Business Blogging – Free Blogs vs “Your” blog

One of the great things about having a business blog is it allows people who visit to ask questions via the comments section.   Think of your business blog as an FAQ (frequently asked questions) page on steroids. Even if you have a “regular” website and even if that website has an FAQ page – a blog can still help you to illustrate all the  potential benefits consumers can experience by using your products and/or services.

That’s just one reason business blogs are great for growing your business.  They provide an opportunity for visitors to ask questions…. visitors who have found your business blog post while searching for information via the search engines.  Recently, a visitor to this blog asked: “Is it better to have the blog on your own website or blog on another site that lets you post your blogs there for free?”

What a great question.   It’s such a great -and basic-  question that surely it’s one I’ve answered before.

OOPS!!!

Maybe not.

Is it possible that over the course of 314 blog posts that I haven’t answered this basic question about business blogging? A quick search through the posts and pages on this site reveals that I haven’t addressed this topic previously and it’s definitely one that needs to be addressed.

Why would you want to PAY for a business blog when you can blog so many places for free??

Well – as in most things online – FREE rarely is truly “free”.  Often times – free comes with strings attached.  The same is true of  blogs.

While WordPress offers an incredibly easy, world famous 5 minute installation of the software – and if your hosting includes cpanel you can install WordPress without ever connecting via FTP – to truly set up your own self hosted WordPress business blog and use it as a powerful marketing tool requires a willingness to acquire a minimal level of technical expertise.   Not only do you need to possess (or be willing to acquire) a smidgen of tech savvy to set up WordPress on your own – you need to make sure you keep your installation of WordPress up to date to protect your business blog from hackers.

There is an easier way – and that’s to simply set up your blog on one of the many free blog sites. Free blogs are by far the easiest way to get started blogging.  They’re easy to use and easy to set up but because they’re free – but as anyone can tell you who has launched a blog – there’s a lot more to creating a success blog than simply creating a blog post or two.   To unlock the full power of blogging for your business- you need a to craft a business blogging strategy in order to create a successful blog.

Let’s say you are able to invest the time and effort needed to educate yourself on your own on how to create a successful blog to promote your business.  You might be thinking that it’s better to “learn the ropes” while blogging on a free site and then migrate your site to a self hosted blog – one which YOU control.

Which brings us to  one of the key “sticking” points with free blogging sites.  I liken it to building a house on land you do not own.

A while back, Yahoo decided to pull the plug on their free blogging site – much to the dismay of those who had come to depend upon the free blogging service.   This illustrates a key point which is when it comes to free blogs – there’s no guarantee that any free blogging site will either continue to operate or continue to remain free. (A quick read of  Tumblr’s terms of service agreement will reveal that they reserve the right to begin charging for the service at an unspecified point of time in the future).

With the more successful free blog sites, you can probably rest assured that they won’t pull the plug on your free blog site because they have developed a way to make money from your blog posts.  You might be surprised to learn that many free blogging sites can use a plugin which inserts a special piece of code into each blog post.  This bit of code will only display ads to visitors when they find your blog post via the search engines.   You might not be aware of these ads because the plugin can be configured to not display ads to the author – or to visitors who arrive at the blog via other means like when they follow a link from your business website to the blog.

In other words, when you use one of these “freebie” blog sites – very often the visitors who find your post via the search engines will also be seeing paid ads in the body of the posts.  Because of the nature of online advertising – those ads will most likely be run by you or your competitors.

It’s a brilliant easy money strategy for the free blog site owners because when someone finds your blog post via a search on a search engine –  they are usually very serious about finding the products and services you offer – and very likely to click on these ads.  If you’ve ever run a PPC campaign, you know that such ads can run as high as $20 or more per click. This is why these free blog services are willing to allow your quality blog posts live on their site for no charge, because you’re doing the work and they get paid from advertiser dollars instead of from you directly.

Still not convinced that starting your business blog under your own domain on your own web hosting account is the way to go?

Here’s the final item I’ll submit for your consideration – blogs obey the same “rules” that govern the web.  One of the “rules” of the web is that older sites (and blogs) do better than newer sites (and blogs).  The search engines LOVE blogs – especially older established blogs – blogs with loads of incoming links.  Most of those incoming links – when you create a blog on a free hosting service – will be linking  – for example – to yourblog.wordpress.com.

So when you decide to migrate your blog to your own domain name – you may be able to pull the database and migrate the blog posts – but you won’t be able to pull the incoming links with you.  Those links STAY pointing to the free blog – you’ll have to earn new incoming links to your newly migrated blog just the same as if you started from scratch.  I recommend that when a business blogger wants to migrate from a free blog to a self hosted blog that they leave the blog intact on the free site and simply start from scratch again – creating a text sidebar widget which directs visitors of the free blog to the new blog – where new information can be found.

Creating a successful business blog is a time consuming process that can yield great rewards for your business.   Blogging for your business is truly a numbers game. Each week – you can create just two blog posts which results in over 100 pages of content written each year.   As you create those blog posts, you’ll  be unintentionally targeting “long tail keywords” – low volume keywords which people tend to use when they are REALLY searching online for information about the products and services you offer.  As time goes on – those blog posts can more an more “authority” until most business blogs have literally dozens of blog posts – each bringing a trickle of prospective customers into the funnel.    As those trickles combine – they grow into a stream and finally a mighty river.  It doesn’t happen overnight – but it can and does happen.

Social Media is Consumer Controlled Conversations

Ah the “buzz” around social media is burning like a wild fire out of control – it’s the bright shiny bauble of our time.  Everywhere you turn there’s another guru offering yet another “product” promising to provide everything you need to know to harness the power of social media and magically build your business.  The only problem is these programs often are guilting of forgetting what social media really is – it’s PEOPLE behind those screen names.

Promising a magic marketing with technology is nothing new.  About a decade ago, there was another bright shiny techno-bauble being lauded as the magic marketing technology anyone could use to effortlessly build their business – an online email newsletter.

Time passed and before long email marketing newsletters lost their shiny new appeal.  The “buzz” ceased and they were no longer lauded as the “fast, easy magically delicious” way to build your business online.  Just because the buzz has died doesn’t meant that email newsletters are no longer a powerful online marketing tool.  It just means that the “gurus” have moved on to the next “hot topic” – which is currently social media.   Want to use Twitter to sell more stuff?  There’s at least a dozen gurus offering webinars as you read this on how to sign up and use Twitter.  The darlings of the day these days are currently Facebook and Twitter – though 18 months ago it was Myspace.com and prior to that it was business blogs which are just now beginning to display the evidence of the promises made five years ago.

Just because the hype has moved on doesn’t mean that any of these “past” beauty queens are not still lovely when viewed through the lens of creating marketing magic.  As a matter of fact, none of these technological tools ever officially ended their reign as valuable online marketing tools.   Smart business owners didn’t drop their email newsletter when social media came knocking – they used social media to build their list.  In my book Beyond the Niche: Essential Tools You Need to Create Marketing Messages that Deliver Results, I talk about the phenomenon of email marketing newsletters and how those with a solid marketing strategy in place simply integrated this new tactic.  Just because a tactic is shiny and new doesn’t mean it’s valuable – or worthless.  A paintbrush in the RIGHT hands can create beauty –  Social media marketing tactics can also create beautiful bottom line figures when implemented within a solid marketing strategywhich is focused upon meeting your end consumers’ GDP – (Goals, Desires, Problems) –  email newsletters, business blogs, LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter all have the potential to grow your business.

I was recently afforded the opportunity to “listen in” on recording of an online sales training class being run by one of my clients.  She too preaches the “gospel” of “focus upon your customer’s GDP” to create a solid business base.  One gentleman on the call was nicknamed by his peers “The Load”.  He began the call with a description of how LOUSY his business had been over the past few years – living up to his nickname quite nicely. (My thought when listening to him – “Oh my goodness – he should NOT have a blog!!!  I think that’s why my client was sharing this call with me… but that’s another story!)   The Load introduced himself on the call by moaning and groaning  about how LOUSY business had been for the past few years.   Yet later in the class I heard him tell the story of how he’s changing his behavior.  He said, “I recently had a customer who was asking the sun moon and stars.  Before taking your class, I would have told them to get lost – we don’t DO THINGS like that around here.  Instead – because of your class – I listened to them and we focused upon meeting their needs.  We did a lot of extra work but we were well compensated.  They’re happy – and we made a lot of money on this sale so we’re happy as well.”

When The Load launched his business, delighting the customer was never a part of the plan.  When he delighted his first customer, only then did he begin building a foundation upon which a social media campaign could be launched.   If that customer tells their friends via Facebook or Twitter – that’s the beginning of social media marketing.  However, even if that customer is NOT using social media – yet – they still have connections where they can tell their story. There’s no limit to the bet I’d make that suddenly – everything in The Load’s business will start turning around.    His phone will begin ringing – and he’ll have the opportunity to delight more customers.

The Load addressed the unseen business killers at work in his business and began focusing upon the consumer.   If he keeps on track, soon he’ll be ready to begin to harness the power of consumer controlled conversations – a.k.a. social media- and put it to work building his business.

Old school “selling” strategies fall flat in a social media world

Old school selling strategies were very “push” oriented.  Push – Push – Push: Buy-Buy-Buy.

The communication methods associated with “old school selling” are very “one way”.  The business talks AT a prospective customer via traditional media sources – and the customer has two alternatives:  buy or don’t buy.

Then – a new school of selling began to appear.  It was called “consultative selling” and the idea was that the sales person would act as a consultant and HELP the customer find a solution to their problems.  Instead of trying to “sell” a green widget – the sales person instead was encouraged to discover how the green widget would solve a customer’s problem.

In the days when old school media was the only way to reach a large audience of consumers, businesses were forced to do a lot of “guess work”.  Oh sure, they’d try to take some of the “guessing” out of the equation by utilizing focus groups – but dragging people into a room with a two way mirror and listening in is a LOT different than observing those conversations in “real time”…. something social media allows the modern business owner to do.

A while back, I went on a weekend get away and needed to board my dog.  I had noticed a veterinary office located right along my “get away” route – so I decided to board her there.  I began the process by taking her in for a “check up” the week before.   The vet and his staff seemed very nice – and spent a lot of time talking about how fat my lab is.  She’s fat.  She’s always BEEN fat.  We feed 1/2 the recommended amount of low calorie food and she’s still fat.  The vet gave a great spiel on why we needed to test her thyroid function and how EASY it would be to fix her fat problem if her thyroid levels were low – so I agreed.   Then there was another test he wanted to do – agreed.

Push – Push – Push.  By the time I walked out of there, my first office visit to this vet was almost $250.  However, because the recommendations appeared to be made with my dog’s health and well being in mind, I didn’t feel “pushed” but instead I felt “cared for”.

When I went to pick her up from her weekend boarding.  The computed the stay at 10 days instead of three.  When $220 seemed high for three days – they corrected their mistake.  So I wrote another check… and then another when they decided she needed medicine for her gastric distress of eating their dog food.  At this point, I’m  thinking,  “Nice people – but very disorganized.”

Then I get a follow up phone call th enext day.  It seems that the thyroid test – the run at our initial visit and sold as the path to a “miracle” cure – showed her thyroid levels were low.  During the consult – the vet had said that if her levels were low – it would be as simple as giving her a single pill a day and her life would be so much better.  The weight would fall off of her and she’d get more active.  She might actually be able to join me again on my daily walk.  I’m psyched and ready to begin.

That’s when the wheels fell off the wagon so to speak.  The receptionist with whom I was speaking told me that the vet didn’t want to jump into prescription medication yet.  Instead  we were to begin buying prescription diet dog food – sold only at his office.  Only after using this special prescription dog food for several months would he consider putting her on medication for her thyroid.

Now I’m feeling very “sold” – a.k.a. “abused”.  Any warm fuzzies I had for this vet and his smiling office staff are gone.  I now realize that I’m a cash cow to be milked – not a client in need of help.   He’s no longer a medical professional in my book – he’s a pet product salesman.

I get it – he’s a small business owner trying to build his practice.  He’s got a new client on the line – one with an elderly pet – and he’s anxious to begin extracting  all the cash he can get from me. That’s exactly how it feels .  Instead of “this guy really cares about my dog” I’m thinking, “this guy really cares about my pocket book – and nothing else.”

This vet is engaged in  the”old school”  Push – Push – Push – selling strategy.  Unfortunately this approach really don’t “work” when it comes to social media marketing.   I would venture to say that most of the interest in social media marketing is because these old school selling strategies are NOT working anymore.  Consumers are more aware – and more sensitive to   “being sold” and the old school selling strategies only work when the communication is one way.

People are connecting online.  They’re sharing their experiences with others in their “network” just as they’ve always done in the past – only now they’re doing it “online”.

If the only relationship you want with your customers/clients is with their pocketbook – people are going to talk.   I’d like to be able to  say, “Avoid social media” if all you want is a relationship with their pocketbook -but you can’t.   How could you begin to screen your customers/clients?  The screening process might look something like this:

“Before we can schedule an appointment for your dog, do you or anyone you know have a blog, Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn or Myspace account?”

How many people could answer “no”?   How can you build a business like that?

Unfortunately, that’s the only way I can see a business being able to successfully insulate itself from the impact of social media.

Unseen Business Killers

How a common business blogging excuse may be a sign of an unseen killer within your business.

Lately I’ve been inundated with stories of people battling cancer.  One of my friend’s sister was recently diagnosed with the disease and a client’s sister also received this devastating diagnosis.   Then I received news that the outlook isn’t bright for a client of mine who is also battling this killer disease.  While she was diagnosed within a few weeks of my friend’s sister – my client didn’t discover she had cancer until symptoms forced her to see her doctor.  By the time the cancer was causing her discomfort, it had spread throughout her body.

Just as early diagnosis is a key element in treating cancer – it’s also a key to combating a common unseen business killer as well.

Over the past few years, I’ve helped hundreds of client launch blogs to promote their businesses – and I’ve had perhaps just as many if not more decide against launching a blog.  One of the most common excuses I hear is, ” I don’t have time to blog.”

Unfortunately, when the gloves come off – “I don’t have time to blog” is usually exposed for what it really  is – an excuse.

It’s an excuse used to avoid confronting what may be literally a CANCER which may be growing within the belly of your business.   Like all cancers, early detection is the key to an effective cure.

It’s easy to determine if “I don’t have time to blog” is an excuse or a reason.  If you really don’t have time to blog for your business, you can either

  • hire someone to blog for your business or
  • hire someone to assume some of your duties so you can find time to blog.

Nine times out of ten, when this “either or” is presented,  the REAL objection to blogging for business surfaces.  It takes various forms, but it can be “boiled down” to a very simple: “I don’t know what to write about.”

AH -now here’s the REAL reason most business owners aren’t blogging. It’s not a lack of time – but rather a lack of direction.

It makes sense if you think about it.  After all, we human beings always seem to be able to MAKE time to do what’s important.   The working mother who exercises regularly doesn’t do so because she’s got an extra hour not available to the rest of the population – she MAKES the time to exercise.   She does so because she recognizes how important daily exercise it is for her health and her sanity.

If the reason is that you aren’t blogging for your business is that you don’t know what to write about – the answer is deceptively simple:

Simply write about your customer’s GDP.

It doesn’t matter if your a B 2 B or a B 2 C – if you’re in business – you are either helping customers/clients  to

  1. achieve a goal
  2. satisfying a desire
  3. solve a problem

I call this magic triad “GDP – Goals – Desires – Problems.  Pick one -pick two or pick all three as the reason you’re in business and then start talking about it via your blog.

If you find you can’t isolate one of these three reasons for being in business – then chances are you aren’t creating or communicating an effective marketing message for your company.

If you don’t KNOW what goals you’re helping people achieve,

If you don’t know what desires are being quenched,

If you don’t know what problems need to be solved,

Then OF  COURSE you aren’t going to know what to blog about.

This is definitely a case of what you don’t know CAN hurt your business.

If you don’t know which GDP “button” to push – you’re eventually going to find yourself – and your business – in between a rock and a hard spot.

Your business blog could be the greatest business diagnostic tool ever created.

The sheer act of creating blog posts forces you to FOCUS upon prospective clients/customer’s GDP.   If you don’t know your target audience’s GDP – then you know you have a serious problem in your business.

Discovering that you don’t know what your target audience’s GDP is is almost like discovering you have the earliest stages of cancer.  Admittedly, it’s not good news – but it’s news much better delivered sooner than later.

It used to be that it took a competitor who who understands the target audience’s GDP entering the marketplace and inflicting “sales discomfort” to send the average business owner scrambling for a speedy business diagnosis.  Unfortunately, the explosion of social media  has lead to a new “symptom” for the company with a lack of understanding of consumer GDP: customer complaints being shared via social media tools.

There are plenty of reasons to hit the keyboard and start to blog for your business.  Perhaps the best reason to begin blogging is the act of blogging constantly encourages you to focus upon what matters most – your target audience’s GDP.

If the REAL reason you’re not blogging for your business is that you don’t know what to write about – think of it as an early stage diagnosis of a serious problem – one that should be addressed quickly and decisively.

Social Media Mistake #1: Ignore it

social-media-marketingOne of the most toxic social media mistakes a business owner can make is to adopt a “ignore it and hope it goes away” type of attitude.

This head in the sand tactic is employed on many levels.  Some business owners want to ignore social media in general – hoping it’s a fad which will quickly fade away. Unfortunately, for some businesses and brands – their first foray into the wild and wonderful world of social media is when they discover a social media shit storm has erupted and their brand is at the epicenter.

It’s important for business owners to recognize that conversations are already happening about your business and your brand.   While it’s infinitely easier to ignore these social media rumblings – ignoring these critical conversations and hoping they’ll go away is the worst thing you as a business owner or brand manager can do.

There’s a reason for the saying, “Ignorance is bliss.”  Except on the web – ignorance is anything BUT bliss.

If you think social media is magic – think again.  Social media is simply people communicating via the web. The web has always been about communication and in the old days, that communication was restricted to those who “spoke” the language.  In the earliest days, that language was HTML.  The big “fuss” began when people who didn’t speak “HTML” could communicate using the web via blogs and eventually other social media sites such asMySpace.com and Facebook.

This free and easy communication cut two ways for businesses.    On the plus side, businesses could easily communicate with not only current customers but prospective customers as well.  Since these conversations were happening on the web – they are digital footprints left in cement rather than sand.   In some ways, these conversations are better for business – because we as business owners can “eavesdrop” on the conversations going on about our brand.

However, on the flip side – there’s a business axiom that proclaims a happy customer will tell 3 people – an unhappy one will tell 16.  This axiom is from the days before social media – and those figures should probably be amplified exponentially to reflect the changes happening thanks to social media.  This means, the conversations that are happening about your business or brand online are more than likely going to be negative.

The biggest reason business owners and brand managers seek out a social media consultant is because they’ve recently discovered the negative conversations going on online about their brand.

Their first request – almost without exception – is to ask for the consultant to remove the negative conversations – to erase them from existence.  As a result, the first conversation most social media consultants have with new clients is to explain that REMOVING these negative conversations is impossible.

That’s the bad news.

The good news is that  it is possible to MOVE the negative conversations off the first pages of search and replace those negative conversations with positive ones.

However, remember – people are much more likely to “bitch and moan” than they are to rant and rave about your business.  That’s why businesses need to be proactive in encouraging and nurturing positive conversations online – because these positive conversations don’t happen “naturally”.

In a freshly tilled garden, weeds always seem to grow faster and easier than the desired plants.  Whether you want your garden to yield beautiful flowers or tasty vegetables and fruit – you can’t simply plant some seeds in freshly tilled soil and hope for the best.

The same is true of social media. If you’re not actively nurturing your social media presence – then chances are the “weeds” are taking over.

Ignorance is  anything but bliss when it comes to social media.  The biggest mistake you can make when it comes to social media is to ignore it.