Blogs Worth Reading

If you are in marketing, there are literally hundreds of blogs out there that you can read and learn from. The same goes is you are a small business owner. If you run your own blog, the situation gets worse because if you genuinely want to write well and build your own community around your blog, you need to be engaging others via their blogs and social media. It can become a full-time endeavor if you are not careful.

As a marketer that also loves blogging, I’ve found that reading the big blogs isn’t as useful as it once was. Sure, I will read Seth Godin’s blog every once in a while, but not like I once did. Wanna know why? Seth has a massive audience and he doesn’t have to respond to comments I write. It’s just not efficient for him to do so. There are a whole bunch of blogs like Seth’s that read for educational purposes. But when it comes to who I read and interact with online, I have an entirely different approach.

I look for people like myself, people that are interested in building great conversations around topics we love and that want to help others by sharing their ideas, comments and links. Today, I thought I would share a few links to the people and blogs I really love.

Andy G. Cook – I ran into Andy totally by accident. One night I was trying to figure out how to best redesign my Twitter page to fit the new Twitter layout. It started searching around the web for some layout dimensions when I discovered Andy’s site. He had a great post on the issue and I decided to leave him a couple questions on his post.

The next day, Andy emails me three time with links, photoshop templates, etc. Andy came through for me in ways I had never imagined. The amazing thing is that he took a simple question and turned it into a wow for me. I can’t tell you how impressed I was. I have since subscribed to his blog and look forward to reading more of his great ideas.

Suzanne Vara – Suzanne is amazing. I first heard about her from one of Chris Brogan’s posts. Since then I have been reading her posts almost religiously. Suzanne offers something unique to the whole marketing blogosphere – her voice. She always seems to find a unique way to look at the marketing and brings a fresh perspective to all of her writing.

Suzanne is an active blogger. She posts almost every day and comments like crazy. She is genuinely interested in building community and conversations about communications, marketing, and public relations. You might also want to check her out on Twitter.

Jack Macholl – You are going to love Jack’s blog. He is an amazing marker. With over 28 year’s experience, he knows his stuff. Jack is active in the blogging community. He is out there reading and commenting. If you love marketing or run a small business, you need to subscribe to his blog and listen to what he has to say. Thanks for all the comments Jack!

Oh and by the way, if you are interested in e-mail marketing, Jack’s recent post might bolster your reasons for why this is still such a powerful tool.

Josh Chandler – Josh is another one of those bloggers that I found by accident. If I remember right, I ran into a guest post he had written somewhere. I love it and followed it on over to his blog. You have to check out Josh’s site and blog. He has a rather unusual business model, one that I really need to learn more about. He is a great blogger, writer and commenter.

Marjorie Clayman – Marjorie is another blogging genius that I found from a Chris Brogan post. She is an active blogger (with a new site) and active commenter. She is hilarious and has one of the funnest writing styles around. She is also interested in helping others. Make sure you check out her site and start commenting on her posts.

Alex Whalley – I have no idea where I found Alex’s site, but I am glad I did. Alex is a brilliant guy and he is actively working to build a great community. His focus is on keyword and blog optimization, as well as helping others with tips on how to drive traffic to their sites. If you are a blogger or webmaster, Alex is sharing a variety of info that you probably need.

Marketing Matters’ Halloween Week Countdown Spooktacular: #5 Ghosts

Welcome to Marketing Matters’ very own Halloween Week Countdown Spooktacular. Throughout the week, we will be counting down the top five Halloween monsters and ghouls while using them to look at some of marketing’s ins and outs. Run to your closet, grab a bat, and prepare. We are going to take on some of the wickedest monsters around.

#5 Ghosts

ghost lit up by flashlightYes, ghosts. I am not a big fan of these Halloween spooks but how can I not mention them. There are literally dozens of Hollywood classics that have been based upon a good ol’ haunting or possession. When I think of ghosts, the first movie that comes to mind is Poltergeist. I can remember how scary that movie was when I was a little kid. The sequels weren’t all that bad either.

I recently watched “A Haunting in Connecticut.” It was an okay movie. It was definitely suspenseful and if you are looking for a spooky movie to scare yourself with this Halloween week, you might want to put it on your list.

What’s the tie between Halloween ghosts and the marketing matters blog? I thought I would take a second to address ghost blogging. I’m not a fan. So much of blogging is about building credibility with your audience. If they find out that someone else is writing your blog posts for you, you risk losing your entire audience.

I suppose you can get away with it if you are a Hollywood celebrity, but even then, you really should ask yourself what your goal is. If it is to develop credible relationships with your audience, then you had better take time to write your own blogs or just not create on at all.

Writing your own blog is easier than you think:

  1. Before you set your blog up, write down the potential topics you could write about.
  2. Ask your customers and team members what they would like to see you write about.
  3. Think about what goals you have for your blog and write them down.
  4. If you are technically challenged, ask a friend or explore one of the simpler blogging services like Posterous, Blogger or Tumblr.
  5. Set up your blog and keep your design simple.
  6. Set a regular time to write.
  7. Go.

What will tomorrow bring? Which scary Halloween monster will we explore? Send me your thoughts on what it should be.

image credit – theperfectlifelivers.blogspot.com

The Two Biggest Business Blogging Challenges (Blogging for Business)

blogging keys, blogging for businessI was working with a local businessman and we were discussing his online platform. He had a good set of tools developed for his business, including a nice website, a facebook page and he was starting to get into Twitter. As we looked at each of his efforts, we discovered a few things:

  1. He has a website with some decent content, but the site had not changed at all since he first had it built.
  2. His facebook fan page was growing steadily and he had a direction for what he was doing with it.
  3. Twitter was still largely a mystery, but he was working hard to figure it out.
  4. These were the only platforms he was currently using and he didn’t see a reason to expand from here.
  5. His entire online communication effort was one direction. He was talking to customers, not with them.
  6. No where in this mix was he telling his business’ story.
  7. He had no real strategy behind his online effort.

We then set out to address some of these issues and made some decent progress, but one major challenge remained – he had a website that contained static content and he didn’t understand how to update it. So we then began a discussion about blogs.

“A blog? Their kinda for geeky guys who sit at home and never get out into the world,” he said. “Just kiddin’. But don’t they take a ton of work? What in the world would I write about anyway?”

He had nailed the two biggest challenges that businesses face when considering whether or not to start a blog.

Fact: Running a Blog Takes a Lot of Work

As we discussed, his efforts, one thing became clear. He was time crunched and he had chosen social media tools that would allow him to spend as little time as possible online. But with some discussing, he started to open up and realize that he was missing a huge opportunity to engage his consumers with some deep, meaningful content.

There is no doubt that running a blog can be painful. Depending on how often you blog, you can easily end up spending several hours or more a week writing. That doesn’t include time for research, brainstorm (or mindmapping) future subjects to write about, managing blog comments, etc. Then there is the issue of setting up the blog, designing it, and all the fun of worrying about backups, updates, new widgets, and the like. Blogging is a lot of work.

So our next step was trying to figure out how to take away some of the “work” and free him up so he could manage a blog. We wanted him to be able to focus on making this a success and I would be helping him with the basic development and maintenance of his blog.

With limited time, he wasn’t sure how often he could blog, so we set a basic goal – one new post per week. This goal would allow him to still maintain his other online efforts without adding too much weight to his current load. We had also decided to integrate his blog with his other three tools so that when he updated his blog, his posts would feed out to his site, facebook page and be tweeted out to his followers.

Myth: No One Wants to Read About My Business

We then dived into his site content. After some more convincing and a look around a bunch of other blogs, things sunk in. Consumers care and they will engage with a business online in some pretty fantastic ways when a business opens up to them. Without much effort, we then nailed down a variety of topics he could write posts about:

  • Company history
  • Vision of the future
  • Community outreach efforts
  • Team member stories
  • Upcoming promotions
  • Secret promotions and deals
  • Customer service stories
  • Contests

With this many topics in mind, he actually considered bumping up his number of posts per week, but we kept the goal at one per week for the first six months. We would reevaluate at that time.

Going through this process helped him realize that he had plenty of interesting topics to share with his customers. Most of the content would provide more interesting and deeper ways to engage with his customers than he currently is with his site, facebook fan page and Tweets.

His situation is probably not unlike yours. He is busy but he also wants to do the right thing for his business. Using a blog was something he needed to explore. If you are interested in using a blog here are several things you can do today to get started:

  • Determine what you will use the blog for. Ask yourself, in a year from now, what do I hope to have accomplished with this tool?
  • Find a friend or hire someone that can help you overcome the technical side of blogging. For the most part, if you can email a friend photos from your computer, you have the skills you need to run a blog.
  • Identify a platform to run your blog on (your techie friend can help with this). If you want simple, consider going with Blogger or Posterous. If you want more control and flexibility, think WordPress.
  • Write down all of the potential topics you could write about. Don’t worry about specific posts, just start with the broad categories. Ask yourself, what are all of the fascinating things we do as a business to deliver a great experience for our team, customers and the larger community? If you get stuck, talk to a few of your regular customers and find out what they would like to learn about.
  • Think through your current schedule and find a regular time to write your posts. Having a routine time to write is absolutely critical. Set a time. Stick to it.

Running a blog can be challenging, but you will find that it will allow you to share your story in more depth than almost any other advertising medium available.

Now get out there and start building your business blog today!

Blogging: 5 Things I Wish I Had Known (Blogging for Business)

blogging keyboardStarting a blog is a great idea but there are some things you should think carefully about before you start one. I have been working on this blog for almost a year now and it has been quite a learning experience. Each week I learn something new about blogging and wish I had started off with a little more knowledge about what I should have been doing. Here are a few pieces of advice:

  1. Do your research ahead of time. Prior to starting your blog find a great book about blogging and read it before doing anything else. The best book on blogging out there is “ProBlogger: Secrets to Blogging Your Way to a Six Figure Income” (amazon affiliate link) by Darren Rowse. Darren also runs an awesome blog by the same name. What you will find as you learn more about blogging is that there are a ton of great blogs out there, but they are far outnumbered by a whole bunch of crappy blogs. If you want to end up in that great column, you must do your homework, work harder than your competition, and be patient. Success will not come overnight.
  2. Host your own blog. I’ve gone back and forth on this issue over the last year. I originally set up this blog on WordPress.com and loved it for a while. But as traffic started to pick up and I started considering affiliate marketing options, I soon discovered that I could not earn any money from my blog because of the restrictions that WordPress.com places on you. There is a second reason to consider hosting your own blog – design and functionality. The sky is the limit when you host your own blog. You will only be limited by your own technical knowledge. Please learn from my mistake on this one. I am now in the process of migrating my blog over to a self hosted option. I am incredibly excited about the changes, but I sure wish I had realized this a year ago.
  3. Think carefully about what you want to write about. I have broad interests and whether I am talking about marketing or the latest business book I’ve read, I find that I wander a bit in my writing. You will want to keep your writing tight – stay on subject and do your best to maintain a tight hold on categories and tags. What are categories and tags? Every time you write a post in WordPress you are asked to identify your categories and tags. I would recommend keeping your categories limited to 4-5 items. You can be a bit looser with categories, but even these should be kept under control. The reason for this is that as you start setting up menus on your blog you will end up using your categories and tags as menu heading and subheadings. This will help you stay organized and, more importantly, your writing will end up staying on subject.
  4. Set up templates for your posts. You will want gimmicks and regular features on your blog. For example, maybe you will have a “weekly rants” column. Save yourself some headaches and set up a template in Word or on your blog platform (if it allows it) so you have some consistency with these posts.
  5. Break from your routine now and then. I have routines for writing. Without them, I would never be able to write six post a week. you life will have unique demands, but if you want to be successful, you will want to find specific times that you can set aside each week to dedicate to your writing.

Start planning your business blog today and take these five pieces of advice seriously. You will save yourself a lot of time and grief.

Got blog? What next? (Business and Blogging)

So you finally set up your first business blog. Congratulations. Now what in the world have you got planned for it?

editorial calendarLarge newspaper and magazine companies (those that are still alive) typically use what is known as an editorial calendar.  Yesterday we talked about your writing categories. Now what you will want to do is determine how often you will post each week and which of the categories you will focus on each day:

  • Over the course of a week, what will your focus be?
  • Is it the same over a two or three-week period?

You might want to pull out a piece of paper or open up Word and draw this out. Better yet, set up a Google Calendar (what I am currently using) and plan out your next week’s posts.

You might simply start with your categories (Monday = category a, Tuesday = category c, etc.). Then, think through your objectives with each category:

  • Are you taking your readers on a specific path with a certain category?
  • What are you trying to accomplish as you tell your company story in this category?
  • If you are selling, how will you continue to sell your value proposition over time (with annoying people)?

Here’s a great resource as your start your planning.

Ready to Setup Your Business Blog? 5 Questions You Should Ask Yourself (Business and Blogging)

rss imageYou own a small business. You want to tell your story better than your competitors. When customers come into your store, they are often time crunched and do little browsing. You have an opportunity to engage them, but let’s be realistic – how in depth can you get with them while they are shopping? But what about when a customer is sitting at home (or at work) and is browsing your website? Do you stand a better chance of engaging them during this situation?

My answer would be yes and running a well-written blog that shares your story is one of the most powerful steps you can take to improve your online marketing. Today, we are going to go through a few initial questions you should ask yourself as you start building your blog.

Question 1: Is a blog right for your business?

I would argue and say “yes,” but only you can answer this question. Do you have a compelling story to tell? Are you offering a product or service that truly matters? Are you passionate about your business? Are you willing to devote 10-15 minutes a day writing content for you blog?

If you’ve answered yes to most or all of these questions, proceed to Question 2. If not, you probably don’t want a blog.

Question 2: Have you thought of a compelling name for your blog?

So you’re ready to set up a blog? Awesome. Don’t get too excited yet. There are some offline issues you should probably address first before worrying too much about starting your blog – coming up with an interesting name should be a big priority.

If you already have a website, you might not need to worry about this too much. You can simply integrate it into your site’s navigation structure as “blog.” This works and many companies take this approach. I wouldn’t recommend it though.

Even if you plan on hosting your blog on an existing business website, you need to come up with a great way to get readers there. Doing something as simple as what Whole Foods has done with their blog, the “Whole Story” is a great move to differentiate your blog and signal that it is something special. Let’s look at a few examples:

  • Smith Tools (fictitious tool manufacturer) – Putting Our Tools to the Test Blog
  • Blend Tech (real life blender company) – Will It Blend blog
  • Detroit Motors (fictitious car manufacturer) – Your Test Drive Blog
  • Everest Elite (fictitious outdoor company) – Mountains Climbed Blog

If you currently have a website, you really should differentiate you blog from it. It signals to customers that they are looking at something different.

As you work on a name, you will also want to be thinking of a great tagline to tell customers what they are going to be seeing.

Question 3: What do you want your blog to look like?

It’s time to hit the web and start looking at blogs. Search until you find one that has the type of layout your are looking for. Also, take note of colors, features and other ideas that you might want to include in your blog design.

Question 4: Will you monetize your blog?

If you are planning on selling stuff, joining affiliate programs or doing any kind of advertising on your blog you will need to consider hosting your own blog. However, if you are only planning on using your blog as a brand building, story telling tool, you can then consider using a free service like Blogger or WordPress.com.

Let’s dig a little more deeply into this question. You decide to go with the free option. Just understand that you will be limited in how much control you will have over your site, from everything like site templates and design to plugins and monetization options. If you are okay with that, go for it.

Hosting your own blog gives you much more control. You own the site, the design, the content and you can experiment with any type of monetization program you want.

I have done both. I run blogs that are strictly experimental and informational. With these sites, I simply want to try to understand my readers better and learn the ins and outs of blogging. I also run a couple commercial blogs. I run these sites on a paid hosting service, using the domain names of my choice and templates that have been designed by professionals.

These days, I am leaning more and more toward paid services simple because of the level of control it gives me. But do what is right for you, your business and your budget.

Question 5: What blog platform will you use?

What free and easy? Go with something like Blogger, Webs.com or Tumblr. For a little more control and options, consider WordPress.com.

Looking for control and customization and a design of your choosing? Host your own WordPress blog.

If you are interested in setting up a hosted blog and need help, please let me know (jwsokol at gmail.com). Depending upon your needs and the scale of the project, I can help for a nominal fee.

Does Your Business Need a Blog? (Business and Blogging)

Do you blog? Have you blogged about your business? If not, why?

Let me clarify one issue – I love blogging. I am incredibly biased on this matter and have strong opinions about blogging’s value.  I have yet to discover a more affordable or powerful way to share a company’s story over a sustained amount of time. Here are the benefits of a blog:

  1. They are easy to set up
  2. Many platforms are free (WordPress is my favorite, though there are many great alternatives – blogger and tumblr both come to mind
  3. Once set up, you have the power to update it at will
  4. You don’t have to lean on your IT guy to make updates (in fact, with a blog, you might not need to ever contact your IT guy)
  5. Blogs are flexible – besides typing messages, you can literally imbed almost any form of media you can image (photos, video, sound, etc.)

There is a downside to having a blog.

  1. 1. You have to do something with it – you know, like add an entry once in a while.

Many companies rush to build a website or get onto facebook or Twitter. All of these are excellent tools; however, none of them will take you as far as having a blog. Here’s what I would recommend if you are looking to get your business online and your resources are limited (possibly the shortest Internet marketing plan around):

  1. Set up a blog and use it for a while. Go with WordPress and pay someone to help you host your own.
  2. Add in a website (if you really need one) – think about this one carefully; if your website is largely going to be used for information/communication, you might not need one.
  3. Set up a facebook fan page and make sure you link your blog (via the facebook/wordpress app) so your posts automatically feed into your facebook page’s status

This is a basic approach, but it will get you started on the right path. The key is to stay focused on your business goals and not get distracted by all of the Web’s shiny objects.

Don’t take my word for it. Watch Seth Godin and Tom Peters discuss blogging.