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How to Construct a Content Machine (Even If You're Not a Natural-Born Writer)

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A marketing revolution has been taking place before our eyes. Interruption marketing has been overthrown. Businesses—yours and mine—can no longer force people to pay attention. Instead, we have to create valuable content that people want. Which means that marketing now means creating content.

And you need new content... All. The. Time. And every piece of content you create must be "epic."

The problem? Creating epic content takes a lot of time. And it sucks energy out of other areas of your business.

Until recently, I dreaded creating content. I'd seen big results for my business as a result of content marketing, but each piece took me a ton of time (more than I care to admit). I scrambled to find the hours, but there was never enough time.

Then I realized the solution was staring me in the face. As a business coach, I help small businesses achieve massive growth by showing them how to turn difficult tasks into predictable systems. So I decided to develop a system for creating more quality content. And the one I came up with can scale up to put out as much content as I need.

Here's the content machine I use. Feel free to take it apart and put it back together in a way that works for you.

1. Mine raw materials

All machines need raw materials. The raw material of great content is data. To feed your machine, you need to go data mining

You can use surveys, sales conversations, and industry forums. Through your data mining, you'll find the pain points of your ideal clients—the problems they want you to solve.

Now that you have the raw materials you've mined...

2. Mix in your creativity

As you process the data, you'll come up with ideas for how you can help your target audiences solve their problems.

Much of this will happen in your subconscious. So ideas might come at the most unlikely times—when you're in the shower, fixing dinner, or walking your dog. So you need a mobile idea capture system. I recommend using Evernote. Its basic package is free and will do what you need: keep your ideas all in one place.

3. Shape up your ideas

Once you've collected several ideas, you're ready to shape them into articles or blog posts. As with all systems, the simpler and more streamlined you keep things, the better.

As you're turning your ideas into articles and posts, you need only four things:

  1. A headline
  2. The problem your article solves for your readers
  3. The impact of that problem on the lives of your readers
  4. The solution or solutions you'll provide

This step is meant to be very quick. And nothing needs to be perfect at this stage.

Have a set file on your computer or in Google Docs where you keep these outlines live. That way you have a system for housing your ideas so they don't get lost in a pile of notes on your desk or on your computer somewhere. The more outlines you have backed up in your system, the easier you'll find it to create content on a consistent basis.

For the next steps, choose one outline to work with and...

4. Bolt on extras

Next up is the research stage. This is where you add the real meat to your article. It's also the stage where you can get lost down rabbit holes.

You can keep your research as simple as possible using two techniques:

  1. Repurposing content. Look to emails you've written, free giveaways you've offered, slide shows or presentations you've created. You'll find a ton of ideas ready and waiting for you to use. (I had my virtual assistant go through and categorize all my past email campaigns on a spreadsheet with links to them so that I can quickly plug in what I need.)
  2. Use what's on hand. Whenever you read an interesting article, clip it to a swipe file in Evernote. Then, when you need an interesting story or statistic, look to your swipe file. This approach keeps you from getting lost when searching across the entirety of cyberspace.

Paste raw resources and drop in links to expand your outline. Then add any other ideas to your outline as come to you. The more structured and specific the outline you provide, the better the output you'll get while writing.

Don't become overwhelmed! Once you've got a system in place, you should be spending at most 30 minutes on research and expanding your outline.

5. Send the outline to your 'production department'

Your outline is now ready for your "production department," which is one of the following:

  • Two hours you set aside for writing. Take the outline you've created and expand it, writing as fast as you can. This is your time for getting words down, not for editing.
  • A professional writer. I've found that hiring a writer is what works best for me. Good writers are able to pull together your outline and research sources into a relevant, structured, coherent piece.

After you've written your article, you need to...

6. Get your content ready to ship

Your content is close to finished. Awesome!

This is the stage where you take your content from good to great.

If you're doing the writing yourself, make sure every word packs a punch. Eliminate unnecessary words, and make sure you've chosen verbs that sizzle.

Outsourced your writing? Make sure the article fits your voice and reflects your brand. I replace words that I wouldn't use and make the article sound like my voice.

Here is also where you make your headline sparkle. Keeping a swipe file of headline formulas will help you generate the best possible ideas.

Once your edits are finished, you're ready to publish.

Construct your own machine

I've lifted the hood on my content machine to show you how it works.

Like all systems, it will never be perfect. And there will always be things that I can tweak. But these steps allow me to stay focused and produce far more content than I could without a system.

It's a system I created to solve a problem in my business: Writing content was a long and frustrating process. You can take this same approach to build systems in any area of your business, to achieve any outcome you want.

What machine will you create?

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Mandi Ellefson helps service businesses build systems to dramatically scale their business and hire quality staff. Her Scalable Growth Roadmap helps businesses discover the systems they're missing.

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  • by Ford Kanzler Mon Sep 29, 2014 via web

    Agree wholeheartedly with having a system like or similar to what's described. Strongly suggest that even before that, the organization needs to have a communications strategy to guide the direction and creation of various content elements (tactics) which should be supporting how the organization wants to be known by its community/customers/stakeholders. If that's missing, you may be educating people but lots of time and money are likely being wasted. e.g. Ready, Fire, Aim
    Also, PR pros have been creating content of all kinds for decades and applying a process as described to accomplish that. Books, sponsored films, videos, newsletters, newspapers, magazines, speeches and Web content have all long been in the public relations arsenal before the practice was "discovered" and coined by recently-arrived marketing pros. For more on that, go to:

  • by Mandi Ellefson Mon Sep 29, 2014 via web

    Ford, I couldn't agree more. Would love to see your system for defining the direction and setting the strategy right here on MarketingProfs.

  • by Mandi Ellefson Mon Sep 29, 2014 via web

    Hi Everyone! I am available to answer any questions you have here in the comments. Also feel free to reach out on twitter: @MandiEllefson

  • by Paul Shirer Mon Sep 29, 2014 via web

    Hi Mandi,

    Driven to this article because it's exactly the bottleneck we're trying to solve at We've been working with marketers closely of late--again and again, this is their pain point, as you so aptly describe. Essentially, we're trying to help solve the equation of Frequency + Variety + Quality content. We do it with the concept of a batch which can have content easily curated and collated from anywhere--online, hard drives or cloud drives--and designed the way you need it. ... Anyway, we'll be trying to advance this discussion online in the coming months b/c it's become a real issue. Hope to connect with you further on it.

  • by Mandi Ellefson Mon Sep 29, 2014 via web

    @Paul- I am glad to get your expert star of approval. ;) I am not at all a content expert. But, as a systems junky my approach is to build on what already works, remove what doesn't, and keep refining from there.

    My real area of expertise is solving that same problem you mentioned with quality + frequency related to delivering marketing services. That way marketing businesses can build scalable companies that run without them in the center. I would love to hear more about your processes, and yes lets connect.

  • by Lezanne Tue Sep 30, 2014 via web

    Love this! New in content marketing, and this is going to help alot!

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