Tag: StepByStep

The Step-by-Step Annual Planning Guide for Overachievers – CharlesNgo.com

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I use to be a horrible annual planner. Then I read everything I could find on planning, spent thousands on workshops, and iterated my process over ten years. Now, I’m badass at this.

I’m going to teach you everything I know about annual planning. This won’t be easy. This is designed for overachievers. I’ve held nothing back.

So, why go through this process? It’s a major time commitment. I’m investing four days into mine.

First, it lets me zoom out and see the bigger picture.  It’s hard for you to see the bigger picture when you’re stuck in an endless loop of emails and zoom meetings.

I reached a crossroads last year. I was no longer excited about running affiliate marketing campaigns or creating courses. The feeling was lingering for years. So last year, I spent a significant amount of time confronting this feeling.

And then I realized I needed to move on from this industry. I wanted to move on to projects that I could be obsessed about.

Second, it helps you connect the dots. There was a lot of pain this year. None of our years went according to plan. What lessons can you learn so you don’t repeat the same mistakes again?

Finally, you’re infinitely more likely to achieve your desired outcomes. I believe that a successful life comes from doing hard things.

Talking about teamwork is easy. Firing your employee because you realize they’re not a great culture fit anymore is hard.

Declaring your goals on Facebook is easy. It’s hard to think, analyze, and reverse engineer how you’re going to achieve your goals.

That’s my mantra for 2021 – “Do hard things.” Everyone wants to take the path of least resistance. You won’t have much competition when you choose the harder path.

Many people won’t bother with annual planning because life’s too unpredictable. Look at how 2020 went for everyone. I get it.

But here’s the thing: the discipline of planning means you’ll react better. 

You know the business plan won’t survive its first encounters with reality,” he says. “But the discipline of writing the plan forces you to think through some of the issues and to get sort of mentally comfortable in the space. Then you start to understand, if you push on this knob, this will move over here and so on. So, that’s the first step.” – Jeff Bezos

Life is like jazz. There’s a score you could follow exactly, but you have permission to riff and make the music bolder.

I don’t know what 2021 has in store for us. But I promise you that your year will be better if you invest the time into annual planning.

You bring the energy – I’ll give you my exact blueprint.

Some Notes Before You Start

There are a few things you should do before you get started.

0.1 Be in the Right Environment

Don’t do this in your home office. You’re too close to the trenches. You need an environment that inspires you.

Look at how Muhammad Ali trained for his fights. His original training camps were in Miami. He had to leave Miami. Too distracting. He built a new training facility in Deer Lake, Pennsylvania. It was called “Fighter’s Heaven.”

It gave him complete focus to train for his big fights.
You need to find your “Fighter’s Heaven.”

Here’s my formula:

  • Rent an Airbnb that’s within driving distance. Around one or two hours away is good. Don’t deal with the stress of airports.
  • Be close to nature.  I want you to be able to open your door and see a forest, a mountain, or a lake. This makes a difference.
  • Don’t be too far from civilization. I like to still be 30 minutes from a town. Going out for dinner each night is my reward.
  • No outside work. You’re here for the annual planning. No meetings. No checking email. Be disciplined.

 An example of the vibes I want. Just make sure it has WIFI. Photo credit: Pixabay.

Here’s my schedule this year.

Sunday: Leave at 4pm. Settle into town.
Monday: Day 1 Reflections. Go into town for dinner.
Tuesday: Day 2 Planning. Go into town for dinner.
Wednesday: Drive home at 11am.

I know it’s tempting to try and shorten your trip to save money. But you don’t want the check-in, and check-out processes to interrupt you.

0.2. Adapting This to a Team

This guideline is for individuals doing their personal planning, but you can easily adapt this to a team.

If you have a team, then I recommend doing two separate annual plans.

For the company version,  I recommend doing this in person with your employees. It also doubles as facetime if you’re remote.

(Note: This article is meant to be evergreen. If you’re reading this in the middle of the pandemic, you can do this via Zoom)

Do your personal annual planning the weekend after. Don’t do it back to back.

I tried it once. It sucked. I had no energy after the company one.

0.3. Sweep Your Digital Dust

It’s important for Chinese people to clear their houses for the New Year. It symbolizes a wish to put the past behind, say goodbye to the past year, and welcome in the New Year.

We’re going to do a digital version of this. I want you to inbox zero everything.

  • Answer all outstanding emails.
  • Go through your Task Manager and clear out tasks.
  • Clear your laptop. I love doing a reformat of my laptop!

0.4. Do Your Homework

Annual planning can be mentally and emotionally draining. Take some time to go through this article.

Is there anything that you’re missing? You might not have a list of core values yet, or a life’s mission statement written. That’s OK. You can work on it now.

Create a checklist. Gather all your financials and documents in one place. Make everything frictionless for yourself.

You want most of your energy during the retreat to be spent on thinking.

This framework will be intimidating if it’s your first time doing it. Give it your best shot. Don’t skip any sections. It’ll get easier with practice.

And don’t feel the pressure to do all this in a few days. It’s fine if you’re still working on this after January. Focus on progress, not perfection.

Day 1: Looking Back

Ray Dalio is the most successful hedge fund manager in the world. His favorite principle is “Pain + Reflection = Progress.

He believes that every pain we go through in life contains a “gem.” But we have to spend time reflecting to uncover those gems.

We’re going to spend the entire day reflecting. I’ll give you some frameworks and questions to guide you.

1.1 What Happened This Year?

It’s been a long year. Take a walk down memory lane. Go through this year month by month.

Write down all the major events that happened each month. It can be hard to remember. Go through your calendar, emails, and task managers to help refresh your memory.

January:
February:
March:

This is easy if you have a system of doing a monthly review.

1.2 Deep Dive into the Different Departments

Life and work can be organized into departments. This helps us see in detail how we’re performing in different areas.

Your company is generating record profits. If you look at your company as a whole, you’d think that nothing’s wrong. But analyze each department. You might notice that the customer service department is lacking.

It’s taking five days on average for customers to get a response. They’re starting to leave bad reviews everywhere. Influencers are starting to trash your products. These are leading indicators. If you don’t improve this department, then it’ll affect the future of your whole company.

This applies to life, too. I’ve seen many people go “all in” on their businesses for years. Their wealth and career might be a 10/10. But what happens if their health or relationships go down to a 3?

I don’t believe someone’s life can truly be “balanced.” We’re looking out for “danger zones.” We’re making sure no areas of our lives are weak enough to hold us back.

Let’s look into the departments.

I categorize my personal life into these buckets:

  1. Work
  2. Financials
  3. Fun/Enjoyment
  4. Skills/Learning
  5. Health
  6. Relationships

You can get more granular with each area.

Health -> Mental Health, Exercise, Diet

Relationships -> Family, Significant Other, Friends, Children

Financials -> Budget, Retirement, Investing, Taxes, Robustness

Adjust accordingly for your life.

A few things that I’m looking for:

  1. Am I balanced in the way that I want? I spent too much time playing video games this year. I spent too little time studying Spanish. Seeing this lets me think about how I can adjust my systems and environment next year.
  2. Are there any areas of my life that are underperforming? I’m not doing as well in the friendship subcategory this year. Quarantine made it tough, but I could’ve called more people. I’m going to make an effort to improve next year.
  3. Did I achieve what I wanted in these areas this year? Why or why not? Identify the obstacles in your way.
  4. Give yourself a score in each area. Rank yourself out of 10. If you’re scoring high in an area, that’s a signal to keep doing whatever you’re doing. Scored low? That’s a signal you need to make some changes.
  5. What systems can I build? I didn’t understand the importance of mental health in my 20’s. So my solution is to create different systems to maintain this area. Some of these include daily meditation, journaling, seeking therapy whenever I needed it.

Let’s look at the departments in a business.

  1. Product
  2. Marketing
  3. Finance
  4. Operations

If you’re a bigger company, then you can add in departments like customer service, project management, etc.

I recommend keeping it simple. Too many departments mean you’ll start losing focus on what matters.

If you’re doing an annual review with a team, then every department head should prepare a report. Let them own it.

Here’s an example for Finance:

  • Show the numbers. Income statement, balance sheets, cash flow forecasting. Make charts and graphs where necessary.
  • Explain the numbers. Not everyone understands finances. Their job is to make it easy for the rest of us.
  • What happened this year? I don’t think Charles spending $3,000 at Spearmint Rhino in Las Vegas was the best use of our funds.
  • Recommendations for next year. Our monthly software and subscriptions expenses are at $6,000 a month on average. Here’s how we can bring it down to $4,000 a month.”

Analyzing a department is simple if you’re already using a framework such as Objective and Key Results.

Compare this year’s results to what was planned. How did the Key Performance Indicators line up?

1.3 Reflect on the Year

Now you have a clearer picture of what 2020 was like. Now it’s time to make sense of what happened.

Here are a series of questions to help you reflect.

  • What Were My Big Wins This Year?
  • What Were My Losses This Year?
  • What Happened This Year That Surprised Me?
  • What Were the Biggest Lessons I Learned?
  • If I had a time machine and could go back to one year ago, what would I have done differently?

DO NOT BREEZE THROUGH THIS QUESTIONS.

I go into thinking time mode in this section. You’ll see that the first few answers you have will come easily. Then you’ll be “stuck” for a few minutes. The next answers? That’s where the gold is.

You have to be honest with yourself. Let’s say you set a goal to lose 15lbs this year, and you gained 15lbs instead.

It’s easy to blame quarantine. The gyms were closed, and it was easy to stress eat. It’s bullshit and we both know it.

If someone had a gun to your head, you would’ve found a way to exercise. You could’ve run outside. But you didn’t. This is where you have to go deeper to understand what happened.

You can’t make improvements if you’re not aware. If you have trouble with self-awareness, then it can be helpful to ask for constructive feedback from others.

1.4 Evaluate Your Mission and Core Values

We need purpose in our lives to feel fulfilled. We need a reason to wake up in the morning besides collecting a paycheck.

This is the part where I ask myself, am I living up to my mission? Am I living according to my values?

One of my core values is to “push my comfort zone.” Everything that I want in life comes from pushing it. It’s what encouraged me to move to Asia, start speaking publicly, and even start this blog.

I didn’t do a great job this year of pushing my comfort zone. Some of my original plans weren’t possible due to quarantine.

I hold myself accountable, though. I could’ve made adjustments on a quarterly or a monthly basis. There are plenty of ways to live up this value even if I’m stuck at home.

That’s it for Day 1. It’s time to recover. I’ll go for a jog in the area. Go into town to grab some dinner. And then I’ll watch something on Netflix.

Go to bed early. Make sure to get plenty of rest for the next day.

Day 2: Planning Next Year

We did a thorough analysis of 2020. You understand what happened this year.

Now it’s time to look forward.

2.1 Review Your Long Term Goals

Before I start planning the year, I want to do a quick refresher on the bigger picture of my life. You need to know where you’re going before you start planning your trip.

Steps:

  • Review Your Life Mission
  • Review Your Core Values
  • Review Any 3- or 10-year Goals You’ve Set

You also need to evaluate if these long term goals are still relevant to you.

At one point, I wanted to write a book. Now? I have zero interest in it. The desire is still there to teach and help people. But maybe a book’s not the best method for me.

Starting a podcast sounds more fun and interesting to me than writing a book.

Don’t be afraid to change your goals if they’re no longer relevant to you. My destination is the same, I’m just taking a different road to get there.

2.2 Write Out Your One Year Vision

Most people start listing out their goals. There’s a valuable step before that called the Vision Story.

You write out what you want your life to be like a year from now.

I’ll write an imaginary example:

I will quit my job. My affiliate marketing side hustle will grow to a profit of over six figures a year. This freedom will allow me to travel the world. I’ll explore living in Asia, Eastern Europe, and South America.

I will take my fitness more seriously. I’ll drop down to 185lbs and 10% body fat. I’ll do this through a combination of CrossFit and dieting. In order to perform at my best, I will be completely sober. I won’t drink any alcohol, smoke any weed, or do any drugs.

I am single now and am fine being single next year. However, I’ll definitely date a bit when I’m in different countries.

I don’t have a great social circle where I’m at right now. I want to network with more affiliates and entrepreneurs next year. I’ll go to several conferences.”

Do you see how much easier it is to plan your future if you just write it in story format? If reading your story doesn’t excite you, then you need to think bigger.

I suggest writing out an entire page’s worth. The more detail you give, the better. The details and emotion you put in the story is what gets you excited.

2.3 Prioritizing Your Outcomes

The story was a brainstorming tool.

Chances are that you have plenty of things you want to achieve for this year. Unfortunately, your time, energy, and attention are limited.

I only set three outcomes for the entire year. 3 is easy enough to remember and keeps you focused.

Your average person is too ambitious and sets a ton of outcomes. Here’s what happens after a year.

  • Earn six figures in profit from affiliate marketing  – NOT ACHIEVED
  • Spend at least a month in three different continents – NOT ACHIEVED
  • Reach 185lbs and 10% body fat – NOT ACHIEVED
  • Read 20 books ACHIEVED
  • Journal every day – NOT ACHIEVED
  • Get scuba diving license ACHIEVED

Note: Notice how specific and measurable each outcome is. It holds you accountable.

Your resources are too spread out. Our brain tends to focus on doing what’s easiest. You’ve achieved two of your outcomes but they are the least impactful ones.

You read 20 books this year and got a scuba diving license. How much of a difference does that make to your life? Not much.

Instead, constrain yourself to the most impactful outcomes.

  • Earn six figures in profit from affiliate marketing – ACHIEVED
  • Spend at least a month in three different continents – NOT ACHIEVED
  • Reach 185lbs and 10% body fat – ACHIEVED

Now imagine how much different your life would be when you achieve these.

You know who else sets their outcomes in 3’s? Lululemon. Here is Lululemon’s strategic growth plan.

The Company’s three priorities to drive revenue growth over the next five years are:

  • Product innovation– The Company expects to more than double the size of its men’s revenues by 2023. In addition, its plans call for continued expansion in the women’s and accessories businesses. Both existing and new product categories are planned to grow, with lines supporting yoga, running and training. The Company also plans to continue its product collaborations, expand its popular Office/Travel/Commute category, and pursue new opportunities, such as self-care.
  • Omni guest experiences – The Company expects to more than double its digital revenues by 2023. The Company will focus on offering an integrated guest experience across channels which are intended to inspire, provoke and celebrate guests who live a healthy and mindful lifestyle across multiple experiences – such as events, dynamic new store formats, and its innovative membership program that fosters connections among guests.
  • Market expansion– The Company plans to quadruple its international revenues by 2023. The Company’s recent success in its international markets demonstrates that the sweat life translates across cultures and geographies and presents considerable growth potential for the brand. Expanding across China, as well as the APAC and EMEA regions, will be continued areas of focus for the Company. The Company also believes that considerable growth potential remains in both the U.S. and Canada and it plans to leverage its agile store formats, digital experience, and community connection.

What about the other goals?

Forget about them. You want to stay laser-focused. But I know not everyone thinks this way, so I’ll give you a solution.

Break them out into projects.

One of my goals was to learn how to salsa dance while living in New York City. I wanted it, but it wasn’t important enough to be one of my three main outcomes.

So I turned salsa dancing into a quarterly project. You can turn some of your goals into quarterly, monthly, or weekend projects.

2.4 Do a Strategic Gap Analysis

Anyone can set goals. The hardest part is to turn them into reality. Now is the time to think. How do you bridge the gap between now and your desire?

The easiest way to do this is to do a Gap Analysis.

Here’s my version of it.

  1. Be clear on the end result.
  2. Understand where you’re at now.
  3. Figure out the obstacles in your way.
  4. Brainstorm solutions to the problem.
  5. See if you know anyone who has achieved what you’re trying to do.
  6. Design the machine and systems.
  7. Take action.
  8. Measure results.
  9. Reflect and revise.

I wrote a detailed article on how to do this.

Read: How to do a Gap Analysis

Here are some other tools that I use:

Thinking Time:

Getting the right answers to your problems requires the right questions.

COVID-19 is affecting everything right now. As of me writing this article, a vaccine has been approved and everyone’s excited. What if there is a COVID-20 and it’s worse than COVID-19? What can I do now to prepare my business for that possibility?

How about a sales question?

My customers aren’t buying my product because of perceived risk or uncertainty. What are those risks and how can I mitigate them?

You can’t come up with good answers in a few minutes. But having the discipline to answer these questions means you’ll know your business better.

Here’s an article I wrote on Thinking Time. If you want a ton of thinking time questions, read The Road Less Stupid.

SWOT analysis: This stands for strength, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats. This gives a high level overview of your business.

I.C.E. analysis: You’ve brainstormed several project ideas by now. You can use the I.C.E. framework to see which ones are the best opportunities.

You score each project according to Impact, Confidence, and Ease.

Impact: How much of an impact can this project have on your business?
Confidence: How confident are you that you can pull it off?
Ease: How easy is it to implement?

Charles writes a book:

Impact: 6
Confidence: 4
Ease: 3

Average = 4.33

Charles starts a podcast:

Impact: 9
Confidence: 9
Ease: 8

Average = 8.67

This scoring system lets me know that starting a podcast would be a better project for me, than writing a book. It’s a great way to figure out WHAT to prioritize.

2.5 Critical Drivers and KPIs

Finished with your analysis? Now it’s time to understand what activities lead to the desired outcomes. These are called critical drivers.

Desired Outcome: Lose 15lbs

Everyone tracks weight. The problem? It’s a lagging indicator.

We want to track the activities that lead to losing weight. Samantha wants to focus on exercising and dieting.

Critical Driver #1: Go to OrangeTheory class three times a week.
Critical Driver #2: Eat 1500 calories a day.

She can create a simple spreadsheet to track. Is she performing the activities consistently? And if she is, are they making her lose weight? If not, then she needs to adjust.

Look at your three outcomes for the year.

What are the critical drivers, and how are you planning to track them? 

2.6 Map Out Your Year

Next, we’re going to map out your year in a spreadsheet. I did a quick example.

You’re not going to fill it out completely. You’re going to fill things out the best you can. You’re going to revisit this sheet on a quarterly, and a monthly basis.

Let’s look at my December 2021. One year from now.

I don’t know what my work projects or personal projects will be. I do know some of the anchor events.

It’ll be my birthday and Christmas, we’re planning a trip to Peru, and I’ll need to block out a few days to do my 2022 annual plan.

This map helps you reverse engineer your projects. Let’s say you’re manufacturing a physical product. You want it to be ready for Black Friday.

Draw out a quick project timeline.

Quarter 1: Conduct customer research. Make a decision.
Quarter 2: Work with the manufacturers to finalize the design.
Quarter 3: Buffer period. A million things can go wrong.
Quarter 4: Prepare marketing.

People tend to underestimate how much effort a major project takes. Think about how many people are late to an event. They can’t even get that right!

Creating a project map for the year can make your predictions more accurate.

Keeping the Momentum Going

We’re not putting in all this work to feel good about ourselves. We’re here to achieve outcomes. We need to implement and create different systems.

I don’t do this section during my trip. I rather devote more energy to thinking. This next section can be done over the next few weeks when you have more energy.

3.1 Set Reminders

You have to remind yourself of your outcomes every day.

Some ways I’ve done it:

1. Create a desktop or mobile wallpaper. Hire a designer on Fiverr to make it visually appealing.

2. Sticky notes. Write your outcomes down on sticky notes. Put one on the bottom of your monitor, and another on your bathroom mirror.

3. Accountability partner. I had a goal a few years ago to enter a BJJ tournament. Me and my friend made a $1,000 USD wager. If we didn’t compete, then the other person would get $1,000 USD. I would not have competed if I didn’t have that pressure.

This works amazingly for the gym.

We’re going to the gym Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. Whoever misses a workout owes the other person $20.”

3.2 Quarterly, Monthly, and Weekly Reviews

Your annual review is a blueprint. You need to establish a regular rhythm to make sure you’re on track.

  • Quarterly Review – It’s similar to my annual review, but on a smaller scale. I do the same thing where I take two days off and spend it in nature.
  • Monthly Review – Last Friday of the month. Takes me around four hours.
  • Weekly Review – Every Sunday. It takes around an hour.

Think of it like a waterfall.

Take your annual plan and break it into a 3-month plan.

3.3 Building Systems to Achieve Your Outcomes

It’s hard to keep track of everything. The easiest way for me is to establish habits, routines, and systems in my life.

Let’s look at relationships. Most people just say they want to have better relationships in their lives, and then they leave it to chance.

When I want something, I establish a system for improvement.

Here are some of the systems in my relationship department:

  1. Me and my fiancé go on a date every Friday night.
  2. I make sure to see my mom at least once every two weeks.
  3. On Sundays, I set aside an hour to do a catch-up call with a friend.
  4. Before COVID-19 hit, I hosted a board game night at my home every month for my friends.

I know this can seem too robotic for some people. I get it. But I have way too much shit in my head.

Creating systems eases the cognitive load on my mind.

Sometimes I get too hardcore into work and Brazilian Jiujitsu. Having calendar event to see my mom is my insurance to make sure I do it.

Let’s look at financials:

My fiancé reconciles our finances every Sunday using a program called YNAB.

Every month, I spend an hour updating our financial spreadsheet. I also have a journal where I list what happened and reflect.

We have a one-hour call every month with a personal finance coach. He keeps me accountable and helps me from making dumb decisions.

Everything in your life can be systemized.

The Plan is Useless, but Planning is Essential

I’m pretty sure that my love of planning and strategy came from playing Starcraft as a kid.

I learned the value of prioritization. I couldn’t have a strong military and a booming economy within the first few minutes. I was constrained by my minerals and gas. I had to choose which one was more important. Most people plan goals as if they had unlimited resources. Too many desires mean nothing’s going to get achieve.

I learned how to analyze and reflect on my own games. Most people just play games over and over again. It’s fun. But you’re just turning your bad habits into muscle memory. We don’t have unlimited lives in the game of life. So reflecting lets us get more juice from the lemons.

And finally, thinking ahead made me more prepared. I was a Terran main. I loved investing in my economy early on, so I could attack during the mid-game. But I knew I’d always be vulnerable to be attacked early. So I made sure to scout the enemy well. I’d create a bunker if I knew they were preparing for a “rush.”

So now I think often in terms of what if’s?

  • What if I die? I’ve already prepared a trust and will. My family will be taken care of, and they won’t have to suffer through probate court.
  • What if someone hacks into my computers and servers? I have 2FA on everything. Everything’s automatically backed up.
  • What if another Pandemic happens? We bought a deep freezer in the garage. The freezer’s full, and our pantry’s full. We have extra masks.

All these make me more robust.

I don’t know what’s in store for 2021, but investing this time into planning will make you more robust.

Please rate this article – it helps me know what to write!

How to Write a Blog Post: Step-By-Step Guide


1997: the year the Pathfinder landed on Mars, Madeleine Albright was sworn in as Secretary of State, and Titanic demolished box office records.

It’s also the year the term “weblog” was officially coined (even though the first blog is said to have existed in 1994, at the near genesis of the internet). For two decades, starting a blog has been a powerful way to connect with internet audiences and share creative content.

Yet, with blogging’s established rep as a powerhouse (and dominant) form of web content, it’s easy to witness the ever-changing and ephemeral landscape of the internet. Blink and virtual crowds have abandoned one novelty social media platform for another. Viral memes and web fads frequently give internet audiences virtual whiplash. Content creators are fighting to garner the ever-depleting attention spans of web users.

So are the web’s 31.7 million blogs losing relevance anytime soon?

Not at all.

It turns out 77% of internet users read blogs regularly. What’s more, 61% of Americans spend three times the amount of time-consuming blog content than they do email content.

Blogging is still very much a crucial part of a thriving brand and a next-level content marketing strategy in 2020. Whether you’re a brand or a business, you want to attract traffic and offer something of value to visitors. Blogging is a major key to that engagement — having a blog on your website increases your chances of ranking higher in search engines by a massive 434%. Plus, bloggers wield immense influence on the web — giving your brand the opportunity to grow in a big way.

So do you have everything you need to be a blogging success? Let’s find out. Passion? Check. Website? Check. Fueled by a great *ahem* web hosting company *ahem*? Double-check. You’re ready to share your own unique content with the world wide web.

Power Your Blog with DreamHost

We’ll make sure your blog is fast, secure and always up so your visitors can engage with you. Plans start at $2.59/mo.

OK, wait. How do you write a blog post? If you want to create value for readers and attract traffic to your site, it’s not as easy as typing up a few sentences in haste and clicking Publish. No, writing a great blog post requires creativity and smart crafting. And with the abundance of bloggers and the influx of ideas out there, you need to be at the top of your blogging game to cut through the noise and get eyes on your content.

But don’t worry!

We’re here to help. This everything-you-need guide covers it all: the reality behind blogging (aka vital stats to know), the ins-and-outs of crafting a great blog, and what handy resources are available to help with every aspect of writing your article.

Dig in and study it word-for-word or just jump to the sections you need:

Before we dive in too deep, let’s address something really fundamental: Why is writing a good blog post so important? Why does it even matter?

So glad you asked (we love this topic)!

Why Does Writing a Great Blog Post Matter?

So what difference does a quality blog post make anyway?

Well, the difference between a so-so blog post and a can’t-stop-reading blog post is a matter of only a handful of factors, but they’re crucial.

An exceptional blog post not only helps attract your target audience to your site, but it helps establish you as an authority in your field and motivates visitors to continue engaging with you.

In fact, 30% of people rank quality content as the top factor that adds credibility to a blog, so not only do you need to start a blog, you need excellent blog content. As you provide valuable content, readers will be more likely to develop loyalty to your brand. They’ll share your content with their friends, and trust us, social shares are the virtual word of mouth you need to flourish online.

If you want authentic growth, you need killer blog posts.

What Makes a Good Blog Post?

So let’s break it down. What makes a perfect blog article? Here are the nine key ingredients.

1. Targeted Message

Or, in other words, Know Thy Audience. Ideally, you already know who you’re trying to reach with your brand or business.

Similarly, your blog posts should be geared toward reaching and influencing a particular target audience — your specific niche — and addressing their needs. With a focused target, you are more likely to connect with audiences and build your brand. Casting an overly-wide net with your message will cause you to miss out on the key audiences that are most important for the growth of your brand.

Valentine's Day post from House That Lars Built
Brittany Jepsen of House That Lars Built knows her audience — creative DIY crafters — and tailors content for them.

2. Clever Headline

Your headline is often the make-it-or-break-it factor between someone clicking on your blog post or passing it by for some other site (likely a competitor’s content!)

Your headline should grab readers, make them want more — tease and tantalize! — while still giving them a roadmap for the journey you’re going to take them on as well as an idea of what prize they’ll earn by adventuring. Invest the time to craft a good headline — it makes a big difference. Choose each word carefully.

Pro-tip: Use a headline analyzer tool to get insight into the efficacy of your title and ways to improve.

Behind-the-scenes blog post of Disneyland happenings.
The author of this Disney Food Blog post entices readers with a behind-the-scenes look at Disneyland happenings.
Blog post from At One Good Thing by Jillee.
At One Good Thing by Jillee, this headline explains that the post will address a very common pain point — needing room-temperature ingredients in a pinch.
Example of blog title using numbers.
Using numbers is a solid way to quantify what value you’re offering to readers, like this post on author K.M. Weiland’s writing blog.

3. Interesting Intro

Kudos! You got a reader to click on your post, interested in finding more about your topic. Now — how to keep them reading (and keep your bounce rate steady)?

You need a hook. You need to start your blog post with a captivating intro to draw the reader into your post. Whether you lead with a shocking stat, an engaging anecdote, a thought-provoking question, or an innovative idea, make your intro so compelling that your visitors can’t stop reading. Lure them in and hook ‘em.

But take note — the introduction needs to satisfy the intent you hinted at in the headline or your audiences (and search engines) will punish you with lower traffic and rankings.

Example of intriguing blog post intro.
This post from Greatist hooks readers with an unexpected, intriguing intro.

4. Valuable Content

What does your blog post offer audiences? Readers are more likely to read and engage with your blog content if it offers them something of value, addresses a burning question, or solves a particularly deep pain point. Are you providing them with info they can’t find anywhere else? Is your content exclusive, comprehensive beyond your competitors, or outfitted with freebies or rich resources? Does it solve a problem?

If so, then you’re on the right track.

Let’s spend some time on this. Great blog posts are really all about understanding your audience — what they need, what they care about, how they behave. This type of research is crucial. Get to know them by reaching out to them, soliciting feedback, and asking questions. Get to know them and show you care.

Next, do some internet research. Look at what people are searching for, what types of questions they’re asking (Google Auto-Complete anyone?). Browse Reddit, scout out competitor sites, and read comments.

Simply put: Do your homework.

Based on the intel you gather, develop a list of blog posts and content ideas that address the needs of your audience. You can start out with broad topics and then narrow the scope as you hone in on your niche. Plan what you need to distinguish your blog and beat out competitors in what you’re offering audiences.

Popular content on the CSS-Tricks blog.
The blog at CSS-Tricks clues readers into popular content and entices with the promise of answering a burning question.

Need ideas on what kind of content to offer? Here are some well-received examples:

  • Listicles
  • Roundups
  • How-Tos/Tutorials
  • Exclusive Insights/Behind-the-Scenes

5. Captivating Stories

Visitors are more likely to connect with content that is relatable, human, and engaging, so gather your readers around the campfire (metaphorically, of course) and share relevant, captivating tales.

Example of captivating story from Expert Vagabond blog.
This post from Expert Vagabond hooks readers immediately with a captivating story.

6. Easy-to-Scan Text

Here’s an important stat for you. The average person spends only 37 seconds reading a blog post. If your text is long and clunky, it could be even less.

Make your content easy to consume, organizing your snackable text in bite-sized pieces that’s easy to digest.

Break up text into short paragraphs often, guided by informative subheads, emphasized text, and bullet points. Vary the length of your sentences, and utilize white space to provide visual breaks for readers’ eyes. Making text easier to read with consistent and organized formatting will help keep eyes on your content.

7. Thoughtful Design

It’s not just the content of your blog post that matters. Design (and blog structure) plays a big part in getting audiences to consume your content and engage with your brand. Pairing strong content with aesthetically-pleasing design makes your blog post that much more impactful.

Thoughtful design includes smart use of white space, an attractive color scheme, easy-to-use navigation and menus, and other guiding design elements like leading lines and composition.

It should also take into account the typical f-shaped scanning pattern when laying out design elements.

Joi Knows How blog color scheme.
The blog at Joi Knows How is united by a cohesive color scheme and engaging design elements, and thoughtful navigation.

8. Authentic Writing

The quickest way to turn off your audiences? Write content for them in an inauthentic voice. Visitors to your site don’t want salesperson speak, overly-technical jargon, academic mumbo-jumbo, or an unapproachable narrator — they want YOU. Your real, one-of-a-kind voice will keep them coming back for more.

Example of relatable blog copy.
Jessica of How Sweet Eats brings appeal to her blog posts not just by sharing delicious recipes and food photos — her writing feels real, relatable, and fun.

9. Mobile-Responsiveness

Mobile is king. Mobile internet usage has grown exponentially in the last few years, now dominating its share of traffic over desktop usage.

Plus, more than five million people have smartphones, meaning that if audiences can’t access your blog post on mobile (or if your post isn’t responsive or attractive on their phone or tablet), they’re likely to hop to a competitor’s site.

Prioritize a mobile-friendly blog to grow your brand. Use Google’s Mobile-Friendly Test to test out your site for possible responsiveness issues (this includes keeping things speedy!).

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How to Write a Blog Post (In 6 Steps)

Now, it’s time to write that blog post! Let’s get down to the nitty-gritty and do this step by step.

1. Plan

First, you need to sit down and prep your post. Planning is imperative to crafting a home-run blog post, especially if you want to stand out amongst your competitors and garner the attention you need.

First off, you need to get yourself organized. Keep a running list of post ideas based on the research you’ve conducted on your audience and on valuable keywords. Brainstorm and mind map your thoughts. When planning your content calendar, consult your ideas and choose what would be the most useful for your target audience.

Once you’ve settled on a winner, use a blog planner (like this one) and map out your topic. Create an outline with basic points and conduct the necessary research to flesh out important details. Visitors can get fake news anywhere on the web, so you owe it to your audience (and your brand) to only plan and create well-researched, high-value posts.

And remember, it’s great to have a lot of content — more blog posts will draw more traffic. BUT. Make sure you’re prioritizing quality content over mere quantity and that you’re passionate about what you’re writing about.

If you are, it will be evident — and contagious.

2. Craft a Headline

Your headline is crucial, remember? It’s got to be strong, or it’s not going to draw readers in.

Remember: you want to entice and hint at what readers are going to get out of clicking on your article instead of someone else’s. A few headline pointers:

  • Optimal headline length is 11-14 words, both for social shares and search engine efficacy.
  • You need a captivating hook, plus enough info that your readers know what to expect and what value you’re offering them. Don’t just use throwaway clickbait phrases or pack in keywords. Trim the fat and use each word with intention.

3. Write Your Post

Time to start tickling those virtual ivories — meaning, it’s time to start writing your blog post. The average time spent writing a blog post has been increasing, so give yourself enough time (at least a few hours) to get your thoughts down and fully engage the writing process.

The optimal length for blog posts is 2200-2500 words, so keep an eye on word count as you write. For now, don’t worry about making it perfect on the first go-around. Just keep those fingers moving and get the words down.

Make sure to include a CTA (Call to Action) as you wrap up your post — you want your readers to be motivated to do something. And if they’ve stuck with you through a whole blog post, there’s a good chance they will.

4. Find Images

A blog post without images earns a big whomp, whomp, whomp — and gets little interest from readers and higher bounce rates. Blog articles with images get 94% more views.

This means images — relevant, good quality ones — are absolutely necessary for your posts.

DIY some of your own photography, get proper photo permissions for others’ work you want to share, or use a royalty-free site like Pexels or Unsplash to add images to your post and edit as necessary.

You can also consider including alternative elements like infographics, charts, and graphics to create unique visual interest.

Example of eye-catching image on Our Travel Passport blog.
Eye-catching images are a hallmark of the Our Travel Passport blog, drawing readers in with visual interest.

5. Edit Your Post

Wait! Before clicking Publish, you need to edit your post. And no, a simple run of your standard-issue spell check isn’t enough.

Here are some editing best practices:

  • Take a Break. Polish your post by stepping away from your keyboard for a time, then returning later with a fresh pair of eyes. The break will help you see errors you might have missed before.
  • Play Editor. Proofread your post with a fine-tooth comb and correct any grammar and spelling errors. Also take the opportunity to edit your text for clarity.
  • Think Syntax. The same type and length of sentences can get really boring — and difficult — to read. Vary your sentence length to keep things interesting.
  • Pack a Punch. Flimsy, weak-sounding copy turns off readers and leaves them unsatiated. Eliminate weak verbs and passive voice. You want your words to be strong and meaningful.
  • Get a Sounding Board. Read your text aloud to ensure it flows smoothly and sounds authentic and on-brand. Have a friend or colleague read over it and give feedback for an outsider’s perspective.
  • Fix Formatting. Make sure your text isn’t wonky when published. Preview it to ensure that it looks the way it’s supposed to — professional and well laid-out — providing plenty of visual space for eye breaks.

Your blog content is a representation of your brand, so make sure it reflects a professional and polished image.

6. Promote Your Post

If you’ve followed the steps above, you’ve likely got a great blog post on your hands. That’s all fine and good, but if no one sees it, all your hard work is for naught! You’ll need to put in the content marketing legwork to get your post in front of your audience.

Whether you use social media promotion, email marketing, paid advertising, or search engine optimization — ideally, a balance of all of these tactics — work to promote your post in ways that make sense for your target audiences.

Helpful Blog Post Resources

Don’t worry. We’re not done yet! We’ve got a handy-dandy toolbox of resources to help you make writing blog posts easy (and fun) — and above all, to help you build a successful blog and grow your brand. We know starting and maintaining a blog isn’t easy, but we’re here to help.

Here are some super useful tools for each step of the writing process.

Building a Website

Planning

Writing

Editing

Promotion

The Final Word on Starting a Blog

Ready to craft some kick-butt blog posts? You’ve got everything you need to write great posts; now you need to team up with a great web host.

We’ve got you covered.

We’re experts at making things easy with top-tier tech support and resources for any SOS moments. Plus, we’re your biggest fans. Go you! Our Shared Hosting plans + your epic blogging skills = the perfect pair.

A Step-By-Step Guide (2020 Update)

The importance of content has been proven numerous times through various tests and “leaks” from Google on how their algorithms work.

However, not all content is important or relevant, that is why websites and their blogs need to have a clear structure and idea behind them.

Studies have confirmed that small businesses with blogs get 126% higher lead growth than small businesses without blogs. That is the reason why content mapping became an important process for every business.

But, what is content mapping?

Content mapping is a tool/process that helps businesses to understand their audience better. More precisely, it explains how to effectively guide potential customers through the customer journey.

The point of successful content mapping is to gather a bigger number of leads that will become buyers one day.

Advantages of Effective Content Mapping Strategy

Many businesses are not aware of the benefits they can get thanks to this method.

We would like to highlight 2 advantages that will help you make better results.

1. Meeting Your Customers

You will define the path which each customer takes before he does business with you.

On that “road”, they will show which needs, goals, and concerns they have.

Understanding the characteristics of your target audience will help you develop a better marketing strategy.

2. Better Sales

It doesn’t matter if you actively update content on your website.

If the number of sales remains the same, your strategy is not effective enough.

This method of work helps business owners make a catalog of their content.

First of all, you won’t duplicate the content that you have. Doing something like that is monotonous and it will have a negative impact on your potential buyers.

Besides that, it will show you which content is perfect for a certain stage of a sales funnel.

Publishing many things on your website daily will not guarantee you success. Each piece that you publish needs to have a purpose.

How to Develop Successful Content Mapping Strategy

Content production is a complex process. It is recommendable to surround yourself with quality people that will help you scale content production successfully.

You will have to use different methods to satisfy visitors in different stages of the funnel.

Anyway, there are 6 different steps that you need to go through that will help you use this tool successfully.

Develop a Buyer Persona

Getting to know your target audience is the first step that you need to take.

A buyer persona is an in-depth analysis of your ideal audience. It explains what your potential customers would want to see, know, and need.

There are several different things that you will discover thanks to this step:

  • Demographics – These are basic things such as gender, age, geographical location, family situation, etc. Many businesses focus too much only on demographics. Yet, these pieces of information are not enough to make a clear picture of your audience.
  • Professional Role – You will find out the industry, current job title, the size of the company they work at, etc.
  • Goals and Values – This part is especially important. You have to find out which things your customers value the most. When you understand their mentality and lifestyle, you will exactly know which things they want to see.
  • Their Reliable Sources – Your potential customers will probably have the same interests. This also means that they love similar books, blogs, individuals, etc. These pieces of information will allow you to target the so-called “look-a-like” audience.
  • Buying Habits – How much are they ready to spend? Do they hesitate a lot before they need to buy a certain product? Do they individually make the buying decisions?

You can design a buyer persona template on your own. Still, there are plenty of templates around the web that can make the entire process easier.

Create a Customer Journey Map

When you find out how your ideal audience looks like, the next step is to make a customer journey map. Each potential buyer will go through a purchase funnel before he buys a product that you offer.

There are 5 different stages of a sales funnel:

  • Awareness
  • Engagement
  • Evaluation
  • Purchase
  • Post-Purchase

You will be able to document some details for each stage of the funnel.

For instance, you will find out which actions customers take, which thoughts and questions they have, in which stage they spend most of their time, etc.

All these pieces of information will tell you which content attracts your customers the most.

Pick the Best Type of Content for Each Phase of Customer Journey

Let’s now analyze the previous step in detail.

Awareness is the first phase that attracts first-time visitors to your brand.

Logically, they will have many questions before they decide to buy a product. This type of content includes:

  • Buying Guides
  • Infographics
  • Videos
  • Blog Posts
  • Social Media Posts, etc.

The next step is – Engagement!

Keep in mind that not every visitor is immediately going to buy some of your products. They won’t come back again if the content on your website is not interesting and engaging.

This type includes:

  • Interactive Content
  • Engaging Videos (Usually short, but with a valuable message)
  • Email Newsletters (Call your visitors to subscribe to your newsletters)
  • Blog Posts, etc.

Evaluation content is “located” in the middle of the purchase funnel. In this stage, customers are making the final decision. They will decide if your brand is good for collaboration or not.

This sort of content includes:

  • Reviews and Testimonials (It is recommendable to kindly ask previous customers to share their opinion about the product and customer service)
  • Landing Pages
  • Case studies
  • E-books, etc.

Finally – the next stage is Purchase.

In this stage, content needs to be completely optimized and convince potential customers to feel even more confident in their decision. For instance, “How-to” posts are good examples of that.

Purchase content mostly includes:

  • FAQs
  • Landing/Sales Pages
  • Free Trial Sign-Up Pages, etc.

Still, the purchase stage is not the last one. If you stop there, customers will think that your only intention was to sell the product, yes, we’re all driven by sales but people like to be treated nicely.

So, you need to give them something more that will be of value to them and show them that you care. That’s why post-purchase is the last stage on our list.

The examples of post-purchase content are:

  • Surveys
  • User Guides
  • Coupons (offer them a discount for the next purchase)
  • Email newsletters, etc.

You should also keep in mind that customer service is something that splits you from the masses. The market is more competitive than ever before.

Many webmasters will offer equally good products like yours. Yet, providing your customers with additional value is something that will convince them to get back and purchase once again.

They will appreciate your effort to make them feel more satisfied and comfortable.

Design a Catalog of Your Content

You have probably noticed that some examples are repeating in 2 or more sales’ funnel stages.

Well, before you start with mapping, it is crucial to get familiar with the entire marketing strategy.

In that way, you won’t create and publish duplicated things on your website. Publishing similar articles, videos, or anything else won’t cause a better conversion rate.

Do not forget to put even the smallest details in the catalog. For instance:

  • Title
  • URL
  • Category and Type
  • Conversion
  • Quality, etc.

Map the Content You Developed to Relevant Phases

After you made the catalog, it is the right time to start filling the content map. As mentioned, different sorts of contents are relevant for different stages.

There is one piece of advice that should be helpful. While it’s true that each phase works independently, they are still very much connected. Each phase needs to contain a “call-to-action”.

For example, if they’re reading an article closely related to one of your services, show them a lead magnet with a case study where you’ve provided that service. You can invite them to check out your social media pages, subscribe to your newsletter or simply offer them to check out another article on the subject.

However, all of that still doesn’t guarantee that everything you publish is going to bring good results. For instance, maybe your visitors would rather interact with video posts than with articles/blogs. However, that is something you will find out over time and will need to adapt to.

Check if Something Is Missing

This is a complex process and it takes time to develop a successful content mapping strategy. You have to be ready to learn from your customers. Still, you may make some gaps. If that happens, you have two different options.

The first one is to develop completely new content assets that will fill the gaps that you have made. The second is to once again go through the content catalog that you developed. Try to utilize things that you have in some other phases. For instance, try using videos in the engagement phase instead of in awareness, don’t be afraid to mix it up here and there. Testing never really stops and there is always room for improvement.

3 Useful Templates

Having the right tool for the job is of utmost importance, that’s why we’re always on the hunt to find those that will make our lives easier.

Here are three different guides with templates that you can use to create your own content mapping strategy:

By visualizing your strategy, you will have a clear picture of things that are working well, and more importantly, those that you need to fix.

Conclusion

If you’re looking for a more of an all-rounder tool, my suggestion is to try out the SEMrush All-In-One SEO tool for free. This tool helps with SEO, keyword research, and content marketing as well.

You will be able to find out if your customers love the things that you publish or not. One more perk is that signing up for this tool is free!

What do you think? Is content mapping a useful tool for developing a successful marketing strategy? Will this process raise the number of product purchases?

Share your thoughts with us!