6 min read

How to Build Your Content Flywheel: Step-by-Step

Publish early. Publish often. A back catalogue of work gives you more chances to find an audience, promote and sell your work.
How to Build Your Content Flywheel: Step-by-Step

The artist Pablo Picasso holds a Guinness Book of World Records for the most paintings. According to estimates, he produced over 13,500 paintings and designs and over 100,000 prints and engravings.

That's a staggering amount of creative work. Chances are you're familiar with some of Picasso's most famous works like Guernica but even the most knowledgeable art historian would find it a challenge to cite all of Picasso's works.

Does that mean Picasso is any less of a creative master?

Successful modern content creators follow a similar approach to Picasso. They give themselves more opportunities to succeed with a deep back catalogue of creative work.

The author James Patterson releases at least three books every year and has published over 300 titles. Whether you like his books or not, Patterson gives himself ample opportunities to connect with his readers every year.

It's not just James Patterson. After interviewing dozens of indie authors who earn a full-time living from writing, the ones who earn the most rely on a deep back catalogue of books and titles readers can buy from.

Publishing early and often offers more opportunities for honing your craft. It's kind of like the weightlifter at a gym who puts in their reps and builds strength gradually. Your first book, podcast episode or video might not be great, but repetition and practice develop a distinctive voice for any content creator.

Publishing a lot enables experimenting with different formats, niches, and genres. You can also gauge the type of creative work your ideal audience expects and what they're willing to pay.

As a frequent content publisher, you're increasing the amount of opportunities for seeking feedback from editors, teachers, mentors, coaches, critics, fans and followers.

A lot of your content won't succeed. Pareto's principle states 20% of your efforts leads to 80% of the results. But if you create and publish more, your chances dramatically increase.

Consider the difference between half a dozen books versus 300 books or ten paintings versus over 13,500.

On the other hand, publishing occasionally is akin to putting all your proverbial creative eggs in one basket.

If the creative project doesn't pan out, the weight of this failure will feel demoralising at best or financially ruinous at worst. It might put you off from creating anything again.

Create Your Content Flywheel

Many of the top YouTubers release at least one new video of approximately 10 to 15 minutes in length every day. They know what turns their content flywheels. To an outsider, their output looks overwhelming.

Enter the flywheel. Business author Jim Collins proposed the concept of a flywheel. He wrote:

"Once you fully grasp how to create flywheel momentum in your particular circumstance…and apply that understanding with creativity and discipline, you get the power of strategic compounding. Each turn builds upon previous work as you make a series of good decisions, supremely well executed, that compound one upon another. This is how you build greatness."

This concept applies across many industries, including content.

To start your flywheel, pick a single big rock or topic relevant to your audience for the coming month. It's more efficient and easier to create a batch of content around this big rock than to hop from topic to topic every week.

In the below example, we'll pick a big rock and break it down into smaller rocks for a single month.

Let's say your target audience is aspiring podcasters, and your big rock for the coming month is productivity for new podcasters. Now, brainstorm how you can break this big rock down into these smaller rocks or content ideas.

You don't need to create or even outline the content at this stage. Instead, simply write down all of the topic ideas in a file, whiteboard on paper. For example:

  • Habits of effective podcasters
  • Myths about podcasting
  • The mindset of successful podcasters
  • Time-saving tools and software for podcasters
  • Productivity tips from other podcasters
  • Explanations e.g. how to start a podcast faster
  • Current events e.g. podcast download stats
  • Reviews of podcasting software that saves podcasters time

Also consider how you'll present this information. For example:

  • Lists
  • Opinions
  • Personal stories
  • Curated resources
  • Interviews with other experts

Next, using a spreadsheet, pick the pieces of content to create each week. At this stage, stick to a headline and a few bullet points. For example:

Week 1: How To Launch Promoting Your First Podcast In Two Hours a Week

Week 2: The 7 Habits of Highly Productive Podcasters

Week 3: How To Find More Guests for You Podcast in Less Time

Week 4: The Podcast Editing Technique That Will Save You Hours of Time

If you have more time to create content, for one step further and map out pieces of content to write or record each day.

Once you have a plan, it's easier to commit to publishing a set amount of videos, podcasts or articles each week and month.

Now that you have a plan for months ahead, stick to it.

You and your team can actively search and curate content ideas related to your big rock, and your brain will subconsciously work on them too.

After a few months, you'll get faster at generating content. Consistency builds competency. I spent several hours recording, editing and publishing my first podcast episode. Two years and two hundred episodes later, I can prepare and record one in an hour, with the help of a producer.

Republishing 101

One finished piece of content provides many publishing opportunities. Let's pick say that content idea from week one turned into 2,000-word guide for new podcasters.

Now, you can easily break this up into smaller rocks for everywhere your audience spends time online. Think of it as material for different formats like:

  • Video
  • Email
  • Twitter threads
  • Quora answers
  • Medium and LinkedIn articles
  • Blog posts
  • Podcasts
  • Short ebooks or guides

If publishing the same article on LinkedIn, Medium and your website, you don't need to write a new article for each platform either.

Simply, take the big rock, edit the headline or lead-in appropriately for each platform and repost it. Publish a synopsis on Twitter. Expand on a single idea for subscribers to your email list. Record a podcast about it.

If you simply don't have time to publish on all of these platforms, perform an 80/20 analysis. Ask yourself

  • Where does my audience spend the most amount of their time online?
  • What formats will generate the most momentum for my content business?

Our aspiring podcaster probably won't get the same results by posting content on Snapchat compared to publishing articles and more podcasts each month.

Focus on the relevant platform for your business and delegate rest to a virtual assistant or defer it until you've more money, data or time.

Reviewing Your Flywheel

A key part of any content flywheel involves analysing what's generating the most momentum and doubling down on that. At the end of the month, review how content related to your big rock performed. Ask yourself:

  • How much time did I spend creating each format?
  • Which content types did I enjoy creating?
  • How many email subscribers, fans or followers did my content generate?
  • What impact did my content have on book, course or other product sales?
  • What should I create more or less of next time?

Use information from your most important platforms to identify where to concentrate your time and resources. If your first iteration of a big rock didn't generate much results, don't worry. It takes a few months for a new content flywheel to gain momentum.

Some of my articles took a few months to generate much website traffic, but that traffic compounded. Today, some of these articles continue to generate website traffic to my site and email list subscribers, even though I moved on from the big rock in question many months ago.

After creating several big rocks, you'll have more and more content to repurpose for different platforms too. Iterating big rock ideas gets easier with practice. You'll find it easier to identify trends in terms of topic ideas, formats and channels.

But the real beauty lies in building a library of content. Your content calendar represents one organisational tool for this library. A personal website or blog is another. Now, even if one platform of format falters, you can still take your content ideas and reuse them for another.

It all starts with creating. Think of James Patterson's 300 plus books or even Picasso's thousands of paintings. Even they started with a single work.

Takeaway

Publishing work or content consistently unlocks more opportunities for your readers, followers, and fans to discover your back catalogue.

Map out your big content rocks for the next three to six months. Break down this big rock into smaller pieces of content that you'll release every week. Repurpose and republish these smaller rocks across each of your channels. Review what worked and double-down on that.

Publishing Tips

  • A virtual assistant can help with the mechanics of publishing across different platforms, giving you more time to create content.

Resources

  • Use tools like Buzzsumo and Answer The Public to identify popular content ideas and formats in your niche
  • Plan your big rocks with this spreadsheet

References

Collins, Jim. Turning the Flywheel (p. 3). Random House. Kindle Edition.