Every day, entrepreneurs around the world ruminate over one question: how can I make my business succeed?
While the steps to success have always puzzled entrepreneurs, the inception of the Internet and the digital information age poses even more conundrums for business owners, both new and seasoned.
How do I create a website? Should I be on social media? What is content marketing? How important is having an email newsletter? What is an opt-in? Do I need to do a webinar?
Let the hair-pulling and fidget-spinning powered by the crushing wave of options begin.
But amongst all the nagging shoulds for entrepreneurs in this day and age, one element of online business is essential — a blog.
Yep, they’re just as important as ever.
We’ve come a long way from the days of personal novella blog entries of Xanga past (am I dating myself here?), although I imagine those still have a place for angsty folks somewhere.
Now, blogs serve more as thought leadership platforms, SEO bait, discussion forums, content marketing feeds, and countless other functions that support online entrepreneurs in their ventures.
On this, most online entrepreneurs (and the gurus who coach them) seem to agree. So, why do so many people still go astray with creating content?
For the answer, let’s (of course) consult a beloved childhood tale — Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland:
Cheshire Cat: Where are you going?
Alice: Which way should I go?
Cheshire Cat: That depends on where you are going.
Alice: I don’t know.
Cheshire Cat: Then it doesn’t matter which way you go.
How does this apply to blogging, you ask?
Well, it comes down to traditional means of allocating importance. While entrepreneurs carefully strategize and develop sales funnels, financial goals, and client relationships, they often dive into blogging without any semblance of a purpose or plan.
Drunk with possibility, they stretch their fingers over their keyboards and tic-tic-tic away, creating the almighty content they’ve heard so much about, then sit back and wait for the fruits of their labor to pay off.
A lot of the time, this doesn’t actually happen.
What you write might be interesting or thought-provoking but not actually all that helpful to your goal of growing your business. You may end up spending hours throwing yourself into crafting the perfect piece only to have it received by a chorus of crickets.
Is it any wonder many small business’ blogs, after a few posts in, end up withering away like a virtual ghost town?
I get the frustration. But there is no magic blogging recipe that will guarantee you thousands of adoring followers overnight or catapult your business to wunderkind stardom. (Would be nice, though.)
However, if you put in the forethought, make a plan, and be consistent, you will find that blogging strategically can actually have tangible impacts for your business.
Not just more page hits; more leads, more conversions, and more long-standing clients.
Beyond being more effective, it’s also ultimately more fun.
Stop wasting time. Start blogging with purpose.
I have to admit, while his theories on millennials strike me as dubious at best, Simon Sinek does have some good ideas about some things. Sinek’s TED Talk “How Great Leaders Inspire Action” ballooned from the most-watched TED video into what is now a bestselling book, Start With Why.
The title gives away the secret here: your first step in this whole blogging maze should be figuring out the answer to this one little question.
Before you even dare to open up WordPress, take a long hard look in the mirror.
Fix your hair, get that seed out of your teeth, and then ask yourself:
Why do you want a blog in the first place? In other words, what do you hope will be the outcome of having a blog?
Do you want to…
These desired results of having a blog that can lead to other opportunities and advancements in your business are totally critical in determining the rest of your blogging plans.
If you aren’t sure about what these reasons are, it may be helpful to consider where your business sits in my very unofficial classification of business stages, listed here:
Idea Phase: Establish an audience and confirm your business idea.
Startup Phase: Grow a potential client base and begin selling.
Young Business Phase: Begin scaling up your sales through targeted marketing.
Growing Business Phase: Attracting investors, forming business partnerships, etc.
Beyond these phases and into the corporate blogging arena, the strategy changes as well. But I’m betting you who is reading this is not Arianna Huffington.
Of course, these stages and goals are not mutually exclusive, but they may give you at least a general sense of how your content can support your business goals, wherever you are at in the process.
It’s worth noting that no matter what stage you start in, your content’s voice and vision may evolve over time. Whether you’re just starting out and testing your business idea by demonstrating your knowledge of the subject matter, building partnerships through collaborative posts, or maintaining industry presence through thought leadership — blogging will play a part.
Take a moment or two to reflect and write down your desired outcomes somewhere. You’ll refer back to these later.
Remember back when we talked to ourselves in the mirror?
We’re gonna move away from our Narcissus imitation and towards more interpersonal interactions by talking to other people.
Yes, introverts — you, too.
Once you have a better sense of what it is that you want to accomplish with your blog/content, it should be a lot easier to figure out who you need to talk to and where you’ll need to share this content in order to reach them (more on that in number four).
Whether you’re wanting to reach possible readers, new customers, or potential partners, you should be thinking first about who they are and then what you can do for them.
Your eyes do not deceive you.
Building a blog and content presence is not so much about creating a space where you can blather on endlessly about your products and services so that the adoring public can lap it up. (I felt gross just writing that.)
It’s more about finding a way to create meaningful interactions with people online about things they care about. These days, people don’t want to be sold stuff –– especially those damn millennials. The days of the pushy car salesman are quickly declining.
People want to connect to and buy an idea.
To that end, start getting a sense of how you can create value for the people who are visiting your site. What would make their lives easier? What information that lives inside your brain could you give them for free, no strings attached?
Sure, you could spend some time practicing ESP to find out the answers to these questions, but wouldn’t it be better to just ask?
Make a list of five to ten people you know whom you would consider your target audience.
(Having trouble coming up with them? Start filtering through your Facebook friend list by interest or scrolling through your personal Twitter feed. #creeperhack)
You would be surprised how many target audience members are already friends of yours. Once you’ve got them down, shoot them a quick email — with no frills, tell them the general topic of your blog and ask them what they would want to read about.
What information have they been searching for but just can’t seem to find? What would be the ideal book they would want to read on the topic?
Jot those responses down — they will be inspiration for the next step.
Now we’re cooking with gas! We’ve got our why, our people and their needs, and some ideas for content. Time to run wild and paint the internet red, right?
Not so fast, Picasso. But we’re almost there.
First, something much, much more exciting.
It’s time to — drumroll please — create a spreadsheet!
Start the band, jump for joy, we’re heading into the vastly exciting world of EXCEL!
Can you even believe it?
Hold onto your hat for just a hot second.
Remember back when we discussed desired results? Now we want to combine them with our content ideas and merge them in a meaningful way.
Sit down with your desired results list and content idea list to start connecting how they can work together (psst, if you’re still having trouble, you should take the 104 we created. Go on, it’s free!).
Refer back to some of the general types of content that align with different business stages and try to come up with content ideas that work towards those goals.
This might not be immediately intuitive, so let’s look at some examples of your desired results and the content that goes with them:
Desired Result: Form partnerships
→ Content: Do a roundup post where you interview several experts or prominent people in the field, review/highlight several books/websites/bloggers/YouTubers, etc. (Pro tip: Once the piece is published, follow up and share it with the people whose work you highlighted. Chances are, they’ll share it with their audiences, too.)
Desired Result: Increase opt-ins on your site
→ Content: Write a post on a topic of high interest for your intended audience and tuck an opt-in downloadable in the middle of the piece. For example, if you’re writing a piece about organic cooking on a budget, create a simple 1 or 2-page PDF of recipes that people must submit their email in order to download. Lead generation, FTW!
Desired Result: Rank highly on Google
→ Content: Figure out the keywords that your article will likely include (generally the more specific, the better. Organic food trucks in Minneapolis > food trucks), and use a site like Storybase to craft your article around the types of words that will put your content higher at the top of Google search results. Yoast is also helpful here to see how strong your SEO is on the post.
Desired Result: Connect with specific audiences
→ Content: Look into what social media platforms you should be using to share your content. From Facebook to Pinterest to Twitter to LinkedIn, each has its own clientele, advantages, and drawbacks. Do your homework and pick one or two to use as your main portals for content sharing.
It may take some time to learn how to make a desired result and content idea merge into a blog post. If you’re coming up short, looking at competitors’ blogs or other popular sites and then mirroring their methods (but not copying their content!) can be a useful strategy.
Once you’ve made these matches between content ideas and desired results, plug everything into a consistent schedule using Asana, Trello, or another project manager. This might be the most important element of all.
When it comes to creating content, consistency is key.
Set a schedule of times per week or month you could feasibly post. Neil Patel breaks down five steps for determining how much you should post on your blog, but in general many solo bloggers shoot for once or twice a week. Or, if you’re at the point in your business where you can hire someone to help beef up your content, you may be able to expand the quantity and quality of posts simultaneously.
People will start expecting to hear from you at particular time(s) of the week and will develop relationships with you based on this consistency.
By making these thoughtful connections, you will begin to build a blogging schedule that makes your content effective.
By this point, you’ve got a consistent blog posting schedule that’s having real effects on your business, little by little. Now that you’re consistently producing content, you can take things a step further and learn how to get the most out of what you’re creating.
A lot of people think that blog posts are a one-and-done kinda deal. You write it, you post it, you share on social media and a newsletter, and that’s the end.
But it’s not over! It was never over! (The Notebook, anyone? Ryan Gosling? Really? No? Ok, moving on.)
Turns out, especially in the Internet age, people need to hear and see things a lot before they really sink in. In other words, conversions — or getting people to click, buy, opt-in, etc. — take more work than they used to, since we are now much more inclined to filter out information than we once were.
You could get glum about this or see it as an opportunity. A blog post, instead of a standalone item, could be a springboard for much more.
Take a look at the content you’ve created and consider: how could you repackage the same message in new ways?
Don’t get me wrong — this should not be copy-pasting laziness. Instead, learn how you can recycle the meat of what you’ve already accomplished so that you don’t run out of steam on a content creation hamster wheel.
How could you refresh, repurpose, and reuse existing content for something else? Some ideas:
Blog posts, or any other content you’ve created, do not have to be an island. Continue squeezing what you can from them (sounds violent, I know — but you wrote it, so it’s ok!).
Congratulations! You’ve now created a purposeful, consistent content platform with clear goals and optimum versatility. You are a content-creating machine and there ain’t no stopping you now.
That’s it, right? You’re done?
Mmm, not quite.
We gotta change the script a little bit. You know how for best results in weight loss, you should swap the word “diet” for “healthy eating lifestyle”? The vocabulary switch marks a bigger lifestyle change rather than a temporary measure. Same goes for content creation and maintenance.
This is the long haul — content should be a part of your business strategy from here on out. So, just like you track expenses, employee hours, sales, and all the other numeric aspects of your business, you should do the same thing with your content.
This effort will probably require keeping tabs on Google Analytics. (If you don’t have that yet, go scoot over and set it up now. Like, now.) Start watching the posts and pages that get the most views and where that traffic is coming from.
Look for themes. What kinds of content are people more likely to click on? How long do they stay on-site? How did they come across the post in the first place? What lead generation opt-ins are people plugging their email into? What posting days and times are getting the most enthusiastic response?
Look for oddball data. Which pieces of content belly flop into the internet abyss? What didn’t you plan for that is suddenly a hot topic? Which of your trivial blog posts is going gangbusters with clicks?
As you continue to create content for your business, you will begin seeing these trends and adjust as you go. Notice when things are really taking off, or really tanking, and be flexible enough to adjust along the way.
With the right amount of attention and pruning, your content, over time, will begin to coalesce even more with your audience, and so help you reap even more benefits and reach even more of your goals.
A lot of businesspeople get into the blogging world less because they want to and more because they think that they have to in order to be successful.
However, this fuzzy, amorphous goal, mixed with a lot of misconceptions about blogging in general, means that many miss out on the great opportunities that blogging can bring. This can turn a lot of would-be bloggers into burnt-out ones.
Thankfully, people can avoid this trap by having a plan:
Yes, I agree with all the gurus. You do need to blog.
But getting lost in the labyrinth of typical content creation mistakes doesn’t help anyone.
Take the Cheshire Cat’s advice: know where you’re going and you’ll soon know how to get there.
Gina Edwards is an unapologetically snarky blogger with a love of parentheses (but who isn't?) and beer with funny names. She's currently be-bopping around Santiago, Chile on her bike, teaching her native language to fancy people. Her skills include making hilarious puns, no-bake cookies, and mountains out of molehills.