A Guide to Starting Your Small Business Blog
You may have thought about blogging but then asked yourself, "What would I write about?" "Who would read it?" Or, "Is this the best use of my time?" If you're a business owner who already wears a hundred hats, the latter may be what keeps you from starting.
While only you can decide if it's the best use of time, there are some benefits to consider, such as demonstrating your industry expertise, putting a human face to your business, and engaging with your customers. It may even help you gain some perspective, as Slate's Matt Rodela describes in his article, "Four Ways Blogging Helped Me Start My Business."
So, if you've decided to start blogging, here are some tips.
How to Start a Small Business Blog: Find Your Voice
Before thinking about what to write, think about who you are. Even if the goal is to drive awareness for your business, your blog doesn't have to be all about your business—and it shouldn't sound like an advertisement. Whereas writing about your own company may be too limiting, writing about an industry or topic you follow might work best. You'll be writing on an ongoing basis, so make sure the theme is one that excites you and can produce more than a few posts. Make a list of the topics for your first 10 blog posts to see how quickly the ideas flow.
Once you choose a theme, think about the unique perspective you can bring to it. In her "5 Tips for How to Start and Grow a Successful Blog," Jill Fehrenbacher, CEO and founder of Inhabitat, recommends studying other blogs. Review blogs you admire, want to emulate, and/or compete against. What works? What doesn't? As she says, "The more you know what works and why, the more you can tweak your blog and shape it into an ultimate success story."
How to Start a Small Business Blog: Develop Your Style
One challenge many new bloggers face is developing a consistent style. One word to keep in mind? Authenticity. Write in a voice that's your own, and it will be both more authentic to your readers and easier for you to write.
Also, blogging isn't writing a white paper, press release, or a piece of direct mail; it's more conversational. In his article, "Top 5 Business Blogging Mistakes and How to Avoid Them," Josh Catone, features editor at Mashable, includes treating your blog like a press center, not blogging regularly, and not being conversational. He says, "It's true that blog comments can open you up to criticism, but blogging is an unparalleled opportunity to connect with your customers. You'll get a lot more out of blogging if you enable—and even encourage—your customers to respond to what you write."
Where you can, make your post "scannable." Readers want to absorb content quickly and move on. So make copy concise and break it up with subheads and bulleted or numbered lists. In terms of length, though, there is no hard and fast rule. While some writers say a lot in fewer words; others need more to cover a complex topic. Write enough to make a clear and informative point. Then wherever you can cut, do. (For more tips on style, see Guy Kawasaki's article, "British Blogging: The Elements of Guyle.")
How to Start a Small Business Blog: Choose a Format
Ever notice on blogs you read that not every post is the same? One way to keep up the ideas—and the interest—is to create some variety, which may also help you get started. Here are a few suggestions:
- How To: Offer the reader simple instruction on a topic, like "How to Get Free Publicity."
- Lists: Present the top five, seven, or [insert number here] things the reader needs to do—or avoid, as in "3 Surprising Don'ts for Better Productivity."
- Point of View: Offer your opinion on recent news, or present your view on what action your readers should take, as in "3 Big Changes to Facebook: What You Need to Do."
- Review: Review a new book, product, or service, like this review of Guy Kawasaki's book in "Guru Review: Enchantment."
- Predictions: Offer your look at the year ahead or current trends, as in "What's the Future of E-mail?"
- Tips: Share your business insights and experiences, as in "Seek Out Less Traveled Roads." Catone, in "5 Winning Post Ideas for Your Small Business Blog," says, "It may seem counterintuitive to share your business acumen with readers who might also be your competitors, but in the long run, establishing yourself as a leader in your field among your peers will help you sell more of your product or service and lead to opportunities in the press..."
- Behind-the-Scenes: Letting readers know what's going on within your company can help them connect with your brand. Ben Lerer of Thrillist does this in "How I Hire and Why I Suck at It Less These Days."
- Case Studies: Write about a problem and how it was resolved, like Jean Chatzky does in "When Tweets Go Wrong—And How to Do It Right."
- Profiles or Interviews: Interview someone of interest—a mentor, another entrepreneur, a customer, an employee, or an expert—as in "Seth Godin Wants You to Poke the Box."
There are other types, of course, and not all blog posts fit squarely into one type or another. Take "6 Social Media Tips from a Smart Lawyer," which obviously offers tips, but is also a profile. Use what works best for you; don't feel restricted to one format. Your readers will appreciate the variety.
How to Start a Small Business Blog: Edit Yourself
As you get comfortable with your topics and style, you can look for ways to continue to improve your blog and build your audience. Here's a look at a few.
Headlines: These are the first impression you make, and, generally, they should be short and to the point. Give a clear idea of what the post is about or what the benefit will be for reading, such as "5 Ways to Make Review Sites Your New Best Friend." If possible, include keywords or a key phrase that will make it more likely someone will find your post with a search.
The Opening: Again, early impressions matter most, so reinforce what's in it for the reader. Your first sentence or paragraph may appear in sharing and search, so make it work. Establish your premise or credibility and how this article will help them. When Chris Brogan says in the first line of "Presentation Tune-Ups," "I've given close to a thousand presentations," you know you're getting tips from an expert. And include the keywords or phrase that sums up the point.
Make a Point: Three "Es" that help drive readership: 1. Education, 2. Entertainment, and 3. Engagement. Readers want to feel informed, amused, or connected to a topic. And in each case, your post needs to make a point, whether it's presenting a way to accomplish a task, a humorous look at a situation (done well, humor makes a point), or an argument that others can discuss and debate. Re-read your post and see if you can easily identify the point.
One last thing to keep in mind: Give it time. Don't set expectations too high, too soon. It can take a while to build your audience, so be patient. And, again, you might find that writing helps clarify your thinking around what you're trying to do. So even if you're the main reader at first, it could be worth it.