Should You Start a Business Blog?

Why you should consider a small-business blog--and how you can start one

In just a few years, blogs have become a phenomenon. Every day, an estimated 175,000 new blogs and more than 1.6 million blog updates go online, according to Technorati, a blog tracking firm. As of late January 2007, Technorati was tracking 63.2 million blogs.

This explosive growth raises the question: Should your small business start a blog? I believe you should, if for no other reason than to take advantage of an effective marketing tool. In a recent survey of business technology marketing executives by research firm MarketingSherpa, blogs were voted the No. 4 tool for generating sales leads.

Like any other marketing tool, blogs are most effective when used properly. Here are some suggestions for successful blogging, plus some background for those who aren't familiar with blogs.

The Backstory on Blogs
The word "blog' is derived from the term "web log.' In essence, a blog is a web page or site that's part online journal--hence the term "log'--and part open forum. Some bloggers post new updates constantly; others write updates weekly, monthly or only occasionally.

In most cases, blog entries are short and might include photos or links. Sometimes blog readers can post their reactions to the blogger's entries. Other readers can then add their two cents to those comments, thereby continuing the dialogue.

The so-called blogosphere contains blogs on practically every conceivable topic. Some blogs exist on the website of an individual or business, while others are hosted on public blogging sites, like Blogger and Windows Live Spaces.

Why You Should Consider Blogging
Aside from generating new sales leads, blogging also offers the following potential benefits.

  • A blog allows your business to engage with current and potential customers in a direct, informal, no-pressure way. You can communicate the strengths of your product or service, the expertise of your top executives and the breadth of your company's experience in ways that traditional marketing and advertising don't allow. This can help engender a better understanding of your company as well as inspire customer loyalty.
  • Because of its collaborative nature, a blog can help you gain insight into customers' needs and interests. You can then use this information to develop new products or services or fine-tune existing ones.
  • A blog can make your company appear more "alive' and approachable. A website promoting your products or services is an essential marketing tool. But a blog, in effect, gives your company a personal voice, which also can help boost customer loyalty.
  • Blogs cost little, if any, money. Some public blogging sites are free; others charge only nominal fees. Also, blogs are often extremely easy to set up and update, with virtually no training required.

How to Be a Successful Blogger
If you decide a blog makes sense for your business, here are some things you should keep in mind.

  • Start by setting goals, policies and tone. Decide what you want to accomplish with your blog and let those goals influence your content. For example, you may want to establish yourself as a "thought leader' in your industry, boost your site's status in search engine results or differentiate your business from the competition. Also, if your blog will have multiple in-house authors, decide on basic ground rules, such as never trashing the competition. If possible, make a staff member the blog editor to check entries before they're posted for grammar, typos, tone and consistency.
  • Keep it relevant and personal. Blog readers want to know what you--or others in your company--think about the trends relevant to your industry. If you run a local real estate firm, your readers would likely want to know your thoughts on buying and selling trends in your area. Make your entries personal by speaking to readers directly. Tell them a story. Use an authoritative yet conversational and informal voice.
  • Make it useful. When you offer helpful tips and links to other resources on the web, your readers will be more inclined to tell others about your blog. For instance, have you read a new book that's relevant to your readers' interests? If so, write a short review of that book in your blog. If your blog is an information resource for your industry, other bloggers and website owners will want to link to it. And the more sites that link to your blog, the more likely it will show up near the top of search engine results.
  • Use relevant keywords throughout your blog. This is another way to boost your blog's chances of showing up at or near the top of search engine results.
  • Keep readers hungry. If your blog entries are clear, concise and compelling, readers will want to return again and again.
  • Use a soft sell. Don't use your blog to re-purpose press releases, brochures or other content originally created for marketing, PR or advertising. Readers can smell a blatant pitch a mile away.
  • Update often. Readers expect blogs to be refreshed regularly. If you update your blog once a month or less, you may not develop a devoted readership. Shorter, more frequent updates are preferable to longer, infrequent ones.
  • Consider sharing the duties. Blogging requires a time commitment. Sharing the blogging duties with others in your company can take the pressure off. Plus, multiple voices can make a blog more interesting.
  • Stick to it. If you decide to start a blog, make a commitment to keep it going. An abandoned blog won't give readers a favorable impression of your company.
  • Be prepared to evangelize. Because blogging is still relatively new, some stakeholders in your company may be unconvinced of its potential return on investment. Explain how a blog might help your business. Provide examples of blogs you admire and, if possible, how those blogs translated into sales leads, better customer relations or other benefits.
  • Consult with trusted advisers. Before embarking on any new marketing initiative, it's always a good idea to consult with those whose opinion you trust. Do you know a business owner with a business-oriented blog? If so, ask what impact the blog has had on their business. Also ask your in-house or contract marketing expert for input on your blog's goals, content or tone. Finally, talk to your webmaster, site designer or other web-savvy adviser. Should you add a blog to your small-business website or create one on a separate, public site? What keywords would they recommend using?

Something to Say
Ultimately, a blog can be a highly effective and low-cost marketing tool for differentiating your business from the competition and encouraging customer loyalty. All that's required to be a successful small business blogger is planning, creativity, commitment and, most importantly, something worth saying.

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