How much time do you spend staring into space, trying to come up with a worthy topic for your next blog article?
If you’re anything like me when I first started blogging, the answer is a lot. I used to waste hours trying to find something, anything, to talk about. Not a great use of time as a new business owner.
But after years of experimentation and drawing from others’ systems, I developed my own process for both generating great blog content ideas and keeping track of them. This system changes the game—instead of scrambling to come up with your next blog topic, you’ll always have an idea you love ready to go.
Here’s how it works.
It all begins with a backlog
The trick to generating a large volume of content is to never start from scratch.
‘Backlog’ is a term from the field of project management, and it’s a method of listing out all the work that’s still to be done. In this case, we’re listing out every content idea you might want to write in the future.
But wait! You might think. I already do this in a notebook/document/notes app/etc.
Great! This will make it easier. But we’re going to take it a step further.
What makes this backlog different from a regular ol’ list is that you’re not just storing topics—you’re also adding detail to each idea.
Imagine this: Every blog topic idea gets its own entry or document. Then, along with the topic idea, you also jot down additional thoughts, research, or data points right there in the document. By the time you’re ready to write, you have a lot more to go off of than a weird headline idea you wrote 6 months ago.
This makes all the difference.
You can build a backlog-like system with a lot of different tools, both free and paid. Here’s what it could look like with some of the more popular options:
In a fresh Trello board, create a column of blog topic ideas. Each topic gets its own card. As you finish and publish the articles, move the cards to a “Published” column. (You can see the exact process I’ve used with Trello here.)
Create a table. Each item in the table is a separate article idea. Add a checkbox column to fill when the article is published. (This is my current process.)
Google Drive (Free)
Create a new folder. Each topic gets its own document. As you finish the articles, move the documents to a “Published” folder.
Create a new notebook. Each article gets its own note. Move each note to a notebook called “Published Articles” as you publish them. (This isn’t the cleanest solution, but if you’re already neck-deep in Evernote you might as well continue!)
How to fill the backlog with blog ideas
So you have your backlog set up. Now, we of course have to talk about: Where do all those blog post ideas come from?
If you fill up your backlog in one go, you can keep it topped up without much extra effort. But we have to get it filled to start with.
Here’s how to come up with blog topics that have a high potential for success:
First, clarify your audience
So often I hear from people who think they don’t know what to blog about, but they actually don’t know who they’re talking to. Because if you know your audience and you know your offering, things tend to fall into place pretty quickly.
It hurts my heart to see how many people (and even bigger companies!) waste hours of time and thousands of dollars on content that will never perform well… because they didn’t take the time to get total clarity on who they’re talking to and how they help them.
You don’t need a fancy client avatar, but you should have a solid idea of what your audience has in common. For example, my audience is primarily coaches, freelancers, and course creators. They all want to build an audience so they can sell their packages and fill their programs.
Take some time to define this if you haven’t already. In the next section, I’ll teach you a way to research them on a deeper level.
Now, you can start brainstorming topics
Have you decided on a backlog system? Do you know your audience and offering? GOOD. Now we can get to the meaty business of generating actual blog post ideas.
Below are 5 core brainstorming techniques that will serve you for your whole business career. Use each technique to generate new blog ideas, and add them right to your backlog.
1. Research their pain points and questions
Remember your audience that you defined? Two seconds ago? Perfect! This is where they come in.
Go into Facebook and search for groups where your target audience is hanging out. If you’re a website designer for solopreneurs, for example, you’d search for a Facebook group for solopreneurs.
Find a few groups. Get in. You might need to apply and be approved.
Once there, in the sidebar, type in a word or two that describes what you offer. Continuing with the web designer example, you’d search for “website” or “design” in the sidebar.
If it’s a decently large group, you’ll stumble upon a goldmine of information. Look for anyone who’s talking about a problem or challenge they’re having, or a question they’re asking, then copy their exact words into a research document.
You can do a similar process on Quora, Reddit, Amazon book reviews, and even the comments on other peoples’ blog posts.
Every one of those challenges is a problem you can solve in an article. And even better, use their exact words (or a close variation) as the blog title. This ensures the title will catch attention. It’ll be exactly what your reader was looking for.
Bonus tip: Search for a topic in Google, then scroll to the bottom to see the “related searches” area. Those are actual queries people are searching. Can you write an answer to any of them?
2. Identify your values and beliefs about your industry
You can go far on informational content alone. But if you’re trying to build a brand, you’ve gotta show some heart. Here are some questions to get you started:
What is something you believe that goes against what everyone else is saying in your industry?
Be bold! Hold an opinion. Always be asking yourself, Do I agree with this? Or is there a better way/idea people should know about?
What do you value?
This is a complicated and vague question, which is why I’ve written on it more in How to Define Your Business Values. But the real question is, why do you do what you do? And why do you do it in that way?
I personally value creating a meaningful career. (Yes, yes, I’m a millennial and all that. We’re all products of our times.) That value inspired an article on How to Create a Meaningful Business.
I also value a high level of ethics in my work and life. That sparked My 9 Rules for Ethical Marketing in Business.
Every value or belief you have (that’s related to your work in some way) could inspire a blog or social media post. And this is some of the best content of all. When you take a stand for something you believe in, some people will turn away—but your people will stand with you. THIS is how you create raving fans.
3. Take great notes on what you read
Remember in high school when you had to do research for your English papers?
My teacher had us complete all the research first, and write facts and quotes on index cards, before we even began writing. Writing a paper with 30 little index cards already full of information made the whole thing much faster (and resulted in much stronger papers).
So I was so excited to found out that Ryan Holiday (the writer behind books like “The Obstacle is the Way” and “Ego is the Enemy”) uses a similar system not just when he’s writing a book—but any time he’s reading one!
Here’s his process: Any time he’s reading a book, he’s diligent about recording passages that stand out to him. He marks them with post-its as he reads, and then later transfers them to individual index cards. Then he organizes them by category for future reference.
I love this idea, but I’m a bit lazy. My process? I just focus on recording ideas as I read. I have a table in Notion I call “Book Notes”. Every book gets its own document in this table. And in that document, I’ll record quotes or ideas that come up as I read, along with the page number. Then, when I’m working on my backlog, I’ll use those notes to inspire new articles—or add some of them as research for existing ideas in my backlog.
This process has led to content like Why You Should STOP Trying to Be the Hero to Your Clients, which was inspired by “Building a Storybrand” by Donald Miller.
And in case you need to hear it: As a business owner, you should be reading business books. No question. They provide far better information than articles, and they’re way cheaper than courses. You want to grow your business? Get reading.
If you’re working on your backlog and haven’t read anything in a while, here are a few questions to get you started:
What’s something you learned about your industry/area of expertise in the last month that could be helpful to your target audience?
Any ideas come up?
What’s something you WANT to learn about that could also benefit your audience?
Writing is the best way to learn about something.
4. Take stock of what you know
You yourself are already a goldmine of information. But so many of us get caught thinking, “But everyone knows this!”
Nuh-uh. They really don’t.
What’s a process or concept that’s working for you?
Teach what you know.
What lessons have you learned the hard way?
And specifically, how can those lessons help your target audience?
Think of yourself as a wisened grandma/grandpa trying to impart some wisdom on the young’uns. Human brains love stories. Look back on what you’ve experienced so far. Remember: You don’t need to have years of experience to teach something valuable.
5. Use your offerings to guide your content
The ultimate goal of a blog is to develop a relationship with your readers so they’ll be ready to buy from you. So it’s incredibly valuable to create content that helps them understand your work and why it’s important.
What information would someone need to be familiar with before hiring you?
Are there industry terms you can explain to them? Specific processes that deserve a rundown?
What beliefs or fears might they have to overcome?
If you’re a photographer, some of your clients will be very nervous. So, some great topics might be “How to feel comfortable in front of the camera” and “What to wear to your first photo shoot.”
Beliefs are also important to address. Do you find that a lot of people believe you do X, when you do Y? Do they believe your work is only valuable in certain contexts? These are things you’ll want to address in your website copy, but it can be helpful to create blog content around it as well.
What would be helpful to someone AFTER they work with you?
This is especially important to consider if you specialize in one specific service you deliver.
Keeping your blog topic backlog full
If you follow the questions above, you should be able to generate a hefty list of ideas. But of course, actually writing them means your backlog will shrink over time.
So finally, let’s talk about the simple habits that will keep your list topped up:
Make a point to read books regularly
Get a library card or Audible subscription. Start reading books regularly—and taking notes. This isn’t just a good content practice; it’s a good business practice. Why learn from your mistakes when you can learn from others’ mistakes instead?
Set aside time to review the backlog
I have a standing task in my calendar every Friday called “Plan upcoming content.” I’ll review what I’ve read in the past week and see if it sparks any new content ideas. Then, I’ll add due dates to the topics in the backlog I’m most excited about writing next. I might even slam out some quick thoughts on some of them, or write a short outline. This means when I’m ready to write, I’m walking in with a clear idea of what I’m writing about.
Get in the habit of adding new ideas as they come up
Read an interesting article? Great! How could that inspire a new blog of your own? Take 2 minutes to write down an idea.
Get a question from a client? Even better! Other folks are probably wondering the same thing. Pop it into your backlog.
Build an “if-then” in your mind. You think of something interesting, you instantly jot it down in your backlog. Make it a non-negotiable.
Take care of your blog topic list, and you’ll never be at a loss for words again
This is the secret to creating consistent content. It’s right here. For free.
The question is, will you use it?