At the time of writing, our business publishes up to 40 blog posts per week.

Managing that is no easy feat.  So naturally, we throw lots of low cost labor at the problem and run around like chickens with our heads cut off.

Er, wait.  That’s not what we do.  We do the opposite of that.

In all seriousness, reliably creating content at that sort of volume requires SOPs that put us in “runs like clockwork” territory.  And we achieve that clockwork efficiency with two important tactics:

  1. Establishment of a simple, effective editorial calendar.
  2. A Kanban model, using Trello, to manage the worfklow.

In today’s post, I’m going to walk you through how to put these tactics to use for yourself.

Kanban and Trello: Just Enough Backstory for Context

Before I get to the how, I want to offer some contextual backstory.  If you’re a Kanban and Trello pro and chomping at the bit to get started, you can skip to the section about creating your columns.

A Quick Kanban Primer

You can read up on Kanban as a methodology on Wikipedia, if you’re so inclined.  For our purposes here, suffice it to say that Kanban is a way to model work making its way predictably through a system.  Specifically, we’re talking about content.

At the most basic level, it creates a handy, visual way for you to keep your finger on the pulse of where all of your content stands.  At a glance, you’ll be able to say, “what’s going on with that DevOps post…?  Oh, I see, Susan drafted it and it’s now waiting on Steve for proofreading.”

At a more advanced level, it can help you identify bottlenecks in your process and reason about how much work you can actually do at once.  That will come in handy later, but don’t worry about it now.

In terms of practical application, Kanban is refreshingly simple.  You create a series of mutually exclusive states that describe a blog post.  For instance (as shown below), planned, ready for preliminary review, ready for editing, etc.

An example of how to create an editorial calendar in Trello, based on what Hit Subscribe has done.

Pro Tip: When creating columns in Kanban, name them after what the person executing that activity will do, such as “ready for editing.”  That makes it crystal clear to the assigned party what you expect them to do when the post is in that column.

A Quick Trello Primer

With a basic understanding of Kanban in our back pockets, let’s take a look at Trello.  Trello is, more or less, a digital Kanban boarda web-based tool that lets you create a shared implementation of Kanban,

Of course Trello, owned by Atlassian, bills itself a tad more generally than that.  On its “what is Trello” page, it has this to say:

Trello is a collaboration tool that organizes projects into boards. In one glance, Trello tells you what’s being worked on, who’s working on what, and where something is in the process.

The page doesn’t specifically mention Kanban anywhere.  And indeed you can use Trello in a more general fashion, as shown here with my own personal Trello board for packing for long haul stays.  (My wife and I are digital nomads.)

An example of how to create a packing list board in Trello for long trips.

Pro tip:  Trello offers a bunch of starter templates for boards when you’re getting started, including an editorial calendar one (though the one I’m going to walk you through is a little different than this one).

But make no mistake. Trello is ideally suited for an implementation of Kanban.  And Kanban is ideally suited for modeling your editorial calendar.

If you don’t yet have a Trello account, it’s very easy to sign up, and you’ll need to for the purposes of this tutorial.  It won’t cost you anythingTrello is a freemium tool that gives you a TON of mileage out of the “free” part.

Creating Your Editorial Calendar States as Columns

Alright, it’s time to create the editorial calendar’s columns.  But before we do that, I want to do a little housekeeping by defining some roles in content production.  This will make it easier to understand the columns, as I explain them.

Roles in The Editorial Calendar

However much I might personally enjoy this state of affairs, creating blog posts for a business isn’t just a matter of slapping your hands together, rubbing vigorously, then writing a blog post for a couple of hours, followed by hitting publish.  There are different, important roles in content production (even if you happen to be filling all of them at first).

  • PlannerThe planner picks the topic of the posts, setting the mission/goal for the post and defining the KPI used to measure its success.
  • Author—Probably the simplest part to understand.  The author writes the blog post.
  • EditorThe editor does a proof/copy-edit pass on the author’s draft.
  • Quality AssuranceQuality assurance involves checking the post to make sure it fulfills the plan (e.g. checking for SEO optimization, if you’re targeting a keyword).
  • PublisherThe publisher is the person that actually preps the post and hits publish in the CMS.
  • PromoterFinally, the promoter queues up social media shares and handles any syndication and general promotion activities, to get the word out.

If you’ve ever blogged yourself, for a hobby or a small venture, you’ve probably executed all of these roles.  None of this, really, is rocket science.

But it is important to call out the separate roles.  It will allow you to create an efficient, organized editorial calendar from the get-go which will, in turn, make scaling your content production much easier.

Pro Tip: Don’t sleep on the promoter role.  Way too often, we see companies go to all the effort of creating valuable content, only to fumble at the goal line by not putting the word out.

Content States: How Hit Subscribe Does It

Now that you understand who does what, I’ll lay out Hit Subscribe’s editorial calendar for you, in sequential order.  I’d suggest internalizing what we do, and why, before thinking through what you might change or customize on your end.

Here are our Trello columns (and thus our Kanban workflow):

  • Planned—This is the first column on the board, and where the planner creates cards to indicate that they’re officially ready for drafting.
  • Ready for Preliminary Review—Authors draft posts and then move the card to this stage to indicate that they’re finished.
  • Ready for EditingQuality assurance folks run some preliminary checks on posts, to make sure they’re not completely off the mark, and then move over to ready for editing.
  • Ready for Author ReviewOnce finished with a proof/editorial pass, the editor puts it in this column to tell the author to review the suggested changes and answer any queries.
  • Ready for Final Editorial ReviewThe author moves it into this column to indicate that it’s ready for one last, final pass from the editorial.
  • Ready for QAOnce finished, the editor sends it over to QA to do a final sanity/fitness for purpose check.
  • Ready for ProcessingAfter QA blesses the post, we have a step that standardizes visual interest, formatting, and other granular logistical considerations.
  • Ready to Submit to Client—After processing, the processor (publisher role) indicates that we can deliver the post.
  • Ready to Publish on Client SiteSome clients have us publish blog posts on their site, in which case, it moves to this column to tell the publisher it’s loaded in the CMS and good to go.
  • Ready for Cross-Posting—After a post is live for a week or two, we’ll give a digest backlink on Hit Subscribe’s site (and sometimes the author’s), and this column tells folks it’s ready for these links.
  • Won’t Cross-PostThis is another, final state that indicates the post was ghostwritten or else that, for whatever reason, we won’t create links.

Planning Your Own Editorial Calendar

Obviously this won’t all prove immediately relevant to anyone reading.  After all, unless you work at an agency, “ready to submit to client” is likely nonsense.

But the overall flow of this can make sense for anyone, after tuning the columns in question.

Here’s what I’d suggest you start with, at a bare minimum:

  1. Planned
  2. Ready for Editing
  3. Ready for Publishing
  4. Ready for Promotion

With this, you have the most core elements in place, and you can then grow as you need.  Generally speaking, you’ll want to add a column whenever there is either an explicit hand-off, or whenever you might take action at a particular state.

So for instance, there’s really no reason to have an “editing half done” column.  But you might want to define a “ready for graphics” if you have a graphic designer (a hand-off).  Or you might want a “ready for research” column between planned and ready for editing, if your authors are doing research and you want to know which posts can move ahead without waiting on anyone (an action/decision-point).

Whatever you decide, understand that you can constantly tune and refine as you go.  Even with 167 members of our editorial calendar and various pieces of automation involved, we still tune sometimes.

Pro Tip: Err on the side of too few, rather than too many columns, at first. Add columns only when doing so alleviates confusion.

Assignments and Making Use of Users in Trello

You’ve now done the real heavy lifting, but there are a couple more pieces of housekeeping to make full use of Trello.  With your editorial calendar and columns in place, it’s time to create assignments.

Trello supports the concept of users in the form of members of the Trello board.  So for your editorial calendar, everyone involved will need to join Trello.  And then you can invite them quite easily, as shown here.

Trello really does make that nice and simple for you.

Once you have everyone added to your editorial calendar Trello board, you can add them to and remove them from cards, with no limit on the number of people assigned to a card.  Your team members can then filter the board by cards assigned just to them for ease of tracking, and they also receive updates on cards as they move between columns and change.  They can also comment on cards, and even add attachments to them.

Trello isn’t necessarily a full blown project management tool, but it does have a lot of collaboration ability built in.

In terms of an editorial calendar, what we do at Hit Subscribe that works well is to add authors and keep them on the card throughout the whole process.  We then add editors, QA staff and processors situationally, removing them when their role is complete, in order to cut down on their notification noise.  But you’ll develop a system that works best for you as you go along.

Pro Tip: Trello allows users to change their notification settings, but you want to proactively avoid “alert fatigue.”  In other words, try to minimize the amount of spurious notifications your team members receive, lest they start to tune out all notifications, including important ones.

Adding Labels for Filter Purposes

Trello has one more feature that I’ll mention for your editorial calendar, which is labels.  Take a look at a slightly modified version of the last screenshot of my hypothetical blog:

Note the splash of color.

In this hypothetical labeling scheme, I’ve used green to indicate product marketing content and yellow to indicate content marketing content.  On top of that, I’ve used a red label to highlight a particularly important piece of content.

This small example illustrates important properties of labels in Trello:

  • They’re highly visible and color-based.
  • They’re not mutually exclusive, so you can add as many to a card as you want.
  • People generally use them to “tag” cards as having certain characteristics.
  • This isn’t pictured, but you can easily filter the board to show you only cards with a certain label.

I’d suggest not going overboard with labels early on.  Just add ones that help you filter the board or that give you clarity in helping you visualize what’s in your content pipeline.  You can always add more if you need them, and going minimal upfront helps cut down on rote process that nobody uses.

Pro Tip: Trello gives you 10 visible label colors, but you can actually have as many labels as you want.  You just have to double up on visible colors for them, or else make them colorless.  If you find that 10 labels isn’t enough for your purposes, you should probably take stock of what you’re actually trying to accomplish, and consider a potentially simpler scheme (or one where visibility isn’t as important).

Go Get Started

That’s really it, and it should give you plenty to go work with.  Trello’s designers intended from the outset for the tool to be very approachable.  That has the upside of making it frictionless to start.

So, go start!

Create an account if you don’t have one, create a board, and then add the bare minimum columns that I suggested above.  This will give you enough of an editorial calendar to start logging your content ideas and drafts.  From there, you can layer in nuance, columns, users, and labels as needed.

Trello is based on Kanban, and Kanban is a scheme that emphasizes simplicity and the elimination of process waste.  So bear that in mind as you set up your board and get started.