Blogging all the way to the bank

Journalists and business analysts are sitting up and taking note of business bloggers. Can it be profitable? Does it really create more business for the bloggers? Is it worth the time and effort? How can small businesses blog for success?

The New York Times profiled a few blogging success stories, and readers are starting to agree that blogging can be good business. The appeal of blogging is simple: It's a low-cost way for a business to generate buzz. The biggest "cost" is typically the time spent developing materials for the site. Yet experts estimate that only about 5% of small businesses (those with 100 or fewer employees) use blogs for marketing and promotion.

The real success in blogging is for the select few who have mastered that fine combination of engaging content, regular updates, and loyal readers. Not everyone should blog, and indeed there are certain industries that lend themselves better to blogging. A business consultant will probably have more reason to blog than a grocery store owner. Companies in innovative industries with constant change are more likely to find success blogging than other slow-paced, traditional industries.

A Wall Street Journal story discussed small businesses increasing their profiles with the help of blogs. I demonstrated to the reporter the dollars and cents that blogging has brought in for my company, and the numbers were compelling. But serious business bloggers shouldn't underestimate the commitment that blogging takes - you don't just throw up a blog one day and have new customers waltzing in the door the next day.

Bloggers have to be dedicated to developing a blog that speaks to readers... but not just any readers. It must speak to those who will buy the products or services the business is offering. (And the key word here is "developing": a blog must be nurtured and cared for over a period of the time in order to see real results.)

I've been blogging professionally for over two years on my company's website, and more recently I have ventured into writing for corporate blogs. My success with blogging includes increased business, higher quality inquiries for my services, and better name recognition. I've gotten plenty of inquiries from journalists who are looking for quotes to include in stories about fraud.

Blogging also played a part in securing a contract to publish my first book. I have seen tangible, significant results from my blogging, so it has definitely paid off and will continue to play a part in my business for the foreseeable future.

In reading and writing blogs, I've learned some important lessons about small business blogging:
  • A time commitment in both the short- and long-term is necessary. Daily writing is a must, and that's going to take some time away from your business. If you're serious about developing a web presence through blogging, you'll commit to a year or more of regular blogging. It takes time to develop a readership, and that can't be rushed.
  • The writer must engage the audience. An anonymous "administrator" or a public relations person hired to write the blog will never connect with readers as much as those in the trenches. It's especially engaging when the owner of a business has a good writing style and steps forward to be the force behind the blog.
  • Develop a strategy for your blog. What do you want to accomplish? Who do you want your readers to be? What are your competitors blogging about? What kind of content will you offer? How will you stand out?
  • Lose the sales pitch. A blog that is merely an advertisement for your company won't last long. Readers aren't interested in hearing about how fabulous you are. You can include your success stories in your blog, but offer readers real value in order to gather a following.
  • Bring something new and interesting to the table. Don't be afraid to be controversial. That's how conversations are started and buzz is generated. Blogging isn't just about repeating the news – it's about giving your take on the information and offering your readers a benefit from reading.
  • Be flexible. Change your content as you see what works. If there is a type of story or opinion that draws more attention, maybe you want to make that a regular "feature" on your blog. If certain keywords bring more readers, write more about those topics. Do what works, and when something else starts working, focus more on that.
There are many ways to measure success with blogging, but new bloggers need to be realistic about their goals. Some measure success in terms of the number of visitors per day, while others consider their business blog a success only if it leads to actual sales.

Whatever your company's goals, be sure that you give them enough time to develop. Good bloggers are in it for the long haul.

Tracy L. Coenen, CPA, MBA, CFE performs fraud examinations and financial investigations for her company Sequence Inc. Forensic Accounting, and is the author of Essentials of Corporate Fraud.
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