The year was 2008, and I had just launched an independent financial-planning firm. As a new business owner, I had determined that my number one goal was to stand out. But, how?
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Eventually, I stumbled on the concept of blogging. I didn't know how to blog or how to get started, yet I quickly recognized the inherent value of reaching out to potential clients on their home turf -- the internet.
After figuring out how to launch my website, Good Financial Cents, I dove into the various strategies that might help me succeed. I learned everything I could about search engine optimization (SEO), email marketing and creation of content that would be appealing to everyday readers to reach my goal of creating the best financial-lanning blog on the web.
Flash-forward to today: The number of financial-planning blogs has exploded, a testament to what I knew back then: Blogging is a smart way to connect with existing clients and cultivate relationships with new ones.
Further, I've learned a lot about blogging, exploring how other industries use the web to reach their potential clients. On the flip side, I've seen business blogs that are an absolute disaster -- ineffective, generic or simply unable to reach their potential. Here are those lessons and the common mistakes that hold businesses back.
Mistake 1: You don't even have a blog.
These days, it takes some effort if you want your business to stand out on the web. A fancy website design and professional photography look nice, but is that all you have? Unless you also have a voice, your website is nothing more than an online business card. You aren't speaking to your customers if all they can read is sales copy.
To separate yourself from your competitors, it's crucial to write fun and informative content. Not only does this allow clients and customers to learn more about you and your business, but it gives people insight into what you're about.
Remember, customers want to work with people, to know who you are. The more personal you can make your business, the more successful you'll become.
Mistake 2: You don't bother with SEO.
As a business owner, you're probably busier than most people you know. That doesn't get you a free pass from learning about SEO, or search engine optimization. While some people think of SEO as the black magic of online marketing, SEO in reality is what helps potential clients actually see your stuff. And if you're going to bother having a blog, you should make sure people see it, right?
"Maximizing your content to be SEO-friendly means including a common keyword that is utilized throughout the title, images, header, and body of the blog," SEO expert Tom Harness of Harness Digital Marketing told me. "It's not rocket science, but it's extremely important."
When I first started blogging, I had a goal of ranking for the term "financial planner in Illinois." Since I didn't want to pay for a proper SEO strategy, I came up with a game plan to rank for this term on my own. First, I made sure I had "financial planner in Illinois" throughout my website -- and even that small change made a huge difference. From there, I created a specific landing page, what I called the "SEO Targeted Landing Page," whose primary mission was to rank for that keyword.
Mistake 3: You're not gathering emails.
During my first two years blogging, I failed to recognize the importance of capturing emails. Over time, however, I realized that what many email marketers say is true -- the money is in your list.
Once that lightbulb went off for me, my ability to nurture leads and prospects became a lot easier once I had potential clients' contact information. I also realized that, when I wanted to promote certain events, webinars and trainings, I could access my readership much more easily via email.
Depending on your type of online business, you may also offer special promotions on products you sell. What better way to advertise those specials than with a dedicated list of emails from people who have actually signed up?
"Building an email list is the single most valuable thing you can do to control the future opportunities in your business," Nathan Barry, the founder of ConvertKit, told me. "Every day you spend without an email list is a missed opportunity. Every email subscriber you gain is a potential future customer, so get started now and treat each person like they're the key to growing your business. Because they are."
Remember, people don't hand over their emails without a prompt. You have to ask.
Mistake 4: You don't have a lead magnet.
Once I figured out the value of an email list, I did what a lot of newbie bloggers do and invited people to join my list out of the kindness of their hearts: "Hey guys, sign up for my email list to get my newsletter and free updates!"
Free updates on what?
At first, I didn't bother explaining what people would receive, or why they might want to give out their precious email addresses in the first place. What was I offering in return? At the time, even I couldn't answer that question.
That's changed. Nowadays, I have a lead magnet -- a free "gift" that rewards people for signing up. Right now, my lead magnet is my "Money Dominating Toolkit," which includes various pdfs and two chapters of my book, Soldier of Finance.
Once I began offering this lead magnet, my email subscriber base increased more than two-and-a-half times overnight. My biggest regret is that it took me two years to figure this out. Just think of how much bigger my list might be now if I had started offering an incentive earlier.
Mistake 5: You forget about your story.
While a business blog should be professional, it's not a place for generic and boring content. Ghost-written articles can work but only if they resonate with your readers. And if you're just copying and pasting in press releases, they won't help you build traffic or loyalty, either.
For your business blog to be successful, you need to incorporate a story or some sort of narrative. By telling your story, you'll build trust and become much more relatable.
You definitely want to showcase your expertise, but you should do so in a way that engages your readers. Donald Miller, founder of StoryBrand, espouses the virtues of building brands through storytelling on his website. "If you want to write a book about physics, you'll have to know a lot about physics," Miller has written on his site. "And the same goes for psychology and botany. But to write a humane book, be it fiction or memoir, all you really need to know is your own story."
The idea behind your business blog should run in the same vein. If you want your business to have a human component, you need to show your humanity. The best way to do that is to share your life and your experiences.
Blogging isn't hard, but it does require a huge investment of your time. Blogging also requires guts -- and the fortitude to put yourself out there whether anyone is reading or not.
And like it or not, blogging is the future of business. Why? Because your customers and clients are on the internet, and if you want them to find you, you have to be there, too.
When I created my online course for financial advisors, the idea that blogging was no longer optional was one of the biggest lessons I hoped to convey.
When it comes to blogging, you too can either dive in and learn or stand on the sidelines and watch others succeed. It's not enough to have an online business card these days; you need an interactive element that shows who you are.