Everybody and his cousin is blogging these days. All it takes is a template and a little time on your hands to have your thoughts broadcast on the Web.
An effective business blog, on the other hand, take a commitment of time, resources and intellectual energy. Unless you are committed to producing a quality, well-written blog and are committed to updating that blog on a regular basis, don’t even bother starting.
The worst business blogs are the ones where it is clear that the writer is winging it, just writing whatever comes to mind. A business must approach its blog in the same way it would approach any other marketing or branding campaign: with planning, staffing, execution and monitoring.
By following these seven steps, your small business can take the first steps towards a highly successful business blog:
- Define the business goals of your blog
- Identify your target audience
- Allocate resources
- Create your editorial calendar
- Carve out time to write
- Listen to your audience feedback and adjust accordingly
- Get the word out
1. Define the Business Goals of Your Blog
Don’t blog because everybody else is doing it. Blog with a plan. Some business blogs focus on products and services, while others try to humanize the company by putting a face on employees and executives and providing a look into the company culture. For service providers, a blog can be a great way of demonstrating your expertise (you can demonstrate your capabilities through thought leadership or actual client histories).
2. Identify Your Target Audience
While this may sound crass, you are not blogging for your health. You are blogging for the health of your business. As a businessperson, you should know who you are trying to attract. If you throw out too wide a net, you will not be able to write the kind of posts that will be of interest to your specific demographic. You can’t be all things to all people, so don’t even try.
3. Allocate Resources
One of the biggest reasons blogs fail is because they are not budgeted for in terms of personnel and financial commitment the way other marketing efforts are. A blog is not a value-add. It is an integral element of your marketing plan.
For a midsized company, devoting a person to the task shouldn’t be difficult. If you are a five-person shop, it can still be done–you just need to find the appropriate person (or people) who will be responsible for the blog.
Some businesses make the decision to hire a freelance ghost-blogger. I have seen advertisements ranging from $20 per 150-word blog post to several hundred dollars per hour for high-level copywriters. The good news, if you can put it that way, is that the relative demise of print publishing has put many highly qualified freelance writers on the market, and you can hire quality writers for a fairly modest cost.
If you are looking for a freelancer, you can look on sites like MediaBistro or even look at the writers’ posts on Craigslist. If you’d like to put more of your own stamp on the blog, you can provide freelancers with bullet points that the writers can transform into blog posts.
4. Create Your Editorial Calendar
Leaving your blogging schedule open-ended is an invitation to disaster. Laying out a framework for blog entries over a period of time gives a business enforceable deadlines. As we all know, having hard deadlines hanging over your head can be a great motivator. The editorial calendar should not be considered to be etched in stone, however. Businesses need to be sufficiently flexible to add impromptu posts when news and business dictates.
Here’s a template to get you started.
5. Carve Out Time to Write
I can’t emphasize this point enough: If your blogging time isn’t a part of your calendar, then you are going to find ways to avoid the task. This is not a game! It is not a hobby! It is a business tool that should be treated with the same respect as other business tools. For entrepreneurs and small businesses, this may mean setting the alarm an hour earlier or setting aside an hour or two on your weekend.
6. Listen to Your Audience Feedback and Adjust Accordingly
As you know, blogs are not one-way streets. The comment function empowers your target audience and gives them a chance to participate in the conversation. If your audience loves your blog, they will tell you. Just as importantly, if they have issues, you need to deal with those as well.
Analytics can help you here. See which posts get the most traffic. See who is sharing your content. See who “likes” your content. All of this information can help you better serve your target audience.
While there are a number of analytics packages out there (some free, some at a cost), I suggest starting off with Google Analytics, a free and remarkably robust package that’s easy to install on your site.
7. Get the Word Out!
It’s great to have a blog on your company website, but that certainly limits your audience. There are a number of ways to get a wider audience for your posts.
The easiest path is to find other blogs that attract your target audience. See what people are writing about there and see if you have something meaningful to add to the conversation. Most blogs allow for links within comments.
Another simple trick is to announce each new blog post on social media sites like Twitter or Facebook. To get the title of your post on Twitter and still stay within 140 characters, shorten your URL with a site like bit.ly.
If you are more adventurous, then I suggest you reach out to appropriate blogs and offer your services as a guest blogger. The key here is that you have produced relevant content that would both be of interest to your target audience and is written sufficiently well for a broad audience.
Making It Work
If you commit to writing a business blog, then commit to having one that is well written, of interest to your target audience and is refreshed on a regular basis. A great blog can be a valuable business development tool. A lousy one can damage your brand and your reputation in your industry.