Let’s talk cornerstone documents for a moment here. You probably already know all about repurposing content and how to do it. You write big, then break it down into smaller parts to use on different platforms, then break it down into smaller to turn into graphics, and so on and so forth. (PS. this isn’t the only way of repurposing content). A cornerstone document plays on the same idea, though sometimes in reverse.
The original definition of a cornerstone is the first stone set in the construction of a masonry foundation. All other stones will be set in reference to this stone, thus determining the position of the entire structure. Construction, right? And it kind of makes sense, it’s used as a guideline to build something bigger and better. A cornerstone document is similar in the sense that is used to build your content. And yes, you can use this for any aspect, not only content, but I will be focusing on content creation in this article.
I want you to think of it as your base content and everything else you created around it. For example, your brand guidelines are the cornerstone document for your brand. Everything you create about your brand is based on those guidelines. Another example, I use ClickUp as my content management system now. That means I write almost all of my content on there. For me, ClickUp is my cornerstone document because everything I want to say is either already on there, or gets added on there.
Here are the top three benefits of using cornerstone documents…
By using a cornerstone document, or multiples, you are able to better keep track of everything. Whether that is your content, design, course, client work, or anything else. Keeping everything in one place keeps you organized. Having said that, a cornerstone document isn’t always a document. It can be a system, like my earlier example of ClickUp, it can be a folder, or it can be an actual document. Here is some extra info on each of these…
A system like ClickUp, Trello, Jumla, Google Drive, or any others, can help you by keeping everything in one place, regardless of what it is. You can put everything you can think of in this system from content, to leads, to client work, to internal documents, and so much more. These systems allow for organization, categorization, and so much more. Use it to its full utility to get the most out of it and focus on what makes it useful for you.
Similar to a system, a folder either online, on your computer, or a physical binder on your desk, can help you organize yourself. You can do folders within folders within folders and go as deep as you want to keep yourself organized. The trick with this one is having everything labelled properly. This is where tags, labels, and document names can become very important to help you keep track of everything.
An actual document can get a little tougher to organize unless you’re using tables and indexes. But once you do, everything is in one place. It makes it a lot easier to find something specific and make cross-references. This is especially useful for content repurposing, as you can take one large piece of content (like a blog, for example) and use the same document to turn that long blog into multiple captions, graphics, and so on.
Personally, I use all three of these methods. I have ClickUp for all of my content, multiple folders for my clients and internal documents, and documents for more specific focuses, such as my course or books I’ve written. However, both my folders and documents are all linked inside my system, so ClickUp is my cornerstone document. Everything I could ever want to know about any part of my brand and business is on there and, because it’s an online provider, I can access it from anywhere with either WiFi or service.
When you have already created content and added it to your cornerstone document, it is much easier to find it if you want to either repurpose or repeat that content. Having everything in one place can help you keep everything consistent. As with the earlier example of brand guidelines, it’s like having a set of rules for future creation. While this is not limited to content creation only, I do want to use that as an example.
Think back to my earlier example of repurposing. Now, what if you want to write new content based on a topic you’ve already covered. The easiest way to do that is to find that previous content and find what is missing to add it on. You can end up following the same or a similar style as the original piece of content or use it to get a different point across using the same premises.
If you want to create content quickly and easily and still have it true to your brand, a cornerstone can really help you out. You can think of it as part of your content strategy as it will help you with all content creation. Using this document will help you never run out of ideas, look for content prompts, or panic to create fifty things every week.
Before I started using this method for content creation, my stuff was all over the place! Having said that, a cornerstone document is not the only thing that will help you with this. Make sure to have a solid content strategy in place with your pillars, topics, and goals, and make sure that this links back to your brand strategy! But technically, think of this as your giant content dump. Anything and everything you write that becomes content visible to your clients goes in here. Blog articles, captions, the text that goes on the slides, quotes, etc.
Here are some tips when creating cornerstone documents to help you out…
Start writing your next piece of content in this document, don’t go back and copy everything you’ve already written! Start fresh and only go back if you’re on that topic.
Use what is available to you to organize yourself. Whether that is lists, boards, folders, headings, anchors, links, or any other markers in and between. Make it easy and intuitive for you to navigate.
Continue writing. You may have 2000 words to say on the matter, so say them. And you may go off on tangents, go off on them. Don’t limit yourself to a character count or SEO-compliant writing.
Go back to this document often and add in or edit anything new. Keep adding information to it. This document is for your eyes only, so you don’t have to worry about keeping it clean and neat if that takes too much time.
Link back to where you use it. This is very important if you want to make future edits or changes that were visible. Make sure to note everywhere something is used and keep it regularly updated.
And my last tip about this and most important one… don’t do it if it’ll mess you up! Using a cornerstone document is not for everybody. Not everybody finds it comfortable. Having said that, if you are working with a team or hiring external help, maybe having your cornerstone be an inventory document instead may help.