Thousands of small business marketing blogs are launched every day. Big companies, small companies, even kitchen table companies use business blogs to get in front of new prospects and hold fast to sales-ready leads and existing customers. A small business blog can cast a wide net around target audiences afloat in various stages of buying readiness by fueling their interests, piquing their curiosity, and empowering them to make smarter decisions.
People (business buyers are still people) revisit good blogs. They also add them to their reader or subscribe to the email version of the posts. Bad blogs…well, those often fall off our radar after they fail to satisfy an information need, bomb on the entertainment factor, or skimp on quality.
What makes a good blog a good blog? How can your small company build one? How will you know if the blog is actually moving the needle in the right direction?
Let’s tackle those questions now. Here is our six-step approach to blogging for small businesses:
- Strategic planning
- Technical requirements and implementation
- Tactical planning
- Monitoring and evaluation
- Continual improvement processes
Most good business blogs were born from master plans developed in partnership with people very familiar with the overarching objectives of the business. A department manager may have a strong grasp on the expectations of a functional group, but at the strategic planning stage, one or more key executives should be involved in creating the framework that supports high-level key priorities.
To start off, a mix of relevant staff including marketing, sales, finance, service, and product or front-line staff can jump-start a series of collaborative discussions including:
- Situation analysis
- What’s going on in your market? What’s the latest customer survey say?
- Competitive review
- The good, bad, and ugly of what the other guys are doing. You’re not looking to replicate their efforts, but having awareness can generate relevant ideas.
- Buyer personas (creation or affirmation)
- Dude. You should have a handle on your top 3 customer types already. Start discussions about those personas – are there any tweaks that should be made to match up with the blog as a channel? If you don’t have audience personas, go develop some first, then come back.
- Detailed assessment of the prospective audience
- Figured out your blog sweet spot yet? It falls somewhere between the info needs spectrum of your top three buyer types overlaid with your brand position. If the blog is a transition ground for conversion, think about what readers need to accomplish or where they need to go once they mentally commit to buy. How does (or can) the blog serve as a digital concierge?
- You may also wish to spend time discussing “money” keywords and key phrases to concentrate on for a specific period of time. This component of the strategic blog plan may be two-pronged to reflect local SEO specifically as well.
- Goals, including success metrics
- Since you’re just starting out, it may be useful to select some baseline goals that reflect your particular industry’s trends and company financial performance. You’ve identified the direction you want the blog to help you go, now develop some relevant numbers to help track your progress. Goals and metrics could easily vary by company, market, size, and other criteria.
This may also be a good point to discuss budget and internal resource availability, maybe with a smaller group of affected department heads.
The areas described above may take 2 to 3 group sessions timed at a couple hours each. But don’t let that scare you off. Start with a specific agenda that fits your model and communicate it – along with participation expectations – in advance of the meetings. Ask someone outside of the conversation to take notes and transcribe any whiteboard work. After each meeting, share what was accomplished and what’s left to work through.
The point of the meetings isn’t to reach a consensus on or talk ad nauseam about granular details. You want to bring together stakeholders with different perspectives to facilitate discussion among the very people who do or oversee work that can be directly or indirectly tied to the blog.
At the conclusion of your stakeholder meetings when the framework stands a little taller (with less wobble), you may want to consider sharing news about the project with the larger employee base. Depending on your company culture, openly discussing an enterprise-level project can rally enthusiasm and support. You may discover a rich vein of talent from an unexpected someone, too.
Ahh, this is the point where some folks invoke the cliché “It’s easier to ask forgiveness than to ask permission” by launching a business blog under the cover of darkness or tap the shipping manager’s oldest nephew to create some web something on the sly.
Don’t do either.
Going rogue disrespects the contributions everyone made in the strategic planning phase (you didn’t skip the strategic planning phase, did you?) which essentially closes the door on any subsequent communication flow that might later prove vital to your project. It erodes trust and earns you the dubious designation “Least Likely To Care What Others Say.”
As time-consuming as it may first appear, advancing the project to the next phase which includes IT, the web team, and possibly Reporting and/or Compliance (or maybe outside legal counsel) is well worth the due diligence. Before you meet with these folks, though, do some light reading to familiarize yourself with commonly held business blogging best practices for frame of reference.
The IT and web folks will ask for a prioritized list of functional requirements. They’ll debate whether to add a subdomain or take a different route. They’ll need the anticipated number of admin users, offer opinions on tiered access rights, want your thoughts on analytics packages, and bark out a bunch of other geeky stuff. Work through all of that with them. Frequently acknowledge you’re out of your depth, and ask their opinions on pros vs. cons on taking a particular direction. A little humility goes a long way if you need IT help but aren’t the gal who signs the paychecks. Chocolate and Twizzlers help, too.
After you nail down the technical pieces of creating and establishing the blog, you’ll need to talk through timelines and tasks. Establish a go-live date (remember, folks are taking on this project in addition to their regular work load), and work backwards from there to set milestones for nailing down visual design, user accounts, any contributing writer pages or bios, setting up an RSS feed of posts, etc. Its unlikely management will want a weekly account of status, but you’ll look smart if you have a basic, informed timeline detailed with tasks and dependencies.
By this phase, the strategy is in place and primary technical and creative resources are making progress toward producing a functional, visually appropriate blog. This is the time to think more deeply about the tactical elements of blogging for business, including:
- Editorial focus
- What’s the mission of your message? How do you want readers to think, feel, or perceive your ideas? What cognitive purpose do you want to fill? This will be a different answer than your strategic objective, but should ultimately support it.
- Content development
- The ongoing ins & outs of business blogging may seem tedious. And it can be hard to think up solid content ideas for the long haul. Spend the time now to flesh out broad content topics and more granular content idea nuggets, though, and you’ll save yourself some anxiety later. It’s also important to consider content types – long guides, list posts, how-to posts, product or book reviews, interviews, and many others. Which content forms might offer the most value to your audience, and with what frequency should you publish them?
- Consider using mindmap software as part of the creative process to identify related content pathways. Many business blog managers often find it helpful to use an editorial calendar to chart content across a time spectrum. Calendars can be very detailed to include category, links used, word count, comments, etc. Conversely, I’ve also seen calendars that reflect only high-level information in instances where the blog manager gave a lot of latitude to individual contributors.
- Guidelines and requirements
- It’s good practice to have these two resources available. For blog guidelines, create a structured document detailing objectives, editorial direction, quality expectations, procedures for submitting post ideas, policy about original content, and so on. A separate requirements document can outline any nitty-gritty details about posts for your business blog. Style, tone, use of humor, list of taboo topics, preferences for supporting visuals, expectations on link use, mandates from Compliance or legal, etc. should be covered.
- Responsibilities and workflow
- Whether content development is strictly an in-house endeavor or you have a team of external blog contributors, a clear statement of expectations and a defined workflow will help ensure the blog manager and writers are sharing common ground. For example, details such as how supporting media (videos, graphics, ) are sourced and attributed as well as whose responsibility it is to procure them should be laid out before someone begins a writing assignment. Is there a budget for stock photos, products to be tested, or business books planned for review? If external contributors are used, what is the fee schedule for compensating the writers? Do writers receive a byline?
- The purpose of the blog is to support your business objectives, so managing the blog as you might another project can ensure that others give it the proper priority (think back to the strategic planning phase – if the blog has been openly supported by executive management, you might encounter less resistance when you push others to complete their tasks). Some multi-author blogs use plug-ins or other functionality as part of a process for writers to submit post titles and concepts for editorial review in advance of due dates. This approach can help reduce a last-minute scramble for material because authors have to give forethought to their assignment rather than react solely to a publishing deadline. Is this approach appropriate for your business? Use, adapt, or take a different tact – there are many ways to formalize content production so that on the back end it runs like a well-oiled machine.
All the pre-work you’ve done has set the stage for blog launch. Once that baby goes live, the days following might be somewhat anticlimactic unless you grasp the significance of keeping it alive and functioning at peak performance. Don’t panic! Continue to be resourceful, organized, and creative, and the execution phase may be the most fun yet.
- Blog post idea sourcing and curation
- With your strategic blog plan in one hand and a finger of the other on the pulse of your industry, constantly scan – and compel other subject matter experts within your company – for timely topics, developing trends, hard news, rising stars, and other opportunities that might be mined for content. And don’t forget the role of keyword research. Clearly, maintaining alignment with the editorial vision of the blog is important, as your blog needs to cultivate a particular space in the mind of your readers. But by exercising a little lateral thinking you can draw lines between business interests and lighter mind fare now and again or simply “see” blog content opportunities where you wouldn’t have before.
- Depending on the content types you decided to focus on while in the strategic planning phase, content curation may play a role in how the blog is executed. Posts including “best links of the week” or similar may help fill in gaps on the publishing schedule while also curry favor in the social gift economy while building an audience.
- Blog promotion
- If a blog post gets published but nobody comments on it, does it really matter? You bet it does! Business blog success is all about showing up every week (or day, depending on your publishing schedule) with relevant, useful, and entertaining content. Sure, some posts will generate a lot of traffic and comments but many other posts – still worth their salt – will not (although with some care, can still have a favorable impact on search rankings). Maybe not on the day of publication, or maybe not the week later. But over time, that smart thinking will continue to work for you as it establishes your organization as a stronghold in your space. So as part of your process (I recommend it’s actually tracked in the editorial calendar), develop a sequence for promoting the work via social networks under the corporate accounts. If you or other contributors have a following and also enjoy sharing via your networks, then that’s great too. Just don’t try to make it a requirement. There’s no love to be gained by forcing an employee to pimp business stuff to their networks.
- To get the most mileage out of your blog content, think like a retailer. A series of blog posts written around a central theme can be pulled together to produce an opinion paper or serve as fodder for a presentation destined for SlideShare. Post images can be seeded on Pinterest boards. Proprietary data released in a post can be developed into a press release, an infographic, a presentation, and an opinion paper. How can you get more out of your great content?
Yet again elements from the strategic planning phase come full circle. Using the metrics – points of value – relevant to the blog’s business objectives, observe and document activity over time. At 3, 6, 9, and 12 month intervals following blog launch and promotion activity, are there any trends moving up and to the right? Use your analytics to determine the status of key performance indicators. If analytics and search engine marketing isn’t a core strength, consider tapping a reputable consultant for a blog health assessment and top recommendations.
Few new processes are ever perfect right out of the gate. A “fall back and regroup” milestone can be a way for the team to enjoy their initial accomplishment while remaining committed to the long-term success of the new business blog. For instance, a few software patches or code changes might be needed for the blog to operate optimally – these might only be obvious after the blog is live. Or after the blog is in the wild for a few months, it might then become clear that the editorial direction needs a tweak or that the workflow should be more efficient. This is the point when a good debriefing can be helpful. The power of hindsight and fresh experience can provide new and valuable insight to make your good new blog even better. One way is to hold a group meeting with all the contributors, and another is to distribute a survey. With both, the objective is to collect both quantitative and qualitative input that can be applied to improve the blog.
As a business blog manager or contributor, how does this guide stack up? What additional considerations or resources would you add? If you have a small business blog success story, share it in the comments below. We want to help you become a superstar small business blogger!
As Principal of Insights & Ingenuity, Heather Rast helps brands earn customer preference. Specializing in digital channels, Heather’s firm provides brand-building positioning and content strategies to B2C and B2B companies. She’s a contributing author to Social Media Explorer, Content Marketing Institute, Shareaholic, MarketingProfs, and other media outlets. Find Heather on Twitter as @heatherrast or circle her up on G+ at gplus.to/heatherrast.