After the champagne and the chance to reconnect with old friends, one of the best parts of the New Year is starting with a clean slate. It’s a time for shiny new marketing campaigns, a time to fill in a blank planner that hasn’t yet become cluttered with meetings or deadlines. And it’s a time to resolve your content will be better than ever.

Just as you won’t get in shape without a detailed plan of action, you can’t achieve your content marketing resolutions without a roadmap: Your editorial calendar.

If staring at a blank Excel spreadsheet gives you anxiety, you’re not alone. Here are five steps you can use to create a killer content calendar that will help you sell more software this year.

1. Set Your Marketing Goals

Before you touch that spreadsheet, take this critical step. Deciding on your marketing goals will give you a framework for creating content. It will keep you on track when you’re tempted to write about some minor change in your product or draw some unlikely parallels between your candidate-tracking software and “The Bachelor” just to get a blog out there.

Don’t set goals in a vacuum. Take time to meet with staff from sales, customer service, IT and other functions of your marketing department to determine what you need to concentrate on most this year.

Is it attracting more leads for your newest program offering? Upselling current customers?

Focus on no more than a few of your highest priorities and put them in writing. Remember to set goals that are SMART:

  • Specific
  • Measurable
  • Attainable
  • Realistic
  • Time-sensitive

So, instead of saying, “Let’s get more leads,” consider the quantity you’re attracting now and what you’ll most likely be able to do given your existing resources. A smarter goal would be to increase marketing qualified leads through your premium content (eBooks, guides and other resources) by 25 percent over the next 12 months.

2. Consider Your Buyers and Their Needs

Knowing your audience is Marketing 101, but the start of a new year is a good time to re-evaluate your buyer personas, or profiles of your current and potential customers. These may have changed if you’ve recently launched a new product or service or if you’ve noticed more than half of your sales last year came from a specific industry sector.

Take the time to update these profiles so your target audience is clear to everyone. These profiles should cover information such as:

  • Job title and function at the company
  • What a typical day is like
  • How he or she defines success
  • His or her most significant challenges or barriers to achieving objectives
  • Who else influences his or her decisions
  • Where this person typically goes to find information
  • What kind of messaging resonates most with him or her

If you’re targeting a new type of customer and don’t know the answers to these questions, do some research first.

One of the best ways to find out how to talk to your potential customers is to actually talk to them. If you don’t have current customers who fit this profile, find some people who meet this description on LinkedIn or within your own professional networks. Ask them if they’re willing to have a conversation, and bribe them with a gift card if necessary. The worst they can say is no!

3. Map Out Your Buyers’ Journey

Once you have a solid understanding of who you need to reach, think about how you can speak to them at every stage. In a world where “Google” has become a verb, more than half of a typical sales cycle now occurs before your customers ever pick up the phone. In fact, Gartner Research predicts that by 2020, customers will manage 85 percent of their relationship with sales without ever talking to a person.

If your potential customers aren’t talking with you, they’re most likely researching their options online. Unfortunately, if they find information from one of your competitors before they find you, you might never have the opportunity to win them over with a conversation.

Let’s say you sell project management software. Think about the information your customers need at every stage in the buying process.

  1. Awareness: Your ideal customer is Ted, a department manager who struggles to keep his team on task and manage project deadlines, especially if he runs a virtual team. He knows he has a problem, but he may not realize project management software is a solution. A good awareness piece could focus on the benefits of using it in today’s increasingly virtual workplace.
  2. Consideration: Ted is exploring his options and might be feeling overwhelmed by all the choices. A checklist on what factors to consider when purchasing project management software would be helpful.
  3. Decision: Ted thinks your software is the best fit for his department, but first he has to justify the expense to his boss. An ROI calculator or price comparison sheet just might win him over.
  4. Delight: Ted chooses your software and has been using it now for three months. Even though he’s already a customer, don’t miss an opportunity to be helpful by providing tips for training new employees to use it or showing him how to do something he didn’t realize he could do within the program.

Thinking about what information your customers need at every stage makes it easier to come up with topics and ensure you have a good mix of useful content.

4. Brainstorm All Possible Content

Using these four stages as a framework, write down as many ideas as you can. You don’t have to come up with all of them on your own, and it’s usually better if you don’t. Invite representatives from other departments to weigh in. Give them a pad of Post-It notes and a time limit, and see what happens.

Here are some prompts to help you get started:

  • What questions do our customers or prospects ask most often?
  • What are their biggest gripes?
  • What sets our software solution apart from others?
  • What’s unique about our company or our approach?
  • What topics have our competitors covered that we could cover even better?
  • What obstacles do our customers encounter when they’re trying to convince the rest of their team to use our software?
  • What industry trends are shaping the way our customers do business, and how do we fit into that?
  • What resources do we already have that we can repurpose and make more accessible to our customers?

As you jot down ideas, remember nothing is off-limits at this point. Be open to considering new topics and formats.

5. Fill In Your Calendar With Assignments and Deadlines

Now that you have dozens of ideas, it’s time to get organized. Eliminate any duplicates, and focus on the content that will best help you achieve your goals first. Aim for at least one piece of premium content per quarter that’s valuable enough for your customers to give up their email address to get, as well as a mix of blogs, infographics, social media content and even videos.

How often should you blog? HubSpot recommends blogging as often as you want to get found, which could even be multiple times a day. This chart shows a strong correlation between the frequency of business blog posts and the percentage of companies that have acquired customers from their blog. (If you need some ammunition to convince your coworkers to write more, this should do the trick.)

Be realistic, though. If your company doesn’t have the resources to publish multiple blog posts per day, don’t do it. You’ll just get overwhelmed and give up on the effort altogether. Aim for once or twice a week instead.

Finally, figure out who is going to help you write all this great content and give them deadlines they can’t ignore. (If you use project management software, assign the posts to them so they’ll get reminders as the deadline approaches.)

Once you’ve established your calendar and everyone has made a commitment, check in with your team frequently to make sure they stick with it. Keep in mind, though, your content calendar should be a living, breathing document you reevaluate regularly to keep up with your customers’ needs, your own priorities and industry headlines.

Planning your content calendar doesn’t seem so overwhelming when you take it step by step. By starting with your goals, moving through the buyer’s journey and building content from there, you can have your entire year planned out in no time. Here’s to a happy and productive 2015!

What are your marketing goals this year? How will your content help you achieve them? Let us know in the comments below.