People ask me how I managed to grow a following here at Small Business Trends, from one visitor to 2,000,000 monthly visitors. I’ll let you in on the secret that put this site on the map when we first started out. It was a weekly series called the PowerBlog Reviews.
Each PowerBlog Review literally was a review I wrote of another business blog. I covered what I liked about the blog.
The PowerBlog Reviews were my main technique to grow a blog following, from nothing into something.
History of the PowerBlog Reviews
Like any online entrepreneur or aspiring entrepreneur, I started this site with literally one visitor. Me! That first week or two it was pretty quiet. Just me banging away on a keyboard, back in the early fall of 2003.
Before long I started attracting an audience. From one visitor, I went to two. Then to 20. Then to 200 and, well, the rest is history.
One of the ways I grew an audience was to follow the advice of Dale Carnegie, author of How to Win Friends and Influence People.
Among his quotable tidbits he says, “Talk to someone about themselves and they’ll listen for hours.”
So that’s precisely what I did. Five months into my online journey, I started talking about other business bloggers!
At this point I should mention something about the history of business blogging in general. In the early years, blogging about business topics was unusual. That was in the days before blogs caught on. At one point I counted only about 200 bloggers writing about business topics. That’s all I could identify in the English-speaking world in late 2003.
It’s sure grown since then. But I digress.
Back in the day, I would write up a review of blogs I liked, writing anywhere from 400 to 1,000 words.
I applied my budding marketing skills and named the series “PowerBlog Reviews”. Then I hired a designer to create the logo to brand the series. We also created badges that reviewees could display.
I published the first PowerBlog Review on this site in February of 2004.
Making Friends Online to Grow a Following
I met many many people online through the series.
Remember, this was before the heyday of Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. From 2003 through 2008, blogs ruled. Blogs were THE social media of the day.
I made it my routine to visit other blogs, read them, and comment. For you millennials (and Gen Z) — blogs were how we networked online.
As I visited blogs I started keeping a cheat sheet of what I thought each blog was great for. From there, it wasn’t much more work to write up a little review.
Soon people started reading the reviews. People would write to me and tell me how much they anticipated reading a new review. It gave them a way to discover new blogs.
Some people clamored for me to review their blogs. Some people even asked to write a review or two as guest authors.
In total I published 86 PowerBlog Reviews, one per week. I published a review consistently each week for about a year and a half. In between I was publishing a lot of other content. But the series, as a regular feature, truly is what built a sense of community.
Looking back I see I published most of the reviews between 10 pm and midnight, on Sunday nights. In the early days I did a lot of my writing at night. Back then the site was a sideline, not a business.
Eventually I got busier and busier with the site. I brought in some writing help for a while. But finally, the pressures of turning this site into a business forced me to discontinue the series.
However, for three years after the series ended, the PowerBlog Reviews section was still THE most trafficked category of this site!
Lessons on How to Grow a Following
I learned 7 lessons from the PowerBlog Reviews about growing a following. These lessons are applicable whether you are growing a social media following, blog, website or personal brand:
- Be Visible, Consistently — People need to see and hear you regularly! You can’t disappear for three or four weeks, and come back to your social channel or blog whenever you happen to feel like it. Building a following or brand doesn’t work that way. Sometimes I was dead tired when I wrote the PowerBlog Reviews. But my startup vision gave me energy. Like the baker who has to make the donuts every morning at a certain time, I knew how important it was to be consistent.
- Put on a Show — Think of yourself as a producer. Put on a show for your audience. Give your series a name. Create a logo. Make it unique. Do whatever it takes to make it special.
- Stick with It — At first it may feel like you’re talking to yourself. But keep at it — whether it’s a blog, a podcast, a YouTube channel, or an Instagram following. And if you want a real lesson in perseverance, look below at the list of blogs we reviewed. The live links are reviews of sites that are still active 14 years later. They may have changed a lot, but the people behind them are still active.
- Invest Time, Money or Both — My out-of-pocket expenses were fairly nominal. I spent perhaps $500 for the logo design and some writing help here and there. But the amount of time I invested was a different story. Each review averaged about 3 hours to create. All told, I put over 300 hours into the PowerBlog Reviews. Are you prepared to put a few hundred dollars — or a few hundred hours — into growing your following? It will take at least that much, and probably more if your goal is a mega-following. How hungry are you to build a following?
- Make an Emotional Connection — Care about your audience! Make some kind of emotional connection with them, even if you are addressing dry business topics. Personalize your communication style. Reveal the real you.
- Be approachable — Engage with people by responding to comments and questions. Publish contact information so people can reach you. Be prepared to get some PR pitches and spam. It comes with the territory if you set out to build a following. But you can apply inbox filters to weed out unwanted stuff. Don’t publicly chastise people who try to reach you, even if you don’t like the reason. After all, you can always ignore anyone who is annoying. Can’t you?
- Enjoy Yourself — Live in the moment. Have fun. I genuinely loved visiting other blogs and meeting business bloggers (still do!). And 15 years later I still treasure those relationships I developed from the early days.
Fast forward to today. Blogging has changed.
In fact, I don’t even think of what we do here on Small Business Trends as blogging. We consider this a news and magazine site. Today, you will never hear me use the word “blog” to describe what we do. But, we certainly grew out of the early days of blogging. We are proud of our history.
And social media too has changed from its early days. Social media seems less spontaneous and more marketing driven today. Yet, it’s still very very possible to build a social media following from scratch. Just as it’s also possible to build a blog following or build traffic to a website.
The above seven lessons can be applied to any kind of following you want to build.
Now that you know how I used PowerBlog Reviews to develop a following, perhaps you’d like to see how it all got started. It was simple, really. I’ve retained the original post from 2004 for historical purposes, below.
Original Post: Introducing PowerBlog Reviews
We have started a new feature here at Small Business Trends. Each weekend we review some of the great weblogs being authored on the Web today.
We call them PowerBlog Reviews. “PowerBlog” because these weblogs really are powerful. Many of them are downright superb. Each of them that we link to here at Small Business Trends offers something unique — a fresh perspective, useful insights, great writing, or “heart.”
Some of them have as their topics small business or entrepreneurship. Others are niche-focused, covering subjects such as blogging, economic development or even computer bugs. Still others cover a wide variety of subjects.
But they all have one thing in common. They are written by people who are entrepreneurs or small business owners, or they focus on topics that are of interest to small and midsize business and entrepreneurs.
What’s the connection to a site that tracks trends? Simple. Blogging — and especially blogging about business topics — is one of the hottest trends on the Web today. We can think of no better way to track this fast-developing trend than by profiling the unique and interesting uses of the blog medium today for business purposes.
UPDATE: Previously we listed the PowerBlog Reviews on the home page, but the number simply became too great to continue that practice. Now we are listing each of the PowerBlog Reviews below – check them out!
(Would you like your blog featured in a PowerBlog Review? Email me!) The Powerblog Review series is being retired at the end of September 2005 and we are no longer accepting new blogs to review. It’s been fun!
Review 86: Emerging Technology Trends
Review 85: Embrace Pet Insurance Blog
Review 84: Warren Greshes Talking Success
Review 83: Roberto’s Nasdaq Trader
Review 82: Captain’s Blog
Review 80: Revenue Roundtable
Review 79: Facteon Factoring Blog
Review 78: The REALTYGram
Review 77: Denali Flavors
Review 76: AutoMuse
Review 75: Landfair Furniture
Review 74: Kiger’s Notebook
Review 73: Joseph’s Marketing Blog
Review 72: Innovation.net
Review 71: New Millenium Minds
Review 70: Small Biz Sense
Review 69: AllBusiness Blog Center
Review 68: Blogging About Incredible Blogs
Review 67: Notes From the World of Anger Management
Review 66: AMCP Computer Privacy
Review 65: President’s Update
Review 63: Better Local Marketing
Review 62: Brindi’s Bargains
Review 59: Genuine Gems For Pearl Girls
Review 58: George’s Employment Blog
Review 57: Decent Marketing
Review 56: Security Awareness
Review 55: JSLogan
Review 54: Online Marketing Blog
Review 53: Smart Marketing
Review 52: Fifteen Degrees North
Review 51: The Security Mentor
Review 50: Ask Crabby
Review 49: Phosita
Review 48: Business Romania
Review 47: MaxBlumberg.com
Review 46: Binza
Review 45: Next Level Biz Tips
Review 44: BusinessWorks
Review 43: Tinbasher
Review 42: Opportunity Wales
Review 41: Patent Pending
Review 39: Upgrade Your Mind
Review 38: Reach Customers Online
Review 37: E-Bitz
Review 36: Proposal Writing Blog
Review 35: Southern California Real Estate Blog
Review 34: Horsefeathers
Review 33: Hispanic Trending
Review 32: @rgumente
Review 31: The Playmakers
Review 30: Oklahoma Wine News
Review 25: Small Biz Advisor
Review 24: Business Opportunities Weblog
Review 23: Nanobot
Review 22: Online Business Networks Blog
Review 21: Antoine’s Blog on Business and Technology
Review 20: Project, Process & Business
Review 19: Ad Blog
Review 18: Management Professor Notes
Review 17: Duct Tape Marketing
Review 16: re:invention
Review 15: Chat Room Live
Review 14: Sardonic Views
Review 13: Inside Real Estate Journal
Review 12: Blog For Business
Review 11: World is Green
Review 10: Red Wheelbarrow
Review 9: TJ’s Tech, VC & Entrepreneurship
Review 8: Workers Comp Insider
Review 7: Economic Development
Review 6: Blog Business World
Review 5: BugBlog
Review 4: The Small Business Blog
Review 3: Entrepreneurial Mind
Review 2: Brewed Fresh Daily
Review 1: Cracked Cauldron Spillings
Be sure to come back each weekend for a fresh PowerBlog Review.