Every now and then, reader questions come in directly through the Contact page. Below is a question from a reader who started a part-time business of website design about a year ago and wanted to know whether he needed to have a blog on his own website. My response follows.
Reader: My website design work started a year ago as something of a hobby, but it has been going strong now and I’m considering going full-time. As I’ve been investigating steps I need to take to make it my primary business and income-earner, one of the things that came up was that I should have a blog on my website. I’m not much of a writer. I am also skeptical about blogs helping business growth. There are too many blogs out there on website design – some are average or worse. I don’t want to add to that and be just one of those kinds of bloggers. I’m assuming that, as a blogger, you’re going to be pro-blogging, but I thought I’d ask and see if you can give me a fair, impartial response. Thank you.
Thank you for sending in your question. This is a typical dilemma for many new or small business owners, who already have a lot on their plates. Blogging takes time and effort and it’s good that you’re questioning and assessing whether or how you’d like to approach it.
Also, there is SO MUCH varying advice already on the internet on this subject of “to blog or not to blog”, that it can be overwhelming after making it through even the first 2 pages of a Google search. So, I’m not surprised that you’re torn about it.
Let me just say a couple of things in defense of business-related blogging, though, for small business owners. Beyond the usual benefits of brand differentiation, customer lead generation, self-promotion, customer engagement, etc., there are a couple other benefits to consider:
1) Particularly in the tech industry, many startups began as blogs. This means that the blog allowed them to test new product/service ideas, engage target or charter customers, get feedback, etc., before they even launched their product or service. A very low-cost way of market-testing. If you’re looking to expand/grow your website design business, a blog might help you test new ideas with your target customers.
2) For some small business owners, their blogs provided additional revenue streams eventually (by allowing them to create white papers, ebooks, paid newsletters, how-to books, etc. from their blog posts). There are too many examples to link here, but I’m sure you’ve come across many bloggers who offer these products on their sites at various prices. [Note: The final packaged versions cannot just be the blog posts reproduced verbatim. Most of these bloggers use reader feedback and comments to refine their blog posts and create the paper / book). Of course, this option will likely not be attractive to someone who does not really enjoy the writing process but I thought it worth a reminder.
With your particular business, you already have a transparent, visible means of showcasing your work, if your clients allow, and it will speak for itself. If potential customers are able to go to your website and click through sample websites of satisfied customers, there's nothing like it. So, first and foremost, I'd start there before investing time and effort into anything else.
If you've already done the above and are still looking for ways to attract new customers, blogging is definitely one possible tool. But, you are correct, that there are so many blogs on DIY website design that you would need to take a very different tack if you want to stand out. Otherwise, it's just time wasted, to be candid. There is too much noise already out there, why add to it?
There are also many business blogs that are written poorly and lacking calls to action, therefore, being rather useless in doing the one thing that they're meant to do - attracting new business.
And, finally, if you're going to have a blog, one thing I've learned from my 2 blogs is that you have to post at least 2 times a week. I've fallen behind on this blog as I've been ramping up my other (although, this blog isn't intended for business growth purposes for me).
As you don't like to write much, let me suggest some other options. It is possible that you've come across some of these in your exploration. Let's just say that I'm simply providing my personal take on the top 5 approaches if I had a business like yours. I hope they give you some food for thought.
1) Recorded Conversations: Instead of writing how-to blog posts, why not do 20-minute Google Hangout discussions with your existing clients where you're both discussing what the client was looking for in their website design project and how you addressed those needs? Post these videos as individual entries in the blog area of your website. Make sure that, if you go the video route, that your videos have calls to action and clickable resources/links. Tools like LeadPlayer will help. [Note: a variation on this is to do recorded conversations - just voice, no video. However, in your case, the video might help as you can navigate through websites and show off certain features, etc.]
2) Transcriptions: Another option might be to offer potential customers a quick phone consult or conversation and ask their permission to then have the conversation transcribed and posted to your blog. There are many competitive transcription services out there that will get at least 80% of your content into writing. You will need to just refine and finalize. Still, better than writing an entire post from scratch. Mobile Assistant is one such example. [Note: I recommend transcription of business calls for non-blog purposes as well - better than manual note-taking, especially when your business is mostly virtual.]
3) News-sharing: Instead of writing, if you happen to be more of a reader, you might consider bookmarking other news articles or blog posts that you enjoy reading via a tool like Scoop.it or Paper.li. Then, at the end of a day or twice a week, you can publish those as blog posts. This is popularly known as “curating”, as you may know (although I think it’s a misuse of this word and a bit of an insult to professional experts who curate for a living, but that’s a different discussion).
4) Ghost Writers: While I’m not a fan of this particular option, there are many businesses out there doing this rather successfully: paying other writers to ghost-write for your blog. I don’t like this much because it is tricky to find writers who can be a good match for your own voice. And, I am a firm believer in presenting your authentic voice to your customers. That said, you can get around this by picking post formats that are voice-agnostic, like, say, lists. You can find such writers at Elance or Odesk. [Note: Another variation is being transparent about the guest writers, so allowing them to write with their names rather than ghost under yours. This does not establish your personal credibility, though, if that's your goal.]
5) Twitter/Facebook Discussions Embedding: My final option is to consider Twitter or Facebook because most people don’t find writing at these sites as intimidating as writing blog posts. If you have enough of a community/following or are able to work at building one on either of these platforms, having informal conversations with other like-minded people or, even potential/existing customers on website design-related topics will not feel like “writing” a blog post. And, you could then embed specific Twitter conversations (use a tool like, say, Tweetchat, to manage your Twitter chat pace and a tool like Storify to publish) or Facebook posts (just click on the top-right arrow above a post and select the “Embed Post” option to get the URL). Important that you don’t violate privacy etiquette on these, so I recommend that you have a Facebook Page for your business and only use those discussions, which are open to the public anyway. Otherwise, ask for permission on personal Facebook post discussions before embedding anywhere. This option gives you maximum engagement, but you do have to work at making the conversation topics meaningful and interesting. And, you have to work at managing your community. I don’t do this much at all, but I’ve seen others who do a great job at engaging daily and in productive ways with their Twitter/Facebook followers.
I hope this is somewhat helpful. Do let me know if you have more questions.
What do you think, readers? Do you have any other suggestions for our website design business owner? What has worked for all you small business owners out there? Do share in the comments section below.