This is a guest post by Danny Iny of Firepole Marketing.
Are you satisfied with your blog’s growth, month after month?
If you are, then great – see you later.
But if you aren’t, I’ve got a second question for you: Do you have a month-by-month plan for growth?
Most people don’t, but they should. After all, as they say, failing to plan is planning to fail.
In this article you’ll see how easy it is to set up a monthly action plan and how important it can be for long-term success.
Why People Don’t Plan
If you don’t have a month-by-month plan, then don’t worry, you’re not alone.
Most blogs and businesses are managed by the seat of their owners’ pants, and the closest they get to planning is to say that “here’s what we should try next” or ask “when should we do our launch”.
There are good reasons why people don’t create a real long-term growth plan:
- They’re busy, and overwhelmed. There’s a giant to-do list of things that need to get done; the site needs to be redesigned, the new e-book needs to be assembled, the auto-responder emails need to be written, the big bloggers have to be approached for guest posts… and oh yeah, there are all those posts and books about other things that need to be done, that you haven’t even read yet!
- They don’t know what to plan. Why create a long-term plan when you aren’t confident that it will work? When you aren’t even sure if you’re going to be following the same direction and strategy in the next 3-6 months?
These reasons could easily prevent you from creating a solid plan, but there are even better reasons why you should suck it up and create one anyway:
- No plan means little momentum. If you keep working by the seat of your pants, you’ll probably spend most of your time putting out fires, and even if you don’t, you won’t be able to execute strategies that support each other, and build into more and better results.
- No big strategies or campaigns, either. If you don’t plan ahead, then you’re always going to stick to bite-sized actions that you can accomplish in the next few weeks or months. The really big home-run campaigns, like community surveys, manifestos, and books, will be few and far between, if you ever get to them at all.
You can achieve impressive results without a plan, but you’ll have to be very talented, and very lucky.
So why not take an afternoon and make a plan?
First, Create Your Plan
Executing a month-by-month growth plan isn’t always easy (more on that in a moment), but actually putting the plan together isn’t very hard.
Here’s a simple process to follow:
- Make a list of the next 9-12 months of the year, starting with next month. Since right now we’re at the end of November, and December is a dead month for most industries anyway, your list might read “January, February, March, April, May, June, July, August, September”. See what I mean – not hard at all!
- Mark down anything that you’ve already got planned. This can be blog-related, like a launch that you’re planning for February, or it can be personal-life related, like your wedding in September (which means that no blog work is getting done that month).
- Take a good, long look at the months that are still available. It’s probably a lot of months, right? Seeing them all listed out, are you realizing that if you just keep on writing and publishing with “business as usual”, your audience is likely to get a little bored?
- Start filling in the stuff that you’d like to do. Let your imagination loose here – any big, exciting campaign that you think will get you great results is fair game. The best part is that it doesn’t matter how much work it will take – just slot it in for a month that is far enough off to give you the lead time to get it done.
- Add in “buffer” months of light activity or regular content. If you’re planning a big event for, say, November, then make sure you’ve got a light month planned for October, so that you have time to ramp up for whatever you’ve got planned.
- Add campaigns and re-arrange your calendar to account for momentum. If you’re planning a launch, for example, then think about what you can put in the preceding month to create maximum engagement and traffic to your site, for the launch to take advantage of.
Some of these steps may require a little more thinking and reflection than your average step-by-step checklist, but the results are going to be better than the average checklist will produce.
So clear a couple of hours sometime in the next few days to sit down and do it!
What Makes a Good Growth Plan?
Like I mentioned earlier, planning is the easy part – actually executing the plans is where the real work comes into the picture.
Here are a few things to keep in mind when creating your plan, to make sure the work doesn’t get too hard:
- Start small, and build if you have the bandwidth. It’s a lot easier to plan for less work and then kick your plans up a notch, than it is to plan for something big, and then try to salvage it when you realize that you don’t have time to execute.
- Build lots of slack into your timelines. When you’ve got a big project in the works, make sure to give yourself enough time to get things done (there’s a kind of Doppler Effect with projecting work to be done in the future; the further out the plan stretches, the more unrealistically optimistic we tend to be about how much we will actually be able to get done).
- Gantt out your timelines. For each campaign, list out what actions will be required in each of the preceding months, and see if all the campaigns are stacking in a way that works, or that creates a bottle-neck for you. You can go so far as to create an actual Gantt chart, or just make a short list on paper (like I do).
- Don’t plan things that you aren’t excited about. Some campaigns may seem like a great way of getting traffic and traction, but you just aren’t excited about them. Don’t plan to do those kind of projects, because they just turn into energy sucks, and you won’t feel motivated to stick it through – that’s just asking for your plan to fall apart.
- Don’t worry when plans don’t work out. That happens sometimes – you miscalculate what results you can expect from a campaign, you botch the execution, the timing just isn’t right, or stuff comes up. It happens. Learn your lessons, adjust your plans if needed, and move on.
Okay, now that we’ve covered how to create the plan and what to watch out for, it’s example time!
Real Example of a Blog Growth Plan
Despite some of the things that I’ve written, I’m pretty big on transparency. So for an example, I’m going to share the actual month-by-month plan that we created to grow our site, from June through December.
Here’s the complete month-by-month plan:
- June 2011: Guest Posting – The first month of the timeline was just about guest posting – building relationships with other bloggers, and writing content that linked the interests of their audiences with what we had to offer. A lot of the guest posts didn’t even go up until July or August (this was almost a buffer month, to gear up for what was coming).
- July 2011: Jodi’s Voice – We ran a campaign for a couple of weeks promoting Jodi’s Voice, a charity that raises awareness about stalking. We offered our $900 training program for free to anyone who made a $200 donation to the cause. This campaign didn’t take too much of our time or energy, which was intentional – we were gearing up for August.
- August 2011: Training Program Close – In August, we closed our training program to new students, and to make sure everyone who wanted to get in had the opportunity, we did a massive launch, with high-quality video events, tons of guest posting, the works. This was a huge amount of work, and wouldn’t have been possible if we hadn’t started working on it several months prior.
- September 2011: Wedding and Honeymoon – My wedding was on September 10, 2011, and I was away on my honeymoon from the 15th to the 22nd. So the whole month was basically a wash. We kept publishing content, in the form of guest posts that we had lined up in previous months. That’s another benefit of planning: it allows you to take a break!
- October 2011: Semi-Local Business Survey – After I got back from the honeymoon, we ran our Semi-Local Business Survey, which is based on the B-List Breakthrough that Corbett teaches in his Traffic Toolbox. We had done most of the legwork for the survey before September, and it still turned into a lot more work than we had bargained for. Oh well, lesson learned.
- November and December 2011: Engagement from Scratch! – November and December are all about the launch of my new book, featuring contributions from 30 of the top audience-builders that I could find, including Guy Kawasaki, Brian Clark, and Corbett Barr. This project is enormous in scope, and involves a ton of work – in fact, I’ve been working on it since the beginning of June, and it never would have happened without a month-by-month plan.
Now, am I suggesting you copy my month-by-month plan?
No, of course not.
For one, what made sense for me might not make sense for you; you can’t just copy-and-paste a successful strategy.
Besides, this plan was pretty intense – we felt overloaded at times, and I have a partner to work with, and a full-time assistant.
Your plan will no doubt look different from mine. That’s fine – you need a plan that’s right for you.
So go create one!
Over to you – have you tried month-by-month planning, or have you always gone by the seat of your pants? Will you give the month-by-month approach a try?