How to Set Up and Maintain an Editorial Calendar

In my previous article, I talked about how I launched my freelance writing career, and how you can too.

I also talked about the fact that one of the ways you can earn money as a freelance writer is to help a business launch a blog.

In 2012, I did just that, and I became the primary writer for the blog. My position with that company lasted 19 months, and during that time, I consistently published three posts per week.

That experience taught me a lot, and allowed me to take my writing and online marketing knowledge to the next level.

In this article, I’d like to talk about the importance of an editorial calendar, and why you need one if you want to write for any company.

Why do I Need an Editorial Calendar?

As a blogger or freelance writer you may have the tendency to write on a haphazard basis; in other words, whenever you feel like it, or whenever inspiration hits.

That may be fine if you aren’t accountable to anyone in particular, but it’s a little problematic if you’re looking to build a relationship with a business.

You need a way to be able to show your work, especially if you have an arrangement where you are working remotely.

When I was blogging for the aforementioned business, I was working with detail-oriented, no-nonsense people who operated on hard deadlines.

If I had balked or hesitated, I may not have lasted that long with them.

While working with them, I was asked to put together detailed reports for how I spent my time. I was also tasked with curating traffic and social reports.

Alas, I didn’t have an editorial calendar at the time, but if I did, I would have been able to answer the question, “What are you working on right now?” with ease, every single time.

I’ve since learned that it’s good practice to have a printout of that editorial calendar so that you can show your client (or employer) exactly what you’ve been working on.

There are a variety of other reasons why you should have an editorial calendar (i.e. to track your ideas, to determine what keywords to focus on, to keep your blog tags organized, etc.), but I believe that building trust is one of the most important reasons.

How do I Set Up an Editorial Calendar?

I would advise using a spreadsheet to create your editorial calendar. It’s simple, it’s reliable, and pretty much everyone in business understands what it is and how it works.

If you’re using a Windows machine, then you might opt for Excel. If you’re using a Mac, you could take advantage of Numbers.

I happen to like Google Sheets (within Google Drive), as online calendars are easily shareable with your colleagues.

This will also come in handy if you know you’re going to be working with other writers too.

Here is what you want to include in your editorial calendar:

  • Titles: the titles of the blog posts that you will be writing. The titles should include your keywords.
  • Notes: any special notes to do with the post you’re writing. You might use this section to store links to posts that have something to do with the subject matter you’re writing on.
  • Publish date: when the post will be published. Depending on how things are set up, you may wish to have columns for submission date (the date that the editor will be looking over the post) and schedule date (when the post will be scheduled in your CMS) as well.
  • Specifications: in some cases, you can leave this part out completely, but if you’re working on behalf of a client, having this column is a must. This is where you would specify post length, language, tone, internal linking, and so forth.

What Else Should I Include in My Editorial Calendar?

If you’ve already created columns for the previously mentioned items, then you don’t necessarily need to add anything else.

However, here are some optional items that might come in handy:

  • Author: if your blog has multiple authors, then designating who is working on what piece is useful.
  • Destination: if you are publishing to multiple blogs, then having the destination column is wise. Some bigger companies like HubSpot have multiple blogs for different purposes.
  • Status: status would indicate whether or not the post is pending, complete, scheduled, or published. It is particularly useful if you want to show what you have completed to this point.
  • Category: most blogs are organized by category, so if you’d like to designate what category each post belongs to in advance, this is a good column to have.
  • Tags: keeping blog tags organized can be a bit of a hassle. Charting your course on your editorial calendar can help you to mitigate disorganization.
  • Call to actions: you can either use this column to specify complete call to actions, or you can use it to identify a CTA type (i.e. ask for a comment, social share, email opt-in, etc.).
  • Keywords: again, keeping track of your keywords can be a bit of a hassle, and in most cases you only want one page per keyword (SEO best practice). Entering this information into your calendar will give you a bird’s eye view of where you need to put your focus.

How do I Maintain My Editorial Calendar?

If your employer or client is anything like mine was, they will be constantly asking you, “What are you working on right now?”

That should be sufficient motivation to keep your editorial calendar up-to-date.

If your colleagues are looking for a report, you can send the latest revision of the calendar off to them.

Work that has been completed should either be crossed off (not removed), or marked as ‘complete’ so they can easily see what you have been up to.

Additionally, your calendar should be your go-to place whenever you’re beginning work on a new piece, as this means that you have all of your post ideas stored there (which is what you want).

Every time you pull it up, you can take a moment to make sure you’re on track and update it as necessary.

Final Thoughts

I hope you’re beginning to see how important it is to have an editorial calendar, especially if you are going to be building a working relationship with an existing business.

However, even if you are just working on your own projects, it can still come in handy.

A digital calendar can help you to stay organized, as it doesn’t take much for things to get out of hand.

You could have post-its, notebooks, index cards and papers strewn about everywhere with ideas on them.

Make it a point to transfer all of them over to your digital calendar. If you do that, it will also become clear which ideas are worth your time and effort, and which aren’t.