Content marketing is big business. It’s the bridge between you and the people you’re trying to reach, whether you’re looking to inspire, sell, inform, or simply entertain. No other form of marketing comes close to its potential for greatness.
… But it’s also easier said than done, and demands a lot of care and attention. Since you need to find a content direction that suits your particular skills and goals, you have to plan out your efforts, and that stage can all too easily expand to fill as much time as you give it. Before you know it, you’ve spent a week trying to figure out what your first blog post should be.
So don’t give it a week. Necessity may be the mother of all invention, but urgency is the midwife you need to wrap up the delivery. Here’s how to generate enough content ideas to last a full year in less than an hour:

Decide your target results

Maybe you want your content to entertain people enough to keep them returning to your site. Perhaps it should get people to sign up to a course you’re running, or download a guide, or tell a friend about what you do. You might even have a more ambitious goal, like establishing meaningful authority in your field.
Whatever your ultimate goals might be, get them written down, and maybe even circle them a few times so you can’t miss them. For the rest of the hour, any time a thought springs into your mind that doesn’t mesh with a result you’ve identified, purge it. Even if it’s a great idea, it doesn’t belong here. Stay focused.

Note down any relevant terms

What is your content going to be about? Think about your target results, and what your readers might care about, be interested in, or want help with — then start noting down relevant terms in a scatter-gun fashion. There doesn’t need to be any kind of structure.
I call these seed words because down the line you’re going to grow them into fleshed-out pieces of content, but right now they need to be quick and simple. Suppose you wanted to become a top toy seller: you could write down terms like:

  • Fun
  • Entertainment
  • Vacation
  • School breaks
  • Games
  • Classic
  • Build

They’re incredibly basic, but that’s not a problem. Each one of these terms is viable for keyword research and can be expanded and combined with other terms to create worthwhile ideas.

Look at existing content

Once you’ve got down all the basic terms you can think of, head to the internet to start getting more in-depth. Look for the terms you’ve picked out plus your main topic to see what content already exists and ranks well. Continuing the toy seller example, you could search for “fun toys”, “toys for entertainment”, “vacation toys”, and so on in that vein.
Each query will produce different results, and you’ll quickly start to spot patterns in the best-performing content. Take notes on what you find and write down the patterns you see.

Do some keyword research

Having quickly reviewed the content that’s already out there, it’s time to see how it relates to what people are interested in. Search for the terms you’ve assembled on social media platforms to see what people are saying, what their complaints are, what they’re asking. Put the terms into something like Ubersuggest or Keyword Tool to find out what the most popular searches are.
If questions or topics come up that you didn’t spot in your content research, search for them directly to see what comes up. You might just find that there’s a popular question that hasn’t been answered very well, leaving a golden opportunity for you. Write down anything that seems over-saturated and anything that seems to have some room for fresh content.

Pick some viable content formats

There are standard blog articles, infographics, quizzes, lists, case studies, FAQs, guides, videos, podcasts, and many other formats available to you. Write down all the content types that you could realistically try and might work with your overall brand and intentions.
If quizzes aren’t appropriate for your audience or goals, for instance, then leave them out. Take a look at some successful ecommerce blogs to see what kind of distributions they go for. Variety is great, but you’re not obliged to do everything, and you’re better off sticking with what you’re good at than trying to do it all and ending up with mediocre content.

Match topics to formats

OK, here’s where we bring everything so far together. You should have a list of relevant terms, notes on gaps in the content market, and a set of formats you could use — start lining them up in the most logical way you can.
For example, you could conclude that “toys for school breaks” would work as a list and see that there aren’t all that many great pieces about that topic. If so, there you go, a viable content idea. Are there already plenty of articles about “classic toys”? What about infographics? If there’s room for a high-quality “classic toys” infographic, that’s another idea to note down.

Write down some spec titles

Aiming for a minimum of two pieces of content per month, you’d need 24 ideas in total so far, which is hardly unrealistic. You might have far more than that. If you get fifty minutes in and you’ve got a ton of ideas down, start coming up with some spec titles to make things a little easier to plan.
Spec titles are placeholder titles, so the idea for a list about “toys for school breaks” could be put down as something like “Toys for School Breaks: How to Keep Kids Occupied”. You can get as detailed or as vague as you want at this stage, because you can change the title later. In fact, you may want to for SEO purposes.
An hour isn’t a very long time, but you can get a lot done if you refuse to get stuck on the minor details. Follow this process to rapidly generate coherent content ideas that will serve your overall goals and provide value to your audience, and you’ll have what you need to later build a full content calendar.
Kayleigh Alexandra is a content writer for Micro Startups — a site dedicated to spreading the word about startups and small businesses of all shapes and sizes. Visit the blog for the latest marketing insights from top experts and inspiring entrepreneurial stories. Follow us on Twitter @getmicrostarted.