This guest post is by Clare Lancaster, of WomenInBusiness.com.au.
Over the last 18 months I’ve built two profitable businesses with the help of social media. One business was a sure thing; the other was a side project. My side project was a blog: womeninbusiness.com.au. All of the important numbers (subscribers, page views and profits) are growing monthly and I’ve never paid a cent to promote it.
When I decided to drop out of corporate life, my first move was to open a consultancy. I had been working online since 2001 and by 2008 was confident I’d accumulated enough skills and experience that finding work wouldn’t be a problem.
Around about this time, Twitter was the next big thing. I realized if I wanted to offer my clients the best service I could, I’d better get to know what Twitter was, and work out it was going to be any good for business.
Little did I know that the answer would be a resounding ‘yes’—and that it would help me take my side project from an idea to a sustainable business in less than two years.
Ten steps to sustainability
1. Establish a personal blog.
I started blogging on clarelancaster.com before I launched my consultancy.
I had a clear objective for the blog—that was, to demonstrate my knowledge and start to build my online reputation. I wrote about social media case studies, the basics of online marketing, and my journey so far. I shared my knowledge with wild abandon and started to attract an audience.
Not only did this blog allow me to demonstrate my knowledge but it provided me with a home base to send people I’d connected with through social media.
2. Build a social network with purpose.
Twitter was (and still is) my social networking platform of choice. When I signed up, I spent months observing the conversations, getting to know the etiquette and slowly but surely growing my network strategically.
I sought out and connected with industry thought leaders and journalists, identified people with similar work backgrounds and ethics, and spent time chatting and sharing links not only to my blog posts but to articles that I was reading that I knew would benefit my network.
My patience and consistency paid off when I received a DM from the editor of Australia’s largest small business magazine. She’d been following my blog and invited me to write a five-page article about social media.
That article led to another DM, this time from the editor of Australia’s largest online business magazine. I was invited to write a column with the potential of becoming a monthly contributor. I’ve just filed my 14th column with them.
3. Connect with people who share your interests.
While much of my network building was strategic, I also enjoyed connecting with other people who shared my interests.
One day I was chatting with another woman involved in online business who was writing about similar topics. A few days later I woke up to find that I’d been listed on Forbes as one of 30 female entrepreneurs to follow on Twitter. It turned out that contact was a writer for Forbes, and the result of that coverage was 3000 new followers in three days.
Some might say it was luck. I say, you only get lucky when you put in the ground work.
4. Connect with your readers outside of your blog.
In addition to emailing a thank you to every commenter who interacted with my blog, I’d also visit their blogs and add them to my Twitter network. If they had a LinkedIn account promoted on their blog, I’d add them there too. This strengthened the relationships I built, and made a lasting impression. I still do this occasionally today.
5. Build anticipation for the launch of your business.
We all know that at the heart of social media is authenticity and transparency. As I was building my consultancy website, and deciding on my services and pricing, I chatted about it on Twitter. I asked for feedback on taglines and navigation text, and focused on involving my network in the journey to launch.
When the time came to open for business, I had a network that helped spread the word for me. They felt invested in the process and the journey I’d taken to get to that point.
6. Develop products based on your audience needs.
One of the first strategic networks that I built was focused around my industry peers—marketing and digital types. Six months after launching my I consultancy, I’d just experienced my first nightmare client and was looking into diversifying my income streams.
My first experiment was an ebook—a guide to using Twitter for business. I sold the majority of my guides to other marketing consultants and learned a valuable lesson: know your audience, listen to what they need, and create it. Then use social networking to spread the word. Don’t hesitate. If you spot a need, jump on it.
One of the reasons my ebook sold so well was because it was one of the first on the market. The reason it spread was because it told the reader what they needed to know, they got results, and they recommended it to their networks.
7. Rinse and repeat.
After I’d been writing on my personal blog for a while, I got the opportunity to acquire the womeninbusiness.com.au domain. I snapped it up and have since used social media to build traffic to the site and foster community around its message, which is to help women create their own paths using online business.
As with any profitable blog, this site has a variety of revenue streams that are dependent on the trust, influence, and interest of my audience both on my blog and on the social networking platforms I use.
I used the same technique that I used for my consultancy to launch this business.
8. Monetize the trust you’ve earned.
I know there’s something icky about framing the idea this way, but it’s the cold hard truth. You’ve worked hard to provide (free) value on your blog and social networking platforms, and to keep the attention and trust of your audience. If you want to create a sustainable business, you’ll need to monetize their attention.
I do this by recommending affiliate products, selling my own products and services, and advertising.
I view the products I choose to be affiliated with as part of my overall product range. I only recommend products I’ve used and feel proud to associate with my name and the reputation I’ve worked hard to build.
A successful affiliate promotion should span your blog, social media platforms, and mailing list. A profitable one will perfectly match the needs of your audience. If it doesn’t, it’s better to find one that does, than to compromise that trust.
I recently launched my first premium product, a do-it-yourself online marketing ecourse. Twitter was a great platform to tell the story of this offering, and let people know about it in a natural way. In fact, the less salesy I was about the product, the more registrations I received.
9. Promote your meaningful transactions.
When you own an online publishing business there are two things you’ll be doing continuously: creating and promoting.
You’ll create content and you’ll need to promote it. Not only do you need to promote your content, you need to promote the meaningful transactions that affect your bottom line.
Meaningful transactions are the actions that turn a passive visitor or reader into an active part of your business. They’re the things that will make your business sustainable. As a blogger, an essential meaningful transaction occurs when a visitor subscribes via RSS or email. If you’re also an affiliate, a meaningful transaction would take place when a reader clicks on your affiliate link.
Write a list of your meaningful transactions and cycle through them, not forgetting the social media success ratio of one part promotion, one part sharing, one part conversation.
10. Keep a critical eye on your output.
Even though it’s important to promote your meaningful transactions, it’s more important to keep an eye on the quality of your output and the reaction that you’re getting from your social media audience.
When I first started kicking goals I would excitedly jump on Twitter and tell the world. After a while, I could tell that my excitement was coming across as self promotion. I scaled back and remembered the golden rule. In social media, it’s not about you. It’s about what you can do for others.
How are you using social media to grow your blog’s following and your business?
Clare Lancaster offers blog reviews to help improve the business performance of your blog. She is passionate about helping people make their own path in work and life and can be found on Twitter most days (@clarelancaster).