How to Create a Blog Content Calendar

A content calendar helps you out!

  • It take the guesswork out of what to write
  • It keeps your blog on track with relevant content
  • It sets you on a strategic plan that moves you forward
  • It helps you avoid burning out
  • It aligns your blog with your core goals

How to Create and Stick to a Blogging Content Calendar

I’ve been a professional writer for a long time, but up until this year I didn’t put together a blogging content calendar.

Why?

A few reasons I suppose. First, because I create content calendars for everyone else so my blog was the last thing I touched in an average freelance day. Second, because I was a bit paralyzed in overwhelm. So many ideas. Too many things to write about. You know, the usual blogging problems.

#bloggerproblems

But I knew the value of a good plan—there’s nothing like a calendar to tell you what to write and keep you on track.

Long story short, I told myself to quit stalling and created a sweet content calendar. I built it last fall, I implemented it last January, and I’m keeping to it today. Here’s what I did and how you can do it too.


How to create a blogging content calendar

(Also known as an editorial calendar.)

  1. Get clear on who you’re talking to (your ideal reader) and what you offer (what’s your goal? what are you trying to achieve?)
  2. I spent a few months figuring this out. Here’s what I came up with: My ideal readers are creative freelancers. I help busy people do marketing.

    To get clear on my blogging goals I took tips from people I trust but I found the most practical help from Denise Duffield-Thomas’ Planning Process. In this post she outlines her step-by-step planning process and links to her simple business plan. I filled it out and used the plan I came up with as the foundation for my content calendar.

  3. Decide what your topics are
  4. Once you know what you offer, it’s time to brainstorm what topics you want to cover. For example, my ideal reader struggles with time management, marketing/digital strategy, organization, and overwhelm. Look at that, I have four main topics.

    I used these topics as headings, then brainstormed blog post ideas for each one. From a short session I had 17 ideas. If I decided to blog once per week I all of a sudden had 17 weeks of posts lined up. Wow. OK maybe I could do this.

  5. Put everything into a calendar template
  6. There are a lot of options when it comes to editorial/content calendars, everything from paper planners to cloud-based task systems. You need to use what works for you. After some trial and error I found Trello works for me. If you haven’t heard of it before I’ll give you a little overview of how it works and how I used it.

    Trello is a cloud-based visual project management tool. It took me a while I understand how to use it but after a few video tutorials (I watched how other people used Trello) I figured out a system.

    First, I started different boards: Content Calendar, Goals, Article Ideas, Articles in Progress, Blog Post Planner, Newsletter, etc.

    Next, I populated the boards with lists. In my Content Calendar board I started with my four main themes and put them on a list of their own. I have found this keeps me focused on my big ideas when I’m brainstorming individual blog posts. In my Article Ideas board I created 12 lists for the 12 months and put 10-20 ideas/prompts under each list. For example, my August prompts are back to school, Labour Day recipes, beach crafts, scheduling, planning, gardening, canning, autumn, etc. These aren’t topics I’ll write about per se, but it’s a place to start.

    I have different lists in each of my boards. Some are tasks with due dates and some are just lists of ideas, links to articles I want to come back to, or goals for this year.

    This is what is working for me. Having a visual plan laid out holds overwhelm back. In fact I haven’t sat down and wondered what to write in months. Months! I also like my content calendar because it keeps my blog ideas separate from my freelance work or anything else I’m working on. Oh yeah, and it never gets lost on my desk.

Here’s how I plan each month of blog content using a content calendar

I try and plan at least three months of content at a time. When I say “plan” it’s not like I have draft posts written up, but I have a blog topic and maybe a few notes of the direction I want to go with it. I also have coloured labels for my different types of content and I label it right away.

All the blog topics go in a list I’ve called Articles in Progress. Then when I go to plan a new month I create a new list with the month name and pull the different brainstorms from Articles in Progress to the month blog lineup. From there I look to see each theme is covered (easy to tell when they’re colour-coded!) and assign dates.

Of course, none of this is set in stone so if a sponsored post comes up, I’m able to swap my calendar around to make room. Oh, and how awesome is it to actually know when you can post something when speaking with a client? I mean, how pro!

Once a month is over I archive the list and set up the next month of content, so I always have a rolling three-month plan. And when I have a new idea? I add it to the Articles in Progress list. A sponsored post comes up? I figure out when is the best time to post and move my calendar around. It was a lot of initial set up but now that it’s rolling I don’t know how I blogged before this. Not only am I keeping on track but it is an enjoyable experience. No more stress!

If my story isn’t enough to convince you to build and keep to an editorial calendar, I don’t know what will. You can’t be strategic without a good plan.


To create a content calendar you’ll need:

  • Some sort of calendar template
  • Themes
  • Monthly topics
  • Blog post ideas

There is so much value in a good plan—there’s nothing like a calendar to tell you what to write and keep you on track. I built my blogging content calendar last fall, I implemented it last January, and I’m keeping to it today. Here’s what I did and how you can do it too.

One last thing.

Before I could plan what to write I decided how often I would write. I decided I’d post each Tuesday at minimum. I want to write more, but deep down I knew once per week was even asking a lot. My blog hadn’t been priority for a long time and I needed to get back in the habit of posting with consistency before I could do anything grander.

I also made posting on Tuesdays the priority over posting on topic.

Weird, I know. I spent all that time coming up with what and who and why and how and all that. But here’s the thing, all the topics I came up with were things I’m also struggling with. Some of them needed to simmer on the back burner while I figured out what I have to say about it. Some ideas needed testing. Like this topic for example. Can a blogging content calendar help a busy writer who doesn’t have time for a personal blog? Six months ago I wasn’t sure. Now I know.

So sometimes my posts aren’t 100 per cent on topic. And I’m good with that. Because I am still posting every Tuesday.

Need help cutting through the paralysis of analysis in order to get focused on what you want your blog to do for you? Let’s chat!

What’s a Social Media Manager and Why Should I Care?

But I’m a writer! Who cares about what a social media manager is!

What's a Social Media Manager?

I heard of the social media manager title years ago, but never considered I would or could be one. I figured it was for someone else, someone who went to school for new media or social media management (things that didn’t exist when I did my bachelor of journalism). But then my LinkedIn job suggestions started getting…obvious. Here’s a splash of what I see whenever I check in to see what’s new and who’s hiring.

  • Social Media Coordinator
  • Copywriter
  • Office Administrator
  • An Open Letter to _______’s Future Marketer
  • Client Success Coach
  • Marketing Specialist
  • Social Media Manager
  • PR Consultant
  • Marketing and Events Coordinator
  • Brand Publishing Specialist

Keep in mind these are the jobs posted in the past seven days in my area, which LinkedIn thought I’d be a good match for. If you’re a writer but have collected different skills, experience, connections, etc. you may have a different snapshot. But do you see what I’m talking about?

Two reactions come to mind I must choose between.

  1. Wow, this social network doesn’t know me at all
  2. When did I become a social media manager?

So I begin wondering, what’s a social media manager and is it different from what I’m doing now?

Well I’ll cut to the chase, all 10 of these postings are about the same. The type of work, the skills involved, the experience required, everything. No matter if it’s administrator level, coordinator level, or management level. Now that’s confusing!

This tells me a few things. First, I need to understand all the ways people think of the skills I have—calling myself a writer without attaching any of the other keywords strips out nine of these jobs. Wow. Yet all require the exact same skills. OK…

What now?


Wondering what a social media manager is? Want to be one? Here’s what’s in the social media manager’s toolkit.

  • Fluent in social—all social (paying attention to social trends, dos and don’ts, what’s hot and what’s not)
  • Strong writing skills (with a specialization in content marketing/copy writing)
  • A people-first approach to everything (a service mindset, which not only has you listening to your customers and industry chatter but being engaged in your community)
  • Graphically inclined (not a pro, but you need the basics of design and video production)
  • Comfortable with social selling (and understanding how this is done)
  • Competent at SEO and analytics (yes you will have to run campaigns and reports)
  • Confident public speaker (yes you will have to use Instastories and Facebook Live—you may even have to speak on a panelin person)
  • An understanding of human behaviour (you don’t have to have a psych degree but you do need to understand what works and what doesn’t, what people want and what they don’t)
  • Reasonable budgeting skills (show me the money! Er…show your clients how you’re spending their money!)
  • Adaptable (this industry is like a river—moving fast and constant, you have to keep up with the changes and adapt as necessary)
  • Curious and savvy (in order to succeed as a social media manager, you need to know what works—but if you’re ahead of the curve you’ll be able to move your clients’ business strategies forward faster and won’t be distracted by fleeting trends or vanity metrics)
  • Strong grasp of marketing (specifically strategy and digital, email, and funnel marketing)

If this seems like three jobs in one, you’re right. And if it seems like a lot of different skill sets wrapped up into one, you’re right again. But this seems to be where the industry is at these days and if you want to compete, you need at least a cursory knowledge of these tools.

Keep in mind the typical day-to-day tasks a social media manager executes each day are a little less overwhelming: writing and scheduling posts, running ads, replying to fans, and creating graphics.

See? Not so bad. However, the only way this works is with a strong foundation—a strong social marketing strategy. This is where the real value of a social media manager comes in. If you have good instincts and can build a great strategy for your client, you are going to see great results. So stay at it and invest in yourself!

Wondering what skills you need to be a social media manager? Anyone can schedule social posts and respond to fans. The real value of a social media manager comes in if you have good instincts and can build a great strategy for your client.

Are you looking to level-up your business on social? Need a social media manager? Let’s chat! Respond in the form below or message me on social. Let me know what problems you’re looking to solve and I’ll be happy to send you a quote.

Are you like me? Just discovering you’re really a social media manager (and that’s why you’re so tired)? I’d love to commiserate with you!

How a Marketing Tweak Re-launched JenniMarie’s Business

From quitting to becoming a successful wedding photographer, JenniMarie’s story will encourage you to keep going after your dreams, even if it seems like it will never work out. Today’s case study is how a marketing tweak re-launched JenniMarie’s business.

JenniMarie Case Study

Photos courtesy of JenniMarie Photography

Meet Jennifer

A recent-ish transplant to the Fraser Valley (British Columbia, Canada, where I live), Jennifer was stumped on how to find clients in her new city/country/life. For the better part of a decade she had worked as a successful wedding photographer and yet none of the client-finding tactics she had always used worked in this new land. What was going on?

Five months passed without booking a wedding. This was five months longer than she had ever gone between bookings. “I kept getting overlooked, I was feeling like a failure,” she said.

Feeling frustrated, insecure, and defeated, Jennifer began announcing to friends and family that she was quitting photography.

So how did we get here?

I asked Jennifer why she didn’t end up quitting. She said she realized she was at rock bottom and then thought…what can I do? It was here she began wondering about getting back on the horse; giving her business one last hail Mary.

Because she had this idea. It was an idea for a wedding-planning magazine. She hadn’t thought about it in any depth but it was something she had toyed with in her mind for a while. What if she put the remaining money in her business account towards the magazine? If it worked, wonderful! If not, then she would quit.

When Jennifer approached me about reframing her business I didn’t know any of her struggle

On the surface, Jennifer exuded confidence and direction. In fact, I was surprised she was asking for help as I never saw her as someone who needed anything. With my curiosity engaged (and my ego flattered beyond comprehension), we set up a coffee meeting and I gave her homework.

At our meeting I wanted to discuss these six points.

  1. Target audience/customer
  2. Budget (what do you need to make?)
  3. MVP—paid offer
  4. Content calendar (blog/email)
  5. Sales funnel
  6. Email blitz (freebie? Lead magnet? Coupon?)

Before our meeting she sent me a five-page brain dump. It. Was. Amazing. Sure, her ideas were scattered and pointing in 10 different directions, but I could see a thread and was excited to follow it and see where it led.

Over the next month or two we worked on building a marketing strategy. She had all the pieces for her business to thrive but it looked like what was missing was for all the pieces to point back at her as the Fraser Valley Wedding Photographer. In order to reframe her business for her new context we took a few pieces of her existing strategy and pointed them all in the same direction.

fraser-river-lodge-wedding-3

Mental Shift

I challenged Jennifer to make some important, yet difficult, changes.

  • First, I wanted her to not only brand herself as a wedding photographer (rather than a general photographer) but I wanted her to stop all non-wedding related posting, including on her website, blog, and public social channels
  • Second, I wanted her to create cornerstone content—this was a departure from her usual approach, which was more in the moment. These posts were meant to represent the core of who she is and what her business is about. Not easy!
  • Third, I wanted her to rewrite her about page. She wasn’t doing anything wrong, in fact her about page matched all the other photographer about pages I read while doing my market research. However, I noticed all these sites focused on the photographer rather than the client. What if, I challenged, we reverse the focus and see what happens?

Jennifer said these suggestions were a huge mental shift—the cornerstone content idea caused a light bulb moment for her. She found posting only about weddings was the hardest adjustment as she did so many other wonderful and interesting things, but once she began down the path she saw so much good come out of it she knew she had to keep going.

Other adjustments? She went back and stripped down her Instagram portfolio to wedding-only photos and tried to stop fixating on vanity metrics. “Instead, I focused on having the right followers and the right content,” she said.

This was a smart move because focusing on what you can control is the best way to move forward. Concentrating on how many followers you have or how many shares your content receives isn’t something you can control so it doesn’t help anything to focus on it.

Reworking the About Page

Like I said before, there was nothing “wrong” with Jennifer’s about page. But she let me rework it anyway. After I knew her ideal bride I took Jennifer’s brain dump, interviewed recently engaged women in my area, and gathered up a bunch of keywords to use. I love what we came up with.

Jennifer said she realized the things she’s proud of may not be what potential clients care about.

She saw results of this tweak right away. One of the main comments she gets from potential brides is how she knew Jennifer was the right photographer for her because she described her so perfectly on her about page.

Wow!

airbnb-wedding-1

What About the Magazine?

“It revolutionized my business.”

The big idea behind the magazine was creative collaborations. Jennifer wanted to work with local vendors and venues and produce beautiful wedding scenes brides could see themselves in.

Over the course of a few months she worked at shooting all the images for her magazine. It helped her in three main ways:

  1. Provided updated portfolio with Fraser Valley weddings on display
  2. Helped her create cornerstone content for her website (it also went in the magazine and her onboarding email series)
  3. Connected her with the wedding scene in the Fraser Valley

With the magazine now acting as an opt-in for potential clients, she is seeing the fruit of her labours. She also learned some important lessons along the way about weddings in the Fraser Valley and ways she can improve her magazine the next time around.

So What Happened?

Jennifer launched her magazine in December…to crickets. But she persevered. She kept working her launch and marketing strategy and kept her self-talk positive. January and February came and she experienced positive feedback to her magazine and inquiries coming in at record pace.

But no bookings.

Still, she kept working the plan.

March came, and summer bookings started. April came, and she started booking for 2018 weddings. June arrived now Jennifer actually believes she could go full time on wedding photography.

“I did the math and see that it’s possible,” she said.

Now that’s a transformation!

Most important takeaways

Jennifer said the biggest thing she’s learned is that everyone needs help along the way. She had wanted to do everything on her own, but was at rock bottom and so reached out to people she could trust.

She also had to embrace strategies that she figured she didn’t need, such as planning ahead, hashtag strategies, and content marketing.

Watching Jennifer’s business explode I’m overjoyed to have had the opportunity to help in this small way. I love when marketing theory becomes reality and you can see the power of a well-crafted idea take on a life of its own. I’m also thrilled to see such a talent be discovered by so many people who will benefit from working with her.

All the best Jennifer!

From quitting to becoming a successful wedding photographer. JenniMarie's story will encourage you to keep going after your dreams, even if it seems like it will never work out. Today's case study is how a marketing tweak re-launched JenniMarie's business.

Questions about your marketing strategy? Looking for a custom marketing plan? Fill in the form and let’s get a conversation started!

Freelance Writing Update: June 2017

Freelance Update June 2017

Freelance writing update: June 2017

I thought I’d share a few things I’m working on unrelated to this site or my social feeds. Sometimes I share links but I don’t speak much about the details of freelance life. This is in part because all the details happen before the post goes live and by the time I share it I’ve moved on to new projects.

However. At a recent event, I was reminded about how mysterious freelance writing is when you’re just getting started. So mysterious! Like, how does this writing-for-money-thing even happen?

While I can’t unlock all the secrets today, I will let you know a few things I’m doing and connect how I think they’re helping me move the bar along.

Social Media Panel: Golden Ears Writers

GEW-lobby-night

In May I had an amazing opportunity to speak at a writer’s group on a panel with fellow Professional Writers Association of Canada (PWAC) members about social media marketing. This is my ideal topic, in front of my ideal people, in my ideal situation. I was thrilled to participate. I’ve spoken about blogging and social media before, but never about marketing. One of my goals for this year was to do more speaking so I’m happy this happened.

Yeah but, how did this happen?

Yes! Let’s talk about it! This happened because of pre-existing relationships. Like I mentioned before, this panel comprised fellow PWAC members. I’m a professional-level member of this organization and am active in our local chapter (alright, alright, I’m the current president too). What does this mean?

  • I network with professional writers in my area in person
  • I follow my colleagues on social media and support them with comments, likes, and reposts
  • I communicate with these colleagues by email, phone calls, texts, etc. to offer encouragement, ask advice, and connect
  • I help create opportunities for gaining experience, finding leads, and passing along opportunities

Yeah, but how did this happen?

Right. Well, one of my colleagues helps run Golden Ears Writers, an informal Maple Ridge BC-based writers group. I follow them on Facebook and I’ve attended gatherings in the past. I noticed the topics they cover and when an opportunity to collaborate arose (note: a gap in the schedule) I pitched the idea. We were a few months out so had time to gather participants, work out the subject matter, and promote the event. This was an unpaid opportunity, by the way, but we were encouraged to promote our businesses and sell our products at the event.

The evening was well attended and there were loads of on-point questions. It, like I said before, reminded me that freelance writing can seem mysterious and integrating a social media strategy can be plain overwhelming. I had a lot of takeaways from this experience and am looking forward to more speaking opportunities like this.

Blog Post: Tourism Abbotsford

Hikes-Walks-Screenshot

Here’s a blog post I wrote for Tourism Abbotsford about different hikes and walks you can do in Abbotsford. This type of article is called a roundup because it takes a bunch of different things and presents them together. A roundup of local hikes and walks is a great post for this site because someone looking for a hike or walk is probably Googling “best hikes in Abbotsford” or “Abbotsford walks” or “things to do in Abbotsford when it’s sunny.” If this post comes up then it not only summarizes a few great ideas, but gives the gist of what to expect so they can either do more research or cross things off the list.

A roundup post seems simple but usually is a lot of work to put together because you have a lot more options than goes into the post and you have to decide which ones make the cut. Also, you have to give each option an equal shake and highlight the same type of information in each point. Roundups are great for learning how to write tight (aka get rid of all the extra words; aka get to the point) and prioritizing information.

Yeah, but how did this happen?

Yes! This happened because I have pre-existing relationship with Tourism Abbotsford. I’ve written for them for a few years and so all this took was an assignment email and a deadline. Once relationships are rolling getting work is quite simple.

One further thought. This post performed well on social media and while I don’t know if there’s any correlation to me getting more paid work I don’t think it hurts. If nothing else it gets my name out there. Whenever I publish something I try and promote it on my channels and help it along.

Blog Post: Faith Strong Today

Passion-Happiness-Screenshot

This post was written a couple months ago and I wasn’t sure when it would be published. When it went live Faith Strong Today tagged me on Twitter, which is how I knew it happened. I have a casual relationship with this website and I can send them articles at my own pace (although I think they’d like monthly). It’s primarily a podcast network so although my articles help round out the site and strengthen their SEO, they’re not a priority.

OK, nice, but how did this happen?

You’re not going to believe it, but it was a pre-existing relationship.

Ugh! Again!?

I know, right!?

Before the website launched I was contacted about writing for them. We worked out what I’d write, an initial schedule, and a rate on a per-article basis. I won’t get into rates and contracts today but I will mention since we worked out a yearlong plan, I was happy to work on a per-article basis. I know some freelance writer’s wouldn’t work this way but in this instance, I was good with it.

This media company is based in Toronto (aka far away from me) but I’ve worked in a professional capacity (not freelance) with the company for years. I didn’t see this opportunity coming but if I did I would’ve pursued it as what they’re doing is up my alley plus is a neat opportunity to do lifestyle writing with a Christian worldview.

Magazine Article: Insight for Living Canada

Wisdom-Speak-Up-Screenshot

This isn’t a freelance article but I wanted to include it to add context. Because this magazine is related to my day job but it gets me freelance work.

Working on this magazine is something I’ve done for a few years and often I’ll publish an article in it. For the last year I’ve published one each month.

Right. So how did this happen?

I started at this organization working on their blog, unrelated to the magazine. Over time I was able to publish the odd article, but I did have to pitch a lot of ideas and even some of my accepted ideas never got published. It’s easy to assume if you work for a media organization they’ll just take all your ideas but that isn’t the case. Sure, you have a seat at the table and you have a better chance of publishing than a freelancer does, but it’s not a given.

In fact, working for the publication is maybe harder than being a freelancer because if the magazine isn’t well received you get all the blame. You get to read all the feedback. You get to respond to all the criticism. As a freelancer, I never know if an article is hated by the readers (unless they tag me on Twitter) and sometimes ignorance is bliss.

That’s nice. So how does writing for this organization lead to freelance work?

I said I write every month right? OK, so every month my name is in print and sent to thousands of people. The same article is also published online and promoted on social media. I don’t know how many eyes are on the page but it adds up.

What does it mean? Well, not a ton at first, but then one day a media company decides to launch a podcast network and they think, “Oh, doesn’t Robyn write? I think the stuff she writes would work on our site, let’s call her.” And another organization decides to publish a book and they say, “This topic Robyn wrote about is one of the chapters we want in our book… let’s see if she’ll help us out.” And then a writer fresh out of school reads my article and thinks, “I’m looking for work like this… I’ll write Robyn and see if I can hire her to help me get started.”

And if I’m smart and looking for opportunities, I’ll say yes.

Hope this freelance writing update, aka a peek behind the curtain, casts some light onto the mysterious world of freelance writing! Now get your name out there!

How to Create a Digital Business Card for Your Freelance Writing Business

Think of your email signature as a digital business card. It’s a perfect opportunity to promote your business through everyday communication.

Creating a digital business card for your freelance writing business

What if you had a digital business card that you could pass out to all your friends and colleagues to help you get paid work?

When you’re a hungry freelance writer it’s difficult to know where to look for work. Things like job boards, Craigslist, and cold emailing queries are what people lean towards but these are (in general) low paying, competitive, and an exhausting hustle. Your chances of landing solid clients are low so your pitch rate has to be high.

If you’re wondering how established freelance writers generate leads they’ll tell you most of their work comes through warm leads (existing relationships) and referrals. Even if you’re just starting out these options are available to you too. The trick is letting people know what you do and that you’re available so they think of you when an opportunity comes up.

Today we’ll focus on one of the easiest yet most overlooked way to put yourself in front of warm leads and set yourself up for referrals. It’s your email signature. We do almost everything by email so this is a golden opportunity to add a little bit about yourself and your business.

No, this doesn’t make you look desperate. Think of your email signature as a digital business card. It’s a perfect opportunity to promote yourself and your business through your everyday communication.

Here’s what a good email signature can accomplish.

  • Makes you look professional
  • Advertises your expertise
  • Lets people know you’re available
  • Lets people know how you want to be contacted
  • Serves as free marketing
  • Is professional and shows you’re serious about your business
  • Makes it easy for people to contact you

Convinced? Great, let’s do this.

Already have one? Wonderful! Take a few minutes to review your email signature and adjust as necessary.

What should your digital business card include?

Best practice recommends between four and seven lines for an email signature (although I say less is more here), so pick and choose the information you will include. Some suggestions include the list below.

  • Your name
  • Your title/type of writing you do
  • Company name (if relevant)
  • Contact information (How do you want people to contact you? Remember including your email address is redundant)
  • Website address (link here to your professional site or the site you want prospective clients to see—where they can learn more about you and your services)
  • Tagline (what sets you apart from your competitors) or marketing message
  • Social links (if relevant, and only if you want your prospective clients to see)

Avoid adding images—most people have image blockers or read email on phones these days. If you feel you need your photo, logo, or social icons then use a service that will embed it into your email signature like Wisestamp or Hubspot.

Another tip is keep your email signature brief. There’s no need to list every social platform. Dial back your contact information to the best way people can reach you and your best website, which will give people more information about you and your services.

I’ve linked instructions for adding your signature to your email below.

  • Adding your signature in Gmail
  • Adding your signature in Outlook
  • And don’t forget about your smarphone!

  • Adding your signature to your iPhone
  • Adding your signature to your Android

Be brave, put yourself out there!


This post is an excerpt from the five-day marketing challenge. Want to get your marketing efforts organized? Take the challenge!

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