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Blogs are a marketing tool you can't afford to ignore. Here are tips on how to create one successfully.

If you work at home for yourself, whether as a consultant, writer or virtual assistant, you need clients. You already know that marketing is a must. No doubt you've heard that blogging is an important tool in your marketing toolbox. It helps you connect with potential customers, and it allows them to get to know you and your work.

If you haven't started blogging yet--or if you have but you're looking for blog inspiration--here's some advice from a pair of active bloggers.

Offer Value. Determine your audience and create useful content. A blog can't simply be an ad. If it is, no one will come back to your site. Hallie Vanszl, owner of La Retro Gifts , a toy boutique store, just began her first blog. She says her goal was clear: "I wanted it to be more story and less product--with just a mention in a place or two, rather than the majority of the post being related to product." So while you'll find the occasional link to a specific toy, you'll also find her recipe for snow cream, sample love notes to leave in lunch boxes and play ideas for children with special needs.

Show Your Creative Side. Blogs can showcase your ability. Your portfolio of projects for clients may be limited to fairly serious or otherwise "dry" material. You can show those as an example of work for satisfied clients, but your blog can be a place to shine. Show pictures of what you're working on, describe a particularly successful event or post a personal project that showcases your unseen abilities.

"Besides being another place and way for my name to be out there (and being in the right place at the right time is everything when your door's always open for more work), my blogs give me a place where I can 'untether' on topics just a bit," says freelance writer Tracy Morris.

Word to the Wise. Choose your content carefully. Outside of your immediate family, only a very few people care about how your daughter's potty training is coming. Unless you sell toilet-training products or the ultimate how-to book on potty training, limit those stories to your personal site.

Getting started. Where do you begin in setting up a blog? First, you need a host, a place where your blog will live. There a few things to consider, including price, ease of setup and reliability. As with most things in life, blog platforms come with a variety of price points ranging from free to more expensive options. Some blog platforms are easier to use than others, although most offer forums dedicated to helping people get the most out of their chosen platforms.

The best thing to do is look at a lot of blogs by people you like. Check out the design, see whether it's easy to navigate and ask people you know about their experiences.

You can also consider these potential hosts:

Google Blogger

WordPress.com

LiveJournal.com

Lesley Spencer Pyle is the founder and president of HomeBasedWorkingMoms.com and HireMyMom.com , and she is the author of The Work-at-Home Workbook: Your Step-by-Step Guide on Selecting and Starting the Perfect Home Business for You. Pyle has been working from home for more than 13 years.

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