Odds are you've been where I am now. Staring at a blank page, watching the cursor blink on and off with expectancy. Even if you love to write, building out a quality blog post when you've got a list of other to-dos and a set of meetings breaking up your day can be overwhelming.
In fact, it's the most common response we hear from companies about the difficulty of blogging. People understand the importance of blogging, but finding the time to do so on a consistent basis seems unimaginable. Still, according to The State of Inbound Marketing in 2012, 57 percent of companies acquired a customer from their business blog last year. Pretty impressive, eh? So let's see if we can't speed up this whole blogging thing so you can get more posts written in less time. Ready? Let's do it.
Block Out Time on Your Calendar
My best advice on blogging is to find a time of day that has been productive for you in past blogging efforts, and block that off on your schedule. My blog posts always come more easily when I start writing first thing in the morning. I arrive at work, grab some coffee, then find a quiet corner to write in. Alternately, you may find that the end of the day after you've pushed through much of your to-do list is better.
Whatever the timing, make it official by placing a block on your calendar in which you don't schedule any meetings or other activities during your blogging time. Give it a hard start and stop, too -- another HubSpot blogger is a fan of taking her laptop somewhere without a power cord, giving her only enough time to blog that her laptop battery allows. If you're having trouble getting the words out, however, don't let an unproductive post drag on all day; stop the post and come back to it during the next blogging time slot.
Start With a Solid & Specific Idea
No matter how poetic your prose (hey, alliteration! See how poetic blogging can be?), if your blog topic is too shallow or too broad, you'll find yourself struggling with it for hours. Good blog ideas are concrete. They answer a true dilemma, have several actionable tips or pieces of advice, and take some research to get right. Ideas for your blog are all around you, but you have to be paying attention.
- Seek out Unanswered Questions: To ensure that your readers come away with something tangible, it helps to address a common question. Quora, LinkedIn Answers, and Focus are all question & answer sites where you may be able to find a topic. Certain industries (e.g., contracting/home-improvement) have their own topic-specific forums, too. Write a response on your blog and then cross-post the answer in the forum.
- Perpetual Brainstorm: Use the quieter times of the day to brainstorm questions that you need addressed. You don't need to know the answer right away; in fact, sometimes a post is better if you start from scratch and take the time to research and share the answer. I think of blog posts on my ride into work and as questions from colleagues arise in meetings, then record these ideas so I can come back to them later when I have more time to write.
- Keep a Company Log: HubSpot uses our internal wiki to post ideas for blog posts. This is especially useful when our sales and services teams submit ideas based on the questions they're hearing from leads and customers. If you build up a bank of ideas for blog posts, the brainstorm process will take less time on future posts.
Build an Outline
I'm guessing outlines bring you back to your junior high-school days of essay writing. The value of building an outline for blog posts, however, is that it is often quicker to tackle your post in sections. In addition, writing your post based on an outline will ultimately create a more scannable, useable post for your reader. Without an outline, you could find yourself lost somewhere in paragraph four without a clear sense of what you've covered and where you're heading.
The key to making a good outline is setting concrete sections. Each section should have the following:
- Transition sentences at the beginning and end
- A posed question or issue that you'll be addressing
- A clear takeaway or set of takeaways.
Making an outline will help you ensure there are enough "guts" to your post to validate the time you're putting into it -- before you start writing. If the outline can't stand on its own, you may have a wandering post on your hands that will suck hours out of your day with no useful end product.
Even though it seems as though it would add time to a post, taking a few minutes to research can really help you give shape to your argument -- which typically means it's easier for you to formulate your thoughts and write them down quickly. The trick is to learn how to find the right supporting information, and find it quickly. Each of your posts should have at least a few of the following:
- Data Points to Support Your Argument: Data and statistics make any post better. When you're first researching, you can make finding these facts easier by starting your search at sites that are known for publishing or aggregating research. Marketing Sherpa and eConsultancy both publish a fair amount of reports on marketing and digital trends, for example, so we head on over there pretty often for stats. If you don't know what kind of report you need, a good place to start is Factbrowser, an aggregator of all sorts of facts and statistics. Factbrowser will help you search for data and find its original source to include in your blog post. (Disclaimer: I am close with the founders of Factbrowser so I'm a bit biased here, but it's a free tool so see what you think.)
- Other Articles to Link To: Linking to other articles on related topics helps you extend the value of your content and move along quickly from a given point without leaving your readers with a shortage of information. For example, this post by Unbounce has a a slew of other research tools you can find online. I couldn't possibly fit them all into this post, so linking to them provides readers with a route to more information if they need it.
- Additional Tools: Finally, if there are tools available to help your readers put your post to action, it's a good idea to make mention of them. I've always found Delicious and StumbleUpon helpful in finding blog ideas and researching my content.
Beyond making for a better post, adding research and data can help you quickly fill in the holes in your outline, and make a point in a few words instead of explaining it in five sentences. As you add supporting points, your post will begin to take shape and your role will shift to one of interpreting that data and connecting the dots between sections to make your larger argument.
Write in Islands
Want to know a secret? I actually wrote this paragraph first. It's a tactic called "writing in islands" that I first learned from novelist Mary Carol Moore. She advised, "Writing a book [or anything] from start-to-finish in a linear way risks getting you hung-up on a particular chapter or section and abandoning the whole thing."
- First, break the post up into different sections. This is where your outline really helps. Take a look at your outline and see which sections of it you are most prepared to write. For example, you may find that writing the introduction last gets your post done long before it would otherwise.
- Tackle each section as its own island. Write each section as a complete thought independent of the others but united by a theme. This will help you quickly move through each section of your outline.
- Finally, build bridges between the islands. As the takeaways for each section become clear, unite your islands with transition lines and internal references. When you write in islands, it's important to re-read your post to make sure that it all flows together well at the end.
Hire a Guest Writer
If you try all of these tactics and you're still having a hard time getting a couple of posts a week up on your blog, you may want to consider hiring a guest blogger to help carry the workload. There are a number of good guest blogging services in the HubSpot Marketplace. Maybe start by checking out Zerys to help you meet your blogging quota -- guest bloggers start at about $20 a post depending on their experience and specialization. Even if you hire a guest blogger, though, it pays to put a little time into getting the assignment and relationship right. There are some examples of guest blog instructions and hiring tips in this post.
Blog writing is integral to a good inbound marketing strategy. Time and again we see that the success stories of HubSpot attribute their achievements to keeping a consistent and high-quality blog. But I'd love to hear from you guys ... what tips do you rely on to speed up your content creation? Have any of you had good or bad experiences with guest bloggers? Let us know in the comments below!
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