It’s the weekend. I’ve just finished up a long week of client work and hustling myself to exhaustion. But Monday is just two days away and I still don’t have my post done. In fact, I have no idea what to post.
My content calendar is sitting on a separate tab, opened up to what I’m supposed to post in the coming week. But the topic just doesn’t resonate with me anymore. Every time I sit down to write it, nothing comes out.
If you’ve experienced this before, you know how difficult it can be to find just the right topic for your content on such a tight deadline. Fortunately, there are so many ways to come up with great ideas: going for a walk, scourging the Internet, asking friends.
But sometimes just searching for an idea can feel overwhelming. Before you know it, you’ve spent your three hours allotted to content to creation stuck in a Pinterest trap of doom and a blank page still sits in front of you.
That’s where these tips come in handy. Because I’ve been stuck in that cycle before, I thought I’d take a moment to share my process for coming up with content ideas with you.
1. Schedule Time for Brainstorming
If you’ve ever tried sitting down, opening up a blank page, and saying to yourself: okay, time to write a post for the week, you know how difficult it can be to call upon ideas on the spot.
Your brain needs time to think and you need time to research. And as busy entrepreneurs, we don’t much spare time to work with.
That’s why it’s so important to set aside time for brainstorming that’s separate from content creation time. Pour yourself a glass (or two – no judgement here) of your favorite wine, sit down with your laptop or a notebook, and just start writing down any idea that comes to mind.
As you go through this process, here are a few tips I’ve found to make it easier:
Find a New Environment
Go somewhere outside of where you usually work to come up with more ideas – you’ll find getting outside of your regular routine will help kick-start your brain
As you come up with ideas, be careful not to edit yourself. Simply write down whatever comes to mind and let ideas simmer. As Robert Bly says in his book The Copywriter’s Handbook:
“The creative process works in two stages. The first is the idea-producing stage, when ideas flow freely. The second is the critical or “editing” stage, where you hold each idea up to the cold light of day and see if it is practical.”The Copywriter’s Handbook
Keep Ideas in One Place
Some people like to brainstorm on their laptop. Others use their tablets. And many enjoy using old fashioned pen and paper.
Experiment with whatever works best for you. But when you’re done, I highly recommend finding a single place to store all your ideas as they simmer.
This way, when it comes time to plan out your content schedule and even create the content, you don’t spend valuable time searching for that one genius idea you had the other day.
I’ve set aside a tab on my Airtable* document specifically for content ideas. I keep track of the working title, any notes/outline I may have, an inspirational link, related campaign & personas, and more. This helps cut down the time I spend planning later on.
2. Work Off What You Already Have
So planning ahead is great, but what about the times you simply don’t find inspiration in your pre-planned ideas?
One of my favorite go-to methods is to go through what you already have written and find ways to expand upon your best content.
For example, this article on rebranding your biz is broken down into multiple sections titled “What a Brand Is…And What It Isn’t”, “Where to Start”, and so on.
Each section could easily be expanded into additional blog topics expanding on the original concepts mentioned in this post. So, “What a Brand Is…And What It Isn’t” could link to an article titled something like “Is a Brand Just a Logo – Or Is It Something More?” (this title could be worked on, but you get the point).
Take a look at the content you’ve already written. Don’t just limit it to previous blog posts; take a look at your Instagram posts, Facebook posts, and anything else you’ve created for your business.
Then, ask yourself: how can I expand upon these? Is there another angle I can look at – or ways I can clarify a topic?
There are many benefits to doing this – especially in terms of SEO. Beyond that, it helps establish your brand as the go-to source for a given topic by elaborating on multiple angles, rather than just one article.
3. Have 2-3 Go-To Sources for Ideas
When I can’t come up with any ideas on my own, I like to turn to the handy dandy Internet to find some inspiration. After all, no idea is new – so why not search for an opportunity to remix or combine a few complementary ideas to create something unique?
In my content strategy document, I have a tab dedicated solely to inspirational sites. These are sites with similar target audiences and content that I can skim to look for ideas for my own content.
As I review this content, I look for ways to expand/improve upon their points, new angles to discuss, or maybe ways to combine topics.
In general, you’ll want to look for sites who have credibility, who have established their authority, and whose audience is at least somewhat similar to your own.
Trade publications are a great places to start and a quick search using your top keywords will help find other sources.
Here are a few of mine, as an example:
4. Answer Your Customers’ Questions
One of the best ways to come up with content ideas that are sure to attract more of your ideal customers is to answer your own customers’ questions.
As you talk with your customers, keep track of the questions that come up on a regular basis.
For example, one question I get a lot is around my process for planning & strategizing content. That’s why I’ve started writing more about this – because customers have asked about it.
These are sites where people similar to your customers are asking questions around your topic and it’s a great place to get inspiration for content people are genuinely asking for.
This will take some digging, so it’s a good idea to build this into your brainstorming session (as we mentioned earlier), but it’s usually worth it as you’ll come out of it with at least a few ideas for content.
5. Browse Social Media
This one is a last resort. When nothing else works and you still can’t get anything, spend 20 minutes browsing through Facebook groups (especially those where your ideal audience is hanging out), Pinterest, Twitter, and maybe even Instagram.
I say this is a last resort because, as you well know, social media can easily turn into a time-sucking activity. Instead of inspiration, it’s easy to find yourself lost in the comparison trap. This could leave you feeling lost, dejected, and ready to give up on content marketing altogether.
If it comes to this, try setting a timer to make sure your 20 minutes doesn’t turn into two hours. Stay mindful of your thoughts and be sure to stop as soon as anything remotely close to comparison pops into your head.
Schedule a Brainstorming Session
Are you still stuck for ideas? One way to get out of your own head and some great ideas down on paper is to bounce thoughts off someone else – especially someone who has experience in content.
Schedule a brainstorming session with yours truly. We’ll spend 60 minutes going through ideas, bouncing content topics off each other, and coming up with a few clear topics for you to write about. You’ll come out of it ready to create content that helps produce more leads and grow your business at a much cheaper price than hiring a content strategist.
*This is an invite link – I receive credit for you signing up for Airtable, but I am not otherwise affiliated with the service.