Wednesday, November 19, 2014

How to write quality content for your small business blog

Writing blog content
Experts tell us that it’s not enough now-days that your small business has a website. You also need a blog!

Blogging will strengthen the SEO (search engine optimisation) of your website that can help to improve your ranking, because search engines love fresh content. Blogging will also enable you to engage and build relationships with your customers. And it will help to consolidate your profile as an expert.

While it’s all well and good to be sold on the benefits of blogging, but how do you find the time? Where do you find the ideas and content for your blog? And how do you write and present information that actually appeals to your readers?

In a nutshell, you’ve got two options. You can either get a copywriter to do it for you. Or you can grit your teeth, schedule some time and do it yourself.
If you opt for DIY – either to keep costs down or because you think you might actually enjoy it – then read on. You’re about to get some useful tips on how to write great copy for your blog.

I recently had a an interesting conversation with Vikki Maver, who is the founder and owner of RefreshMarketing - a Melbourne-based business that specialises in writing content for small and large organisations. Vikki is a writing expert with close to 20 years’ experience in creating quality content for both print and digital media.    
I asked Vikki to share some of her experience in starting and running a successful small business – and also for some advice for those of us who struggle with writing compelling content.

1.      Vikki, what initially motivated you to start your own business?

I’d love to tell you that it all began with a big vision and a business plan. But it was less glamorous than that.

In 2003 I left a stressful corporate job and wanted to take my time finding a new role with more work-life balance. So I let my professional network know that I was available for freelance work in the interim. (These were the days before LinkedIn!) And suddenly, I had all this work. I couldn’t believe it. I never knew there were so many businesses out there looking to engage a trusted marketing and copywriting professional.

Then once I had a taste of self-employment, I knew the corporate world have to wait. I enjoyed making my own decisions - and I loved working with people and on projects of my choosing.

Now as a mum of two school-aged children, the flexible hours associated with running your own business are invaluable. And the creative outlet is a god-send.

2.      What is the most common mistake that you see business owners make in their attempts at writing copy and content for their websites and blogs?

The biggest mistake is not recognising that - like most things in business - writing is a skill. People wouldn’t try to set up their IT systems without engaging an expert. Yet they try to write their own content without any training or advice. And that can be dangerous.

Businesses with poorly written websites and blogs risk their reputation and turn people away every day. Who knows what that could be costing them in lost sales and missed opportunities?

Your website and blog reflect your brand. They’re your window to the world. If your content is unclear, verbose and full of jargon, people will disengage. And if it’s littered with spelling and grammatical mistakes? Well, your credibility is lost in a nanosecond. Why would anyone choose a company that is slap-dash and unprofessional?  

Many business owners think they can’t afford to hire a professional writer or fund a writing skills training program for their staff. But I would ask: can you afford not to? 

At the very least, I would encourage small business owners to ensure any content they write for their blog or website be edited by a professional.

3.      What are some of the ways business owners can come up with ideas for generating “interesting” content for their blog? 
When I began my blog, I was worried about not having enough to write about. But now I have the opposite problem. I never seem to have enough time to put all my ideas in writing.

If you are an expert of any kind, you already have a wealth of blog articles in you. You just don’t necessarily realise it.

This is how it usually works for me.

When I meet with a client or prospect, I often find myself giving ‘spontaneous advice’. It could be about their brand positioning, their e-mail strategy - or how to plan an effective direct mail campaign. Although what I’m saying seems like common sense to me, it’s often insightful and eye-opening information for them. And that’s when I know I have my next blog post!   

Just remember that your blog is about sharing your expertise. Expertise that you already have. 

small business blogging

You will likely find inspiration for a blog post by reflecting upon your experience in your business. Think about an interesting problem that you've helped a particular client to resolve for example - there could potentially be a blog post sharing that story as a case study.

Many people love to read about real-life human stories. They like useful tips and tools, and "How To ..." easy-to-read articles that are simple and concise ..... So start writing!

4.      If I can shift our conversation away from writing copy to a broader topic – marketing and how to “stand out in a crowd”…... What marketing strategies have you personally found most effective in growing your business over the years?

Most of my work comes from existing clients and referrals. So I focus my marketing efforts on building a professional online image that I am proud of. I believe that keeping my website and LinkedIn profile current, credible and engaging is critical to my sustained success.

These days people rarely contact a company or business professional without doing their research first - even if they’ve been referred to you from a trusted source. That’s why your brand’s image is so important.

Even if you don’t have a large marketing budget, never skimp on a professional website, blog and social media profile. First impressions are everything!

5.      Are there any final tips that you can share with business owners about writing good content that will connect with their customers?

The fight for attention in today’s world is fiercer than ever. It’s never easy. And if even when you do manage to grab people’s attention, you’re still only half way there. You also need to ensure your messages are read, understood and believed.

And that’s easier said than done.

But hopefully these three quick writing tips will get you on your way....

1.      Keep it simple: Ensure your writing is clear, concise and easy to scan. Keep words simple, sentences short, paragraphs brief and headlines crisp. Many people believe that big, fancy words make them sound intelligent. But in reality, they detract from the clarity and impact of your writing.  

2.      Ditch the jargon: Every sector has its jargon. But acronyms and technical terms specific to your industry intimidate and alienate outsiders. So take a step back and reread your content through the eyes of your audience. What jargon can you remove to make your message clearer?

3.      Focus on your reader: This may come as a shock to you, but it’s not about you, it’s about them! Don’t bombard your customers (readers) with statements all about you. Instead, keep them front-of-mind for your writing. Show that you understand their problems and pains; their fears and insecurities. Show that you value their ambitions, passions and dreams too. You’ll strike a stronger connection with your audience if you can focus on providing practical, useful information that helps them either solve their problems or achieve their goals.

Thank you to Vikki, for sharing some of her experience with us. Four more quick blogging tips that I would add to Vikki's advice would be....

I)  Choose a "catchy title", one that grabs attention, but also encompasses the keywords you want your post to be found for. From an SEO point of view, the title is one of the most important on-page factors that search engines assess. (See SEO Tips for more information on ranking well with Google)
ii) Most people prefer a friendly, conversational style of writing, rather than one that is "lecturing" or dogmatic.
ii) Develop original content - there's no point simply saying what everyone else has said. Add your own unique perspective or twist to it. Write a knock-out quality post and chances are that it will be shared - and others will link back to it and your readers will become regular followers.
iv) Have a nice clean format, with an uncluttered lay-out and good visual appeal. Sub-topics, sub-headings and a relevant image will definitely help break up a mass of content into much more digestible chunks.

Here's a short video clip that reinforces key ideas around writing good quality content for your blog posts ...

About the interviewer
Brian Carroll is the founder of Performance Development, a training business in Melbourne, Australia.  He is an experienced management coach with a passion for helping people achieve their goals in life and business. You can find out more about Brian at his Google + profile