Writing prompts ripped from the headlines...
To ensure they got the right items, the specialists from Idaho brought radiation detectors and small samples of dangerous materials to calibrate them: specifically, a plastic-covered disk of plutonium, a material that can be used to fuel nuclear weapons, and another of cesium, a highly radioactive isotope that could potentially be used in a so-called "dirty" radioactive bomb.
Usage note: klaxon is a trademarked word that has become used generically, like Band-Aids, so you'll sometimes see it capitalized Klaxon.
My early-warning system set off an imaginary klaxon.
(The Dresden Files)
It was only on the third thought that she recognized them, as from the corridor outside, muffled by the door, an alarm klaxon began to hoot rhythmically.
Shards of Honor
Louis McMaster Bujold
Having been long possessed of this idea, and bolsters being cheap in that country, the days have long gone by since it was possible to distinguish a woman from a dromedary.
Edgar Allen Poe
So, you’ve decided to blog your business, and you have some ideas of what to blog about. You’re ready to sit down and get writing, right?
Eh… maybe. Turns out, writing a blog isn’t just “writing a blog.” There are bits you can add to your content to make your blog post really work for you.
1. A Killer Headline
Let’s start at the beginning. You need a killer headline to get readers to even click your link and visit your blog. A killer headline should be 4 things:
Your little blog post has A LOT of competition for reader attention. If your headline isn’t in some way unique, it won’t capture a reader’s attention.
People these days are BUSY. If your headline isn’t ultra-specific, it may not convey to readers that there’s something useful for them at the end of the link.
People these days are REALLY busy. If your headline doesn’t create a sense of urgency, readers may decide to bookmark it… and never follow up on that bookmark.
Did I mention people are busy these days? If your headline isn’t useful to the reader, the reader won’t click the link. “Useful” in this case means your headline alerts your potential readers to some benefit they will receive when they click that link.
In short, headlines are SUPER important. Write a good one. (And, in my experience, it’s actually easier to write the headline AFTER you’ve written the post content.)
In the previous section, it’s possible I mentioned that people are busy. So busy, in fact, that they are often reading blogs and email in teeny snatches of time on teeny devices. Read: in the school pickup line on their phones.
The use of subheads (subheadings) helps your readers skim your post and dig in where they want to get the information they need. Even if your blog is primarily a lifestyle blog, your use of subheads should give your readers an overall outline of your post.
Yup, this is the meat of your blog post. All that lovely content you write. I typically outline first and then write. The outline usually becomes my subheads. Often, at some point during the writing, I figure out what the headline should be. And then I work like mad to make it killer.
4. Photo or graphic
Straight blocks of text are so booooring! This is a website, not a paperback! Give your reader something else to look at, and give yourself another way to grab a reader’s attention.
Photos, graphics, and images can do double or triple duty for you:
There’s a magic phrase that floats around the interwebs: SEO. SEO stands for search engine optimization, and it refers to the process (or sometimes the person or tool!) of creating content that grabs a search engine’s attention so that the search engine pushes the content higher in the list of search results.
For blog posts, that SEO process comes down to using keywords IN YOUR CONTENT that you think (or know) readers will use to find content like yours. Using keywords smoothly in your blog post, rather than appending a list to the metadata, better attracts search engines. Using keywords in places of emphasis, such as in your killer headline and subheads also helps.
For instance, if you are writing about the use of aromatherapy for cats, and you think people will search the phrase “aromatherapy for cats,” you’ll want to use that phrase in your killer headline (17 surprising ways aromatherapy for cats slows down aging!) and also in your content.
If you don’t know which keywords you want to use, you can add them in revision later. And if you’re brand spankin’ new at this blogging business, this is one area to hold back on until you’ve got more experience under your belt. Do some searches using keywords you think people will use. See what results you get. If those results don’t match your expectations, try different keywords. Also, I’m a pretty loyal Bing user, and Bing offers “related searches:” a list of other searches that use some of the same keywords you did, but in a different order or with different additions. If your search engine does the same, take advantage!
Most blogging providers give you a way to organize your posts by category, in addition to publication date. When you display your categories on your blog, they help readers understand what your blog is about, help YOU stay focused on what your blog is about, and help readers find older content in a category they are interested in.
If you started your blog by creating an editorial calendar, you may already have categories in mind. If you’re more of a pantser (a writerly term that splits writers into two camps: plotters (planners and outliners) and pantsers: as in, you write by the seat of your pants), ahem. I do get a big digression-y. If you’re more of a pantser, you may have to write a month’s worth of posts before you figure out what your categories are.
To maintain simplicity for your reader, keep your category list relatively short, and assign only one category to each blog post.
Most blogging providers ALSO give you a way to organize your posts by tags. Tags and categories have a lot of similarities, but you can think of categories as chapter titles in a book, and tags as an index entry that gives a more specific idea of what’s in a particular post. For instance, if you are writing a parenting blog, and one of your categories is finances, tags can include “budgeting,” “couponing,” or “college planning.”
Tags are a bit of an advanced feature. They can be used just like categories so that readers can find other posts similar to the one they’re reading. Some blogging providers offer a way to display tags as a cloud, with tags displayed in various font sizes to indicate importance. This can be fun for readers, and useful for you: if a tag isn’t getting a lot of use, it may be time to delete it. Tags can also be used to better target ads to readers.
Putting it all together
So, what do these 7 bits mean to you when you’re writing? Write your content, ensuring you use your keywords if you know them. Use the content to create a killer headline. Use subheads to ensure your content is organized and scan-able. Add a graphic to capture interest.
If you are using categories, ensure your post is assigned to a single category. If you aren’t using categories, make a note to yourself of what categories the post could be filed under. When you find you’ve used that category for more than one post, you’re probably ready to add categories to your blog.
Finally, add tags if you’re using them.
All 7 of those bits make a blog post that captures the attention, provides information or entertainment quickly, and can be found easily once it’s has aged off the main page of your blog.
So. You've decided to blog your business.
Now... what the heck do you write about?
Let's make some assumptions, first. Let's assume you want to blog your business for all the reasons I listed earlier, including:
With these goals in mind, let's look at some topics to ALWASY write about, to NEVER write about, and to MAYBE write about.
ALWAYS: Your process
How do you do what you do? Where do you do it? What does your desk look like? What are your favorite tools? People LOVE the “backstage view.” Showing people how you do your work helps them both understand what that work is and how it can help them. Better, it shows your readers that you are an expert.
ALWAYS: Your work
Share videos, pics, case studies, or stories of work you’ve done for a particular client (with their permission, of course!).
ALWAYS: Your vision or purpose
Why do you do what you do? What do you love most about your business? Show readers your passion, and they’ll choose to work with you to feel some of that passion themselves.
ALWAYS: Advice and/or tutorials
Offer help to your readers. Yes, you’re giving away your expertise, but you’re also… giving away your expertise. You’re showing that you ARE an expert, and that you care enough about your potential clients you’re willing to help them even without getting paid.
Also, remember this: just because you know how to do something, doesn’t mean you WANT to do it. You may not have time or tools or desire. Your readers feel the same way. They may read your how-to and realize, whoa. That’s WAY harder than I thought. Maybe I SHOULD hire someone.
ALWAYS: Answer questions
You probably answer the same question from your clients. Over and over and over again. Write up the answer as a blog post! You may save yourself time in the future by NOT having to answer that question, but you’ll also go a long way to showing your expertise. You can build community, also, by pulling questions from your comments section.
ALWAYS: Ask questions
What does your readership want from you and your business? Once you’ve got a few readers, you’ve got a nice focus group. Take advantage of it!
ALWAYS: Industry news
Share industry news and infographics. Ensure you put your own spin on whatever external content you’re sharing. Do you agree or disagree? Is there one portion that really speaks to you? You show yourself as approachable by doing this: you read the same things your followers read, and you read it critically enough to show your expertise in this area.
Everyone needs a laugh sometimes. And the humor you share shows us a lot about YOU, which further makes you and your business approachable. So go ahead and share that (clean!) riddle or kitty video or industry in-joke.
Never, never, never write about politics.
I mean it. Never.
Here’s why. In the past 4 US presidential elections, the margin* between the winner and the loser was:
* If Wikipedia can be trusted.
Those numbers basically mean the country is pretty divided, which means your readership will be pretty divided, which means:
If you post a political opinion, you will piss off roughly HALF of your readership.
And half of your readership is half of your potential customers. I don’t care how strongly you feel about Lawmaker X or Issue Y. One of your readers feels just as passionately about the EXACT OPPOSITE as you. After you have posted your opinion and pissed off that reader, no education or community-building can happen. Just screaming matches.
Don’t give the trolls any opportunity. Leave politics in the bar. With the margaritas.
Caveat: The ONLY time I can envision you breaking this rule is that your business IS politics. Because you are a legislator, lobbyist, donor/fundraiser, or political pundit. In which case, post away. And ensure you have a lot of time to manage your comments.
Interestingly, religion seems to be much less divisive than politics (in my neck of the woods, anyway). Still, religion is a very personal experience that runs the gamut from “don’t got none” to practicing only the secular version of religious holidays to practicing holidays from two faiths to fully devout.
Casual talk of religion often makes people uncomfortable: did she just say God is/is not real? I thought she was smarter than that!
People who have had bad experiences with proselytizers will be extra sensitive to your mission work, looking for a sermon. People whose religion requires wearing certain types of clothing are often sick of answering questions about it (no, Mormons don’t think their undergarments are magic), or are fighting legislators to allow them to wear spaghetti strainers in their driver’s license photos. (And, yes. That was snarky. And disrespectful. See? I don't follow my own advice sometimes. And it's likely to get me in trouble with any Pastafarians reading my page...)
So, take care. If your religion is a part of your business, post away. Otherwise… consider keeping that intimate aspect of your life ... intimate and private.
Family: messy, distracting family. A lot of people still believe that you cannot mix family and business. Too many family stories may suggest to your readers that your family is more important than their priorities. Even if that’s true (and let’s face it, it’s probably true), your clients don’t want to be reminded of that in a way that makes them wonder if you can stay organized and meet their deadlines.
Also: privacy. That cute story you share about your kid forgetting to wipe his bottom is on the interwebs FOREVER. That photo you post of your business partner’s desk covered with crumbs and ants is OUT THERE. FOREVER.
Available for colleges, employers, and clients to find.
Again, take care. Post about your family and family issues if they are a part of your business. Otherwise, well, you know.
A few final caveats
Well? Did I miss any big obvious things to blog about? I'd love to hear your thoughts (and update this list!)
Everywhere you look, you see blogs. Cooks, parents, fitness buffs all have blogs. Many businesses have blogs too. Some are updated daily, others… not so much. Should you join the herd and create (and maintain!!) a blog for your small business?
Well, that depends on what you want to do, and how much time you’re willing to devote to it.
You SHOULD write a blog for your small business if...
1. You want to establish yourself as an expert.
Blogging well about your business can establish you as an expert. Potential clients learn to trust that expertise and feel comfortable about doing business with you. Blogging to show your expertise is especially useful if you’re just starting out, and you don’t have a lot of experience or client testimonials to show your authority.
2. You want to make your business more approachable.
When you blog, you can create a voice for your company: formal, reassuring, snarky. The voice you create, which should be similar to your true personality, will attract people who enjoy that voice and want to read more of it. The topics you choose to blog about help make you and your business more approachable and relate-able to potential clients.
3. You want to drive traffic to your website.
Every time you create another blog post, you create another page web crawlers can index, which provides just a little bit more of… you. You on the web for potential clients to find. Every blog post is another opportunity for clients to share your work on social media. Every blog post is another opportunity to use good keywords (SEO), and every good keyword is another opportunity to raise your website higher in the search rankings.
4. You want to create a community.
When you create a blog, you have the opportunity to ask questions, offer advice, and make connections. Allow comments on your blog, and RESPOND TO EACH ONE. If your blog is welcoming and useful and entertaining, a community will (eventually) form. And once you have a community, you have an audience to bounce ideas off of, and to learn from, to continue to target your offerings.
5. You have a limited budget, but a lot of time.
Many other blogs will tell you that writing a blog is a cost-effective way to generate interest in you and your product or service. And it is. COST-effective. As Robert Heinlein said, “There ain’t no such thing as a free lunch.” You will pay for what you want and need with your money, or your time, or your frustration. (Or some hellish combination of all three.) If you have time, but limited finances, and the blogging process isn’t overly frustrating for you, then blogging is a cost-effective way to generate interest.
6. You want to write content once, but generate potential leads forever.
Or for as long as you pay your Internet host provider. Content you put on the web never ever goes away (ever!), and it is always search-able. If you write excellent content with good keywords that serves one of the needs of your clients, that content will work for you every day it is online.
You should NOT write a blog for your small business if...
1. You hate writing.
If you hate writing, it will show up in your blog. You will struggle to find ideas, you will struggle with the words, you will struggle with your deadlines, and you will eventually stop posting.
An abandoned blog is worse than no blog at all. Potential clients can see you haven’t posted for months, and they’re left to wonder why. Are you still in business? Can you be trusted to meet their deadlines?
If you hate writing, don’t agree—even with yourself—to write a blog.
2. You don't know your voice.
You must know your company’s voice, and communicate in that voice, to attract the clients and customers you most want to work with. If you like nice clients, but you write with a snarky voice, you will attract snarky clients. Is your voice formal and conservative? Snarky? Witty? Reassuring? Until you know, don’t start writing a blog.
3. You don't know your audience.
Who is your ideal client? How does that person make a decision? What does that person value? If you don’t know your ideal clients, you won’t be able to target your writing to attract them. Do some brainstorming; don’t start writing a blog.
4. You don't have a strong passion.
Let’s face it: sometimes a job is just a job. That’s OK. We’ve all been there. But if you aren’t wildly passionate about what you’re doing, if you aren’t at risk of overwhelming someone when they ask what you do, you’re probably not passionate enough to write a blog. That apathy will come through to your clients, and it will make them wonder why they should work with you. No blog is better than an apathetic blog.
5. You are not committed, or don't have time, to post CONSISTENTLY.
It takes TIME to create a blog post. You must research and write content. If you are creating a tutorial, you may need to buy supplies or set up video or camera shots. You need time to revise your content to ensure you have killer headlines, subheads, and good keywords (for SEO). You need time to edit your content to ensure correct spelling and grammar. You may even need time to take photos or search for the perfect (or good-enough) image online to highlight your brilliant content.
This isn’t a trivial amount of work, and it takes real time. Time that must be scheduled and honored.
If you can’t shake out an hour or more a week to create blog posts, don’t start a blog. Seriously, no blog is better than an abandoned blog. Clients can easily see you last posted in October of the previous year, but they’re less likely to notice something that isn’t there at all.
6. You don't have a business website, or your business website isn't designed to convert a reader to a buyer.
If your website doesn’t exist, you can’t ask readers to DO anything that may lead to a sale. If you do have a website, but it doesn’t have anything set up for readers to DO, such as sign up for a newsletter, book an initial consultation, or buy something, then driving traffic to your website with a blog is a waste of time. Save blogging for after your website is ready.
7. You really, truly, hate writing.
I can’t stress this enough. If you really, truly hate writing, get out of the blog business. There are other ways to reap the benefits of blogging without the slog of writing. Create stick-figure graphics. Create videos. Create infographics. Curate links your clients will love (but do include a brief comment about what you found valuable, or just plain wrong, with that link).
Or, if you really, truly, want a blog, pay with your money, instead of your time and frustration. Hire a virtual assistant, social media marketing manager, writer, or editor to be the voice of your company.
So, there you have it. 6 reasons to write a blog for your small business, and 7 reasons not to. To help with whatever you decide, next week I’ll talk about what you can actually write about for your small business blog. And, I’ll add a page of resources for a few people I know and trust who can write your posts for you.
If you know what you’d like to do, I’d love to hear it in the comments!
I read, and then I tell you about what I've read. Whether you want to hear about it or not...