I get many questions about how to start a blog as a small business, particularly from those who sell creative products and services (digitally or physically) and so this month I thought we should start a discussion on why blogging is such a great marketing tool.
Why the Blog Isn’t DEAD
Blogging has evolved massively over the last 11 years that I have been working online. They have gone from personal online diaries about anything and everything, to super niche websites with monetised aspects. According to Impact (2016) business blogging in particular is on the rise and over time those companies who blog regularly gain far higher ROI (Return on Investment, whether it be in time and/or money). This means they are establishing leads from each blog post and these are organic increases over the leads they gain from their website and social media efforts alone.
In effect the figures are telling us that blogging for business certainly isn’t dead, in fact the reality is that blogging still creates greater business opportunity!
It’s thought that 81% of shoppers conduct online research before making big purchases (Retailing Today, 2014) and up to 47% are more likely to view 4-5 pieces of online information before they decide to speak to a business about their high ticket items (Hubspot, 2017). So for companies who sell those higher ticket products and services, regular blogging can generate more information and therefore more leads to their business. As a small business owner who sold handmade craft supplies I can also tell you that blogging really helped me. I found that up to 20% of my website traffic came directly from blogging and a percentage of that turned into sales. So I believe that small business can benefit tremendously from creating and maintaining a blog, especially as a long term, lead generating, marketing campaign.
Let’s think about how blogging can fit into your current marketing plan.
Blogging & the Online Marketing Funnel
I created an infographic to help illustrate what your Marketing Funnel looks like (feel free to share this on Pinterest!)
Essentially we need to think about all of our marketing efforts in a logical way that helps us create awareness to a wider audience and then flushes potential customers down through a narrowing and targeted system, which provides everything they need to make an informed decision about buying from us. If we get everything just right we should see rewards at the bottom of the funnel in terms of sales.
Blogging is part of the first two levels of our funnel; it should create leads and generate enough interest to turn those who find us into potential customers.
Now you could choose at this stage to ignore blogging altogether, because who has the time, right? And social media certainly makes things easier. Well listen to this; 53% of marketers say blog content creation is their top inbound marketing priority (HubSpot, 2017).
This is because it’s thought that blogging can create 97% more indexed links to your website in organic searches (Impact, 2017); that’s on Google, Bing, or other browsing search engines. With search engines only just considering social media as bookmarking links, it seems ludicrous to ignore the power of blogging for business altogether.
How to Start Your Creative Business Blog
Ron Dawson is absolutely right, blogging for business should be a considered tool and that planning starts before you even launch a blog.
It starts with your message.
I talked a while ago about a book called Youtility: Why Smart Marketing is About Help not Hype* by Jay Baer (published 2013) and how it helped me create my marketing message for blogging and social media. Jay talks about the need to add ‘value’ to your reader’s life and that by doing this we create a perception of helpfulness and expertise around what we do.
Creating your marketing message
If you are one of my students, or a reader of the blog then you will know that my message is all about planning.
Planning, planning, planning.
It is my underlying message.
Your content needs its own underlying message and that message needs to show your expertise.
Considering how you show you are an expert in your field starts with deciding what you are going to blog about. For most of us with businesses that’s fairly easy to answer – we will be blogging about our products, services and how these change our customers’ lives.
Be careful here though. You need to avoid filling your blog with SPAM (the direct sales pitches).
Instead you need to share information.
Let’s look at an example; let’s say that you are a soap maker, specialising in organic, cold press methods and you want to start blogging about your products. Content you can consider to post as blog articles might include;
- An overview process look at how you make your cold press soaps (not giving away any details you may wish to sell later on as workshop material)
- Why you choose to work organically
- Behind the scenes on your latest collection, or seasonal introductions
- Why you use certain ingredients
- The health benefits of using certain ingredients
- Free soap giveaways, or competitions
All of these blog post ideas generate interest and organic search traffic from your blog to your website, if you lead each post to a product or website page. It doesn’t need to be shouting out for them to ‘buy now’, but a hint at where they could find out more.
It could even include an email newsletter free opt in like an eBook on seasonal skin routines, or the like.
Deciding on a blog platform
The platform you choose for your blog is important, as it doesn’t necessarily have to be hosted by your ecommerce website provider. As long as you buy into a domain name that has the relevant tail for your main ecommerce site (http://YOURURL/Blog) it can be hosted by any provider you prefer to use. So have a good think about all of the features you want for your blog.
Here are some examples of blogging hosts;
- Blogger – Free hosted by Google and in being so means there are some limitations on use and content rights.
- Wordpress.com – Free hosted by Wordpress which means there are some limitations on use, content rights and also non-moveable google ads.
- Wordpress.org – Self hosted blog using the Wordpress framework. It will require some code knowledge and a good understand of how websites work. If you have the experience then Wordpress has an amazing array of functionality.
- Squarespace – This is the site I use for my website. I started with their easy blog functionality and I later added an ecommerce shop, all of which Squarespace provide under the same plan.
If you are yet to create an ecommerce arm to your online presence, then I recommend looking at;
- Shopify* – I know many creative product businesses that use this ecommerce host and when you look at the functionality, I really cannot fault it for start-ups who are looking to grow. There’s even an option for using your site in a bricks and mortar store!
Deciding on your Blog’s look, layout and anatomy.
When you have decided on your host you need to consider layout, because the look and anatomy of your blog is sometimes as crucial as the content. This is where I personally advocate for an all-in-one website option, something like Wordpress.org, Squarespace or Shopify, who combine ecommerce with blogging because whether you are adding a blog to an existing ecommerce site, or planning to add one down the road the design of your blog follows your branding seamlessly.
Branding is important.
Branding helps to clearly identify your product, service and business and set it aside from others.
So a blog should be branded too.
Here are some things I think you need to consider when designing your blog;
- Keep the backgrounds free from clutter and white if possible. This makes content easy to ready on any device
- Simple categories, so that people can find the content they prefer to read
- Useful Links at the top of the page to onsite pages, or your shop
- Include an ‘About’ page, so that readers understand who is creating the content
- Include contact details so that people can get in touch easily
- Include a terms page that covers privacy policies, disclaimers and any other terms you need to set
- Fonts and images are used in the same way as your main site branding
- That you link to your products and services only where relevant (It’s ok to blog occasionally and not sell anything!)
- A newsletter opt-in widget (because if you don’t make the sale, then take an email!)
Planning your content
Ok, so here’s the bit I’m supposed to be an expert on, right?!
Let’s see if I can break this down in a way that helps you to understand exactly how important planning is.
First of all no matter what product or service you offer as you are starting out, or if you are deciding down the road that you want to implement the benefits of blogging for your business, then you don’t have a huge amount of time to dedicate to blogging exclusively… and nor should you. Blogging is just one aspect of your marketing funnel. So you need to be effective with scheduling the time you spend on your blog, verses other things.
The easiest way to do this is to set up a schedule.
Now your schedule can be something you already use for your business; like a planner, a spreadsheet, a journal, or an online programme (I use Asana.com). It doesn’t have to be complicated, but it has to be detailed. So make sure that you set all your appointments up and that you include time for emails, production, design, research, accounting and of course marketing, or anything else pertinent to the running of your business.
In your marketing time slot you need to decide how much time you dedicate to each of your marketing efforts, including your blog.
Please don’t start hyperventilating!
There’s a way the you can manage all of your marketing without having to split all of that weekly time into its counterparts and trying to work hours into just 15 minutes here and there.
I know that is what you are starting to freak out about!
But think about it. If you plan ahead, then you could write and automate your blog just once a month. If you plan ahead you could create and automate your social media just once a month, etc., etc.
So what I’m saying is that the first week of the month you could spend your marketing time on blogging for the following month. The next week, you could concentrate on your social media for that same month. The third week you concentrate on other forms of marketing and the fourth week your newsletter(s). This means that when you come to do the work you have focus and the entirety of your dedicated marketing time for that week. This will make an amazing difference to the quality of your efforts.
To really make this work for you, you need to take a further step and set up an Editorial Calendar.
An Editorial Calendar will allow you to create a sense of theme for your blogging, which is great for readers to follow along with. It will also help focus on product launches at the right time and more than that it will mean that if you get a bottle neck in production, or a rush on sales and you need to dedicate more time elsewhere in your business, then you have the flexibility to do it, because focus means less time phaffing around for ideas.
If you aren’t sure how to set up and Editorial Calendar, then don’t worry because I have you covered with my Blog Editorial Planner!
Blogging is a really important part of online marketing for businesses; make sure you make the time to invest in this really rewarding tool for building your community and client base.