“I’m a landscaper or plumber – how do I start a business blog? Who would want to read it?” Exactly. Or maybe. I hear that a lot. It’s a reasonable question.
“And if I write it, and I don’t know what I’m doing, won’t it suck.” Probably not. It could, if you don’t keep an open mind. But it won’t otherwise.
So how is it done? That’s the first part. Let’s give a couple of different examples:
Let’s say you’re a plumber who does gardening on the side: You might do a plumber blog, but you might add more value by doing a niche blog on your related interest – gardening (both are vaguely related to home ownership), and then have a sidebar offering your plumbing services, and linking back to your main site. Or if you’re interested in home maintenance or remodeling or handywork over all, you could go down that path. What drives blogs is “passion” for something in particular, consistency (these two tend to be deeply related), and perhaps a touch of presumption (the willingness to treat your most recent observation, whatever it is, as something that might have value for other people).
I’m a self-employed internet marketing consultant. I write a blog about work. I didn’t really know, at first, what I wanted to blog about. Like a lot of people, I ended up changing the name of it as I settled on a theme. In fact, it used to just be my personal everything blog, until I realized what I was doing with it, and split it in two, and then I split it again, and started another blog on my corporate site. Now this site is very thematic. Areas where I do a lot of thinking or have a lot of observations are prime blogging areas. I started out blogging about whatever, inserting whatever I was thinking about when I was in the shower or driving, and then I noticed a pattern starting to form that clarified my mission. My blog is about work, especially self-employment, contracting, freelancing, free agents, and the culture’s misconceptions about work. These topics sort of bleed over into my business though (my clients are often entrepreneurs), and that lets me add value. One doesn’t have to start several blogs – one will do, but I mention it to show how, over time, one tends to carve out a niche.
EXAMPLE: You’re a real estate appraiser and you want to focus on a search engine optimized blog on your main site: Ok, so you need several things. 1. the content has to be original. Cutting and pasting will not only get you in legal trouble, it’ll get you drowned in Google. Don’t do it. 2. the content has to be relevant and search-term rich (you need all your various place names – towns and counties you serve, and all your various services – divorce appraisals, estate appraisals, as well as words like appraiser, appraise, appraising to show up over time in various blog posts). 3. you have to be consistent. A blog post a month is a search engine and social network marketing death sentence. It’s a blog-coma. So how do you do that well? You give yourself an assignment that every other day, busy or not, tired or not, turned off the computer already or not, you’ll sit down and ask yourself what you thought about today, and pick something from a list like this one and write one 200 word post, or at least write for 10minutes.
- A common misconception is… (clarification)
- A little known bit of information is… (fact)
- A service we offer that is often underused is… (option)
- Something happened locally today that affects all of us… (news & analysis)
- Today, I was thinking about… (insight)
- Here’s a tip for those of you… (advice)
So those are a few examples. You might have different ones. But you get the point. But “I sound awful, and write worse than that”, you say?
In other words, how can it not suck?
The failings of most small business blogs are that:
- they try to sound corporate instead of personal. Don’t compose – it’s not prayer – just write like you talk on the phone or when you’re comfortable. Use a conversational tone. People don’t want to read an essay, so don’t write one.
- they’re just a lot of sales copy. It doesn’t have to be badly worded to suck. It can pass legal, HR, and Stunk and White’s style guide, and still be crap. Give something away – don’t horde your thoughts, don’t pander, and don’t just keep shlepping your services (“we offer… we offer… we offer…”) – people are getting enough offers – you’ve got to add value. What were you *really* thinking about today, related to what you were doing? Now why would I care? Or how is that related to your work?
- they have little expertise in your area or interest showing through in their writing style – can happen when you hire someone other than you to ‘keep up with it’ (some of us are professional bloggers who specialize in research and flair, but just getting your nephew who is computer savvy is usually a bad idea). The best blogs though? They’re written by you. Heck, I don’t even spell check a lot of the time. Yeah, I know, that’s unprofessional. That’s why I usually do spell check. But sometimes I’d rather be genuine, responsive, and dash something off in the moment than impress you with the fact that I too have an electronic spell checker installed.
- they aren’t updated consistently – happens when you don’t carea about what you’re writing (you’re writing the wrong stuff) – or, honestly, when life gets out of whack – when something hits you hard (sickness, a flood of business, whatever) and you don’t stop to eat, shower, or blog. If you want to be really successful? Don’t shower until you’ve done your blog post. Or no coffee until you’ve posted. Or you’re not allowed to brush your teeth… you get the point. It’s 10minutes – it isn’t that you don’t have time.
- they aren’t updated at all – happens when you convince yourself you can’t generate 200 intelligent words, but still managed to get certified in whatever you do for a living. Is that too blunt? Good. Because even you wouldn’t believe you. If you’re able to answer an e-mail, or respond to a phone call, you can shell out a readable paragraph. Besides blog content (which just means dynamic, original, relevant content) is not just an option if you intend to market seriously online -it’s a requirement. Anyone that tells you different either isn’t paying attention or is selling you something I wouldn’t wish on an enemy.
- they aren’t original – lots of copied content – bad for you (legally), bad for searches (Google will bury you – they don’t get where they are by presenting duplicate results), bad for readers (it’s a snoozer)
But the number one failing of all time? They aren’t creative enough. Before you get worried that that means you have to be Woodward and Berstein, just make it interesting to others. Usually, the reason it isn’t is because you are not actually interested in anything (or won’t tell us what it is that you’re interested in). In other words, the blog sounds like dry lumber, because you’ve chosen a topic you don’t really care about. Perhaps you’re not thinking outside the box – you’re falling back on that culture that says anything with character hanging out of it might risk someone not liking your business. Folks? To *Hell* with that one. If you’ve not had your head buried in the sand for the last few years, you’ll know that blogs, Facebook, and Twitter have changed all of that. A little edge, a little scruff, some rough sides hanging out – those are now exactly the reason lots of small, up and coming business are getting attention and corporate blogs make you want to scratch your eyes out from boredom. The answer is somewhere between shock jock and school cafeteria food, but the message is Stand Out!
Are there people who get annoyed, because they don’t want to hear the real answer one of my blogs is giving to a key question they have? You bet. For every one of them, there are three who are glad someone said something, anything, beyond “There are many solutions to these complex issues. Which one you favor will depend, invariably, on you.” Zilch. That’s zilch. No one digs that kind of glop, especially not in a post-blogging online world.
But it doesn’t have to be controversial, if you’re not an idea person. There are excellent, well-followed, highly-popular blogs on gardening, deep sea fishing, vintage motorcycles, or whatever you want. If you have to, do what I did. Start a blog about nothing. Seinfeld was a show about nothing, and it only stopped making new seasons because Jerry Seinfeld wanted to go out on a high note. Your blogging won’t be about nothing for long. I made my blog an avenue of self-discovery, self-knowledge, and self-understanding. What I got out of that was direction and meaning. If you’re done with self-knowledge, I don’t want to tell you. I figure if you’re there already, you already know enough to know what you want to write about, what passion drives you (and hopefully you’re working in or around it), and you don’t need my advice. And for everything else, there’s Mastercard.
By the way, some people get hung up on the word “blog” or “blogging” as though it were some sort of subculture (it started that way, and now Chrysler and Pepsi and Oprah are doing it). If you want, you can call it dynamic site updates – or constant additions to your website content. Whatever you call it, it’s not enough to do some back-end search engine optimization, anymore, if you want to maintain an audience. It hasn’t been enough for years, now. Front-end search engine optimization is about frequently updated original, relevant content. It’s just that no one came out and made the announcement. It’s sort of information that’s leaked out into the reluctant culture a little at a time, like e-mail.
The first and most important step in starting a business blog that doesn’t suck is [drumroll…] starting a blog. If your site isn’t equipped with one, it can be added. If you want to start it off-site and work it for a while until you’re comfortable, you can do that too. My company, Market Moose, is happy to help set you up, and provide consulting and training. But if you feel comfortable setting it up on your own, what are you waiting for?