As we start the fourth quarter of 2018, marketers begin to think about their plans for the coming year. Whether you have budgets you want to use up or you just want to get a head start on the year, planning a few months in advance has a lot of benefits.
If a B2B marketing plan for 2019 is already in place, it is easier to be more organized and on the same page as everyone is out for the holidays and new year. Once the year begins in January, time doesn’t have to be wasted getting organized because it’s already been done.
Below are some of my favorite tools for planning the year ahead. These tools help you think past your every day tasks and start to think about what you can create in the next year to move your business forward. Using one or a combination of these tools can help your marketing department be more organized, fresh, and focused.
The author has no affiliation with any of the tools mentioned.
1. 12 Week Year
One book that is infinitely helpful for planning your next quarter and year is the 12-Week Year. This idea behind the book is that you (or your team) are able to accomplish an entire year’s worth of work broken down into just 12 weeks, or one quarter. The book is helpful for both small to medium-sized businesses and solopreneurs (solo business owners) that don’t have any employees.
Essentially, the book is a useful primer into figuring out how to use time blocking and proper schedule organization in order to get more done. It focuses on planning 12 weeks at a time, then taking some time each week to ensure that you’re on track and prepared for the coming week. Even if you’ve been planning in the past, if you found that you aren’t getting as much done as you’d hope, or the process isn’t working, consider giving the 12-week year a try. In addition to the book, the author also has a website with more resources and tips.
2. Competitor Research Tools
Once you’ve planned out where you want to go in the first 12 weeks of 2019, it’s time to move into specifics by researching what marketing initiatives and content your team needs to tackle. A great way to go about this is to do some initial competitor research to see how your competitors have grown or floundered over the last year. Many competitor research tools and SEO software platforms also let you track other sites on a continuous basis, which is a great idea to do regularly anyway (instead of just at the end of the year). This helps you gather the most complete data.
When looking at your competitors, see what their new popular content has been using at a tool like BuzzSumo. This can show you which of their blog posts performed well on social media, which is a good indicator of what might be popular with your own audience.
SEO software, such as SEMrush, can evaluate estimated traffic and what keywords a company is ranking for on organic SERP results.
While you never want to copy your competitors, this data gives you insight into their audiences, which is are likely similar to your own. This data is useful when deciding what campaigns or topics are worthwhile investments.
3. Your Own Data to Review
In addition to competitor data, your own data over the past year is obviously the best place to research when it comes to what marketing campaigns were successful and which ones were not. It allows you to review not only your overall audience growth through your website, social media, email marketing, and other initiatives, but it also tells you which topics were most popular for blog content.
Your analytics data in Google Analytics (or whatever software you use) is the best place to gather your overall data, as it shows how your internal and external online promotion is driving website traffic and conversions. You can also look at any social media analytics you might have from a scheduling suite like Buffer or SproutSocial, as well as your link traffic that’s from a link shortener like bit.ly.
Compile your reports based on metrics that relate to your ideal goals. What reports are the most important depends on what your goals are. For instance, a B2B publisher likely won’t focus on revenue as much as a B2B e-commerce site. As a result, the types of data you want to look at will likely vary. No matter the case, be sure to use the same metrics every year or regular reporting period so you can properly evaluate what is working and what isn’t.
4. A Quiet Retreat
For many, planning their next year needs to take place outside of where they are most. This means going to a different location besides their desk or a conference room they use almost every day.
Microsoft founder Bill Gates is well known for going off into the woods for a few weeks for what he calls “think weeks.” These weeks allow him to read and ponder the state of the organizations he’s involved with. When he returns, he is refreshed and full of good ideas for the months ahead. Even if you don’t have an entire week to set aside for thinking, even a “think day” is a great way to dedicate specific time to planning the future.
If we don’t set aside time to plan for the future, it’s easy to get stuck in the day-to-day work that always seems to fill the time we have available. By making brainstorming a priority, we are setting ourselves up for success.
If you want to get out of your office but aren’t sure where to go, try these places:
- A study room at your local library
- Reserve the party room at a restaurant or coffee shop
- A coworking space that rents conference rooms
- A conference or retreat center
- Meeting room reservation tools like LiquidSpace or MeetingsBooker
Simply being in a different environment for a few hours can shift the mind to focus on the task at hand. Switching up routine can help turn on the creative side of the brain and allow you to come up with new ideas and initiatives.
5. Brainstorming Tools
One of the best ways to come up with new ideas and initatives while using your creativity is brainstorming. A good brainstorming session is key for planning your next year. Depending on how you like to plan, a whiteboard or mind map software is a great way to visually lay out your plans for the coming year. For people that are more active learners, using a whiteboard and actually writing down ideas can keep creative juices flowing and hold their interest. On the flip side, if you are more data-driven, it might make sense to have a more organized approach using mind map software, such as MindMup or Bubbl.us.
First, create the areas of marketing that your company currently uses. These could include:
- Blog content
- Other website content (landing pages)
- Long-form content (e-books, white papers)
- Social media
- Radio ads
From there, you can branch out into each of these areas. If you have the goal to release one e-book a quarter, the topics of the e-books could all be tied to the main long-form/e-book bubble. You can get more specific with the e-book titles after using the other tools mentioned later in this article.
Just getting everything out on the table after doing some research shows progress and gives you an initial glimpse into your year.
6. The One Hour Content Plan
Once you have an idea of what performed best for your business and your competitors, as well as what you want to try, you can start building out content topics. One book that does an amazing job of making this process easy is The One Hour Content Plan: The Solopreneur’s Guide to a Year’s Worth of Blog Post Ideas in 60 Minutes and Creating Content That Hooks and Sells. While it is focused on solopreneurs, the principles can be used for any size team or company.
In order to create a year’s worth of blog posts in just an hour, the author’s strategy involves of a brain dump of ideas first, then slowly tweaking these into actual content topics that will be useful for your readers. Her process is well-thought out and makes it easy to create large volumes of content ideas in a limited amount of time. The principles can be used for planning a quarter or year in advance.
7. Editorial Calendar Template
Once your topic ideas are outlined, you can move to assigning out the topics and building an editorial calendar. Here is an editorial calendar template that I built with Danielle Antosz while we were at Search Engine Journal. Feel free to use it if it’s helpful, just make sure to click “make a copy” so you can save it on your own Google Drive. An editorial calendar spreadsheet is vital to a successful marketing strategy for the year because it outlines everything you’re going to do and who is assigned to do what.
This makes the workflow process extremely easy and also ensures everyone is on the same page about who is creating the content and when it’s going out. This also helps the promotional teams, like social media and online advertising, to know what’s coming next and when they need to promote it.
In each editorial calendar, outline the topic, what type of content it is (podcast, blog post, e-book, etc), who is responsible, its due and publish date, and any other relevant information, such as related content or promotions. Once this is done, you can assign out the topics in your project management software, like Asana or Basecamp. For recurring tasks, (e.g. Amy always writes a blog post that is due the 4th week of the month), just set a “Monthly blog post” recurring task and then refer your writer to the editorial calendar spreadsheet to see their topic for each month.
8. Yearly Wall Calendar
Thinking about an entire year in advance can be overwhelming. As a visual and creative person, I’ve found that it’s much easier to visualize an entire year by looking at a yearly calendar. Viewing an entire year all at once lets me quickly write down any holidays, out of office time, events, or other monthly items that we already know about and need to plan for.
From there, I can start to fill in any content campaigns or work-related projects that will be the focus of each month. Once this is filled out, it’s easy to look at the yearly calendar at a glance in the office to determine what the focus of the month and how it relates to the months surrounding it. This is much easier than using a traditional calendar or even an online calendar, at it visually shows you a year’s worth of information at once.
This calendar from SwiftGlimpse is a good purchase, but if you have a bigger office you can get an even bigger calendar to put up an in a conference room or common area where the team sits or frequently walks past. If you don’t want to buy a new calendar every year, this one is smaller and has erasable months so you can reuse it. A yearly wall calendar is also great to have ready for your brainstorming or preparation sessions, so you can fill it in as you go.
While these tools for planning your next year aren’t revolutionary, they definitely are an effective part of the process of planning what’s next for your business and B2B marketing projects.
By looking at what has worked in the past with competitor research and your own data, you can start to build a framework for the next year. After that, you can use tools like a mindmap or a retreat-style brainstorming location to plan out how the year should go and what to focus on.
Finally, an editorial calendar and wall calendar will give you a bird’s eye view into the year and what is coming up next. Then, when it comes to planning 2020, you can review what you’ve built to plan 2019 and use it as a framework to continue to create successful B2B marketing campaigns.
Screenshot taken October 2018.