how it relates to a client’s position in the marketplace — before you write it.
There’s nothing worse than writing a lengthy post, then discovering you need to rewrite it because it’s not aligned with the company’s approach. If you have that clear definition upfront, it allows you to create content without fear of major revision.
5. Look for the peaks and valleys in the workflow
One of the nice benefits of CoSchedule’s software is that it uncovers glitches in your workflow. The software can generate reports that show where you’re lagging.
That’s invaluable information, as it provides clear data that can help you avoid a potentially touchy situation.
Once again, I’ll use the approval process as an example. We had several people involved in a content approval process, including an owner of the company. Guess who was responsible for the bottleneck?
When we showed the owner how much time we were losing on approvals, the task was quickly delegated to another member of the team. Quantitative data will help you pinpoint specific “valleys” like these in the workflow, and remedy them quickly.
6. Plan for the train to run off the tracks
Ellering recommended planning a workflow that accounts for one or two events that will slow your process. Maybe someone is out of town on vacation, or perhaps there’s a big conference. Give yourself cushion in the process so you absorb these potential delays. Which leads us to…
7. Work at least one month ahead
I can’t stress this enough, especially with small marketing departments. Always keep yourself at least one month ahead of the publishing schedule.
We work on so many collaborative posts with outside influencers that delays are inevitable. If you’re ahead of the game, you won’t have to pressure these valuable experts — people you’re trying to build a good relationship with — because of your deadline.
I know a lot of bigger companies work several months ahead, which is great. I encourage that as well. That may be a little more difficult for smaller marketing departments, which are taxed enough with just publishing 1-2 times a month.
Pro Tip: If you have a post that is getting hung-up in the approval process, one simple way to keep your content fresh is to revisit an old post and improve it. Add more content, graphics, even an audio or video interview. Since the post was approved once, adding a bit more should make for an easy approval.
8. Focus on the 10X goals, not the typos
You’ve probably heard business experts espouse “attention to detail” as a key for success, but Ellering thinks otherwise. He adheres to Grant Cardone’s 10X Rule, in which you set big goals for yourself and focus mainly on those goals.
Ellering pointed to CoSchedule’s headline analyzer. It’s a free tool that scores your headline for SEO. It drives a ton of traffic to their site, and helped CoSchedule gain widespread exposure. That’s a 10X project.
If they get a report of a typo on a blog post, Ellering says they may ignore it if it’s minor, especially since it takes away from time that could be spent on the 10X project.
When you detail your own processes, think about the things you do and determine if those “typos” are taking you away from the bigger prize.
9. Automate or delegate where you can
One of the big drums content marketing gurus beat is the need to automate. Whether you’re relying on software or hired hands, find a way to get those busy jobs out to someone else. Or, if they’re not linked to the 10x goal, eliminate them.
One particular area you can automate is a reminder of a task. CoSchedule allows you to assign a task to someone, and set an automatic reminder for when the due date is approaching. For the overly busy person (that would be everyone), this can be invaluable.
10. Content always comes first!
The one critical element we emphasize is to always take care of the content creation first. My clients who get the best results are those who publish consistently. To ensure that happens, you must adjust your team workflow so the content always comes first.
I write content first thing in the morning, then handle other tasks the rest of the day. If you’re in the approval process, you should approve content first in the morning, and then move on to the rest of the day.
Content creation is like laundry. Put the laundry in, and then you can go and do other tasks while the machine is running. If you’re approving a blog post, take care of it immediately, so the rest of the content team can then attend to corrections or put it into production — then you can move on to other tasks.
Workflow strategy: Improving the workflow IS a workflow
One of the most refreshing ideas we learned from our conversation with Ellering is that there are so many different ways you can adjust workflows to improve them.
You can apply a marketing workflow tool like CoSchedule. You can adopt a methodology, like detailing your entire process and eliminating redundancies. You can embrace a philosophy, like the 10X Rule.
I’ll thus close by saying you should make workflow review a workflow unto itself — always revising it and improving it. Whether it’s an annual or a monthly effort, make it part of your overall workflow, and reap the benefits in the long run.
Find out how your content and conversion ranks with our interactive version of the Content Scorecard you can fill in yourself – no email required for download.