Entrepreneur or Provocateur? How to recognize when you’re writing a vanity blog, not a small business blog

Posted November 19, 2012 by brennapearce
Categories: Blogging Tips

Tags: , , , , ,

(“Girl showing hearts on laptop”, Stuart Miles, http://www.freedigitalphotos.net)

What is a “Vanity Blog”?

Business owners who write on their company blogs about personal subjects not related to their business and its customers are what I call vanity bloggers. A small business owner who writes only to share cute personal stories, or share their personal philosophies and opinions is a vanity blogger. If you’re not using your valuable creative energies to promote your business and enhance your reputation as an expert in your industry in order to increase sales, you’re probably wasting your time blogging.

This may be an issue that has never occurred to some small business owners who blog. The subject relates back to my earlier post, “Batman’s Butler”, when I posed the question, “Why do we blog?”. The answer, you may remember, is that we want to communicate important information of value to other people. Unfortunately, we’re not always communicating the right kind of information as entrepreneurs. Instead, we may actually be impacting our readers negatively.

This concept cannot be emphasized enough: if you’re not writing for customers, you’re vanity blogging. Unless somebody knows you personally, they likely won’t give your vanity blog a second look. Why? First and foremost, you’re not offering them any useful information about your business. Second, and worse, you may be alienating potential customers because you’re sharing personal views about society, politics, etc., that they find disagreeable or even  offensive.

Write for the Right Audience

If you think you may be a vanity blogger, a good question to ask yourself is: who am I writing for? In other words, who is your audience? Are you writing for friends and relatives, or do you seriously want to find new customers? Most people who are curious enough about your company to check out your website and blog are so because you offer products and services that they need. If they are confronted with…

  • Your political views
  • Your religious beliefs
  • Your navel-gazing, personal confessions or other unsolicited revelations about your personal life
  • Puppies and kittens (unless related to your store mascot, animal welfare organizations you support or your pet store)
  • Your latest vacation
  • Anything else that is too personal

…your blog is likely doing little to support your company’s content marketing objective or generate new sales leads. In fact, it might be having the opposite effect.

Don’t Be Confrontational

Note the word “confrontational” above. To some people reading your blog for the first time your personal views may be confrontational. You wouldn’t greet a customer in your store by immediately broaching the subject of politics or religion, would you? Would you start telling them about your personal relationship issues? No.

The first thing you normally do after greeting a customer and a little chit-chat is ask something like, “What may I help you with today?” That’s the same attitude you should have toward your blog. How can you help the reader who is interested in your company and its products and services?

Take It Outside

If you have strong opinions you want to share about anything not to do with your company, your products and services, or your industry, consider starting a personal blog detached from your business. Whatever your opinions about non-business issues, no matter how profound or well-thought out, there will always be people who disagree, people who can’t get past your personal beliefs or opinions who might otherwise have done business with you. So take those opinions somewhere else, outside your company.

Of course, there may be people who agree with your views. Would you rather have 20 new customers who happen to agree with you on a personal level or 100 new customers by being neutral about everything except your own business? Remember that you’re trying to appeal to as many people as possible at the business level so they will buy from you.

Pet Peeve

I pick on puppies and kittens a lot when I’m writing about content marketing, but it’s for a reason. I personally have two dogs, and I love animals. But I would never blog about them or share photos of them (unless a number of readers specifically requested me to do that, of course) in my blog for the sake of having something to post.

Now, writing a one-off story about your cat isn’t going to kill your small business blog; likewise writing about a favourite animal welfare group. If that’s all you write about though, or you write too frequently about your pets, then you’re not helping to promote your business. In a sense, you’re only promoting yourself. If you’re a pet store owner, you’re excused from these guidelines (but even then posts about pets should be business-related).

You could certainly post occasional blurbs and pics of your pets on other social media platforms, such as Facebook. That’s really more the place for that type of material. Social media platforms are where you go to engage people on a more personal level with your business.

Vacations

This one could go either way. A post about your latest trip to the Mayan Riviera with pictures of you in swimwear strolling the pristine white sands along the beach or whooping it up at the hotel bar properly belongs on your personal blog or shared with friends on Facebook. However, a business-related trip to the Mayan Riviera where you attended interesting workshops or seminars is a perfect blog subject, so long as any posts you create are about what you learned and how you think this new information will benefit your customers. See the trend here?

Think Strategy, Think Sales

People blog for a lot of reasons. The only reason you should be blogging on your business website is because it’s part of your overall content marketing strategy. The information you share through your business activities, therefore, should be “strategic”. In other words, you’re blogging for customers, and if you’re not you should be. This is the only way your blog is going to generate increased sales revenues. And if you’re not sure how to do that, you’re reading the right blog.

 

 

Today’s Title: I wanted a title that reflects the dichotomy of today’s feature issue, that we can either write as entrepreneurs or simply write  articles that reflect our personal beliefs. Provocateur is more often used in the context of “agent provocateur”, one who incites others to commit illegal acts. I’m using the term provocateur to mean provoker, as in provoking our customers in negative ways. (Being provocative is not always a good thing.)

 

The Small Business Bloggers’ Blog, is written with the small business owner in mind. Remember: Small business blogs should be about the business and its customers, not about the owner.

Have a comment or question about small business blogging? Comment below or visit Pearce Enterprise Research on Facebook!

Use Your Business Plan to Create a Content Marketing Strategy

Posted November 17, 2012 by brennapearce
Categories: Blogging Tips

Tags: , , , , ,

English: A woman typing on a laptop Français :...

Have you run out of ideas for blog posts on your small business blog? Did you start your blog with great enthusiasm then encounter writer’s block, wondering what to write about next? This is pretty common. Many entrepreneurs who started out full-steam ahead haven’t written a blog post for months and now wonder why they even have a blog in the first place.

Don’t despair and don’t give up just yet. There are strategies to overcome this situation. Short of hiring a small business blogging service, here are some tips that will help you to create a viable, long-term content marketing strategy for your business.

Mining for Content Gold: Revisit Your Business Plan

Many small business start-up owners have written a business plan prior to their opening day. Business plans are often compared to a road map of where the business will go over the near- and long-term life of the company. If you’re an entrepreneur thinking about creating your own small business blog, you’ll be pleased to know that some elements of your business plan can help you to work out a clearly-defined content marketing plan, too.

Good market research is one of the building blocks of a well-written business plan. It will help you better understand your industry, your competition, and your target market. That’s why the marketing section of your business plan is the perfect section to re-visit as you start thinking about your content marketing plan. This plan will include your blog, social media usage such as Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and so on, and any of the other ways that you share information valuable to potential and existing customers (e.g. newsletters, eBooks, etc.).

Five Short Steps to Blogging Success

Here are five steps you can take to get your content marketing plan working for your business:

  1. SWOT Analysis
  2. Position Yourself
  3. Stake Your Territorial Claim
  4. Create a Content Marketing Plan and Schedule
  5. Execute Your Content Marketing Plan

SWOT Analysis

A SWOT analysis is a good place to start. SWOT is an acronym for Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats. You should have a clear idea in your mind of who your competitors are, whether you’re a start-up entrepreneur or a seasoned business owner. You have your strengths and weaknesses, and so do your competitors, whether in the form of the inventory you/they carry, your/their customer service, your/their marketing efforts, etc. You can exploit their weaknesses to strengthen your business, just as they can yours. Remember, you should look at local direct competition, local indirect competition, online direct competition, and online indirect competition, even if you’re a traditional brick-and-mortar retailer. You especially need to know what competitors are doing online to position themselves in your market.

In addition, you should be aware of a variety of opportunities and threats in your industry. Opportunities are things like new products coming to market that you can jump on, consumer buying trends that you can exploit, a local competitor business owner retiring or selling (e.g. this might mean that you could shift your products and services a bit to accommodate that business’s customer base), and so on. Threats could be anything from new government regulations (at all levels of government), a competing business opening up, a supplier going out of business, and above all, the activities of direct competitors.

The Microsoft Office website has a number of free SWOT analysis templates that you can try out or simply create the SWOT grid in a spreadsheet and fill it in. This is a good place to begin if you are in the start-up phase or you are already in business but you haven’t looked at your business plan for a while.

Once you understand your market and your competitors, you’ll be able to position yourself better in the marketplace and stake your territorial claim. How to do that in your particular industry is outside the scope and intent of this blog (however feel free to direct questions to our comments section or by email). Helping you to understand how your content marketing plan fits in with that positioning is our goal here.

Now that you know your business’s positioning in the market and have staked your claim, you can start to take it online in the form of content marketing. One place to start is simply telling potential customers about you and your business. You could answer the following questions that customers might have in your first blog posts:

  • Who are you?
  • Why should I trust you?
  • What products and services do you sell?
  • What is your customer service policy?
  • Why are you better than the guy down the street?

These are all questions most of us have asked when considering a new business, whether it’s retail shopping, eating at a restaurant, or even hiring a lawyer or realtor. Many customers want answers to these questions.

Of course, you need to make the answers seem like they’re not answers to questions at all. They should just come out “naturally” over the course of several articles. You’re writing blog articles that must be interesting and informative, after all. Simply writing a two paragraph blurb that amounts to, “I’m Jane Doe and I’ve been in this industry for 20 years and decided I want to have my own company”, really isn’t telling customers who you are or what your business ethos is or much of anything else. Be creative. Explain your passion for your industry. Get your customers excited about it, too.

Next, write to your position in the marketplace. Again, what specifically to write is your decision because you know your business and your market. Remember, though, that this generally means writing quality content that will get you recognized as an expert, because people who like it will share it with others. This sharing creates more and more traffic and makes it more likely that search engines will pick up your blog first. Sharing your own blog post links on social media sites like Facebook is also essential for visibility. To use that process most effectively, you may need to hire someone who specializes in that particular type of content marketing.

As to how to put together a sound content marketing plan and an editorial schedule for writing your small business blog posts, that is what this blog is about. In future posts, you’ll find creative ideas for blog posts for your business and details about how to put together an editorial schedule that will keep your blog interesting and constantly fresh. Please follow us to access the latest information.

The Small Business Blogger’s Blog is written with the small business owner in mind. Remember: Small business blogs should be about the business and its customers, not about the owner.

Have a question about small business blogging? Leave a comment or visit our Facebook page!

Batman’s Butler Asks the Right Question

Posted November 14, 2012 by brennapearce
Categories: General Interest

Tags: , , , , , ,

The Batsuit of Batman Begins, worn by Christia...

In the film, “Batman Begins”, Alfred the butler asks a dejected Bruce Wayne, “Why do we fall?” The answer: “So that we can learn to pick ourselves up again”. Why am I quoting Alfred the butler? The answer: because, in a way, this same principle applies to small business blogging. Many small business owners have tried blogging without seeing any real success from their writing activities and have let their blogs fall. Why do blogs fall? I think it’s because they haven’t asked themselves that one crucial question: “Why do I blog?”

So why do we blog? The answer to this question should be straightforward, but, paradoxically, isn’t for many of us. People blog on an almost infinite array of issues, but all blogs can be distilled into one basic, common principle: communicating important information of interest to other people.

What is important to you, however, may not be that important to a lot of other people. The trick in blogging effectively is realizing what ideas you have in common with the highest number of people possible, strangers in essence, and sharing important information about common concerns with them. This is especially true in small business blogging.

For example, I thought about what I wanted this blog to be about for quite a while. There are so many websites offering advice to would-be bloggers. I decided, after reviewing a number of local business blogs, that there was a real need for advice on how to blog as well as why a small business blog is a good thing. The important information I want to share with as many people as possible, those who I think share common concerns, small business owners, is how to make blog posts unique to their business and use them most effectively to generate new business. I believe this starts with writing well and writing strategically (i.e. with a definable purpose).

So, small business owner, why do you want to blog? Here are some of the reasons why small business owners should start a blog:

  • Improve search engine results (visibility)
  • Establish your industry expertise (credibility)
  • Influence social media platforms (networking/visibility)
  • Get customer response (engagement)
  • Answer common questions that many customers ask (FAQs)

Almost everything that goes on in your business is part of a subset of one of the above principles. Your blog helps you to articulate your business philosophy, your dedication to customer service, your unique selling proposition, and so on, to a very wide potential audience. A blog is more like setting up a table on the sidewalk and talking to random passersby to directly engage them in a conversation than it is like a newspaper or other traditional media advertisement. That’s why it has to be good. You want people to listen to you, not ignore you.

You can find all kinds of information on the Internet about how to start a blog and how to market it effectively. There are tips on how to share your blog on social media, how to syndicate your content, learn search engine optimization tactics, and discover where you can go to find blog space. Fewer blogs concentrate on the basic mechanics of strategically writing individual blog posts and writing them well. Fewer still concentrate on doing this when you’re a small business owner trying to blog for a local customer base.

Small business owners need this information. It’s a common concern for many (even if they don’t know it yet). Doing a great job marketing your blog doesn’t amount to anything if you’re highly visible but also highly irrelevant or boring. That’s why I blog. I want to help small business owners pick themselves again up in terms of their business blogging.

We will be looking at some of the other tips I mentioned above in future posts related to marketing your blog. These things go hand in hand with the essential purpose of small business blogging, which is generating new sales leads. However, my main concentration is how you, as a small business owner, can write well and engage your readers. This, in turn, will lead to increased interest in your company and to new sales. You won’t find any flashy gewgaws or doodads in these pages; just straightforward information that will help you write better and be more interesting to a greater number of people who need your products and services.

Now that you know why you blog, why you should blog, and you know there is help out there, pick yourself up again and start blogging well.

Today’s Title: I chose today’s title because, as I was asking myself the question “why do we blog?”, Alfred the butler kept whispering in my memory: “Why do we fall?”. I guess it was the similarity of the wording that evoked the parallel with the concept of small business blogs “falling” and Alfred’s “Why do we fall?” question.

Do you have a small business blogging question you’d like to see answered? Let me know in the comments section below, email me using the contact form on my website,  or drop by and leave a comment on the Pearce Enterprise Research Facebook page.

Visit Pearce Enterprise Research today to discover how we can help your small business blog generate new sales!

12,000 Canadian Facebook Users Dead

Posted November 13, 2012 by brennapearce
Categories: Blogging Tips

Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

Facebook logo Español: Logotipo de Facebook Fr...

You’ve just been drawn in by a misleading headline. But don’t leave! Small business owners, read on. There’s a reason for this headline (and I promise not to do it again).

The Spin

This article probably isn’t what you expected when you first read the headline. You might have been thinking, “OMG, what happened?”, or something like that. In fact, my headline is like many online news article and blog headlines: misleading. The sole purpose of a skewed headline like this is to get your attention and pique your interest so that you will read the article.

You may already have guessed the spin behind this headline. In Canada Facebook has penetrated approximately 55% of the population (statistic from http://www.socialbakers.com). Assuming that, among the 22,500 Canadian deceased people ages 15-64 reported by Statistics Canada in their most recent report on deaths in Canada, we have the 55% Facebook penetration rate of the general population, then 12,340 people who died in 2009 may have had Facebook pages. So, 12,000 Canadian Facebook users are dead (although I’m playing a bit fast and loose with the statistics, I admit). I’m going to teach you in this blog post how not to create deceptive spin. And I’m going to show you how to make your blog post titles more engaging.

The Rationale

If you’re a small business owner with a blog, you do need to get the attention of potential customers. That starts with providing valuable and interesting information on your website and in your blog; but a big part of making that content appealing is picking the right headlines for your blog posts. And by the way, my Facebook-related headline here really is not appropriate for this article. This blog article is about creating engaging blog post titles, not about deceased Facebook users.

I could have called this blog post “How to Choose the Right Titles for Your Blog Posts”. Instead, I chose a dramatic, deliberately misleading title that at once shows how to and how not to choose a blog post title. It actually illustrates both main points of this article.

So how do you pick a good headline for your small business blog?

Wordle Cloud of the Internet Marketing Blog - ...

The Process

You might be tempted to start with a title and work backward from that to write the article. Generally, this is not a good idea because if you do that you’ll be limiting your creativity. You’ll find yourself stuck wondering how to write something that fits the title. Write your post first, look at it again, give it some dynamic spin if you can, then choose an engaging title that reflects the intent of your content.

But don’t take that last concept too far. One real danger is that you might choose a title that creates an expectation of the blog post content that disappoints your reader, just as I did with the title of this post. There likely will be many readers who come across this post title, click to read it, and then roll their eyes when they realize they’ve been misled. They hit the “Back” button and they’re gone, unlikely to return. That’s what could happen if you mislead readers by an overzealous spin on your title. There is good spin and there is bad spin. Spin is not about lying to your readers.

Initially, you will derive your headline from your editorial schedule and calendar. When you set up your content marketing editorial schedule (and you should already have done this), including planning related social media content posting, you first choose a theme for a series of posts. Then from that theme you drill down to specific subjects to write about and post online. However, it isn’t always enough simply to choose a subject summary as the title.

For example, let’s imagine that you’re a retailer selling widgets and you have just added the latest and greatest widget to your product line. You write an article about the benefits and advantages of these particular widgets over other, similar widgets. You could entitle the article “XYZ Company Adds New Widget to Product Line”, but that’s really not very exciting. “Big deal”, thinks the headline reader, who then yawns and clicks away from your website. So before that happens you need to start thinking about putting spin on the article before you post in order to make it more interesting to your readers.

Going back to our imaginary example, you suddenly remember a customer who had purchased one of your new widgets and took it with her on a recent vacation to Nepal. A good idea at this point would be to go back and do a bit of re-writing to focus more on the customer’s experience of the product. This is your spin.

Getting back to picking a good title, how about this: “Local Woman Takes XYZ Company Widget on Mount Everest Climb”. Although you probably won’t have too many customers who climb Mount Everest, the point is to think of more exciting ways to spin your articles. When your blog article includes information about your own customers using a product in interesting ways, potential customers visiting your website and blog for the first time are intrigued and want to learn more.

Mount Everest

Add a relevant image for greater effect

The example title above helps to raise questions in readers’ minds, such as:

  • “Who is this local woman climbing Mount Everest?”
  •  “Why did she take this company’s product with her?”
  • “Would I benefit from this product?”

Those questions might lead to thoughts like: “Maybe I should check out this company and this product.” That urge potentially leads to increased sales. And increased sales is the whole point of small business blogging. It’s a kind of intense advertising.

However, my perception is that many small business owners who already blog give very little thought to how their blog can generate additional sales, let alone to how the titles of their blog posts contribute to this. At best, they pick a humdrum, functional title that simply describes the subject they’re writing about. Often, this is simply because they don’t plan the article ahead of time. They write a blog post at the last minute and then neglect its title in their haste to get the article posted. But if you don’t engage your readers from the get-go your blog posts will go unread.

The Rules

The reason I chose this as my first subject for this blog is to start you thinking about the underlying concepts or “rules” of good small business blog writing. If you’ve already started writing your business blog and it isn’t producing any new sales leads, I encourage you to go back and take a second look at your existing posts. If you don’t have a business blog yet, then you’re already a step ahead by knowing how to encourage readers to look at your future posts.

Consider the following five general rules as you plan your blog posts and titles:

  1. Don’t mislead.
  2. Do find a fun, interesting, unique (honest) spin.
  3. Don’t “settle” for a mediocre title. Always remember, you’re trying to get new sales.
  4. Do make sure your content fulfills the reader’s expectations of the title.
  5. Do plan ahead so you have time to think about an interesting idea for every post.

Good blogging always includes well-considered post titles.  This comes from advance planning. Do start an editorial calendar and plan your themes and subjects ahead of time. We’ll explore how to do this in future posts, so please follow our blog to learn more.

The Small Business Bloggers’ Blog, is written with the small business owner in mind. Remember: Small business blogs should be about the business and its customers, not about the owner.

Visit Pearce Enterprise Research today to discover how we can help your small business blog generate new sales!