From amateur to professional: Blogs
This series of blog posts endeavours to give tips to the freelance publishing world on quick, simple ways to give your online presence that professional edge, to make you really stand out from the crowd and be remembered by your contacts and potential clients.
This part is about raising your online profile via educating your peers in your areas of expertise by starting a blog.
A while ago I read this fabulous Smashing Magazine blog post on How to Launch Anything – successfully. In the post, the writer (Nathan Barry, author of Authority, which teaches authors how to profit from self-publishing) explains how he creates buzz for products – before they’re launched and after – in a way I believe can be used to launch anything, including books. One of the key points he discusses, which I think is the key to any successful blog, is to start teaching, via blog posts. Teaching, he says, is one of the best ways to get people to listen to you, and keep visiting your site.
What’s a blog anyway?
A blog is just a fancy word for a website of a more personal nature. A blog is populated by blog posts – archivable, categorised, easily-searchable articles, which can be image or photo based, text-based, or a combination of both. The point of a blog is the same regardless of blog post style used: to share something online that you found interesting, thought-provoking or are passionate about.
For businesses, both large and small, blogs are invaluable. Businesses want to be personal and liked, because it makes customers loyal to them. So while a website is a business’ body, their blog is their heart and soul, or personality. After reading all about professional services and viewing portfolios, the blog is where potential customers and employers will have a chance to meet and really get to know a business.
But there are millions upon millions of blogs out there. Everyone has a blog, sometimes several. Hell, everyone’s cat has a blog. So how to you use a blog to be heard, gain readership, and then convert them into customers? Plus, how do you keep a blog, an online entity that is supposed to be entirely personal, somewhat professional?
To quote Nathan Barry from the aforementioned blog post;
Teaching is how you get people to pay attention to you and your product without spending money on advertising. By giving away useful information, you will attract potential customers — and get them to trust you — because you’ve helped them so much. Then, when it comes time to ask for a purchase, you will have become a trusted advisor, not a random company selling something on the Internet.
Giving away information
Choose what you give away for free. As freelancers, we have to constantly give away our expertise. Friends of friend’s will email you endlessly for advice once they have your contact details, and once you’re in that chain of information it’s difficult to pull the plug and impress upon them that your time – and your expertise – is precious.
Some of them may pay you. Most of them won’t. You tell yourself that you’re helping them out because they may tell someone else about you, who may pay you. You’re helping them out because you know how to get great results and it’s more about your pride and potential folio piece than their needs. Maybe you’re helping them out simply because you can’t say no.
Instead of giving away that information for free to a single person, document what you’re explaining in a more generic way, and post it online. If one person is finding your expertise useful, it is guaranteed many others, who don’t know you yet, will as well. Educating your audience not only builds loyalty, and trust, but also reach.
…reach refers to the total number of different people or households exposed, at least once, to a medium during a given period.
— via Wikipedia / Reach (advertising)
The next time someone is asking you for a freebie, stop and think; could I document this? Am I willing to discuss it with others? Can I reuse this information?
You’re already giving the information away for free; you may as well make the most of it.
Make your business personal…within reason
Since potential clients will use your blog to get to know the real you, it’s important that you give yourself some guidelines to keep your blog posts professional. Personal blog posts about your latest holiday, or an artwork you really like, or a friend’s book that’s coming out are great – as long as they help contribute to building your positive online presence.
What I’m trying to say, in a round-about way is – don’t use a blog to rant, unless you’re really clever and witty about it (as Neil Gaiman did in his infamous Entitlement Issues blog post). Business blog posts need to be, at the close, positive, because nobody wants to work with a freelancer who whinges and rants all the time. And of course, steer clear of potentially alienating and controversial topics, such as politics or religion, unless you’re either willing to get into some online arguments, or are known to be an expert advisor in those sectors (in the which case, it makes sense for you to blog about those topics). Be passionate and pragmatic, not mouthy and dogmatic.
So if something awesome happens to you that you’d like people to add to their mental picture of you and your brand, post about it – like how I posted about That Time My Partner Built Me a TARDIS, on my business website. How on earth does my partner giving me this awesome present contribute to my brand? It shows the world a little of who I am, in a positive way. It conveys that I’m a geek, I’m excitable, and I have a family who loves me. It shows people that I’m a person, not a robot who makes websites magically appear.
Getting Your Own Blog
Ok, so you’re ready to write blog posts. Where to start? There are too many services out there today to mention here, but some of my favourite free ones are wordpress.com (probably the world’s largest free blogging platform), blogger.com (Google-hosted), and tumblr.com (popular with fandoms and photo-bloggers). All of these platforms come with ample free online support (mostly forum-based), a selection of free themes (visual styles), and will have you up and blogging in a matter of minutes. But all of these formats do have restrictions.
If you want a truly custom blog, with no restrictions, the best place to look is wordpress.org. This is the free wordpress.com’s big brother. It’s infinitely customisable, very powerful, and has a whole range of free (and paid) themes, which you can modify yourself to give your blog that truly unique feel. Additionally, you have the ability to install free (and paid) plugins, so little expansions to your blog such as a facility to sell your own eBooks or a booking calendar for courses you run are right there and ready to go.
WordPress.org blogs, being more professional solutions, do require some ongoing costs from your end; not for WordPress itself, but for your domain name (eg myblog.com), and website hosting space.
For more information on what both of these are, see the previous blog post in this series, Business email address, which explains the concept and gives recommendations on who to go with.
The chances of you needing both your own domain and website hosting space is high if you want to build your online presence in a professional way, anyway, so it’s a step I recommend everybody do sooner rather than later, so you don’t miss out on your desired domain name.
Of course, there are companies and freelancers out there who can build your blog for you; check out our Marketing Consultants here on Creatives Unite as a starting point.
Want some more ideas?
See what others in your industry are doing; ask them what works for them. Blogging is a largely fun exercise, when you love both writing and teaching, and you’ll be surprised how much people like talking about it if you just ask. Here are some great examples of writer blogs, who use their blogs to teach and convey their expertise to the online community, that may help you get your own blogging juices flowing:
- Goins, Writer – Author Jeff Join’s tips on writing, creativity, and making a difference
- The Creative Penn – Author Joanna Penn on writing and creative entrepreneurship
- Seth’s Blog – Blog of author, entrepreneur, marketer, and public speaker Seth Godin
- Live Write Thrive – Author/Editor C. S. Lakin’s blog full of writing tips
Do you know of any other great creative blogs out there? Share them in a comment below!
Time to Write!
Once you have a blog, the fun begins! Time to start structuring and publishing your blog posts. Hopefully the above guide gives you some ideas how to create a blog post plan – making it simpler for you to write your blog posts in a way that benefits and forwards your professional online presence.