It's Thursday night at 9:30 and you realize you haven't posted anything on your blog this week. Quick! Think of a blog post!
Sound familiar? It sure does to me. I wrote this blog for seven years that way. It's not terrible to have to come up with content on the spur of the moment, but it can be stressful and it can lead to some less than perfect posts.
This year I finally started using an editorial calendar for While She Naps and now I see why everyone recommends them. Being able to see at a glance how the blog will unfold in the coming weeks is so powerful.
Keeping a calendar is a good idea for all bloggers, no matter how large your audience may be. My calendar is just a simple printout of monthly pages, but using it made me wonder how really big blogs that plan posts months in advance do it.
I got in touch with Kristin Link, the founder and owner of Sew Mama Sew, and asked her how she and her co-editor, Beth Wilson, manage the Sew Mama Sew editorial calendar and what tips they might be able to share with bloggers big and small.
Sew Mama Sew is one of the premier sewing blogs out there. They've been online since 2005 and receive over 1 million page views per month. Let's dig in and hear about how Kristin and Beth plan and manage the site.
Our first secret is Beth. Beth was a customer and follower of Sew Mama Sew really, really early. We started talking through email and blog comments, and I asked her if she wanted to help me with the blog. We were both moms to one child and we've since each had a second. She's in Olympia, Washington and I'm in the Portland, Oregan area. Both of us are former teachers.
Beth is incredibly organized so she keeps track of our calendar. Even though we both arrange posts, she schedules everything. We use a Rackspace email client which has a shared calendar so we can both see it and edit it, but I stay out of it.
I'll email her and say, "Can you put this book review on the calendar for March 24?" Even though I can do it, I think it's important to have one person with the big picture in her head. She might recognize that even though there is an empty slot on the afternoon of March 24, we might have something fabulous in the morning that we want to keep at the top for a little longer.
We email a lot, obviously. Most of them are quite short and to-the-point, but there can be a dozen a day. We also use Google Docs for shared files that we can both edit. We never Skype or talk on the phone–neither of us are that kind of person, thankfully. It would be hard if one of us was a "phone person" and the other wasn't.
Mainly I think we've fallen into a groove of responsibilities. As with the calendar, Beth is really good at the follow-through and organization. I guess you could say I outline the story and she fills in the details. For example, I might approach someone about an idea for a tutorial, and once they're on board I'll pass them along to Beth who will work with them on bringing the idea into focus, and also communicate with them about the text, images, photo permissions and all the things that need to happen before a post goes live, including formatting in WordPress.
In the meantime, I'm planning something a month or more down the road. I also work with all our sponsors, manage our financials, take care of the technical aspects of the website and just generally run "the business" while she focuses on content.
The calendar is important no matter how big or small your blog is. I think a lot of blogs fizzle out because people wait for inspiration to strike rather than planning their content, which is really hard to keep up. Putting things on a calendar will not only give you a deadline–the little bit of pressure many of us need–but it will allow you to step back and look at the story you're trying to tell from a different perspective. I'm not saying you shouldn't improvise, but unless you're reliably good at that, you should try planning.
We usually start our calendar off by plugging in regular features like our Sewing Trends column and things with pre-determined dates, like blog hops for books. Then we might add something thematic daily for a stretch of time. For example, right now we're doing 14 days of Valentine Projects We Love and last month we did 31 Inspiring Quilters.
Those things are our secondary content, kind of like the setting of our story. The main theme that runs through our plot is sewing tutorials. Sometimes those are related–for example, we're working on some soft toy posts–but not always.
If I had a personal blog I would probably set up weekly features like many great bloggers do. Sunday Stash, Tutorial Tuesday, Fabric Friday, etc. That's content you can get in the habit of thinking about, which makes it easier. I think readers also appreciate knowing what to expect. We've been doing Free Fabric Friday for 8 years! Even though we don't do it every week anymore, you certainly know what's going on when you see that subject line in your feed reader.
Finally, I find a theme to be a great organizational and brain-storming tool. We don't do as many as we used to, but last month was Quilting Month and every November we do Handmade Holidays. Like a literary genre, there is a certain amount of predictability to a theme, which makes it easier to flesh out the story. If we have some themes in place on our calendar, it takes a little pressure off. We still have to come up with content, but narrowing the focus is amazingly helpful.
Sew Mama Sew has a Contributor Community newsletter which we send out about once a month. It contains our calls for submissions. We'll be sending one out in the next week or two, so if anyone is interested in becoming a contributor, they can sign up here.
Thank you so much, Kristin, for showing us behind the scenes at Sew Mama Sew. I found this to be totally fascinating!
If you have questions or thoughts about Sew Mama Sew or about editorial calendars, please lend your voice to the discussion in the comments.