23 February 2009

Blogging Tips : 10 Tips for Blogging Your Way to Small Business Success

This is a guest post from Mark Hayward, you can follow him on Twitter @mark_hayward. The article focuses on helping business folk, both big and small, who would like to start blogging.

Do you own a business? Have you noticed a dramatic decrease in sales because of the current economy?

Here’s the thing: For people like Darren, Brian Clark, and Leo Babauta blogging is a full-time job, a primary source of income, and most importantly, a real and profitable business model.

But, what if you find yourself in a different camp?

Perhaps, if you’re like me, you own business that provides a service, manufactures goods or sells consumer products. Blogging is NOT your business, but you use (or would like to use) it as a tool to market and promote your venture.

When I was just getting started as a small business blogger one of the smartest observations I heard on the subject came from Shana Albert (a.k.a The Nanny612). She stated, quite simply: ‘I don’t make money from my blog, but I make money because of my blog.’

In essence, Shana uses her blog to strategically drive traffic to her business website where she sells pre-school curriculum. Her words of wisdom have stuck with me and I think any business, whether large or small, can really succeed in doing the same thing.

Further reading: check out Darren’s previous posts on ways of making money BECAUSE of your blog.

Blogging is for pimply-faced kids!

Surprisingly, a lot of business owners that I meet on a daily basis have a sentiment similar to the one above. In fact, most think;

Sure blogging and social media are great if you enjoy spending your days ‘cyberloafing’, but they certainly can’t help me to promote my business.

Quite honestly, I find it shocking and awfully hard to believe that MANY business owners still have this general view of blogging and social media.
A Personal Case Study

For those of you who might not know, I own a small business in the Caribbean. When I was first getting started I really had no budget to pay for advertising and marketing. As such, I have utilized nothing but blogging and social media for the past couple of years to promote my business. More specifically, when I took over this B&B venture there were no reservations, no customers, and no prospects. In a short period of time I have been able to go from a no cash or customer flow to maintaining a 70-100% occupancy rate depending on the month. (Yes, even in this economy!)

My business provides me with an opportunity to meet incredible people from all over the world. Most recently, I had a guest visiting from a neighboring Caribbean island and, he too, runs a small hotel.

During one discussion the gentleman told me that his business was down a whopping 75% over the past year. According to him, the lack of customers and drop in business could all be attributed to the state of the economy. Truly, I felt awful for him.

While I wholeheartedly agree that the collective global economy is in terrible shape, I asked him what type of promotion and marketing he was doing so that his customers could find him and to help keep his business in the public eye.

His answer (and I think this explains a lot):

‘We are doing what we have always done.’

Upon further investigation, I found out that ‘What we have always done‘ equated to a fairly decent website if it was the year 2000 and a U.S. based reservation service that is paid a percentage to make bookings for him. That’s it.

To be fair, my guest was a bit older and I think he was afraid to embrace new technology and marketing methods. But it tends to boggle my mind that even in this hyper-technical age he and many other business owners are missing a HUGE opportunity to promote their business in an extremely cost effective manner.

Unfortunately, the conversation with my guest ended and I did not have the time that morning to discuss the issue further. However, if I had the time, and or, if you know a business owner in a similar situation, the following is what I would have passed on to him;
Ten Tips to Help You Blog Your Way to Small Business Success

  • Tip One: Define your goals

Whether you are a plumber, bike retailer, or cafe owner start by assessing your business goals and how you would like your blog to help you achieve them - e.g. Do you want customers to find you? Do you want to be on the front page of Google? Are you all about selling more services and product?

  • Tip Two: Research keywords

Before you begin blogging have a look at some of the keyword tools like the one found on SEO Book and determine what your potential customers and clients are actually searching for. If your business is active in a mostly local market, or generally for clients in a small town, then include the town’s name in your research. The information gathered from running a couple of keyword searches is extremely valuable when it comes to writing posts that are targeted and meant to highlight specific information.
  • Tip Three: Use free tools
I think many small business folk are turned off by blogging and social media because they are under the illusion that marketing online costs a tremendous amount of money. My chosen platform for my business website and blogging is WordPress, which, I am sure most of you know, is free to use and has some amazing free themes. (Note: If you want to spend a couple of dollars you can get Thesis theme.)
  • Tip Four: Educate the consumer
When starting a blog that revolves around your small business the general tendency is to want to publish a bunch of SPAM posts that extol your virtues. While it is okay to do this once and a while, I have found that educating the consumer works tremendously well and is highly effective. Also, please remember that there is a big difference between using your business blog to tell your story (How you came to own the business, defining your passion, etc.) and just telling people to buy your product or service because you are the best.
  • Tip Five: Allow 3 to 6 months for return on investment (ROI)
There are a few schools of thought when it comes to measuring ROI for business blogs. We all, myself included, are searching for that magic bullet that is going to draw in more customers. However, from my own experience and in discussion with other business owners who blog, three to six months seems to allow enough time to put up an adequate amount of posts (even if you only publish once a week) and to also obtain a quantifiable and measurable amount of customer data.
  • Tip Six: Research the competition
Small business owners sometimes feel funny inquiring about what their competition is up to. Keep in mind, this is business, I highly recommend having a search around the web to discern what your competitors are up to. In most cases I think you will be pleasantly surprised to find out that they do not have a strong web presence. And if they do, you will now know that you need to step your game up a bit more.
  • Tip Seven: Keep it simple
Business blog posts do not have to be extravagant Pulitzer Prize worthy affairs. If you should find yourself stuck for topics, or are facing blogger’s block, have a look at this post I recently did, 31 Blog Post Ideas For Small Businesses.
  • Tip Eight: Forums are your friend
One of the most common complaints I hear from business bloggers who are getting started is ‘Nobody is coming to my site.’ Is that so? I don’t care if you trade in rare eighteenth century chess pieces or high-end designer shoes; chances are a niche forum exists for your specific business. Do a simple Google search to find out where your customers are hanging out online and make a visit to those sites. Promoting your small business within a forum works best when you approach it in the same manner as step four. You need to educate the consumer and gain member trust before you can start endorsing yourself (otherwise you will be seen as a troll).
  • Tip Nine: Be consistent
Quite possibly the most important piece of advice for any small business blogger - You NEED to be consistent in your efforts.
  • Tip Ten: Once you are blogging regularly branch out into other social media
Starting a comprehensive social media and marketing plan can really help to give a traffic boost to your business blog. Social media does not have to be intimidating and you can easily start by uploading a few well tagged and described photos to FLICKR and then possibly move on to YouTube, FaceBook, and Twitter.

If you are a business owner who is struggling in this economy, or if you know of someone who is hesitant to embrace the power of blogging for business promotion, here are a few of additional resources that might help.

* ProBlogger - 21 Ways to Write Posts that Are Guaranteed to Grow Your Blog (not specific to small business but still great information!)
* Chris Brogan - Cafe-Shaped Business
* Duct Tape Marketing - My Social Media System
* Small Biz Survival - Small Biz 100

Are you a ProBlogger, or business owner who blogs? What are some tips that you might offer?


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