How Pre-Writing Improves Your Content Marketing

content marketing technique

Have you ever sat down to begin writing only to find that, after half an hour, you suddenly realise that you’ve gone off on a tangent? Then an hour goes by… and you’ve completely lost the plot and realise that you have to start again?

Or maybe you’ve ended up deleting vast swathes of text, because you’ve realised that the article is not reading how you wanted it to read?

Instead of the nice tight, concise article with a clear, take-home message that you were hoping for… you’ve ended up with a whole load of waffle that doesn’t really say anything specific!

Well, today I’m gifting you a easy to use template that cures these problems once and for all.

The Blog Post Prep Sheet is designed to prevent this from happening by giving the author (in this case that’s you) a clear plan—a blueprint of exactly what they’re about to sit down and write.

This process is not suitable for writing large documents or books. For those you’d need to use mind-mapping , Microsoft Word’s outline tool, or something similarly powerful to outline the structure of your document.

However for small articles, blog posts, press releases, and so on, the Blog Post Prep Sheet is really, really effective.

The Blog Post Prep Sheet is an internal document we use at Quandary (my content marketing agency) when we’re writing articles for clients, and it’s a critically important document that helps us save time and maintain high writing standards.

Here’s a quick explanation of each section on it…

1. Created on and by

The first, ‘created on’, box is where we post the date that the sheet was created on. This is really helpful because it means that we have a record of when things were actually started – if something is dragging on a bit, we can see how long it’s ‘been in development’, so to speak. The created ‘by’ refers to the name of the author – if you’re using this purely for yourself, you may decide not to use this box; but if you’re outsourcing, or writing for clients, then you’ll probably want to use this it.

2. Publishing on or by

For this section, you would tick one or the other box – you wouldn’t tick them both.

Basically, when you’re writing a blog post, if you want to pre-schedule it in WordPress, you can paste in an article and pre-publish it so it automatically appears on the blog on a certain date or time.

What this box allows you to do is to make a note of when the article is supposed to be written and when it is meant to be proof read, illustrated, and pre-scheduled.

So, the ‘publishing on or by’ establishes a deadline for when the article needs to be ready by.

Now, if you’re publishing on a specific date, then you tick the first box; if it needs to be published on or before a specific date, then you tick the second box and put the date and time in that box. Again, this is really helpful because—assuming you have the Blog Post Prep Sheet on your desk!—you can then see when the deadline is approaching; it helps to focus the mind on what needs to be done.

3. Client and Website

On the next row of the sheet you do what it ‘says on the tin’ and enter your client’s name ( if you’re writing for a client, that is). And if the article is to go on a specific website, the name of the website should be entered in the next column (after client). If you’re like Quandary in that your business has multiple websites then these boxes can be quite handy, because they help you to remember exactly which website you’re writing for.

4. Title of the blog post

This is a really important box and is where you need to make a note of the finished title of the article that you’re writing. This is yet another great memory aid – it helps you to keep track of exactly what you’re meant to be writing about (the content of the article); having the title already in there means that when you come to publish the article, you’re simply copying that title into your WordPress software.

5. Audience segment

Who are you actually writing the article for? In other words, who is your intended audience?This information needs to go in the ‘audience’ section.

Now, it may be that you’re writing an article that is aimed at everyone, or it may be that you’re writing an article that is intended only for potential clients.

If the latter is the case, then the purpose of your blog post would be to explain why the potential client should be doing something, in order to make them want to be doing something that relates to the service you’re selling.

If, on the other hand, the audience segment is an existing client, then the purpose of the article is to help the client achieve better results  with what they’re already getting from you.

Hopefully, you can now see why it can be really helpful to think about who your audience segment is and to enter this information on the Blog Post Prep Sheet.

6. Related products, service or lead generator

This really is one of the most important boxes on the sheet. This is where you need to write down what specific service, product, or asset you’re creating the blog post for; in other words, what does the article naturally lead the reader into wanting to buy or use, or download from the lead site (if it’s a lead generator)?

So, for example, if you have a free gift that you give away on your website, then the purpose of your blog post might be to tease the client into wanting to download the free gift, which involves volunteering information such as their name and email address.

The blog post could be a publicly available article—one that anyone could read—but the purpose of the blog post could be to make your potential clients want to download the full PDF that you’re giving away for free, in return for their names and email addresses. 

Every blog post you write takes time and money, so you need to make sure that the blog post is serving your business by making people want to continue using the service, and by making them want to buy, hire from, or subscribe to, your business.

You might, of course, be about to launch a brand new service and you need articles relating to it; in this case, the purpose of your articles would be to promote your new service, and the articles would probably be written and published in parallel with developing the new service.

But the point is that writing down what specific service, product, or asset you’re creating the blog post for helps to clarify your reason (or reasons) for writing the blog post.

A lot of blog posts on business websites don’t relate to the websites’ businesses at all; yet, using blogs to simply fill space doesn’t really benefit a business in any way.

So, ‘related products, service or lead generator’ is a very important box.

7. What do you want them to conclude or realise?

If your audience segment is potential clients, the obvious thing you want the reader of your blog post to conclude is “ I need to buy into this service!”

But you could be more specific than that.

For example, Quandary have an e-book that explains how to run a blog more effectively, but one of the things that the articles get across is that business people can’t run a blog themselves – they need help to do it; and they need that help consistently, week in-week out, otherwise they’ll lose motivation.

So, in the blog post sheet relating to the article promoting the e-book, the information in this section  was to conclude that ‘to run a blog effectively, they need to get other people involved so they’re not doing it all themselves.’

So, what do you want your readers to realise for every single blog post you write? All blog posts aimed at potential clients should lead the client to conclude that they need to hire you or pay for your services. 

But I’m also saying that a blog post should be more specific than that – that some specific fact or facet of your service will help them succeed.

8. Potential objections or challenge statements: Having got to this point, you may be thinking, “I want them to conclude that they need my service, but most people will probably have an objection, like ‘I don’t have the money’.”

To use Quandary as an example, the objection might be, “I don’t have the money for Quandary every month.” The point here is that it is important to be aware, and make a note, of these potential objections; they should be written down in the ‘potential objections’ box so that they can be addressed in your article.

By writing down the objections before you start writing the article, you can tick them off as you address them.

So, the objection I gave in the Quandary example above is addressed and countered in the article like this: “most people think they can’t afford Quandary subscription service but they quickly realise it’s an investment they can’t afford not to have once they’ve been a client for a few months.”

9. What do they need to know

If you’re filling in this prep sheet, what do your readers need to know for the information in your blog post to be of any use to them? What specific facts do you need to convey in the article? For example, going back to my e-book on how to run a blog, I knew that one of the first things my audience needed to know was that frequency is one of the most important things with blogging. As I’m sure you can imagine, the ‘need to know’ box is really helpful in making sure that you stay on track when writing your article.

10. References and citations

It’s obviously ethical to acknowledge a third party when you’re using their facts and figures in your article. So, make a note of references—from whom and where you’ve obtained the information being used in your blog posts (this might be, for example, another person’s book, or blog posts elsewhere on the internet); you can then refer to these sources as you’re writing the article.

11. Bullet points

The ‘bullet point’ box is where you structure your article by listing the key points that you want your article to cover.

So, this box contains the meat of the article – each bullet point will be turned into one or more sentences so that, in effect, the article will ‘write itself.’ This is, obviously, the most important section to refer to when you’re writing your article.

Using the bullet points box makes the writing up process a whole lot easier and a whole lot quicker!

12. The call to action or click through url

When the reader has finished reading the blog post, what do you want them to do?

Do you want them to click through for more information about the service relating to the blog post?

Do you want them to fill in a form? Do you want them to leave a comment? Do you want them to download an e-book?  Or, do you want them to subscribe to something? Whatever that call to action is, write it down in this box. You can even write the finished call to action, so that all you have to do is tag it on to the bottom of the blog post when you’ve finished writing it.

13. Base article on interview?

The final thing that we do here at Quandary is take the hassle away from clients: they don’t need to go through this process when they become a Quandary client because we do all the writing for them; we even fill out this prep sheet on their behalf (with a small amount of input from the client). This is done by telephone interview- if the blog post is based upon the interview then we would simply tick this box.

Now, someone could replicate this in-house, and get a member of staff to do the interviews – if they did, they could then tick the box. (Or, of course, that person could become a Quandary client!)

So, all the boxes at the end of the Prep Sheet are relevant if someone is interviewing you; once the Prep Sheet has been completed, it’s just a matter of scheduling the interview for a specific date and time.

At Quandary, we only need our clients to be available for a one-hour interview each month, during which we gather enough information to write four blog posts—one a week for the following month.

Prior to that one interview, we have created four prep sheets that we use to structure the interview and get the information we need.

The interview is pre-scheduled at the bottom of the Prep Sheet and we simply fill in the last boxes to make sure every blog post is related to a prep sheet.

Using this document guarantees that every week—without fail—a beautifully written blog post appears on our clients’ websites, as well as repurposed in various other formats and distributed around the internet.

Pre-writing is an invaluable aid to help you craft better articles.

Happy pre-writing!

Ed
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Ed Rivis