Monet didn’t slap on a beret, sit in front of a blank canvas, and then suddenly start painting lily pads.
Hemingway didn’t write the title “For Whom the Bell Tolls” while sipping wine in front of a blank page. (That title was inspired by a biblical passage.)
Even creative geniuses need practical methods to get inspired, so don’t be so hard on yourself.
Here are 20 deadline-friendly ways to generate ideas and create content:
1. Update older content
Take a look at what is already on your website. Is it out of date? Freshen it up. Look for pages that would benefit from more detail or new sections. Look for old blog posts and articles that could be rewritten with a new angle.
Relax, you don’t have to kidnap a journalist. Newsjacking is a perfectly legal way to capitalize on breaking news.
To newsjack, the first thing you must do is get the news, fast. To do this set up Google alerts using your industry keywords, subscribe to news RSS feeds, and monitor Twitter.
When you spot a news story that is, or probably will be, making waves in your industry, take action fast. Write a blog post about the news in your own words. Be accurate, yet original.
Make sure your facts are correct. Add your own thoughts and observations on the story to distinguish your post from the pack.
3. Make a list of tips
You’re reading this because everyone loves a good 20-ways-to-Sunday type of article, or seven ways, or six. The number is not important. Create a list of tips for beginners based on your company’s expertise. Remember, a marketing message is not a compelling tip, keep it informative. It’s not a sales letter.
4. Interview a client or customer
Do you have a client or customer with a compelling story? Maybe your company’s product or service changed their life or business for the better? Interview them, and get all the details. People love reading about people. Keep the human interest element in mind when writing, and don’t make it all about your brand. Give details that make the person you’re writing about “real” so readers can relate.
5. Write a case study
More than likely, there is plenty of information hanging out on a company hard drive that could be brought to life as a case study. Look for stats and facts, and incorporate them into your writing. This is the time to brag, but you’d better back it up with numbers. A case study should detail precisely how your company benefited another.
6. Join groups
Where do your people hang out? Go there. Join groups where industry discussions are taking place or where potential prospects may be perusing; Yahoo and LinkedIn groups are likely spots. Also look for active forums. If you find a hot topic or commonly asked question, write a blog post about it.
Don’t forget to check the dates on threads. You don’t want to waste time reading ancient conversations from 2009.
7. Industry blogs
Ideas cannot be copyrighted. There is nothing wrong with scoping out the competition’s blog for ideas on what you can blog about. Maybe you have a different take on a topic, or you could write on the same topic with more detail, personality, or knowledge. Look for inspiration.
Do not cut and paste from other blogs. Oh, and putting plagiarized content in quotes or citing the source does not mean you’re safe. This is still copyright infringement. Just because you don’t see a copyright symbol does not mean the words are there for the taking. The symbol is unnecessary, because the law grants copyright protection to the author of any work as soon as
8. Publication and magazine article titles
Industry publications and magazines have to be compelling. It’s their livelihood. Peruse the latest publications that pertain to your industry for ideas. Identify hot topics, and incorporate them into your content.
9. Monitor Twitter and Facebook
Monitor Twitter and Facebook for comments and conversations about your company or industry. Look for unique or commonly asked questions. You can add them to your FAQ or address them in a blog post. If you find a common complaint, it might be wise to address that as well.
Published testimonials can be the difference between prospects’ choosing you or a competitor. If you’re not already doing this, it’s time to start. If you are, there is always room for more. Sometimes the happiest customers are the quietest. Be proactive; ask them for a testimonial.
11. Talk to other employees
Your co-workers are a wealth of information on aspects of your company that you might know little about. Ask a customer service rep, account manager, or tech support person what they hear most often from customers. Create content that addresses prevalent issues. Talk with business developers or sales reps to glean ideas on content that can help them win more business.
12. Make a comparison chart
Product, feature, or competitor comparison charts are an excellent way to illustrate details that often go unnoticed in a lump of text.
13. Be an expert
Invite people to submit questions to an expert at your company. Choose the most compelling questions, and publish them along with the answer.
14. Write a how-to article
Creating a simple, how-to article can demonstrate your company’s expertise while providing practical guidance. You can write these articles to target specific audiences. For example: If you’re a clothing retailer, write a how to properly take your body measurements to ensure you order your correct clothing size. Write one for men and one for women.
15. Share some history
A little slice of industry history can be easy to find and interesting to readers. Find an old photograph to publish (be sure it is public domain or you obtain the right to publish it). Or research and write the history of a product or service you offer. Keep it fun, factual, and light.
16. Before and after
Visually demonstrating a “before and after,” that shows off your company’s skills makes for interesting content and a powerful marketing message. Be creative. If you design websites, take before and after screenshots of a redesign. If you sell cleaning products, take a dirty photograph (a photo of a dingy or soiled whatever) and a clean photograph.
17. Make a checklist
Write a checklist that will come in handy for your audience. Keep the writing simple, and leave plenty of white space. The point is to provide a quick glance of key points or steps to be taken. For example: If you’re with a real estate company, write a checklist of documents for home buyers to bring to a closing.
18. Add a glossary
Does your industry have a lot of jargon that confuses outsiders or newcomers? Leave it out of your marketing content, and put it into a glossary on your website.
19. Add a resources page
Write a brief summary, and provide a link to resources that complement your industry. Government and educational pages are excellent resources to link to.
20. Publish statistics
You don’t have to work at a research company to publish interesting statistics. Create a poll or survey, and publish the results. You might also dig into your company’s data for stats on your products or customers.