Marketing Yourself #4: How to Preserve Your Sanity By Making a Content Calendar

Hello, folks! Welcome back to my continuing series in which I invite you to learn along with me as I run myself like I would run any other content marketing job. Today’s post is lesson 4. You can find the previous lessons here:

In today’s lesson we’re going to talk about content planning. But before we go any further, I’ll just throw out the usual reminder that if you find this content useful, please do throw me a tip on Ko-fi.

Why should I plan my content ahead of time?

Content planning is important because, as we talked about in the previous lesson, the Hungry Algorithm Beast is always… well. Hungry. Planning your content ahead of time is crucial to making your online marketing efforts sustainable, because having a plan will help you make sure that you’re not sitting at your computer trying desperately to think of something to put out when it’s time to make another post.

Now, because I’ve never believed in lying about when something that is good for you also sucks, I’m going to acknowledge content planning SUCKS. Especially if you don’t have a previously-established rhythm of content. I honestly don’t know a single content marketer who has ever said “oh great, I get to go do content planning now”.

HOWEVER. PLANNING YOUR CONTENT will make your online marketing efforts a million times easier for two reasons:

  1. You won’t have the pressure of having to sit down in front of your computer to pull something out of your ass, because you’ll already know what you’re supposed to create.
  2. Planning your content will let you “work ahead”, which give you the freedom to write off a bad productivity or mental health day. Being creative isn’t just a tap you can turn on and off, especially during a pandemic when we’re all operating at a cognitive deficit. Having a plan will mean you can create content when you’re able to. By the same token, this means that when you’re having a Bad COVID Feelings Day, you can rest and recharge without beating yourself up because you’re not being a good Productive Worker Drone.

So. You know. Put on your Adulting Socks (because let’s face it, no one’s wearing Adulting Pants during COVID) and just get it done.

Actually Making The Plan

Remember all those notes I had you take during the last lesson? Pull out those notes and either find a monthly calendar template for October or fire up Excel and create one. You’re going to fill in the calendar with content that you can commit to producing over the course of the next month, with the goal of spreading it through the month as evenly as possible.

Step 1: are there any notable dates, holidays, or events coming up?

Are there any major holidays celebrated where your target audience lives that you should mention during the month you’re planning? Are there any online conferences or events that would be interesting to your audience? Or anything otherwise pre-scheduled that you want to be able to mention?

Fill that in before you do anything else! And make sure you do some Googling to make sure that there’s not anything you weren’t previously aware of.

Step 2: create a few basic content categories and set a realistic output goal

What are the different types of content you can produce that would be relevant to your audience, where relevance is supported by the research you did in Part 3? And, importantly, how many pieces of each type of content can you realistically commit to being able to produce in one month? Please note, “piece of content” doesn’t have to mean something big! It can be something quite small, like a Twitter thread, or even a shitpost.

Sidebar: If a shitpost is relevant to your brand and relevant to your audience, absolutely plan on making shitposts part of your content schedule. There are companies whose entire social media feeds are 100% shitposts, like the Canadian generic brand No Name, whose Twitter feed is an unparalleled social media masterpiece.

BE. REALISTIC. It is always better to plan small and realize that you are able to create more than it is to plan big and have your marketing efforts crash and burn because you over-commit and burn yourself out.

Depending on what you’re doing, this could look pretty different, but don’t worry. After I lay out the steps, I’ll break down what I’m doing so you’ll know what I’m talking about.

Step 3: evenly distribute your content through the month

Now enter your content categories into your calendar, being sure that for each type of content, evenly distribute your planned items through the month.

Then comes the worst part. DECIDE WHAT TO MAKE AND WRITE IT DOWN. This is the part that’s going to suck. That’s okay. Caffeine up and power through it.

Detailed example: My calendar for September

Sometimes it can be hard to grasp what you’re aiming for without a detailed example, so I’m going to share the calendar that I’m working from right now in creating content for September. (Ignore the different font colors – that’s just reminders for me about what is done at time of writing this post and what I have yet to do.)

Click for larger view; your calendar might not look this dense and that’s okay – start slow!

Step 1: Notable holidays and other relevant occasions. My brand is equal parts: game design, social justice, and queer stuff. So I’ve marked Labor Day, Bisexual Awareness Week, and Bisexual Visibility Day as occasions I want to mark.

Step 2: I’ve got three major types of original content: Marketing Myself posts, Twitter threads/rants, and current project updates. I’ve also added in weekly boosts of old content, because I’ve got a vast trove of old content that’s still relevant – be it blog posts, old Twitter threads, or roleplaying games.

Promoting old content is great because we’re building an audience here and there’s always going to be new folks who weren’t around for old stuff you made. (Just don’t go super crazy with it, or people will get annoyed and tune out.) In my schedule, I’ve got reshares of old content scheduled for once a week, with the pattern being one “thing you can buy” for every two “thing you can read for free”.

Right now, you might not have a large quantity of old material you’re sitting on. That’s okay! Regular content creation will give you a respectable content repository in just a few months.

Step 3: The easiest way for me to schedule things is to assign content types to days of the week. That way when I plan future months, that’s one decision already made. So in my calendar, old content gets shared on Monday, Marketing posts are on Tuesdays, Twitter rants on Wednesdays, and highlights of current projects every other Thursday.

Now, you’ll note that not all of my content types have clear definitions for what I’m going to make. My Marketing Yourself series is clearly defined – with topics broken out by week. Current project highlights are also loosely defined. But Twitter rants and old shit? Well. This is a case of do as I say and not as I do. Normally I’d be working a month ahead, but I didn’t decide I was going to start this experiment of running myself like a content gig until the last week of August, so I’m playing catch-up with myself.

Once you’ve made your content plan, now it’s time for the easy part! Actually making your content.

Stay tuned for next week, where we’ll talk about how to SCHEDULE the content you’ve planned and created so that you have consistent and even content flow.

Marketing Yourself #3: Content Research

Welcome to Lesson 3 in my ongoing series, in which you can follow along with me as I run myself like a Content Marketing job. Previous installments include Lesson 1 – in which I set out the things you need to follow along, and Lesson 2 – setting up your analytics tracking.

In today’s installment, we’re going to learn about… Content research! Because if the first rule of Marketing is: “a marketing plan is worthless without GOALS. And GOALS are meaningless without MEASUREMENTS”, then the second rule is this: “Always START by researching the market and your competitors”.

As always, if you find this content useful, please do throw me a tip on Ko-fi. Marketing degrees aren’t cheap and I’m standing here with my hat out, giving away this information for free.

This one is a bit longer, but I promise it’s all important.

FIRST: Why Do We Need To Do Research?

The ultimate goal of this research is being able to come up with a schedule of content to produce and publish that is relevant to the audience you are looking to capture, because the unfortunate reality of the internet is that you need to publish relevant content consistently over time in order to gain traction with search engines and social media algorithms. (Don’t worry, in future lessons, we’ll talk about ways to giving the Hungry Algorithm Beast a consistent feeding schedule easier and less stressful for you to maintain.)

You need to be able to put out bits of content regularly to keep both audiences and the Hungry Algorithm Beast engaged, and you need to make sure that content is going to land. Which is why… research!

The Things You Need to Research

FIRST: Key Competitors

The first part of any marketing plan is identifying your “key competitors”. In the business world, that would mean the companies that have products or services that are most similar to yours that are in direct competition for the same customers. In the creative world, where the thing you’re marketing yourself, identifying your “key competitors” is more aspirational than competitive. This is because when the thing you’re marketing is yourself, it’s nonsensical to say that one person is “direct competition” for another. (Liking Lizzo doesn’t mean you can’t like Nicki Minaj, even if you feel the world is poorer for her not being in a certain music video.)


Start by identifying who are 3 to 5 people who are established, have large audiences, and do something similar to what you do. Those are your key competitors.

Next, do a deep dive into their public online presence, and take notes.

(Absolutely DO NOT creep their non-public social media, and DO NOT go liking, retweeting, otherwise engaging with all of their content at once. That will probably get you blocked for being creepy, and you would deserve it.)

What do they have on their website? What social media channels are they using? How have they monetized what they are doing? What conversations are they having with their followers on their public online channels?

SECOND: Community Adjacent Influencers

Your key competitors are influencers within your particular community who are directly relevant to the thing you’re doing and the audience that you want to capture, but audiences are made up of people who have multiple interests and are part of many different audiences. So ask yourself, what are some communities that have interests adjacent to the audience that you’re looking to gain traction with? Who are the influencers within those communities who are saying things that are relevant to your audience? And what can you learn from them about reaching out to their communities?

It’s hard to be more specific without concrete examples, so – let’s use me as an example: I’m a queer designer of indie tabletop games, but in building my audience I don’t want to focus on just queer indie tabletop gamers. Adjacent audiences that I would be happy to reach include players of trad games like D&D, video gamers, board gamers, and card gamers. Each of these audiences has ongoing conversations that are distinct to their subcommunity, but most gamers play several different types of games. Reaching out to all those other gamers increases my chances of reaching someone who wants to play what I’m making, or who is willing to promote my game to their friends.

Even then, “gamers” is still too narrow a focus. Widening my scope, I can look at capturing audiences like genre fiction writers and readers, queer activists and advocates, social justice types, and nerd culture afficianados – because the games that I write and make speak directly to the interests of all of those people as well.

So what can I say that will be relevant to all of those people? What content can I create that will be relevant to all of those different audiences?

New Stalker Meme Memes | Creepy Memes, Creepy Stalker Memes, Reddit Memes

Coming up with the answer to that on your own would be an overwhelming or maybe impossible task, which is why we do the research. If I was just starting out in publishing, I would take each of those audiences I defined and find out who the influencers are. What content are they making that connects with the audience I want to reach? What can I learn from them?

TAKE LOTS OF NOTES. And again, don’t be creepy.

LAST: Sources of Community-Relevant News

Talking only about yourself is the best way to make sure your online marketing tanks, so it’s important to not do that. The goal is to get other people to find you interesting enough to promote your work, and people who only talk about themselves are boring.

Keep talking only about yourself It's so interesting - Sarcastic Nicholas  Cage | Make a Meme

This is why you need to curate a list of sources to follow that will give you things you can share that are relevant to the audience you want to capture that aren’t about you.

This one is super easy! Follow all of those accounts now, then check your feed regularly and share anything that seems interesting or relevant. Done!

Important caveat: Make sure that your sources feed will show you stories about people who aren’t white dudes. Include sources by queer and BIMPOC people, okay? More than one or two. Otherwise you are going to cut off queer and BIMPOC folks as a potential audience by publicly never talking about queer and BIMPOC folks.

Once you have done all this, it’s time to move on to actually making a content schedule – which we’ll talk about next week. See you next Tuesday!

Marketing Yourself #2: Setting Up Your Analytics

Welcome to Part 2 in my new ongoing series, in which you can follow along with me as I run myself like a Content Marketing job. If you missed Part 1, you can find it here. It sets out instructions for the things that you’ll need to follow along with these lessons, which include: a website with Google Analytics installed, a thing you want to promote, at least one social media account.

As before, I ask that if you find this useful, please throw me a tip on Ko-fi. It cost me a lot of money to learn how to do this, and I need to eat.

Setting Up Your Analytics: Boring, but IMPORTANT

Tabletop is an extremely nerdy hobby, so maybe you share my unholy love of SPREADSHEETS and maybe you don’t. Either way, though, you’re going to need to get used to tracking basic information about how your marketing efforts are going, and spreadsheets are the best way to do that. AND HERE’S WHY.

The golden rule of content marketing is this: a marketing plan is worthless without GOALS. And GOALS are meaningless without MEASUREMENTS.

It might seem counter-intuitive, especially if the thing you’re looking to promote is creative. But improving your marketing is going to involve a lot of experiments before you find what works, and it will be impossible to determine what works and why it works without maintaining consistent and relevant data.

Hence, SPREADSHEETS. But fear not! We’re sticking to 101 level Excel stuff for now.

FIRST: Set Up Your Spreadsheet

The easiest and most useful way to track your analytics is a month at a time, so start off by creating a new spreadsheet and naming it “September 2020 Analytics”, or something similar. Next, you’ll need to create a tab for each channel that you want to track. Per my previous post, you should have set up your website and at least one other social media channel.

If you want to track more than that, great, but try not to start with more than about 3 or 4 things to track – otherwise updating your analytics will be overwhelmingly tedious and you won’t stick with it.

Myself, I’ll be tracking three things: my website, my Twitter, and my Ko-Fi stats. (I have a LOT more channels I could be tracking, but I’m following my own advice here. I can always branch out later.

NEXT: Set Up Your Tabs

Checking and updating your Analytics Dashboard should be a once-a-week task. Personally, I like to check it every Monday morning, because I find it both helpful and motivating to start my week with numbers. If that’s not your jam, that’s cool too, but you should try to be consistent about picking a day of the week and sticking with it. Because you’re doing this once a week, you should track your stats a week at a time. So across the top, you’ll break out your weeks, and down the left you’ll have the things you want to track.

Here’s how I’ve set up my tabs – feel free to cheat and copy what I’m doing! (Seriously. Why reinvent the wheel?

Website (numbers taken from Google Analytics):

Twitter (numbers from Twitter Analytics):

Ko-Fi (log in, then select “Home”):

NOTE: Each tab has a column for totals – which you can set up by inputting a formula to calculate the sum of weeks 1 through 5. However! The cells highlighted in orange are stats for which you will want an AVERAGE, not a SUM. (You can’t just, like, add engagement rates together to get a total engagement rate, because that’s not how percentages work.)

LAST: Set a Calendar Reminder to Update Your Spreadsheet Weekly

Setting up this data collection is critical for everything that we’re going to cover after this, but unfortunately it’s going to take some time to collect enough of it to even establish a baseline. But that’s okay! So once you’ve got your spreadsheet set up, save and make yourself some calendar reminders to check back in on your tracked channels and update them weekly. We’ll check back at the beginning of October where I’ll show you what to DO with this information.

In the mean time, we’ll move onto the second pillar of Content Marketing: Actually Creating Marketable Content – which will tackle next week.

That’s it for this week. Stay tuned for next week, when I’ll post Lesson 1: Analytics.

Marketing Yourself: Learn From Me As I Run Myself Like a Content Marketing Gig

Hey, folks. Welcome to the first post in what will likely be a long series, in which I cover the basics of online content marketing. Why am I writing this post?

Well, I’m a Content Marketing professional, and like many people right now, I’m funemployed thanks to COVID. The tech scale-up I was working for got acquired last fall, and I had a promising contract fall through in February about five minutes before COVID hit. And thanks to COVID, almost no one is hiring Marketers. Which is why I decided to embark on an experiment: I’m going to run myself like I would any other Content Marketing gig.

I know there’s a lot of folks in similar positions who are scrambling to figure out ways to do better at marketing themselves and their projects right now – be it streaming, publishing, or illustration. So I’m going to write about what I’m doing and why, so you can learn with me.

The only caveat? If at any point you find this useful, please throw me a tip on Ko-fi. I spent Literally Thousands of Dollars to go back to school for Marketing in 2016, and I need to eat just like everyone else.

Now, with that out of the way, let’s move on to…

“Supply” List: What You’ll Need To Follow Along

This blog series is going to cover 201-level marketing topics, and to that end, there are some things / accounts / services that you’re going to need in order to follow along. I’m not going to provide instruction on how to set these things up – there are lots of folks who have already written reams of information about these topics. But I will provide helpful links where I can.

FIRST: A Website, and something to promote on that website

At the risk of stating the obvious, before you learn how to better market yourself, you need to know what it is you want to promote. And you need to have an attractive, professional-looking website. Fear not! You don’t need to be a technophile or pay some one a lot of money to make a website for you. There are a lot of great, cheap options for doing it yourself.

Here’s what I use: I self-host a installation with Bluehost. It’s like $4/ month, with domain registration included. There are a lot of super clean and professional-looking FREE themes that will let you set up an attractive website without too much of a learning curve.

Advanced Tip, if you know design or WordPress: If you know your way around WordPress, then it’s definitely worth looking at Thrive Architect – a premium WordPress plugin that does front-end web page design. I have used Thrive Architect to do web design and maintenance in my professional life, and if you’ve used any sort of graphics program the controls will be familiar. It’s a bit on the expensive side, at $67 for a single license, but the robust package of pre-built templates makes it extremely worth it. Once you get used to it, it will save you a HUGE amount of time.

But Ash, what how do I know what my website should look like, or what it should say? Easy. Look at what your competitors are doing. Make a list of people in your industry that either you admire or do something similar to what you do. Look at their websites and take copious notes, then use that as a starting point.

DO NOT ACTUALLY STEAL FROM THEM, HOWEVER. Put time into figuring out what your Unique Selling Proposition is – IE what is the thing that you offer that other people can’t easily replicate?

SECOND: You need at least one or two social media channels that you can use to promote your work

This can be any social media channel that’s relevant to what you want to promote, meaning – are people using that social media channel to talk about things like the thing you are doing?

Think hard before you use an existing personal account. If you decide you want to use Facebook as a promotional channel, but you’ve got a lot of personal content and pictures on Facebook, maybe reconsider. Same for Twitter. Do you use Twitter for sweary rants or shitposting that might be incompatible with the image you’d like to promote? It might be best to start a separate account. (Myself, I have a Twitter account that I’ve been using personally AND to promote my games for so long that it’s not worth starting from scratch with a new account. But, you know. YMMV.)

Once you’ve set up your accounts, put some time into researching influencers to follow and hopefully build relationships with. The ideal influencer is someone who will be BOTH interested in what you are creating AND will not view you as a competitor. (What this means is different in every industry though, so. You know. Good luck.) Be creative and think about people slightly outside of but adjacent to YOUR target audience. Those make the best people to try to build relationships with.

However, building relationships does not mean becoming a reply guy. DO NOT BE A REPLY GUY. (If you don’t know what that means, please read this and resolve never to do any of these things.)

THIRD: You need a way to make things pretty

In order to have a professional-looking website and social media account, you need a way to make things pretty. To do that, you could get a ludicrously expensive Creative Cloud account and spend years teaching yourself Adobe, or you can utilize these ENTIRELY FREE resources:

Sign up with Canva: I spent five years getting a BFA in Cyber Art, which means I have a black belt in Adobe, and I still used Canva nearly every day in my professional content marketing life. For quick graphics, Canva is extremely easy and powerful. They have more than 50,000 templates for any kind of website or social media graphic you might ever need to make, which will not only save you time but also ensure that the stuff you make is clean and professional.

The free version is more than powerful enough to do everything you need. However, because most of the best stock textures and images are premium, here’s where you can find images to plug into Canva’s templates.

Unsplash: Unsplash is a stock photo site with 100% Creative Commons 0 photography, meaning you can use it for commercial use and you aren’t required to credit the creator. That’s insanely useful for when you just need something to drop in a quick banner or to use as part of a background. (That said, if you’re using Unsplash for something like a game that you intend to sell, just credit the photographer anyway. Don’t be a dick.)

Pixabay: Pixabay is another repository of Creative Commons 0 images. You need to sign up for an account if you want to download at the highest resolution, but signing up is free. (Signing up also let’s you bypass doing a Recapcha for every image you download.) The photography on Pixabay is usually a bit jankier, but unlike Unsplash they also have illustrations and vector images that can be extremely useful.

LAST: Set up Google Analytics

AS SOON AS you have a website, you need to set up Google Analytics for that website. Effective online marketing requires performance data, and you will not get the data you need to make decisions without setting up Google Analytics.

Google has some decent instructions here.

If you look elsewhere for guides, you might see people telling you that you also need Google Tag Manager, but honestly. Google Tag Manager is some 401 level shit that you don’t need right now. Google Analytics on its own is more than powerful enough.

IMPORTANT: Once Analytics is set up, you need to then install it on your website!

If you’re using WordPress, you can use a Plugin to automatically insert the tracking code on every page. I personally use GA Google Analytics, because it installs the tracking code without any extra bloat.

If you’re not using WordPress, or can’t install plugins, then you’ll need to manually paste the tracking code HTML into the header of every page. (Which you can find in Analytics by going to Admin > Property > Tracking Code, then copy the code in the textbox under “Global Site Tag (gtag.js)”)

That’s it for this week. Stay tuned for next week, when I’ll post Lesson 1: Analytics.