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Your Blog as Part of an Overarching Business Strategy

This is a guest contribution from Sabina Stoiciu.

So you have a business blog (you DO have a blog for your business, yes?). Well it’s a great decision, and a decision that is growing in popularity. In a 2012 HubSpot study, 62% of respondents claimed to run a company blog. A number which has consistently grown from 52% back in 2009.

Business blogging stat

Today is also not the first time somebody tells you a blog will bring several advantages to your business. You’ve heard professionals tell you that writing blog posts gives you the opportunity to leverage the human side of your business. Or to showcase your products a little bit more, all while still offering value to your readers and not just babbling advertising copy.

What I’m telling you now is that your company blog should be a piece in your overall business puzzle, that perfectly fits among the other pieces. Your blog is not just the place where you write something for someone. It’s a place where you engage with your audience. On the other hand, your blog is also the place where you can run a marketing action, like a contest for your customers and potential clients. And the functions of your blog as part of your overall strategy don’t stop here – bear with me, the full list is coming.

So, your blog fulfills the role of…

1. Branding

As stated above, your company blog is the place where you write about yourself. About who you are, what you do and why you do it. And perhaps even why you do it better than others. But beware: the catch here is that you have to tell a story, not to repeat the corporatist, stiff copy you traditionally display about your company. Get emotional, be honest and be relevant – that’s what your readers are looking to see. Give your business that human touch we are all attracted to. And most important, try to put yourself in the shoes of your audience: what would you like to read about on a company blog? I’ll bet my lunch that it’s not an advertising catalog or a constant “look how awesome we are”.

If you want to be relevant for your readers, and even become an industry resource, always offer more than expected. Add that plus of value people will come back for over and over. That means that besides posts talking about you (in a moderated way, of course), you should strive to extend your content towards covering more general, yet still related industry topics. Have a look at the Hootsuite blog for example. In case you didn’t know, Hootsuite is a social media management service you can use to easily handle your social networks. On their blog, they not only speak about Hootsuite features or company updates, but also about more general topics, such as how to publish articles on LinkedIn or what a social media manager should check off their daily to do list. You see, while the posts are somewhat related to Hootsuite (it’s their blog, after all), the content exceeds their own functionality and becomes more useful to readers.

 

2. Presenting your products

Yes, I did say that your company blog shouldn’t be an advertising catalog. And I stick to that. But that doesn’t mean you can’t talk about your product or service. The tweak lies in doing this from a more objective point of view. Don’t be all braggy about how great your product is. Instead, think of advanced ways of using it to maximize the user’s experience with it. For example, if you sell ice cream machines, spare your readers from hundreds of words from the technical jargon. Delight them with ice cream recipes they can try while using your ice cream machines, and you will give them a reason to keep reading your content.

Furthermore, you can help customers and potential clients get a deeper understanding of your product by surrounding it with scenarios or real use cases of it. For example, at 123ContactForm (the company I work for – an online form and survey builder), we do run a blog  where we try to imagine all kinds of use cases for various form types, so that our customers can see the full potential of a form they’d like to use. Along with this, we aim at shedding light upon other apps and tools that are around, which people may see fit for their own business use.

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3. Showcasing your activity, accomplishments and campaigns

A blog tells a story. Like a fairy tale, where the main character is born in a far away kingdom, raised by fairies, exposed to magic challenges, and eventually defeats the evil, your company also goes to different life stages and experiences. Along the road, it might meet a new partner, open a new business unit, change its appearance, gain special prizes or run awesome CSR campaigns. All these tiny parts of what represents your company’s identity and existence are great blog material, as they put together an unique story: the one of your company.

Don’t forget to add characters to your story. What’s a fairy tale without Prince Charming? Or without the enchanting princess? Your company’s staff is definitely part of the company’s story. Whether their individual personality comes to life in collective posts about your team, in writers’ bio boxes or in single presentation posts about a team member, this kind of content helps you show the human face of your company.

4. liaison

4. Liaison between your business’ website, social media channels and other communication channels

A blog is a valuable asset for a business, since it is part of your overall strategy. Picture it as a link within a chain, where each link is strongly tied to its neighbours, and where you can’t take one link out, unless you destroy the chain.

The company blog has the power to establish a connection and link other communication channels you use within your business. How come? Well, think of how your social media icons are displayed on your blog, letting readers get to your company’s social accounts or share your blog content via social media. In a similar way, remember you can (or quite should) share your posts across your social media channels. Further on, your blog and company website are also linked, as each one of them refers to the other. This way, visitors can bounce from your official presentation site to your story telling corner and back.

In terms of content and its connection to your blog and other channels, remember that you should keep the content coherent. Each piece of it should form a part of the whole ensemble, and you should not ignore the proper tone for each channel. For example, your website presents a product in a more promotional, professional way. The blog adds a story to it. Social media then completes it with rich media and short, but strong messages.

5. Interaction with your audience

Just like other channels, your company blog is a communication tool. Customers and prospects can use it to get in touch with your company, whether they ask you about a product or feature, they engage on a topic you talk about, or solicit you some general advice you could help them with.

Don’t hesitate to engage back with them, answer them, challenge them to talk to you, so that you can strengthen your relationship to them. This can happen through your blog post content, your post comments, as well as through a contact form you may be using.

6. Feedback gathering

Don’t underestimate the power of your blog as a feedback tool, unless you want valuable data to get passed by you.

You have three options to harvest feedback on your blog:

  • specifically ask for it using a dedicated tool, such as a feedback form you share within a blog post (see a feedback form template here)
  • look at direct reactions of your readers in the post comments or messages coming through the contact form or social media comments
  • read between the lines, meaning you can look at Analytics, social media shares, likes and comments count, in order to observe your audience’s behavior and get an idea about their attitude towards you.

After you’ve received your feedback, it’s time to draw the conclusions and, based on them, take the necessary actions. There have been cases where people or companies were asking their audience for feedback, the latter offered it, and the ones asking failed at doing something with that feedback. So basically their effort was in vain. Don’t forget to implement your feedback as much as possible, whether it’s aimed at your blog content, product suggestions or ideas for your company.

7. customer care

7. Customer care aid

We’ve cleared this one off the myth list: your company blog is not just about you, but about your customers and prospects too. That means there will be times when your blog might turn into a customer service aid. Clients might stop by to read your content and then suddenly remember they needed assistance with something related to what they’ve read. And if they are already there, they will probably drop a comment that is directed towards your customer care team. Thus, this is how the blog can help readers solve their problems.

As it’s best practice to let customers and prospects speak to you through whatever channel they prefer, handling customer care matters on your blog will eventually add to your to do list. But wait: you can turn this into an advantage. Namely, other readers will see the responses too if you offer them in the comments section. Hence, if they have the same problem, they will find a ready made answer. Moreover, you can select common customer inquiries and turn them into detailed blog posts.

8. Running marketing actions – (contests, giveaways, announce special offers, etc)

As a place where you have the opportunity to present more in-depth content, your blog is a proper medium for hosting an online contest, a giveaway, or for announcing special campaigns. Since you won’t probably update your website as often as you do your blog, the latter is a good destination for hosting some of your marketing actions, also allowing a more interactive approach from users. Readers can engage through comments, see what others posted, and even reply.

Contests and giveaways can represent effective ways to entice your audience, so you should definitely give them a try if you haven’t up to now. Just think about a topic for your contest, or something to offer for free in your giveaway. Establish participation guidelines and think of the submission mechanics. Something like a contest entry form can help you in registering all people willing to take part in your marketing action, also offering an overview on all submissions. Or you can ask people to participate through blog comments or through engaging on another communication channel, such as social media.

9. Running marketing research

Besides marketing actions, you can use your blog for the purpose of administering a marketing research form at some point. Along with the research that concludes from what your readers tell you through comments, you can specifically ask them certain questions useful to you within a market research action.

Keep it short, though. Unless incentivized (as offered to enter the chance to win something by filling out your research form), and perhaps even then, people dislike never-ending surveys. A tool that might help you conduct a structured market research on a topic or some key point you’re after is a market research survey. You can find a template here if you would like to adapt and use it. Like with the feedback you are asking for, be careful to effectively make use of the data the research provides you with.

10. Lead gathering

We’ve reached the final point in our list: your blog can help you with getting new leads for your business. While this alone shouldn’t be your goal when running a blog, you may take it into consideration along with offering great content to your readers.

All the points I mentioned above can conduct to gaining new leads. People that leave a comment, prospects who fill out your contact form, readers who take part in your contest or your giveaway, or who subscribe to the blog newsletter to get fresh content from you – they can all represent leads for your company. If you take good care of them, they might even convert to paying customers. So don’t neglect this role of your blog, but focus more on the value you deliver to your audience.

What about you? Can you relate to any of these roles above, supposing you run a company blog? I’d be happy to hear your thoughts.

Sabina Stoiciu enjoys blogging, photography, traveling and finding ways of gathering and sharing relevant business knowledge. You can follow her on Twitter. She also writes for 123ContactForm, the online form and survey builder – try it for free.

How to Craft a Blog that Attracts Customers and Converts Like Crazy

This is a guest contribution from entrepreneur Natalie Sisson.

So, you want to turn your blog into an online business?

Congratulations, so does every other person with wifi.

Now, I don’t mean to to bust your buns right off the get go, but if I’m being honest (and I always am!) then you need to know one thing:

A blog that doesn’t make money is a hobby, and a hobby is not a business.

The truth is, many of us don’t know what we’re doing when we’re first starting out online. Learning how to create a website, identify your ideal customer and convert them into sales will be a process, one that I am here to help you with though.

First things first; when you think of your website does it make you proud? If you are uncomfortable sharing your url with friends and family because it looks horrendous, then chances are your audience will be thinking the same thing.

Have you ever heard the theory that when shopping, if you hold an item for 10 seconds or longer you are more likely to buy? Well, the same principle goes for websites, but you have far less time to convert them – you have four seconds, to be exact.

A lot can happen in four seconds, which is why you need to make the most of it. If your viewer can’t find what they’re looking for, then they will surely go elsewhere. So how do you grab their attention and keep them on your site? It all starts by building a connection.

Every great relationship revolves around feeling a fundamental connection between two people. In this case, you need to build the foundation between your website and your audience. One of the best ways you can do this is to ask yourself what the primary goal of your website is.

Since your website is a platform to introduce yourself and your products to the world, knowing exactly what you mean to sell or achieve from having the site will help you target the ideal target audience.

The easiest way to convey this message is by creating a crisp, clear homepage. Your homepage is basically a landing page for any and all visitors. It will be the first thing they see, so capture them in those four quick seconds.

A few key tricks for ensuring a stellar home page is to:

  • Choose a clear web design – the more hectic your layout, the more likely your visitor will bounce
  • When asking your audience to opt-in to a free mailing list or free download, create one simple, to-the-point call to action
  • No one likes getting lost, so make navigating your site simple. Have a clear menu at the top so visitors can easily find their way around
  • Selling a product or service? Make it evident on the homepage. The harder they have to look for it, the more likely they will go to your competition
  • Outline what it is you’re all about. I’m not talking a novel, but one clear paragraph about who you are, what you stand for and what you’re offering

Now, to really start converting your audience you’re going to want to check off these next five steps from your to-do list.

1. Determine what it is you are selling

What do you feel jazzed about making money from? Whether it’s a product or a service you are are going to want to make this particular item forefront on your homepage.

Many people make the mistake of offering several different service on their homepage and it only confuses their visitor. For example, if you really wanted to sell business coaching, but offered website design coaching and business coaching on your homepage, how would they know which to choose?

Besides the fact that these two products sound beyond similar, why would you offer something you aren’t keen on doing yourself? Take away the option by simply promoting one service on you homepage.

2. Keep it clean

Some people just don’t know when to call it quits when it comes to web design. If you’ve ever happened across a site that seems to be hoarding widgets, images, links and more, then you know how unappealing and distracting that is to the eye.

Too much distraction will confuse and deter your visitor from becoming a sale. So here’s what you should do:
Remove any external links from your homepage that take them off your site
Choose social widgets that allow them to like your content without leaving your site
Avoid flashy text or image that takes their attention away from the product you want them to purchase

Are you starting to see a pattern here?

3. Implement a sales funnel

Your sales funnel should start on your homepage. That little chunk of screen you see when you land (referred to as ‘above the fold’) there should contain everything you need to compel your visitor to buy what you are selling.

Using your best copy, image, video or what-have-you to convey the many benefits of your product should all be visible here. To further resonate with your audience, feel free to direct them to your About page so they can get to know you and strengthen your bond together.

4. Make buying simple

You may have convinced them to buy, but if you make it difficult to pay that is a surefire way to lose a sale.

The easiest way to rectify this situation is to have a “buy now” option on your landing page; and be sure to make them feel safe when buying from you. To do that make sure you use and advertise a secure shopping cart option, like Paypal. A money back guarantee always helps solidify the sale as well.

5. Make sure your new landing page is working

I have no doubt that if you managed to follow the first four steps you will have created one heck of a landing page. Now that it’s there, it’s time to find out if it’s converting, which is where analytics comes in.

  • Set yourself up with a free Google Analytics account and add in the tracking code to your website. Every few weeks head back to that analytics dashboard and see:
  • How many unique (read, first time) monthly users are visiting your site
  • Where they are coming from, aka. traffic source
  • Your average bounce rate – how long they stay on your site before leaving
  • Which page exactly your visitors tend to exit your website from the most – visitor exit

You don’t need to be a geek to be able to read this data. For example, if you’re traffic is mainly mobile then make sure that you are using a mobile-optimized web theme. On the other hand, if your visitors continually exit on your product sales page, it’s time to think about doing a redesign.

With these five strategies, there is no doubt in my mind that you will be able to turn your current website into a cash converting sales machine.

Now tell me; what is the biggest change you need to make to your website after learning these steps? Share your thoughts and progress in the comment section.

Natalie Sisson is a Kiwi entrepreneur and adventurer who shares creative ways to run a business from anywhere. To start your very own lifestyle online business be sure to check out her new program, The Freedom Plan. And don’t be shy, – drop her a line on Twitter or Facebook.

Blogging Like a Shark: 10 Secrets to Bootstrapping Your Blog into a Business

This is a guest contribution from Matthew Capala of SearchDecoder.com.

Shark bloggers are experts in their field of choice. However, they rarely call themselves experts or gurus. Skilled blogging pros, such as James Altucher, establish their authority on social networks and search engines by creating immensely authentic and valuable content, establishing strong connections with their readers.

1 - James Altucher 2

James hardly resembles a shark, but make no mistake. Think more in terms of a “pool shark” versus a voracious eating machine. Shark marketers are at the top of the promotional food chain but not because they use force or deception.

2 - shark definition

In today’s competitive times, bloggers need to bootstrap intelligently to stand out from the scores of new blogs and brands with million dollars content-marketing budgets. Your objective as a bootstrap blogger should not be praying all day for one kill. Your aim should be the top of the food chain.

3 - predotorty shark

Predatory Marketing Tactics Dont Work Anymore

Shark marketers rarely if ever address themselves as “experts.” This crowd is too busy helping and connecting to pat themselves on the back. Think of yourself as a center of distribution. As you disseminate more helpful content to a growing number of people an inflow of leads, opportunities and money flows in to you.

Contrary to popular belief, the idea of bootstrapping is not based on using free marketing to spread the word about your brilliant idea. According to dictionary.com, bootstrapping means “relying entirely on one’s own effort and resources”.

Play to your strengths by leveraging your time and talent. Growing your blog usually requires a minimum injection of capital to build momentum, combined with persistent, intelligent labor. For example, hiring a designer may be a good idea – online readers tend to judge the book by its over before they commit any attention to what you are saying.

5 - time money talent ven

Unlike the monstrous, ferocious predators which roam the infinite online seas, whale sharks don’t need to use predatory tactics to promote their businesses. They use great content marketing to attract the visitors to their blogs like a magnet.

Today’s intelligent buyer will be repulsed by hard-charging, competitive marketing tactics.  Operate on a creative plane of thought to attract people like a magnet. Shift from a competitive to a creative mindset and you will win big on the Internet.

Stop stalking. Start connecting. Turn your marketing into a conversation.

6 - magnet

Market with a Magnet

Web users are tuning out marketing noise. Click-through rates are dropping like a brick. Visualize marketing with a magnet instead of the old, worn out sledgehammer advertising approach. 

7 - sledgehammer vs magnet

Use pull marketing to employ the principle of attraction versus the old school push marketing tactics that turn off today’s sophisticated consumer. Create value to become valuable.

8 - Own your ZMOt

Own Your Zero Moment of Truth

80% of consumers search for a product or service before purchasing it. Ranking your blog on Google for quality keywords can turn your blogger status to a rockstar overnight. 

Place a heavy emphasis on nailing down one of the top positions on Google for your desired keywords or key phrases. Keep in mind that only 15% of search results are the old-school ’blue links.’ Estimated 85% of Google search results are social media, videos, images, maps, and the knowledge graph. Fish where the fish are.

Increase your click-through rates by designing attention-grabbing page titles and headlines. Include thought-provoking or funny images in your blog posts to stand out and boost engagement. 

Owning your zero moment of truth inspires you to increase organic search engine click throughs by improving your ad creative writing skills. It’s a win-win.

9 - personal branding

Personal Branding Is Branding

Beginner bloggers often ask me: How do you draw a line between your business name and your personal brand?

You don’t. It’s one and the same.

Steve Jobs built Apple, not the other way around. You have built your own company, You Inc. However, being a blogger is much different from being a CEO. The first is a hobby, the latter is a job.

Consider using SlideShare to tell your brand’s story, including the problems you are solving and why people should care about your brand. Readers like eye candy. Creating a visually appealing tale forms an emotional bond with your target audience.

 

10-media company

Every Business is a Media Company

Blogs serve as one-stop shopping for any website visitors. Post articles, reviews, podcasts and videos on your blog to brand your business. Companies that blog get 55% more website visitors and B2C companies that blog get 88% more leads per month, according to Hubspot. 

Yet many businesses fail to achieve desired results blogging. They fail and give up on content marketing because they don’t operate like a media company.

11 - optimize blog content

Frequency is key to success. Blogging regularly encourages your audience to know, like and trust you. Build your blog on WordPress for increased functionality. Use plugins to capture subscribers and improve your presentation. Position sharing button beside each blog post to leverage your presence. Sharing buttons like the Floating ShareBar can increase sharing by up to 30%. Details matter.

Open your blog to guest posting and build strong business relationships. Join blogging communities, such as Triberr, to build solid relationships with fellow niche bloggers.

12 - startegy

Win Your Battles Before the First Shots Are Fired

Understand the difference between content marketing and content strategy. Content marketing is the creation and promoting of content to attract a targeted audience. Content strategy is the creation of scalable and repeatable content for a built-in audience. Content marketing is like baking a cake while content strategy is similar to owning a bakery. 

13 - cake bakery

Developing a content strategy requires intensive planning. Create content based on researched user needs, deliver this content through various mediums such as video and podcasts and promote along channels which resonate with your target audience.

14 - healthy heartbeat

You Need a Healthy Heartbeat

A healthy, vibrant blog looks similar to a healthy heartbeat. Imagine the steady, predictable ticks on an EKG meter measuring your heartbeat. Engaging through social media channels like twitter and Facebook creates tiny ticks. Sharing Infographics, videos and blog posts creates a larger spike which creates a big impact with a small hit. PR and branded content creates massive spikes. The large hits which make big impacts target news outlets and other large audiences through macro content campaigns.

15 - Heartbeat

Build your inbound marketing campaign on being disciplined. Work your system on a daily basis. Set up a content calendar. Starting at a calendar can inspire you to create content even if you don’t feel like working. Use this motivational strategy to hold yourself accountable.

16 - lead genertion

Invest in Lead Generation at the Outset

Create in-depth, thorough content you could sell for a handsome profit and give it away for free. This approach might seem counterintuitive to bloggers looking to monetize every click, but karma ensures that the value you offer will return to you in some way, shape or form. Use your free giveaway as link bait. 

Build your email list through this exchange of value. In return for your helpful, free giveaway subscribers will gladly offer their name and email address. Use tools like “Pay with a Tweet” to increase social sharing. Users can access your free giveaway by tweeting your giveaway link. This expands your presence and gives visitors a quick and easy way to access your free product.

17 - be interesting

To Be Interesting, Be Interested

Successful shark bloggers follow the teachings of famous behaviorists, such as Dale Carnegie. They generate interest by expressing interest. 

Expressing genuine, heartfelt interest in other bloggers will result in similar reaction towards you. Focus on helping others who need help. Engage in genuine conversations, add value wherever you show up and answer questions to gain the trust of your target audience.

Use social media tools like Topsy to find your audience. Run searches to connect with interested parties through twitter, blog commenting, and everything in between.

18 - marathon

It’s a Marathon Not a Sprint

Take a big picture approach to blogging. Each seemingly tiny step taken leads to solid if not spectacular results in the long term. If only you don’t give up to see it.

Work your way through temporary frustrations by visualizing yourself achieving great things. Professional athletes employ this technique. Clearing your inner world can motivate you to succeed. 

Shark bloggers are a driven, dynamic, and focused bunch. However, they combine high-octane enthusiasm with a significant dose of planning, tools and preparation to stay focused and play a long-term game. 

It might not be easy to be positive every day when you grow a blog from its infancy but doing so can provide you with immense returns in the long run.

Good luck!

Matthew Capala is an inbound marketing strategist, personal branding coach, Internet entrepreneur, keynote speaker, and author. He is an Adj. Professor at NYU and Head of Search at Lowe Profero. His free personal branding e-book, Away with the Average, has been widely praised. A leading voice in the start-up community, Matthew founded SearchDecoder.com, a venue for SEO ideas for entrepreneurs. You can find him on Tiwtter at @SearchDecoder.

3 Mistakes that Are Keeping Your Readers from Becoming Cash Customers

Image via taxcredit.net

Image via taxcredit.net

This is a guest contribution from Sonja Jobson.

You’ve been told that blogging is a great way to grow your business online, snag leads, and ultimately make sales.  And so far, your blog is helping to boost your traffic, spread the word around on social media, and build up an audience.

But leads? Customers? Money? Not so much.

There is a difference between blogging and blogging for business and, if haven’t been seeing much return on your blogging investment, you’re probably participating in the former.

But don’t sweat it – you can easily turn things around and start transforming your blog readers into cash customers and clients by avoiding three common mistakes and counter-acting them with simple changes to your blogging strategy.

Mistake #3 – Never mentioning your products or services

We’ve all been warned that, when it comes to marketing our businesses via social media platforms, we should avoid “pitching” our audience at all costs. That being promotional and sales-y will just turn people off and leave you shouting into an empty void.

Look, over-promoting your business is never attractive. If you’re constantly trying to make a sale – at the cost of being helpful and human – then you’re going to alienate your audience. Content and social marketing is all about being of service, providing value, and giving before getting. But there is a limit to this rule.

We can get so caught up in avoiding the “pitch” that we become media producers instead of business owners. 

You have to find a balance between producing really helpful content that your audience will get value from (which is very important) and educating your audience on your business and what you sell.

If you leave the last piece out, you may attract an amazing, engaged audience – but you won’t make any money.

Mentioning your products and/or services in appropriate places, at an appropriate frequency is not an offense, it’s a smart business move.

#2 – Creating content that appeals to peers, not prospects

A blog isn’t going to help find valuable business leads unless you are attracting the right readers. It may sound obvious, but a lot of people miss the mark on this one.

It’s all about the subtle differentiation between creating content that would attract your peers (or other industry leaders) and your prospects (people who are ideal for your product or service).

Let’s say you’re in the career coaching business. Your prospects probably don’t care about the latest development in career coaching techniques – that would be your peers. Your prospects would much rather read about how career coaching can help them get the raise they’ve been working so hard for or the five simple steps for figuring out what type of job they should pursue.

When writing blog posts that would appeal to prospects, it can sometimes feel like we’re writing about “dumb” stuff. Topics that surely everyone knows about. But it only seems that way because you spend all your time immersed in those topics. You’re the expert. Your prospects aren’t.

#1 – Not focusing on the opt-in

The number one reason most business blogs aren’t converting readers into customers: a lack of strategy for moving blog readers through the sales funnel.

A blog in and of itself isn’t a direct selling tool. It’s powerful way to grow awareness of your brand, build the “know-like-trust” factor with your prospects, and educate people about your business, but on its own it doesn’t generate sales.

A blog can get people ready to become a customer, but you need to have a strategy that goes beyond the blog to convert readers into buyers.

And that strategy is all about your email list. Once you get an interested blog reader to opt-in to your email list, you can begin the sales conversation.

Directing people to your email list should be one of your top blogging priorities. Include opt-in forms on your blog (the side bar and below each blog post are good locations) and prompt readers to subscribe often.

Once you get people on your list, you can deliver more great content to their inbox (like your latest blog posts) as well as sales messages.

Wrapping Up:

Remember that it’s OK (and smart) to mention your products and services on your blog when appropriate. Don’t get super self-promotional, but don’t hold back from including a link to your newest product or mentioning your helpful service if it fits naturally into the context of your post.

Your content should always be written for your ideal prospects, not your peers. Even if something seems obvious to you, it might be just what your prospects were searching for.

A blog all by itself won’t convert readers into customers. You need a follow up system: aka your email list. Make growing your list a top priority when blogging for business.

Sonja Jobson helps small business owners and entrepreneurs become incredible on the internet with content marketing. Grab her free, weekly biz training series and profitable marketing guides for even more business-growth goodness.

All You Need to Know About Using Exclusivity for Better Product Launches

This is a contribution by our very own Shayne Tilley.

Image by Flickr user EricaStLeonards

Image by Flickr user EricaStLeonards

Launching products and campaigning can be fast-moving and complex beasts. There are so many layers, and even the best-laid plans can be scrapped in an instant as it all goes amazing well, or horrifically wrong…

Two promotional tactics we use in our product launches and special campaigns on both ProBlogger and Digital Photography School are the notion of “exclusivity“, and “limiting factors“.

I thought today I’d share with you the how and why of this approach, and what we’ve learned along the way.

So what do I mean by “exclusivity” and “limits” in the context of a launch or promotion?

Exclusivity:

Exclusivity is about creating a proposition that will not be available to the general public. It’s an offer specifically for you, because you meet some sort of criteria. It might be because you’re an existing customer. It might be because you showed early interest in a product. It might be because you are a newsletter subscriber, or a member of a community. It can be anything as long as you can define it.

By me giving you this offer I’m making you feel special. You’re acknowledged and rewarded and hopefully rightly so! This can then drive two responses:

1. the “nah-nah-na-na-nah!” response

We like to brag. Sometimes it’s about how much we paid for something, sometimes it’s about how little we did. When I make you this exclusive offer, it means when you take advantage of it, you’ll have something the chump next to you paid way more for and it’s only because you were you. It’s like winning without having to even play the game! Of course you’ll head to the checkout.

2. the IOU response

By giving you this exclusive offer you immediately think that you owe me something. I’ve taken the time to create this special offer and reward you for some reason. That I value you so much I’m willing to give you something that no-one else can have. The only way you can pay me back is take up the honour in which I bestowed upon you and head to that checkout.

An example we’ve used recently on ProBlogger.com:

We soft-launched the new ProBlogger Community in the last couple of weeks, and before making it available to all, we exclusively launched it to existing members first. We provided with exclusivity in two ways: offering members the chance get into the community early and establish themselves in addition to receiving a great price as a foundation member of the site. Why? Because no matter how great the content and site technology is, it’s the people there that make it special — and we wanted to ensure our loyal problogger.com members were part of the new site. A real win-win situation.

This idea of exclusivity has been one the tech start-up community has really embraced. Take Pinterest for example: it had an ‘invite-only’ sign up process for some time. You had to request access, and when you were given it, (because you’d been ‘approved’ by them), you are much more likely to actually use the service. There are secret back-door and referral systems built-in to make you feel even more special.  Whilst you’ll see what sound like legitimate reasons for this, trust me –  it’s a marketing tactic. One that’s designed to create an emotional debt with the product, person, or service you are using. Which makes you more likely to stick around.

And it’s quite effective.

Limited:

When limiting your campaigns, you are communicating some sort of restrictive factor. It might be stock, it might be seats, or it could be time.  By doing this, you are creating a sense of urgency. A sense that “if I don’t act now, I might miss out“. These responses are driven by our past – we’ve all missed out on something because we waited too long, and it made us feel bad.  It’s the desire you have to avoid that negative emotional trigger I’m pulling by limiting an offer in some way.

How we use this on Digital Photography School:

Every single new product launch we run will have a limit. For the most part, it’s in the form of an earlybird special. For a time-limited period, readers will receive a special discount, or a special bonus for a few weeks. Over the launch period, we up the focus on this to increase the urgency.  The first week we’ll focus on the product or offer and just mention that it’s Time-Limited.  The next week, we will announce the cut-off date with a little more prominence, and the final email we’ll send 48 hours before that date will be the core message of the product.

With this urgency we often see more sales on the last day than we did when we first announced the product. This of course goes up a new gear when we run our 12 days of Christmas Campaign, where each deal only lasts 12 hours.

It’s not about making the sale, it’s about closing it.

With both of these techniques, it’s not about making the sale. Your products benefit and the offer still needs to do that too (sorry). What limits and exclusivity will do is just give the potential customer that little extra nudge to head on through the sale process.

Digital vs Actual

These techniques have been around longer than the internet, and digital content is actually just an adaptation of what retail stores mastered a long time ago. If you’re selling a digital product, such as a book or a video course, then as long as there’s power you have an infinite amount of stock.  However if you have a service, or a course, or a physical product, you don’t just have time up your sleeve to use as a sales technique – you also have ‘While stocks last’ – just as powerful, maybe even more!

The ProBlogger team recently witnessed action that a stock/seat limitation can create. After putting a limited number of tickets (450) on sale for this years ProBlogger Event, within minutes, half of them had sold.  That creates a bigger, more urgent call-to-action, as people realised they only had a short time to make a call to attend or not. If they waited they’d miss out!

… and it snowballed.

This accumulation of momentum resulted in all tickets being sold out in 6 hours and a re-engineering of the event set-up for us to allow another 100 people to attend. Which sold out quickly again!

Time and its subtleties

If you can’t use stock as a limiting factor, then time will be your best friend – just like it is on Digital Photography School.

With time there are some subtleties in language you need to take into account.

Ends in two weeks‘ is much stronger than ‘soon

7 days only‘ is much stronger that ‘next week

In the next 48 hours‘ is stronger than ‘In the next two days‘.

When putting your copy and messaging together, you need to think about which time terms feel closer; and ensure that you are giving specific time periods rather than just writing generic terms like ‘soon’. As I mentioned earlier, we tend to get more specific and forthright as we get closer to the end.

Be prepared to shift gears

In your campaign and launch planning, you’ll have a nice start and end time for your offer. You’ll communicate that clearly as suggested above, but you also might find yourself in the situation where you need to change things up.  We’ve done so a few times when:

  • Our readers demand it: Because you have a limit and things change back to normal after it’s reached, some people will miss out.  If you have enough of them you might, ‘by popular demand’, bring it back if possible for a little while longer.
  • Because something broke: If something goes wrong, your website might crash – or in the case of us in the last product launch on dPS, our email provider went down – you’ll have people that missed out through no fault of their own.  In this case you’ll have little choice but to extend the sale for those that missed out.

Truth is better than fiction

These techniques are powerful motivators, and you might be tempted to ‘manufacture’ them. Which is essentially lying to your readers.  Now I can’t stop you doing that, but in the interests of a long-term relationship with your customers, truth is much better than fiction.

If you never intended to raise your early-bird price don’t call it an early-bird offer. If you’re thinking about putting up an out-of-stock sign on your product with a warehouse full of them, just don’t.

Eventually, people will figure it out.

When we put 450 tickets up for the ProBlogger event, we only ever intended to sell 450. As a result of what we witnessed, we were fortunately able to react quickly and find room for some more.  It’s that authenticity that help build the demand in the first place, and lying will break that over time.

So that’s my take on exclusivity and limits, and how we use there here at ProBlogger and Digital Photography School. I’d love to hear if you’ve used these on your own blog and how it went.

Shayne Tilley is the marketing guy for ProBlogger.net and Digital Photography School.  The author of the PB Guide to Online Marketing and a long time contributor to the blog.  When he’s not thinking of new and interesting ways to grow the ProBlogger sites, he’s either bashing up developers or hanging out with the swiftly.com team.

4 Ways to Sell More Products Online

This is a guest contribution from Rosie Scott of The New Craft Society.

As we discussed recently in this post, making money via blogging is far more than fanciful thinking; for an increasing number of dedicated bloggers, it’s a rewarding reality. But there’s a difference between, “Hey mom! I made 30 cents this month using nothing but my typing fingers!” and, you know, actually making a living. Whether you generate sales through coaching, services, eBooks, physical products or any of the many other ways bloggers can pull a profit, selling more products online means thinking more like a business. Don’t worry – it’s not as intimidating as it might sound, and you won’t lose suddenly turn into a heartless corporate shill.

1. Optimize Your Website for Sales

It may sound obvious, but if you’re going to sell products through your blog, you’ve got to get it primed for sales. This is intuitively done on business websites, where the focus is all on the product and there’s all of one section devoted to a blog. It can be a little less natural, however, when blogs are the central focus. Here’s how to get it right.

Make a separate tab for your store. Each product or service you’re selling should have its own, dedicated page. If it’s a digital product, it should be downloadable in as few clicks as possible. If you’re using a shopping cart, that should also be easily accessible, with few to no barriers to purchase, like long contact or sign up forms.

Don’t fear the long-form sales page. When in doubt, it’s better to give more details than too few. Don’t skimp on shipping policies, product details, contact info, technical specs, product FAQs – anything you can think of that a customer might need to know. You can separate this easily with on page grids or columns. However, even a long form sales pitch can be highly effective, as long as it tells a great story (and as a blogger, isn’t that what you do?). Take a look how writer and writing coach Alexandra Franzen does it for her I <3 Email course. That is one long sales page, but it’s broken up well with catchy headlines, all the essential details about the course, bullets, testimonials, and at one point, an easy sign up, but it’s off the site now as the course has sold out. The point is, if you’ve got the details, make ‘em known.

Take excellent photos. Customers may like the convenience of online shopping, but there’s just nothing quite like holding a product in one’s hands to really get a sense of it. Photos go a long way towards mitigating that problem, allowing customers a much more in-depth look. As such, it makes sense to invest in a good photographer to take clear, high quality product photos, from just about every angle you can imagine.

Make sharing easy. These days, having a social bar on a sales page is essential, so that customers can easily share products or services they think are great on their favorite social networks. Whether it’s at the bottom, on the side, or several places throughout the page, you’ll do best when sharing is one-click easy.

Encourage feedback. Reviews are by and large one of the biggest deciding factors for potential customers. In this social age, they’re also a form of social proofing (i.e. if that personable looking guy thinks it’s good, it probably is). Three weeks after purchase, email your customers directly to ask for a review, and feature the good ones prominently on a testimonial page.

Consider a third-party selling platform. Managing shopping cart software on your own can be difficult, not to mention handling payments. It can be a lot easier to simply integrate a third-party platform like Shopify into your site, as you’ll get to retain the look and feel of your site while Shopify does all of the backend heavy lifting. Alternatively, for certain kinds of bloggers, sending followers to a different site altogether can be an even better option, especially if you want to keep your blog from getting to sales-centric, and it makes things much simpler from a design standpoint. A good guide to Etsy, for example, will get you quickly set up to sell on that particular site without any of the work you’d have to do to fit a store onto your personal blog. Doing so will also enter you into a wider pool of sellers that customers already trust, thereby broadening your reach and doubling your efforts.

2. Up Your Content Strategy

As a blogger, you’ve already got somewhat of a built-in strategy; content is, after all, kind of what you do. But if you really want to up your sales, you’ve got to get organized about just what you’re posting, when you’re posting it, who you’re promoting it to and how you’re doing so.

Do some sleuthing to determine what readers want. Maybe you’ve already furrowed down into a profitable niche, or maybe you’re still just sniffing the ground to figure out where the best scents lead. Either way, it’s always worth doing a little detective work to determine just what your readers (or potential readers) want to read – all the better if that just so happens to tie into a service or product you’ve got for sale. To do this, take a look at some of the keywords that are bringing people to your blog, and be on the hunt for any questions you have yet to answer. Comments on both your blog and on other blogs within your niche are also a great place to look for this, as are trending topics on places like Google+ or Twitter. Or, hey, here’s something novel: just get on social media and ask your readers all about their deepest questions within your niche. Boom: you’ve got a wealth of posts, ready to go.

Change up your format. Sure, how-to blogposts and scintillating written stories are great to read. But why not change it up a bit from time to time? Videos, infographics, and especially contests and giveaways are a great way to engage readers, and they each provide plenty of room for your unique personality. Launching a new doggy daycare service on your pup-centric blog? (See, I can’t stop with the dog thing!). Have your readers send in cute photos of their pups for a chance to win free services. The more varied and creative you get with it, the more readers you’ll get sharing your work, the more products you’ll ultimately sell.

Get serious about an editorial calendar. In the old days, you could get away with blogging about whatever interested in you from post to post. When you’re trying to sell products and services, getting organized with an editorial calendar is key. This way, you can better vary your content and spread out your product marketing, so it’s not all “buy, buy, buy!” one week and random blogposts the next. In fact, depending on your product, you’ll still want to plan so that you’re primarily focusing on your regular blogging, with your promotions more widely staggered.

Organize your audience into categories. Readers who follow you on Facebook aren’t necessarily drawn to you for the same reasons as Twitter followers, nor do they expect to engage with your blog or products in the same manner in each place. Take some time to research your followers on each social media platform, and to curate posts and shares, whether promotional or otherwise, that really make sense for each one. Even if the ultimate message is the same, it should be communicated differently on each platform. Taking the time to tailor your social media messages will make the much more shareable on each one.

3. Engage More With Your Followers

This may be something you already do, but if not, it’s time to start engaging at a much deeper level and more comprehensively with your potential and current followers. In one respect, it makes sense again to think of yourself like a business with need for customer service representatives; if someone comments on your blog or tweets a complaint about a product, they deserve a response, even if it’s just a “Thanks!” or a retweet. (Caveat: You still retain a blogger’s right to ignore trolls).

However, it’s important not to take the customer service representative idea too far and let yourself turn into an automaton. Big businesses, after all, are increasingly trying to sound just as personable as bloggers, so you’ve already got a real advantage in that department. Which is to say: respond in your characteristic tone of voice, using the full force of your personality. Just be polite and encouraging wherever you can.

And hey, if you’ve already got a loyal following, use it! As you promote your posts and products on different platforms, reach out to followers directly with @mentions, as long as you think they’d truly be interested in what you have to say. Pose discussion questions, or host a Google Hangout where you can talk issues of the day or simply, well, hangout. The greater the response your followers get from you, the more they’ll feel like they know you and that you’re on the same team, the more willing to buy they’ll be.

4. Cross Sell 

On the other end of the corporate vs. personable blogger spectrum, there’s the essential art of cross selling. Hey, if the big guys benefit from it everyday, why shouldn’t you? If it’s done right, cross selling is really just the process of giving your customers even more of what they need, not just randomly throwing more advertising at them. Think of what happens when you book a flight on Kayak. It’s not like when you check out, the site offers you low, low, LOW prices on used cars or trucks, for a limited time only! Rather, the deals they offer are on hotels or car rentals at your destination. You know, stuff you’re probably going to be booking anyway.

Just how you cross sell will depend entirely on the kind of product or service, and you will be the best person to determine just what matches well with what. Cross selling might be done, as we just saw in the Kayak example, at the moment of checkout. It can also happen in the form of a bundle, like when Amazon offers you a deal or sometimes just the convenience of packaging three similar items in one. It can come in the form of an incentive, or in the form of data, by suggesting similar products or service that other people bought in conjunction with the one the buyer added to their cart. It can also come in the form of expert recommendations, or in a 2-for-1 type of offer.

Don’t have anything to cross sell yet? That’s fine. You’ll still want to draw the purchaser further into your brand by suggesting they sign up for your newsletter or connect with you via social media as they check out. The goal here is to think beyond the single sale.

The Takeaway

Chances are, you came to blogging so that you could talk about your passions, and you dreamed, too, of that passion supporting you full-time. Well, in order for that to happen, you’ve got to sell products or services, and doing that requires a good dose of business savvy. With a little education and experimentation, I know it’s doable for you. So get going, and have fun!

Rosie Scott is a content strategist at a digital marketing company. An avid blogger, you can find her at The New Craft Society or on twitter @RosieScott22.

 

5 Reasons Why Blogging is Not Working for Your Business

This is a guest contribution from freelance writer, Jawad.

business-blog-marketing.png

Over the last few years, the significance of high value content, in generating qualified sales leads, has increased tremendously for businesses.

More than ever before, businesses are now focusing on generating regular content for their target markets to keep a steady inflow of customers.

This, of course, cannot be done without a well-managed and regularly updated business blog.

However, over the last few months I have come across a number of business owners who have not managed to get a single client despite regularly updating their blogs with useful content.

At first, their arguments about the ineffectiveness of blogging seemed to carry weight. But a closer look revealed certain patterns behind the failure of all those business blogs.

In this post I’ll try to sum up the reasons why some businesses find it hard to achieve success through blogging.

This post assumes that,

  • Your business takes blogging seriously and has either hired permanent blogger or contracted a professional freelance blogger to manage your blog.
  • You follow a fixed posting schedule and update your blog regularly.

1. Your Blog Doesn’t Have a Clear Objective

This, in my opinion, is the biggest reason why a number of business blogs fail to make an impact.

They seem to lack focus. There’s no set pattern to their content and it is difficult to understand what they’re trying to achieve through it.

Like everything else in business, you need to have a clear objective that you want to achieve through your blog. You can’t expect a blog to get you customers if it is only updated with your latest corporate event pictures and news.

Your blog should be a part of your greater business strategy. You should be clear about the objectives you want to achieve through it.

There should be a reason why you’re putting so much effort into your blog.

Are you looking to attract customers? Or are you focused on creating awareness about your product?

Whatever the objective is, you need to be clear about it. Because your objective will ultimately give direction to the type of content you post on your blog and the type of marketing channels you choose for promoting your content.

 

2. You Don’t Have a Blogging Strategy

Blogging alone is not going to get you customers. You need to have a broader strategy and use blogging as a key component of that strategy.

Your strategy should not only include the type of content you’re going to create for your target market, but it should also include a comprehensive plan to promote your content so that it reaches the right audience at the right time.

The same goes for your social media strategy. Blogging, content promotion, social media etc. are all connected with each other and cannot be used in isolation.

Each of these components has a unique role in achieving your objectives and they should complement each other in your overall content marketing strategy.

What I see with many business blogs is a random set of posts that does not contribute to any particular direction.

Develop a sequence in your content and connect it with the greater strategy. That is the only way to move forward

3. You Are Not Blogging for Your Target Market

One of the most obvious, yet common, reasons for ineffective business blogging is the lack of focus on your target market.

You don’t want irrelevant people to come to your blog. Traffic alone is useless if it is not converting into regular visitors.

For example, if you are a blogging agency or a freelance writer, why would you want to write about freelance writing on your blog if your objective is to get clients? The only people who are going to read such content are freelance writers themselves. And they are certainly not your customers.

Identify your customers and write content that provides solutions to their most common problems.

That is the only way to not only get their attention but also to convert them into regular visitors and, eventually, loyal customers.

4. Your Blog is All About Hard Sales Pitches

If you’re trying to make sales through every post on your blog, then you’re probably better off without any blog at all.

Nothing damages the credibility of a business in the eyes of potential clients more than hard sales pitches. It simply shows that you’re not concerned with the problems of your target market.

Blogging is NOT a direct sales channel.

By its very nature, blogging should be focused on developing a credible image of your brand as a company that cares about its customers and offers solutions to complex problems.

Once you establish this image, getting sales is not an issue.

Look, customers are not afraid to spend money on the right solutions. Your job is to convince them, through your content, that you indeed ARE the right solution.

And that can never be done through hard sales pitch content.

Offer solutions, the clients will come themselves.

5. Your Blog Content is Not Driving Action

You might not be making any of the mistakes I’ve listed above.

You have a great plan for your blog, you have a great strategy that compliments your business goals and you realize that hard sales pitches never work.

Then why is your blog still not bringing results?

Chances are that you’re being just a bit too neutral in your content.

It’s obviously recommended not to push sales pitches in every blog post, but that does not mean that you leave your readers with no clue about your services.

At the end of the day, your blog is a part of your business strategy and businesses need sales.

What should you do then?

Make sure every post on your business blog makes your readers take action. For example, if have a product that can genuinely solve the problems of your readers, then there’s no harm in adding a link to the product page at the end of your post.

Similarly, never forget to drop hints to your readers within your content about how you can solve their problems.

Like your overall blogging strategy, have an objective for every blog post as well.

You’ll be amazed how small signals within your content can help your readers take the actions you want.

Conclusion

There’s absolutely no question that the significance of blogging for businesses is only going to increase in the coming days.

However, unlike the old days, blogging is much more about long term planning than short term gains.

Get your strategic hat on and develop a plan around your blog. If done correctly, it will be the perfect catalyst for achieving your business goals.

If you are a business, online or offline, that is using blogging to drive sales, I would love to hear your comments about the strategies that work for you.

Jawad is a freelance writer and professional blogger with a keen interest in content marketing, blogging and wordpress. With professional experience in Web Project Management, he also provides content and design consultancy to a number of tech companies. He blogs at WritingMyDestiny.com

Bloggers To Watch: Jen Bishop talks about how to become a full-time blogger

Jen Bishop is the creative force behind Interiors Addict, the leading Australian blog dedicated to interiors and home wares. She was made redundant a year into starting her blog and was accidentally thrust into the world of full-time blogging.

I’ve loved watching her journey. She started off with a hobby blog on Tumblr and now reaches over 60,000 readers each month. In this interview, we discuss what she has accomplished since becoming a full-time blogger.

You became a full-time blogger earlier than planned. Did the need for immediate income affect your blog strategy?

Not really. I always wanted my blog monetization to be more display ads than sponsored content. What I did do earlier than expected was start working with an agency, who sell my ads on commission. That’s proven to be a good move.

What have been your most successful methods of monetization?

Banner advertising, without a doubt. Now that’s more established with bigger names on board, booking multiple times, I wanted to concentrate on the sponsored content side too. I also make money from social media consulting work with businesses in the interiors industry, and a little from job ads.

Your blog posts tend to be more newsy, with the occasional in-depth feature. How much time do you spend actually writing the blog content?

That really varies. I’m a very fast writer, after 14 years as a journalist, but I spend an minimum of 2 hours a day writing. Some days I’ll write from 7am to 3pm and suddenly realise I’m starving and have missed lunch!

You’ve turned your passion into a full time job. Have you ever felt sick or writing about the same thing repeatedly?

Never! I still feel like I’m living the dream, writing about what I love, day in, day out. I think this has a lot to do with the fact that I make my money from advertising so I have absolute freedom with the content. I can write whatever I like and about whoever I like. I can honestly say I have never put any thought into SEO or link-baiting or what might rank well. I just write about what I love, and know my readers love, and lots of it, and I hope that I write it well.

Growth

You do a lot of in-person networking at events and conferences. Has this contributed to your success?

It’s definitely good for raising your profile as it’s good to be seen at the right events and in the right places. Now I’m more established, I’m fussier about the events I go to, because time is money. But it’s still very important to me. Plus, I enjoy it!

You are very well connected and have interviewed some of the leading people in the industry. How did you get people to trust a ‘new’ blogger?

I think I was lucky to get a few high profile interviews in the early days and it was a case of people thinking “well if they’ve been on Interiors Addict, I want to be on it too!”. I also suspect that having a background in publishing and journalism helps add credibility and give people confidence you’ll write something professional and engaging about them and their brand.

I also made sure, in the early days, that I went to every industry event I was invited to and took every PR opportunity I was offered, however small, without being snobby or picky about it.

You’ve recently started adding extra contributors to what has mostly been a personal blog. How has your audience responded to this?

My audience don’t seem to have had much of a reaction either way. It’s not something I do very often and am wary of doing so in the future, because the blog is very much about me and my personal brand. I think, as the blog grows, I might have to get over that!

How do you plan to grow Interiors addict over the next 18 months?

I’m trying to write even more content (I’d love to get up to 5 posts a day most days but it’s a tall order!) and grow my email database. I’m also going to start doing some blogging events in Sydney, publish my first eBooks, and there’ll probably be a stint overseas where I’ll cover international trends as well as continuing to report on the Australian scene. Watch this space!

I launched a second, sister blog, Appliance Addict, a couple of months ago, and that’s part of my business growth strategy long term.

7 Vignettes Challenge

7 Vignettes is a creative online community centred around Instagram. Participates take part in a 7-day challenge, which starts on the first of each month.

Each challenge is focused around using elements from a key theme. Jen posts the themes on her blog the week before the challenge starts. Users have shared over 20,000 images so far. They even have guest judges and prizes.

You can learn more via her interview at Australian Businesswomen’s network.

You run the 7 Vignettes challenge on Instagram. Has it led to increased traffic to your blog?

According to Google Analytics, no! It only shows 218 visits in the 6 months I’ve been running it. That said, those people spend an average in excess of 5 minutes on the site which is a long time!

I believe I get a lot of traffic indirectly though, and my unique browsers have consistently gone up since November. It’s just hard to measure. Instagram only lets you link to your site once in your profile, that’s it; nothing in captions.

But there’s been a lot of buzz around 7 Vignettes and a lot of people must be coming to the site directly or via Google after hearing about it. I really believe, and hope, that Instagram will start letting you put links in captions in the near future.

How did you get such awesome judges and prizes on board?

I have a list of offers for prizes and judges as long as my arm! In general, they hear about it and approach me.

You reach over 50,000  (more than 60k this month!) readers a month. What are your main sources of traffic?

Most of my traffic comes from search, direct or referred from social media. A large percentage comes from Facebook, where I have the most engagement.

You were an early adopter of Pinterest. Has that helped attract interest in your blog?

To be honest, I haven’t used Pinterest anywhere near its potential. I do get a lot of traffic via Pinterest, but mostly due to readers pinning my images and then other people seeing them and finding me by clicking through. I’ve had a lot more success with Instagram and found it has been the best tool for building community off the blog.

Over to you

I love Jen’s story. She has accomplished so much since I first interviewed her in 2012. Her professionalism and hard work has allowed to accomplish quite a lot in a relatively small period of time.

What did you like most about Jens story? And, do you have any questions for her?

12 Lessons from 4 Inspiring Local Business Blogs

Earlier this week I explained why every business needs a blog. Today I want to show you just how much potential there is for businesses to connect with their customers through a blog.

Spices

Image courtesy stock.xchng user zd

The blogs I’ve chosen here are all for small businesses I know of. I’ve tried to look at local businesses, so most of them are Melbourne-based, though the lessons they teach should be useful for any business thinking of starting a blog.

The bookstore

Readings, a small bookstore chain, has a very frequently updated blog that supports its online store. This makes sense, since new books are always being released, and there’s always something to say about them.

The blog is an important element of this site. Go to the site’s homepage, and it’s all about shopping. But shoppers can buy books online anywhere. As we know all too well here in Australia, price competition on books is a major factor in deciding where to purchase. So Readings augments that offering with personality. As a small book store, they focus on range and catering to the tastes of their specific clientele. Quality reviews are important, as are in-store events and promotions. The blog is an excellent way to support those goals.

Lessons

  1. If your industry is highly competitive, a blog can help communicate your competitive edge to a highly receptive audience.
  2. Take in different aspects of your industry—this interview with a bookseller is a nice way to go “behind the scenes.” It show off the passion that exists in the industry, and inspires a passion in readers, too.
  3. Use posts to subtly inspire readers to purchase. These posts are followed by links to the books by the authors discussed in the posts themselves—a great, logical, unobtrusive tie-in that would certainly boost sales.

The bakery

A cupcake bakery with two outlets, the Cupcake Central blog is interesting in that it’s so light on text.

If you’re not a writer, you could take a leaf or two from this blog. Images play the main role, but as you can see, they also really support the strong branding of the business. This is probably true with a lot of product-related businesses whose physical output is the strongest evidence of their brand.

The blog’s only updated monthly, to focus on recipes, promoting cupcake workshops, and giving attention to seasonal events like Father’s Day. Interestingly, video is also used to supplement the blog content. The posts may be few and far between, but they’re rich with visual interest.

Lessons

  1. Rather than trying to “come up with” content, let seasonal variations and your industry itself guide your posting schedule.
  2. Not a writer? Try video, imagery, or even a podcast.
  3. Let your blog’s design support your branding. Cupcake Central’s logo is echoed in the blog’s post and header design, as well as all the other pages on the site.

The enthusiasts

Probably the least “bloggy” of the blogs we’ll look at in this list is Motorcyclerides, a site that’s been developed specifically to connect enthusiasts—in this case, motorcycle enthusiasts.

It’s not a business blog as such, in that the blog doesn’t support an individual business. But it does support an “industry” of motorbike riders and bike-related businesses. And it’s a really interesting example that many business blogs could learn from.

The blog itself is on the site’s homepage: it’s the list of maps below the header. Each map links to the details of a ride that a motorcyclist can do on their own, or with friends. And each ride (or blog post) is contributed by a rider, rather than made up by the business owners. They’re great rides that actual riders recommend.

This makes the blogging task more about editing and approving content than starting it from scratch‚ and looking at the Suggest a ride form, I wouldn’t expect the site’s owners would need to do too much work to get the content onto the site. Riders can also contribute events to the site.

Lessons

  1. Crowdsource your content to reduce the blogging burden and expand the reach and relevance of your blog.
  2. Find good ways to link provided content that provide the greatest value to users. At the end of each ride listing on this blog, we see links to related businesses, events, and other rides nearby. That’s pretty useful to riders!
  3. Make your blog into a resource for your customers, and they’ll be unable to resist coming back again and again. A great way to build authority in your industry.

The design studio

A small screen printing business in Melbourne, Ink & Spindle runs this blog as part of a larger website.

The site targets “customers”, which in this case means members of the public as well as current and potential stockists of the fabrics that Ink & Spindle make. The blog itself is updated between two and ten times a month, and keeps customers informed of sales and events like open studios. It shows how different designers, customers, and other clients use the studio’s fabrics—which inspires other readers and undoubtedly sparks purchases through the site’s web store.

The blog really helps the studio’s owners promote their brand values: quality, aesthetics, social and environmental awareness, and community involvement. The great thing about this blog is the way it helps the business connect with the people who buy and use its products at a local level.

Lessons

  1. You can easily add a free blog to your existing website, and start blogging for your business in minutes.
  2. If your business’s product or service is visually appealing, use imagery wherever you can.
  3. Bring your customers into the picture with case studies, to inspire others, and reflect your customer focus.

Get inspired about your business blog

As you can see, small businesses in a range of industries and areas are using blogging to promote themselves online. These examples show that you don’t need to be a technical whiz to make this work. You don’t even need a massive online presence.

The main thing you need is a clear understanding of the ways your business meets the needs of customers or clients, and what it means to them. Using that as a foundation upon which to build, you’ll be able to create a strong, unique web presence that builds loyalty and keeps your customers coming back for more.

Are you starting a business blog? Tell us about the challenges you’re facing in the comments.