How blogging can help your small business.
For small business owners, time is a precious resource that is often in short supply. So, the notion that they should devote an hour or two a week to blogging about their company could seem like an extravagance born of either fat corporate budgets or shiftless hobbyists with nothing better to do. But that’s a shortsighted viewpoint that only looks at what a small business owner has to put into blogging and doesn’t look at all the things he or she can get out of the effort.
“The best marketing tool you will ever have as a small business owner” is a blog, explains social media adviser Danny Brown on—what else?—his own blog. Brown, a partner at southern Ontario, Canada-based Bonsai Interactive Marketing, adds that the only limitations to what a blog can do for a small business derive from the constraints the small business owner puts upon it. And what is the common thread that keeps most small business owners from taking the blogger plunge? Fear, says Brown.
“Fear of what to blog about; fear of how to target an audience; fear of how to promote a new (or existing) blog; fear of setting yourself apart when there are so many other voices around,” he explains. But once a small business owner overcomes this fear and sees the many things they stand to gain by blogging, they’re likely to never turn back.
In fact, according to a 2010 State of the Blogosphere Report, published earlier this month by the tech website Technorati, 21% of all bloggers now identify themselves as self-employed. And among this self-employed cohort, 57% own their own company and write a blog related to their business, a figure that roughly translates into one out of every eight bloggers overall. So, what have these business owners learned? Well, below are seven reasons savvy entrepreneurs should invest a little time and effort each week into talking about themselves and their business online.
- Increase visibility – For many small business owners, the term “marketing budget” might be akin to other pie-in-the-sky things like easy credit, free lunches, and days off. But blogging about one’s business can be a very effective way to market your business with little or no additional cost beyond what you’re already paying to host and maintain a company website. What’s more, the 2010 Blogosphere Report found that “among respondents who own their own company, 64% say they have greater visibility in their industry because of their blog.” For entrepreneurs that are looking to gin up greater brand awareness and product visibility for their relatively young business endeavors, this statistic alone should be reason enough to consider hanging out a blog shingle.
- Improve search engine ranking – Since search engines are increasingly designed to reward websites that offer richer and fresher content, adding a blog to your company website has the added benefit of helping to raise your search results rankings. Writing two to four genuine and straightforward blog posts each week on topics of legitimate interest to fellow professionals and/or customers can do wonders to liven up an otherwise static, unengaging company website. Get your blog noticed by others, to the point that it generates some inbound links from other websites and blogs, and its impact on search rankings will grow exponentially. (For more details on how blogs affect a websites’ search rankings, click here.)
Also realize, however, that blogging can be even more important when search engine rankings aren’t key to a startup or small business’s success. If, for example, your business is launching a groundbreaking product or survives mostly on impulse purchases, customers won’t be searching you out online in the first place, so building buzz through blogging (and social media) will have to come long before any search engine optimization campaign pays dividends. “If this is the type of product you sell,” explains Search Engine Guide expert Jennifer Laycock in an online column, “chances are high you'll be better served by a word of mouth driven social media campaign than by making it easier for people to find your product.”
- Establish industry expertise – This might sound like a daunting challenge for new entrepreneurs, but more often than not, their startup experience has already made them into budding experts. After all, many entrepreneurs launch their startups precisely because they’ve found themselves frustrated by an industry or profession that wasn’t meeting their own needs and then spent a lot of time thinking about how to fix those problems.
“You might be thinking that you aren’t an expert in anything, but that simply isn’t true,” explains Kyle James in his article, “Becoming an Industry Expert: Watching Out for #1”. “What is important to remember is that others don’t know that you are the expert in something unless you make it a point to say so.”
Starting out, you might limit your blog posts to the one subject where no one else can match your expertise—your own company—and then establish your larger expert voice by broadening your blog discussions to general trends within your industry. Eventually this will require consistently engaging others within your industry on their websites and posting comments on external blogs (with a link back to your own blog, of course). Once you’ve built a backlog of insightful industry comments and a robust network of resources and links on your blog, you will have little problem proving your bona fides to any prospective customer that happens upon your website. But understand that a little, tactful self-promotion of your expertise doesn’t hurt.
- Prime the online lead generation pump – When it asked how bloggers measure the success of their blogs, Technorati’s 2010 Blogosphere roundup found that self-employed bloggers used many of the same metrics as part-time, hobbyist, and corporate bloggers: personal satisfaction, unique visitors, linkbacks, volume of comments, and number of RSS subscribers. However, there was one other response that self-employed bloggers were nearly twice as likely to choose than any of their blogging cohorts: “number and quality of new business leads”. This brings up another important point to remember about blogging—when done well, it’s more about having a two-way conversation with your readers than it is about offering up a series of from-on-high monologues. Good comments are a vital part of making a blog worth reading and their insights are a great source of future posts. And the regular, repeat commenters that make them are a natural vein of online leads to be mined for referrals and direct sales.
- Perform customer service – While microblogging site Twitter has garnered more attention lately for a being a low-cost, high-response way to handle customer service issues, a blog can serve that purpose as well. This shouldn’t be done for every little customer complaint, however. But if your small business suddenly faces a broader consumer-related problem, like a product recall or a coupon misprint, a blog can offer a much better platform for heading off a potential public relations nightmare than Twitter.
After all, it’s hard to carefully acknowledge a problem, clarify facts and dispel myths, offer up a pre-emptive solution, apologize if necessary, and give upset consumers a way to (constructively) seek redress all in just 140 characters. Plus, by handling a major customer service issue on your blog rather than on Twitter, you stand a better chance of keeping the online complaining contained to just your website and limiting the potential spread of damage to your company’s reputation.
“A lovely new company/customer etiquette has emerged, and small startups are especially suited for exploiting it,” explains angel investor Jason Cohen on his startup-focused blog A Smart Bear. Rather than never accepting mistakes, Sobel says consumers increasingly understand things will go wrong, but now just want a company to make a sincere effort in fixing them. “This doesn’t mean you get a free pass,” he clarifies, just that “you’re doing your honest, level best to do right by your customers,” evidenced continuously through all your communication—blog, tech support, website—not just after a crisis.
- Suggest new products or services – Nearly half—45.6%—of consumers surveyed now trust the content they find on blogs, according to the Technorati Blogosphere survey. While that figure still notably lags traditional media sources like magazines (60.4%), TV or radio news (61.2%), and newspapers (62.4%), the gap is closing. Likewise, trust in blogs stands far above other branded content on social media sites like Twitter (19%) and Facebook (26.7%) and even surpasses content found on online news aggregators (38.0%).
What’s more, the survey also found “blogs outpace other social media and many traditional media in terms of generating consumer recommendations and purchases.” As a result, among survey respondents who blog about their own company, nearly six in ten—58%—reported that prospective clients had read their blog and then subsequently purchased products or services.
- Build brand loyalty – Once you’ve hooked those initial customers, a company blog is also a great way to keep them coming back for more. Through things like video posts about the latest improvements to your product line or updates on new services your business has added, as well as notices about special online-only deals and discounts (linked to your company Twitter feed and/or Facebook page), your blog can be a great conduit for building a stronger sense of loyalty among your customers. So armed, these loyal blog readers can become an army of positive word-of-mouth advertisers for your business, constantly spreading the gospel about your awesomeness both online and off.
Keeping all of these reasons in mind, it is perhaps not surprising that Technorati’s Blogosphere Report found that nearly half of all small business bloggers planned to increase their posting in the near future or that more than one quarter said blogging has had the greatest impact on their businesses. For entrepreneurs who haven’t yet made the leap, the potential return on a few hours of time spent blogging deserves a strong second look. It might just be the best investment you make all year.