I think there’s often a preconception that marketing is the result of a lightning burst of imagination; that great content comes from some kind of creative big bang.

I guess us creative types don’t help. We tend to excitedly talk about ‘generating ideas’ rather than the less impressive reality: that marketing is often the work of many hours’ challenging (and sometimes tedious) refinement. Maybe we don’t want to pull back the curtain and let the client see the wizard, for fear of undermining our magical status.

It could be that, for some people, that’s the way it is. Bam! Idea! Done!

It surprises people when I tell them that, even as an experienced writer, at least half of the time I spend ‘writing’ is actually spent editing, correcting, changing, tweaking and so on. It’s not really any different when I’m editing a video or designing a brochure. I see creativity more like sculpting: you can’t tap the stone once and a masterpiece appear. You have to keep chipping away, sometimes carefully, until little or nothing can improve it.

When I’m coaching other marketers, it can be evident that the commercial need for marketers to get things done quickly is compromising them being done well. Sometimes managers justify this by citing the Pareto principle, where 80% of an effect comes from 20% of its cause. In our case, this implies, wrongly, that we only need to put in 20% of the effort to get 80% of the benefit. If only.

A great way to speed up creativity and to improve the end result is to challenge your own work. This is possibly one of the hardest things any creative team can do, yet it’s potentially the most rewarding. Identifying the things that aren’t right, or can be improved, is the only way to make something better. To be comfortable with dissatisfaction with your own work, and see it as a guide to improvement, is a massive step-change in thinking for many. As Thomas Edison said, “discontent is the first necessity of progress”. (And you thought I was going to quote the – equally true – one about genius being one percent inspiration.)

To make a checklist work, everyone has to buy into it, and work by it, at every point in the creative process. It can’t be just a few ticks when the initial idea is generated. They’re rules to which everyone agrees and which are used as a structure to challenge ideas and generate debate. They also minimise unhelpful feedback such as, “I don’t know why, but I don’t like it”.

It’s great to get the client on board with your checklist, too. Clients should know how you think and work. They should be able to contribute in the most meaningful way.

Checklists can give free-form creativity a structure that really does do the magical: they cut time and make things better.

I’ve written a brief publication, Ask Yourself This, to provide twenty-five checklist ideas to improve your content marketing. You can download it, free, without any kind of registration to surrender your contact details.