Instagram is an invaluable marketing tool for freelancers and business owners. But to use it successfully requires high quality content shared consistently.
Instagram is an invaluable marketing tool for many freelancers and business owners. But to use it successfully requires high quality content shared consistently.
And that’s a challenge for time-poor freelancers, who are already spinning a million different plates. When you throw Instagram content planning and creation into the mix, it’s easy to see why many experience Instagram fatigue or burn out.
So how can you make the most of the platform without spending every hour of your life writing captions and fiddling with Canva?
By planning your content ahead of time.
Keep reading to discover 89 tips to make Instagram content planning easier, so you can spend less time on Instagram and more time booking clients and growing your business.
Before you download another content calendar freebie with the hope that FINALLY this might be the thing that helps you stop procrastinating and start content planning…
… I want you to take a step back and set a goal for your Instagram marketing.
Too often busy business owners, freelancers, and content creators jump straight into content planning without knowing why they’re posting what they’re posting. In the race to ‘maintain a presence’ and ‘stay consistent’, they spend lots of time creating content that doesn’t generate results. And that’s the fastest route to burn out.
So how can you set a realistic monthly or quarterly goal on Instagram?
This starts with your broader business objectives. These can include (but are not limited to):
From here you want to drill down into a more specific achievable goal. Let me give you some examples using the objectives above.
Objective: Build brand awareness
Goal: From December 1-December 31, increase overall Reach by 15%
How I will achieve this:
And here’s another one:
Objective: Grow email list
Goal: Increase email subscribers +200 by 31st December
How I will achieve this:
Objective: Increase sales
Goal: Sign 1 new client during December
How I will achieve this:
Can you see how starting with your goal makes sitting down to plan content so much more intentional?
Rather than starting a new month by staring blankly at an empty content calendar, you can immediately begin fleshing out ideas designed to help you achieve your goal.
Now that you’ve nailed down your Instagram marketing goal, it’s time to build out your strategy to help you achieve this.
Before you do anything else, you want to be able to answer these questions:
This is a great starting point, but to help you develop a robust strategy sooner, why not steal the approach I use with my 1:1 clients?
You’re welcome. 😉
Posting cadence: I recommend posting 3x per week on the grid and 4x per week on Instagram Stories.
Types of content: A mixture of funny/inspiring, educational, personal, and promotional posts.
Content formats: A mixture of Reels, carousel posts, and standard photos.
The more structured you can make your approach, the easier it will be to plan content every month.
As for Instagram Stories, I recommend sharing 4x per week. This is because what makes Instagram Stories perform well is not how often you post them but how well structured they are. And once you approach Stories in this way it’s also going to make ~planning~ them a LOT easier too.
Because you might be like I used to be. Uploading Stories ‘in the moment’ and ‘as they happen’ because that’s what we’re used to doing.
However if you want to give your audience the best experience and keep them watching from beginning to end - which boosts retention rate and sends positive signals to the Instagram algorithm - then I suggest a different strategy.
Plan and upload your Stories so that they have a beginning, middle and end (like any good video). Start with the idea (e.g. ‘3 tips to achieve XYZ’) and then sketch out how you’ll share those tips over 4-5 slides. For example:
In the image below you can see how I roughly plan out my Instagram Stories for the week ahead in exactly the same way.
This means that when the day rolls around to upload, I know exactly what I’m meant to share. I don’t have to expend any brain power (yay!) and I can pull together the Story in 10 minutes or less (double yay!).
Creating a content planning system that suits you takes a bit of time and practice. But you’ve got to start somewhere, right?
When I first started getting serious about content planning I turned to Google Sheets, which quickly became my go-to for planning out ideas. Now, however, I am a big advocate of Notion. I love how easy the software is to use, how it integrates with all of my favourite tools and apps, and the variety of different ‘views’ it provides. Oh, and did I mention that it’s totally free?!
One of the ‘views’ I love the most (and which really helps me optimize my content planning) system is ‘Board view’. This gives me a birds eye view of my content workflow, how things are progressing and what still needs to get done.
On the far left you can see I have a column to drop early-stage ideas. Whenever inspiration strikes - which usually happens while I’m out walking Winston the corgi, listening to a podcast, or taking a shower - I add the idea here. At a later date I can come in and start fleshing out each idea into something that more closely resembles an Instagram post.
How do I do that? With my ‘Instagram Post’ template of course. 😉
I designed this template so that creating an optimised Instagram post was as quick and easy as possible. The ‘Production Checklist’ makes sure I don’t miss out a crucial step in the content creation process, and the ‘Post Outline’ section includes prompts to help me efficiently outline carousels and Reels.
I also have shortcuts to my most-used Canva design templates and a handy list of example hooks and calls-to-action for captions. Who knew that systemising the Instagram content planning process could be so fun?! (You did. That’s who!).
As each idea moves through the production checklist, I can drag and drop the card to its rightful place in the workflow. Or, if I’d prefer, I can change the status of the post from ‘Idea’ to ‘Asset Read To Be Created’ or ‘Caption To Be Written’ and so on.
Last but not least: ‘Calendar view’. As ideas are ready to be scheduled and their publish dates confirmed, I can switch to ‘Calendar’ view to see what content I’ve got coming up for the next few weeks. I can’t tell you how satisfying this is.
Whether you’re flying solo or working with a virtual assistant (VA) or social media manager (SMM) to support you, using an all-in-one content planning system like Notion is an absolute must.
If you want to make Instagram content planning 1000x easier, don’t try to plan, create, and publish one Instagram post at a time.
This easily happens when life or business gets busy and we fall behind with social media marketing. But since it’s the quickest way to burn out and give up with Instagram, if you DO find yourself out of the habit of content planning, hit pause and take the time to get back into a good routine.
One of the best ways to do this is by breaking up your entire content creation process into separate and similar tasks.
So let’s say you use the Instagram strategy shared above and decide to post 3x per week on the grid for the next 2 weeks. That might look like 2 Instagram Reels, 2 carousels, and 2 photos. Here’s how you’d break up that content into separate and similar tasks:
Now it’s time to assign those tasks to your diary. For example:
And so on. When you first approach content planning in this way, time how long each of these tasks take you (and don’t worry, you’ll get much quicker with practice).
This way you’ll know exactly how much time to assign to your calendar when you next sit down to content plan. And when the time is right to outsource some of your content creation process to someone else, you’ll know which tasks you do (or don’t) want to do based on the time they take and whether they’re in your zone of genius or not.
As you get to know your content planning process better, start to notice what parts you can automate and optimize.
A great place to start is with templates.
You can create templates for almost anything: carousels, captions, Stories, Lives, etc. The beauty of a template is that it takes the thinking out of the creative process, which is a life-saver when you need to create multiple weeks’ worth of content. And it enables you to replicate greatness.
For example, after years of writing Instagram captions, I’ve found a way to write them so that my audience wants to engage with them. That didn’t happen overnight, but once I figured out the anatomy of a great caption I turned it into a template so that I could recreate it again and again.
Now, whenever it’s time for me to churn out two, three, or four weeks’ worth of Instagram content, I have a caption template I can use (after five years it’s now committed to memory!). This has been a huge time (and sanity!) saver for me.
If you want to use templates but don’t know where to start, I recommend looking at your Instagram insights to see which posts have performed the best. Notice the format, structure, and style of the asset (the video, photo, Reel, carousel) and the anatomy of the caption.
Reverse engineer the post and strip it back so you’re just left with the key features that made it a great post. To use a carousel post as an example, you might end up with a template that looks like this:
Use whatever prompts necessary to make the next carousel you create as engaging and high-performing as the last.
Want to know a secret about success on Instagram? It’s not about being 100% original 100% of the time. Let’s face it - coming up with fresh new ideas every single week would be exhausting and unnecessary. It would also make content creation much more difficult than it needs to be - and we’re all about making Instagram content planning as easy as possible 😍
What you should do instead is look at what’s worked for you in the past and do more of that. That means keeping a close eye on your Instagram Insights to monitor the content that’s generating the most saves, shares, comments, website clicks, and product button clicks.
Notice how I didn’t mention likes? That’s because likes are a passive form of engagement. It takes no time at all for someone to double tap an image and it doesn’t indicate any real interest in the content.
I suggest using an analytics tool like Iconosquare to keep on top of your Instagram insights (this is much easier than doing it manually). The simple, colourful dashboard makes analysing the different metrics simple and engaging - even for someone like me who is usually rubbish with data!
In a world where most of us can’t go more than 2 minutes without checking our phones, it takes a certain amount of willpower to sit down and focus on content planning. Especially when it’s content planning for Instagram. It can become very tempting to think that you should just check Instagram quickly to get a burst of inspiration for new content ideas…
🙅Don’t be tempted. If you want to make content planning easier, you’ve got to get rid of ALL distractions. At least for 20-30 minutes at a time so that you can focus.
Block internet browsing, put your phone on Do Not Disturb, tell your loved ones that you’re in a period of deep focus, and turn on some music to help you concentrate.
Now you’re ready to blitz through a session of caption writing or post outlining or carousel designing. And when you’re finished, you’ll be thrilled at what you’ve managed to accomplish.
If you’re not in the habit of content planning then the very idea of it might bring you out in a cold sweat. That’s okay - that’s to be expected.
To help get you back on track and look forward to the process, I really recommend rewarding yourself. Whether that’s with a sweet treat, a podcast episode, or a break away from your desk, treat yourself to something nice when you’ve completed a task or sat and focused for 30 minutes without getting distracted.
At some point, you won’t need the rewards anymore. Instead, the positive association you develop for content planning will be strong enough to motivate you (that’s the hope anyway!).
After implementing a robust strategy (like the one shared above), monitoring your insights, and getting into a good content planning routine, it might be time to outsource some of your Instagram content creation to a VA or SMM.
Pro tip: Don’t outsource your Instagram content before you’re ready. If you’re not 100% certain what your strategy is (and you haven’t seen results from it yet), then handing over your account to someone else isn’t going to get you the results you want. In most cases it leads to lots of wasted time, money and a whole lot of frustration on your end.
Remember in tip #4 when I suggested timing how long each content planning task takes you? One reason for this is so that you have a good understanding of how much time it will take someone else to support you and therefore how much you’d need to budget.
When you find the right person, outsourcing can be a huge time saver and make Instagram content planning much, much easier. It allows you to focus on the tasks that you’re good at and that you enjoy, and hand over those that are more time consuming and less enjoyable to someone else.
Now that you’re armed with plenty of tips to make Instagram content planning easier, the only thing left to do is put it all into practice.
And if you ever find yourself getting overwhelmed with the thought of content planning in the future (which you will!), remember to break up the process. It’s so much easier to tackle content planning in smaller chunks than it is to approach content creation as one huge task.
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