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I'M ASHLYN

I've been called the OG of copywriters for creatives, wink—I hook up women with words as a launch copywriter & brand strategist. Even while raking in more than 7-figures since I've been at it, I believe working from a place of rest (not hustle) IS possible—and I want the same for you.
 
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January 14, 2020

How to Create a REALISTIC Marketing Plan & Editorial Calendar

Reading time: 13 min.

Content buckets rotating through, themes of the month—none of that worked for me as I built my business and tried to create a marketing plan and editorial calendar that drove to revenue.

But this did.

By the end of this video, I’m telling you how to create a realistic marketing plan and strategy. It’s one thing I’m asked for all the time, and one thing I know I can teach well, I’ve been doing it since 2010, baby.

And sure, I COULD nerd out on classic textbook marketing practices here …

… but instead, here’s what I do.

Like … what I actually do.

Whoop!

A few caveats first: a PR plan is different from a marketing plan is different from an editorial calendar.

However, as my audience is primarily lean, creative small businesses, it’s easiest—I honestly think, after helping craft and execute all three types of plans for big marketing pushes like the new in-flight menus for Delta Air Lines to Chick-fil-A spicy chicken sandwich launch campaigns … aalllll the way to operating a small, multiple-six-figure creative small business now—if we combine them.

So, combine them we will.

(Marketing gods, I apologize. It’s easier this way. Surely you understand.)

Even though I used to design marketing plans, content marketing schedules, and pitch calendar for large businesses and I’ll be honest: it still took me a solid 22 months of running a small business to design a marketing plan that works for the nimble life of creative entrepreneurship and doesn’t stress me the heck out.

When I wrote this, I tried really hard NOT to look at textbooks from journalism school on my desk, other resources, blogs, tools, etc.

Instead, I wanted to tell you exactly what I do.

This is ONE out of a million ways to do it. It won’t work for everyone, and I think I have enough experience in the field to say there’s no one RIGHT way.

But this is my system.

And it’s been profitable, sure … but MORE importantly, it’s helped me to have some fun and enjoy serving others with content, get my message out, and hopefully lead with legacy along the way.

marketing-plan-editorial-calendar

This one’s a juicy one, guys.

Bookmark/pin it/etc., and I pray it serves your small business as you work hard to get your art in the hands of those that need it, and support your family while you’re at it.

You’ll learn:

  • What’s the difference between PR and marketing and editorial calendars anyway
  • The #1 thing you need to start with in mind
  • How to create your marketing and PR plan
  • What an editorial calendar is
  • 7 tools I use to get this all cranked out

Let’s go!



Marketing Plan, Editorial Calendar, PR—defined

Okay, let’s get some definitions established.

Marketing plan

This is a document that outlines your marketing—so, yes, that means advertising/paid things—for a coming year or time period. It’s a statement of your sales & marketing situation, a chat of target audiences, positioning of your offers, and description of what you’re going to do and what content you’ll spit out to get your marketing goals checked off. Very researched. Has a budget.

Focus? Profitability.

Public relations

Your relationship with your publics (surprise!). Non-paid marketing, so think podcast interviews, guest blogs, speaking podiums, community involvement, partnerships, getting featured on Style Me Pretty or Southern Living or Elle Decor, styled shoots, etc.

Focus? Primarily reputation. Auxilary results are profit.

Advertising

Paid marketing placements. Pay-to-play, baby. Gets a bad rap, can be done really well.

Focus? Profitability—make more than you spend.

Editorial calendar

Under your marketing plan’s umbrella is your ed cal—your calendar of content you’ll be churning out the door. If you’re the Miranda Priestly of your brand and it’s a magazine, the editorial calendar is your schedule of stories your editor’s eye picks to run.

(So, yes—while a big company is going to have a PR plan AND a marketing plan, I’m going to combine them all here, because for small businesses, it runs together too much.)

Here’s my philosophy on a marketing and PR plan.

My business is based on working from a place of rest, not hustle.

I want to work from a place of rest—not hustle. Click To Tweet

I did the market-your-brains out, eat-sleep-and-breathe pitch calendars thing for years.

Now?

I don’t LIKE feeling like I have to blog 5 times a week … or post on Instagram every single day forever and ever amen.

I don’t want to sit down and wonder what to write about, or look at sales goals and wonder why we’re not hitting them.

But.

I also don’t want an editorial calendar that imprisons me or makes me feel like I’m chained to my desk writing content.

Aaaand … I have some numbers I have to hit, ’cause writing isn’t a hobby for me—it’s a business, and now, I’m not the only one counting on a paycheck.

Instead, I believe that deliberate planning can give restorative seasons in your business, and a smart marketing & PR plan can serve as a hedge against missing the mark when it comes to getting booked out.

It can ALSO serve against “of the moment” posts aaaand creative atrophy.

So, this is how I put together an effective, energizing, and restorative marketing & PR plan … and consequently an editorial calendar.

Here’s the secret—I call it my Quarterly Champagne Campaign system which is a cheesy way to say, I do 4 marketing campaigns a year. That’s all. 

Let’s do it. 😉


Step 01 | Determine your year and your financial goals

Goes without saying, but start with the end in mind.

Whether a year means 12 months or a year means a 90 Day Year, THIS is where your editorial calendar starts.

Start by looking at the ACTUAL financials and numbers you have to hit next year. What’s “enough” look like for you and your family? It may look like less than you think.

Sometimes, we work ourselves crazy without having space to breathe and think and be creative!

If you don’t have a system to figure out a money plan for your business & life, I *highly* beyond a shadow of a doubt recommend Shanna Skidmore’s Blueprint Model. (Note: she’s on a business hiatus right now, but still has some resources out there!)

This really started to make sense when my husband and I looked at my time (ahem, #neverstoppingworkbecauseIwasoverloaded) and decided I ACTUALLY needed to make … what we wanted to give to … and what we want in 20 years … and set a plan for that.

Hello, sweet financial freedom.

Goes without saying, but start with the end in mind. But if you have no idea how many client slots you’ll need to shoot for, then how can you know what to market?

Creative entrepreneur tips Blueprint Model Ashlyn Carter of Ashlyn Writes creative copywriting

Action Step:

Keep your numbers you need to hit right beside your desk, all the time. I am constantly looking at this, and it helps me be aware of what we need to hit. Sure, we have this on fancy spreadsheets, but having it top of mind beside me changes everything.

Prioritizing time when it’s limited is tough–someone wrote in to me that she has 5 hours a week to spend on her business, what do I do? Start here. If you don’t clear on this, you’re gonna get sucked into that noisy internet world that’s telling you you need to market on this platform and this one and that one and ugh. 

Start with your numbers. I have a worksheet where I tell you 7 ways to get financially set, look below to download that.

Once you have your financial and sales goals, you can start mapping it out.

6 Signs You Need to Define Your “Enough” as a Creative—and 7 Ways to Get Yourself Financially Set


Step 02 | Map out four marketing plan campaigns on a dry erase calendar.

Okay, so this part is actually fun. Get a wall calendar and theme each month.

I put big rocks in first: sabbatical, vacation with Wes, trips/speaking engagements that are already planned. I determine the quiet months (for example, usually August and December). The other 2 months I’m either quieter on the marketing front (aka sabbatical) or just writing/creating content for any pet projects I have.

Then, I decide my 4 big launches, what I call my Quarterly Champagne Campaign System I talk about in the YouTube video above. 

Then, I take out my pen and theme each month that’s left (typically 10)

  • 2 months are for my own heavy product/service promotion #1 <<< these are 2 Champagne Campaign Launches
  • 2 months are for my own next-biggest product/service promotion #2 <<< these are the other 2 Champagne Campaign Launches
  • 2 months are for smaller affiliate promotions
  • 1 is for holiday (ahem, Thanksgiving/Black Friday takes this one)
  • 1 is for a smaller freebie promo period

I DO think there CAN be a danger in planning. Entrepreneur James Wedmore recently warned a small coaching group I’m in that “sometimes, when we think ‘big’ for the next year, we just tweak what happened last year.”

But in that, maybe we miss out on the fun game of it all, the magic.

So, this is all a sketch. I keep it loose. Magic happens in the margins.

Magic-happens-in-the-margins-ashlyn-writes

But, at least I can do things like plan our anniversary trip without worrying too much about when our launches are.

This is a document that outlines your marketing—so, yes, that means advertising/paid things—for a coming year or time period. It’s a statement of your sales & marketing situation, a glance of target audiences, positioning of your offers, and description of what you’re going to do and what content you’ll spit out to get your marketing goals checked off. Very researched. Has a budget

What I like is that picking four lets me focus the bulk of my message, copywriting, and marketing on going after the rule of one: one reader, one offer, one idea.

Again, it’s why I like the champagne analogy. You can’t drink it every time, well, you could, but it’s kinda for special occasions, not every night. You get to have the runway up to it, enjoy it, and then step away for a while.  

In my last video I gave some huge mindset shifts I’ve had before stepping into a launch, and to reiterate something I said there, a launch is just a marketing campaign.

Even when I had NO products and just services, I would have mini sales campaigns for my services. You can launch your 1-on-1 services. Fill those spots and keep going.

I hope it feels a little less stressful to really plot out a year based on 4 big campaigns and let the rest fall into the spaces between!

Action Step

Buy a wall calendar (I like this one!) and map out that year’s big 4 launches.

champagne-campaign-content-calendar


Step 03 | Run your editorial calendar pre-prep through these 7 questions

Before you start writing up an editorial and pitch calendar, you need a bridge to get there. A lens to see through.

Looking at this sales calendar you’ve built out, it’s now time to figure out WHAT you’re going to create each week that makes people want to buy these things.

  1. What are recent trends?
  2. What are significant characteristics and messaging of my product, service, or issue?
  3. Who are my competitors, and what are their significant strengths? What gaps can I continue to fill?
  4. Reminder—who uses this again? Who is perfect for each service or product I have?
  5. What does the audience think about this? (CfC students, this is The Quad exercise I have you do!)
  6. What is 1 key message I want to convey to change or reinforce mindsets on each offer I have? (i.e. What do they need to know in order to want to buy? What goals do my clients and customers have? What client work or case studies do they need to see from me to understand this? What “small wins” can I give them so they trust I can help them?)
  7. What are the questions I’m asked all the time? *Keep a list of this!! Always, always keep a list of this.

I pull a list of all that, and it’s messy. It involves lots of scrap papers, scrolling through email folders where I dump any question that comes our way, reading over past surveys, etc.

THIS PART IS NOT SEXY. But … it’s super important. Don’t skip it! 😉

This step gives me loads of ideas for content and PR pitches.

Now that I have alllll the tools together and can see the blueprint of the business I’m architecting, it’s time to start putting in the drywalls and filling in the calendar with the content.

Action Step

See above. 🙂


Step 04 | Look at the next launch coming up and design hero content in your editorial calendar

Okay—so remember earlier when I said I don’t like marketing plans or blog calendars that stress me out?

This has been my solution.

I only REALLY in-depth plan 6 months out.

Each week, I have one piece of hero content.

The hero piece of content is the meat-and-potatoes blog post (or YouTube video). The hero piece of content is what the email newsletter drives to. It’s what I’m talking about if I do a Facebook or Instagram live. It’s what has a freebie download is for (if creating one helps). It’s what at least 2 Instagram posts and Facebook posts will “sell.” It’s what’s been keyword researched and optimized for SEO, Pinterest, etc. If it’s a really big promotional period, then the hero content that week is like, a challenge or webinar series.

The hero piece of content.

The “H-POC,” I heard one entrepreneur call it.

I’ve just always called it the hero!

I like the “hero, hub, and hygiene” approach, which was first coined by Google, I’ve heard (source).

hero-content-hub-content-editorial-calendar

So, I look at the calendar and our launches and back up 4-8 weeks (sometimes more, if the offer has a higher price point) and start mixing-and-matching story and content ideas from step #3.

What’s the “theme” I can assign the week?

What requested blog post fits PERFECTLY around a product launch or sales need?

What will help us with our financial goals?

So, no matter what is going on in the business, that hero piece of content has to get out.

The hero piece of content calendar is the meat-and-potatoes blog post (or YouTube video). The hero piece of content is what the email newsletter drives to. It’s what I’m talking about if I do a Facebook or Instagram live. It’s what has a freebie download is for (if creating one helps). It’s what at least 2 Instagram posts and Facebook posts will “sell.” It’s what’s been keyword researched and optimized for SEO, Pinterest, etc. If it’s a really big promotional period, then the hero content that week is like, a challenge or webinar series.

Here’s an example of hero content sketched out for last year:

hero-content-examples

My marketing plan’s execution strategy focuses on that one thing a quarter, and any hero content is driving towards the launch, the marketing campaign. I don’t feel like I have be all the places, I don’t feel burnt out because I’m letting that content piece do it’s job. So, no matter what is going on in the business, that hero piece of content has to get out.

Action Step

However you work (spreadsheet, paper, print outs of months) sketch out weekly hero content backing out from any promos you have.


Step 05 | Flesh out the rest of your editorial calendar & execute it with a project management system.

This is part of how I organize my time to have successful launches—I can’t be online all the time, I’ll go crazy.

I didn’t LIKE feeling like I have to blog 5 times a week … or post on Instagram every single day forever and ever amen.

I didn’t want to sit down and wonder what to write about,  I also don’t want an editorial calendar that imprisons me or makes me feel like I’m chained to my desk writing content.

The other content can be anything I just WANT to write about … posts I want to put up for fun … questions I’ve been asked that aren’t really on my sales goal system … creative stuff I just want to do.

The only “guardrails” I set up are making sure they hit on one of the content calendar topics I’d want to cover if my business were a magazine. As long as it fits, it goes in.

I don’t even really make sure I rotate the topics—whoops.

I don’t even really (oops!) plan this all that far in advance. Each Monday, I hold a “Marketing Monday” for writing all this and scheduling things for the next week or next month. I make sure my time’s not in vain, even if content isn’t the “hero”—everything gets boosted in Tailwind, and has to check off my Yoast green light.

As far as getting THROUGH that Marketing Monday, we lean on workflows inside Asana. Here’s what one of those looks like:

content-calendar-example-asana

Oh, and as far as PR, that’s another blog post, but I would pitch ideas to outlets 3ish months in advance of any of those promotional periods I dry-erase calendered in over in #3.

And … that’s really it.

Action Step

Fill in the REST of your editorial calendar with anything else you want to promote (this will be hub and hygiene content). I like to do this once a week during my Marketing Mondays, so it’s more on the fly.


Tools I Use to Create My Marketing & PR Plan and Editorial Calendar

Again, not going to tell you everything that’s out there—there are eleventy billion ways to craft an editorial calendar.

I’m just going to tell you what I use. It’s pretty simple.

CoSchedule_LeadGraphic


Bottom line, I do this content calendar plan because it helps give me more whitespace. More freedom. Less cognitive whiplash. I don’t like to be told what I have to do and write about. I like to take digital detoxes. Somedays I want to write what I want to write about … I desperately need detachment, time for rest, and time for play in order to do my job well.

Crafting a marketing and PR plan that gives you more time and more energy ultimately helps you stay productive and—for goodness sakes, hit your sales goals.

Ok, now I’m curious. How do YOU plan your editorial calendar?

Freshly sharpened pencil bouquet ready, I'm here to make sure your words sell. I help women like you steward your story well, so you can work from a place of rest—not hustle.

free mentoring? yes, please

What do you think?

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23

comments

  1. Vanessa says:

    Totally interested in your Marketing & PR Plan Template. For my editorial calendars I’m a paper and pen kind of gal for mapping it out a few months in advance. I brainstorm my ideas and keep the running list in Trello, so I can modify it on the go. I haven’t done any pitching for my own business yet, so it’s on my list of goals for 2018 alongside a better editorial system.

  2. ashlyhilst says:

    I’d totally be interested in the Marketing and PR Plan Template!! And thanks for this post – it was so helpful!

  3. Shaunie says:

    I’d love to see your marketing and PR plan template. Would be an invaluable resource! Thank you for such a great post!

  4. Bekah Walters says:

    I’m interested in your Marketing & PR Plan Template as I am currently trying to plan my 2018 Content Calendar. Thank you for such an in-depth post. This was extremely helpful!

  5. Rose says:

    I loved this post. Taking lots of notes and scheduling a day to work through it all for my business.

    Thanks Ashlyn!

    ps. I would love to see your Marketing & PR Plan Template

  6. Thank you, Ashlyn. All of your content is always so helpful and inspiring!

    I’m a consultant just taking my business online, so I would love to see your template. I keep pushing my launch date (????) because I don’t have a clear strategy in place, but I’ve been reading all of your blog (thank you for trello, btw) and slowly organising my thoughts.

    On an unrelated note, how do manage to have digital detox days? I’ve recently deleted Facebook and Instagram off my phone which has helped so much with productivity. I just can’t imagine switching my phone off for a full day, though…

    • First of all, Alice, I’m so excited for what’s in store for you … this has been the best journey, and I can’t wait for you to experience it! Added “digital detox day” how-to to my blog ideas list, but basically, I DO have to make sure I tell my family. I don’t have kids, so I just tell my close family and make plans in advance with friends. I may check it once or twice to make sure there aren’t emergencies, but I definitely don’t touch social media on those days.

  7. Erika Ikwild says:

    I am SO GRATEFUL for the content that you produce. You rock! I am still (slowly) starting my business. I want to implement all these things immediately, but trying to remind myself I need to grow down instead of up first. Like decide on my business name – haha!

    • Erika, girl, your name has been in my little world so long and I so appreciate it. 🙂 I am always here cheering you on … and YES—-grow slow. Trust me … just grow slow. You’ve got this!

  8. Kelsie says:

    Honestly, can’t recall how I came across your blog, but needless to say I’m obsessed. One of my big goals for 2018 is branding. I would love to get my hands on your marketing & pr template. I’m starting to plan 2018 to keep me on track and think it would be a great tool

    • Kelsie! Thank you for that! Okay–this week has been a little crazy wrapping up our 2018 clients and load, but favorite this blog post (and if you’re on the email list, I’ll likely mention it there, too). We’ll get that going!

  9. Yes, yes please! I would love to have a template. I have been trying for a looooong time, to figure out my editorial/ marketing/PR plans and goals. I need something to help and you are always so very helpful!!

  10. Whitney Reid says:

    This is amazing. You are amazing. Are you still offering the Marketing and PR Template?? I would LOVE to snag it!!

    • Hey Whitney! We’ve gotten amazing response for interest in a Marketing & PR Template, and it is in the queue to be made. Lots of irons in the fire right now, but stay tuned for when it’s launched! Thanks for your encouraging words! Xo. Ashlyn

  11. courtsjoy says:

    This was SO helpful, Ashlyn! Thanks so much for your wisdom and willingness to share so specifically. Appreciate you + all you’re creating!

  12. I am loving your content! I am just finding you tonight and I am very impressed with your work. In response, yes, I am very interested in you Marketing and PR Plan Template. Sounds uhmAzing!!

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