A Quarterly Editorial Calendar Template (And How To Use It)
I personally use a spreadsheet to manage my editorial calendar. My spreadsheet is hosted on Google Drive that way it is shareable with others. And the nature of a spreadsheet means that I can have columns for any field I want. And, here are the fields which I personally use.
In my last post, I talked about the editorial planning process and how to go about planning out your content for an entire quarter. The reason is simple…
Planning out your content means you can be strategic about why you’re creating it, rather than simply reacting to the need to post something.
But, taking it to the next level, we move from the brainstorming and ideas stage of the calendar to the actual execution of it. In other words, putting your editorial decisions into a tool which you will actually USE to execute it. And if you happen to have a virtual assistant, then you’ll need a way for them to see it, too.
What An Editorial Calendar Really Is
I would say that there are two “levels” to how you can execute an editorial calendar. On the first level, you simply have a calendar with what post goes on what day. This is likely what most of you think of when you hear people talk about an editorial calendar. On the second level, however, we’re doing more.
The editorial calendar, when fully implemented, is a coordination system for different systems in your business which have to do with content production.
Now, I’m not going to get into a lot of systems-thinking today (stay tuned for next month 🙂 ), but essentially, it comes down to the fact that content publishing is more than simply writing and hitting “Publish”. There are different systems in place, from monitoring needs/wants of the audience, production, preparation, SEO, social media distribution, etc. It could be that YOU are doing everything, or it could be that you have a VA doing some of it for you. But, either way, these are different and distinct systems in play.
The editorial calendar is a coordination tool to ensure it all gets done on time.
For this reason, there is more than just topic, title and a publish date.
An Editorial Calendar Template
As I mentioned in my last post, I personally use a spreadsheet to manage my editorial calendar. My spreadsheet is hosted on Google Drive that way it is shareable with others. And the nature of a spreadsheet means that I can have columns for any field I want.
And, here are the fields which I personally use:
- Type. This is the type of content, meaning blog post, podcast, newsletter, video, etc.
- Title / Description. As you might guess, this is the topic of the content. Or, in some cases, the actual headline I intend to use.
- Due. A due date for me personally for having created the content. This date obviously comes before the date of publish.
- Publish. The date I intend to go “live” with the piece.
- Created. A tracking field which either is a “Y” for yes, or “N” for no. Once I have created the content (by the due date), I turn this to “Y”.
- Posted. Same as above, except it tracks whether we’ve actually published the piece.
- Shared. Same as above, but this is for my VA to report whether she has executed the social media distribution process I have created for her for this post.
- Transcript. Again, Y or N. This is an internal field to tell the VA whether I need a transcript or not. For podcasts and certain videos, I would want a transcript done. This field is my way of telling her ahead of time to expect that. And, obviously I would need to adjust my due date accordingly to give her time to complete the transcript.
- Photo Ad. This is a filename for an image we’re now using to promote each of our posts on social media. As part of my content creation process, I create an ad image for the post. I drop that image into Dropbox into a shared folder, and this field on the calendar is the filename. This image we then use on social media, since images get far more play than straight text and links.
- Channels. The primary distribution channels for this piece (i.e. blog, Youtube, iTunes, email list, social, etc.)
- Campaign. A keyword used internally to show me if this piece is part of a larger marketing campaign. So, for example, if I were running a promo for Academy PRO, I might have something like “September Academy Promo” in this field. And, any other content pieces which are part of the same campaign would have the same phrase, making them sortable that way.
- KW Phrase. The primary keyword phrase being targeted with this piece, for SEO purposes. I don’t alway have a pre-determined keyword phrase, but sometimes I do.
- Call to Action. A note about what I want readers to do after reading the content.
- Notes. Any random notes about this content that might not fit into the other fields.
Using This Editorial Calendar
In practice, this spreadsheet will have a lot of rows in it – one row per unit of content I plan to produce.
Each row will be filled out to as great a degree as I can. Not everything is necessary. For example, I put Newsletters on the calendar as something I need to produce. However, I don’t always know until the week of what exactly I will be talking about in that newsletter. So, I don’t ALWAYS have the exact contents pre-planned.
But, in terms of how it is intended to be used…
Usually on Mondays, I will open up the calendar spreadsheet and see what’s coming up in the next week or two. Using conditional formatting, I can highlight content which is due in the next week orange, while highlighting content due within 2 weeks a lighter shade of yellow. At a glance, I can then see what needs to be done. If a box is highlighted red, that means it is past due.
When I create a piece, I will go into the calendar and mark the “Created” field to “Y”. Usually, I will also pre-schedule the post to go live automatically on the scheduled publish date.
Now, from there, my VA will take over. NOTE: This part is brand new for me, internally. For the last quarter, I was doing everything. For this quarter, I will be having my VA jump in. So what follows is what I INTEND to have happen. 🙂
My VA will open it on a routine basis and see what’s coming up. If she needs to transcribe something, she will do so before the scheduled publish date. On the scheduled publish date, she will then execute a checklist for social media distribution of the new post. After she has executed the whole thing, she will mark the “Shared” field to “Y”. Conditional formatting will then show green, telling me that the entire process for that post has been done.
Allow For Flexibility
Even though I try to plan out as much as I can in advance, in reality there is wiggle room.
For instance, sometimes it is pretty damn hard to get really detailed about your content very far in advance. So, sometimes I don’t have the headlines worked out, etc. Sometimes, I have a general idea what I’ll be doing during a particular month, but I haven’t yet worked out the specifics.
Additionally, sometimes things come up. Sometimes you want to inject something into the lineup that wasn’t originally part of the schedule. Go ahead. Nothing about this is set in stone. Remember, the primary purpose of it is strategic execution and coordination. It allows you to separate the planning from the grunt work.
Lastly, I will also say that you may personally want to keep track of things that I’m not. That’s the beauty of a spreadsheet format, because you can turn columns into any field you want. 🙂
What It Comes Down To Is This…
I mentioned above the idea of “systems”. I’ll be talking more about this later, but…
Your entire operation online (actually, your whole life, when you get right down to it) is a system made of up sub-systems. And, the EXECUTIVE functions of the business should be separated from the rest of it. It is a separate system. When you treat it as a separate system, the whole thing goes much more strategically and according to plan. When you try to mix executive planning in with doing the work, that’s where you get all overwhelmed, confused, and you end up “flying by the seat of your pants”.
That’s what most bloggers are doing: flying by the seat of their pants. They have no strategy at all, and any strategy they try to have is all mixed up with everything else. The content is “planned” on the fly, usually shortly before it is published. There is no rhyme or reason between posts, and posts are usually published more out of a time demand than anything else.
That is content just for content’s sake.
At the top level, creating an editorial calendar means that you are separating out the systems: Executive planning is being separated out from editorial. When you’ve got your executive hat on, you are thinking about things from a global perspective. You’re able to make your content flow, to think about WHY you’re doing it, to think about any marketing aims behind it. This is all done separately from the act of creating it.
Then, when you put on your writer’s hat, you already know what you need to do. At that point, you just sit down and write it. Writer’s block isn’t really much of an issue at that point. The decision-making has been done.
So, I HIGHLY recommend you give this a try.
I should have been approaching content this way a long time ago. If you start doing it earlier on in your blogging, you’ll be ahead of the curve.
Plus, bear in mind that the actual act of blogging SHOULD be about serving a purpose. It is part of your marketing department. It shouldn’t be the “end all be all” of what you’re doing here. If it is, you’ll never make any money!
I’m gobbling up all of your posts and podcasts about editorial calendars! I think I thought I knew what one was, but I was actually verly unclear. Thank you for sharing, I really appreciate your help.
For years I’ve been using a spreadsheet like this to keep track of available marketing content. But your ideas on adding Call to Action and Yes/No columns have given me the impetus to use this spreadsheet format as an editorial calendar. Thanks for the tips!
You’re welcome. 🙂
Dave, this is great! Do you have separate spreadsheet files for each quarter or you just simply always add rows on top inside the original one?
Also, a useful column to add if a site has more than one author would be “Author” 🙂
Personally, I create a different spreadsheet for each quarter.
As usual you’ve provided excellent and practical advice. I love the way you brought these elements all together. I have an online spreadsheet somewhat similar for some online writing I do but haven’t fully implemented it into the blogging area. I particularly liked you highlighting the call to action.