One of the biggest factors that drives the success of content marketing initiatives – and any entrepreneurial endeavor – is having powerful daily habits. In fact, one study found that 40 percent of all the decisions that we make are driven by habits.
It’s not the individuals that wake up and sprint for one day, and then fail to take massive action for the rest of the time, who make the noticeable progress. Instead, it’s the person who gets up each day and systematically produces high-quality work, day after day in a consistent manner that gets ahead. The media is bombarded with "overnight sensations" who actually worked for years to get where they are. But our perceptions of the path to success in work, in life, and in content marketing are skewed.
Let me give you a quick example. What if, instead of waking up and saying "today is the day I’m going to write 15,000 words of my book," you committed to waking up and spending 45 minutes each morning writing? It’s likely that in 45 minutes you could produce around 1,000 words of content. If you tackled this each morning, you’d find that after one week you’d have 7,000 words in your manuscript. After just two and a half months, you’d have 70,000 words, or a complete first draft to the average book.
But shifting from a reactive or sporadic mindset to one that demands consistent, reliable action takes work. Here’s a closer look at how you can leverage the power of daily habits to build a content marketing plan that will raise your visibility, increase your sales, and demonstrate a real return on investment for your efforts.
The Case for Daily Habits
In recent years, productivity and entrepreneurship experts have really focused in on the power of daily habits. Their books and blog posts address what I think of as a "perception – productivity gap." There’s a real lack of understanding of how change and process really occurs. Our perceptions about how things get done, and the factors that drive real measurable productivity, are completely different.
Fitness and dieting is one area where that fact is painfully obvious. Despite our national obsession with weight loss, 70 percent of Americans are overweight and more than one-third are considered obese. If you follow the discussions around weight loss, everyone plans to start tomorrow. And tomorrow will bring a dramatic change. "I’m going to go from zero exercise to running non-stop for one hour" or "I’m going from eating fast food three times per day to eating low-carb vegan."
Now, either of these goals are actually fine and totally achievable. But what we lack as a society is the ability to really comprehend the amount of work that occurs between now – the moment where we decide things have to change – and that state that we’re aiming for (the ability to run for an hour straight or complete adherence to a vegan diet, for example). In fact, there’s a second misconception that needs to be pointed out. What we’re aiming for in either of these scenarios is less of a destination and more a state of following specific habits (running daily or avoiding animal products) at a higher level.
James Clear has written extensively and brilliantly on the topic of habits. In one case study, he discusses fitness phenomenon Jack LaLanne. LaLanne, a fitness guru from the 20th century, lived until the age of 96 and was unbelievably fit until he died. He routinely set fitness records into his seventies and eighties. His amazing level of physical achievement was built on two habits. He woke up each day and did strength training for 90 minutes. Then he swam or ran for 30 minutes. Every single day, day in and day out, he committed to spending time doing the things that mattered most to him, his career and his health. As a result, these habits built the foundation that allowed him to complete the larger, more visible achievements.
Many writers follow the same path, which includes waking up each day and writing first thing. Whether they work for a specific period of time or to a word count, it’s the act of committing each day. Maria Popova of Brain Pickings wrote a fascinating piece examining the daily habits of famous writers. The famous poet Maya Angelou rented a hotel room in her town that she used exclusively to write each day.
Novelist Haruki Murikami says, "When I’m in writing mode for a novel, I get up at 4 a.m. and work for five to six hours. In the afternoon, I run for 10km or swim for 1500m (or do both), then I read a bit and listen to some music. I go to bed at 9 p.m." The same approach of daily habits can be used to take your content marketing efforts from overwhelming to completely achievable. Writers are a great example or barometer to use for content marketing, because both lines of work involve content creation and are highly generative.
The Difference Between Systems and Goals
Scheduling, focus, and good systems are often the foundation of meaningful achievements. As Clear goes on to examine in this piece on Entrepreneur.com, we make a mistake when we focus on the goals rather than the system. He says, "When you focus on the practice instead of the performance, you can enjoy the present moment and improve at the same time." Focusing on your habits and the systems that you build can improve both your marketing and your content development and distribution efforts.
If you think about Maya Angelou or Haruki Murikami, what they have in place is a structure to support their success. It’s what Clear would call a system. Content marketing is easily systematized. It’s possible to focus on your most important activities, set time aside when you’re able to work, and streamline your delivery and promotion. You can set a clear schedule and execute on that schedule to minimize the choices that you need to make.
A Framework for Daily Habits and Content Marketing
What follows is a framework that I recommend for companies and individuals that are struggling to gain traction with their content marketing efforts. Today’s content marketing landscape has evolved rapidly to include factors as diverse as blogging, guest posting, social media updates, more complex content like SlideShare presentations and white papers, and more. Contemplating all the options can be overwhelming. Here are some simple ways to get started and build a system that supports your success.
- Create a system that’s based on clear outcome metrics: Why are you engaging in content marketing? What business objectives are you working to fulfill? How can you tie your potential success with marketing to the success of your whole endeavor? One of the keys to cultivating the daily habits you need for success in this area is anchoring your efforts to a clear goal. Goals will help you determine what steps to take next, as well as keep you motivated when you get overwhelmed with other things.
- Simplify your social networking:There are numerous arguments for diversifying your social media marketing. But if you’re managing it on your own, crafting quality updates and promoting engagement on multiple networks can be a challenge. It’s time to think about your social strategy. Do you want to focus on getting momentum on one network, or select a couple of priority networks to develop in tandem? Either approach can work.
Consider choosing no more than three, and signing up for a tool such as Hootsuite. Hootsuite will enable you to update all your networks at once, respond to comments and mentions in a single interface, and pre-schedule updates. Consider committing five minutes each morning to posting one update to your social media accounts and doing some basic interaction, such as thanking people for mentions or sharing other people’s content. If you spend five minutes each business day on social media, over time you’re going to see a growth in your followers, deeper engagement, and the other rewards that typically come from social media marketing.
- Dedicate 20 minutes to writing:If writing is one of your top priorities but you’re struggling to get it done, there are a couple of potential solutions. One is to outsource it to a freelance writer or a content marketing company. When your budget doesn’t allow for that or you’re focused on getting underway on your own, one of the best strategies is to set aside time at the beginning of each day to tackle it. Consider spending 20 minutes each morning after you get up or the first 20 minutes that you’re in the office writing. Schedule this time before you surf the Web, before you tackle email, and before you do anything else.
As valuable time, you’ll be surprised what you can accomplish in one uninterrupted 20-minute block. You could write a blog post, a newsletter, two weeks’ worth of status updates, or the second of a larger project. Day after day, your efforts will ultimately yield a well of content that can drive social media campaigns, result in you regularly publishing articles and blogs, and developing a consistent plan for promoting content to your email list. For more thoughts on the power of consistency,
- Follow an editorial calendar: An editorial calendar is one of the best tools that a content marketer can use to integrate daily habits into their content marketing regime. The idea behind habits is to eliminate decisions. Making decisions takes time and energy, and master procrastinators can use this challenge to avoid getting anything done. Working out an editorial calendar can help you focus your energies. Your calendar could simply put together a list of what you’re hoping to accomplish each day. On Mondays, you write social media updates. On Tuesdays, a blog post. And so forth. Or your editorial calendar could actually be externally facing, and focus on what you’re pushing out. That will then help you focus, depending on what content is due when and where.
- Dedicate five minutes to promotion: On a final note, it’s helpful to dedicate five minutes each day to promoting your content. Simple steps will help ensure that your content is being seen. Share content that you’ve posted on social media. Post a link to your most recent article on a few sites such as Reddit, BizSugar, or StumbleUpon. Taking just a few moments to make sure that your material is being shared with the community has a large impact over time. It can help build your name recognition with these communities, while also ensuring that you’re getting the cumulative hits and traffic that build your brand.
Staying on target is one of the biggest challenges with content marketing. Take the time to clarify your big objectives, and then shift your focus to creating a system that supports your success. Break down your goals into daily habits around generating ideas, content creation, social media marketing, and promotion. If you can carve out 30 minutes a day, every day, in just a few months’ time you will have made a significant amount of progress.