Does your small business service have a blog? Chances are, you either
1) have one but have trouble keeping it up to date; dreading each update
2) wish you could drive more traffic to it
3) don’t have one but know you should
In the business of referral marketing, you may consider a blog is a neat extra that adds credibility or even nice visuals to your website. In truth, your blog is much more than a nice-to-have when it comes to referrals and generating leads from your business network. Just like your website itself, your blog makes a statement about who you are, the quality of your product, who your customers are, and why they chose you to begin with.
There are thousands of blogs, with new business blogs being started each day. So how can yours stand a chance and serve your business? Simple. By following the rules your small business does – staying within your niche. If you are a Real Estate Agent, don’t blog about the Grammys, even if you think your clients are interested (chances are they’re not coming to your site for that kind of information).
The second thing to remember when worrying about your blog’s traffic is also the prime rule of thumb in referral marketing and the mantra at Referral Key: quality versus quantity.
Here are a few guidelines for keeping your blog relevant to your business network:
1. Offer useful information – While it’s tempting to simply comment on other posts and articles relevant to your industry, your audience is looking for an informed, educated viewpoint on the topic at hand – whether business referrals, tax law, mortgage rates or the latest high performing mutual funds. If you’ve been judicious about building a business network, your audience is a network of varied professionals in related industries, and if the content of your blog helps them look smart in front of colleagues and clients, they’re more likely to return to it frequently – and see you as a valuable resource for their clients.
2. Be informed – Pick a few relevant business blogs, websites or columns to read everyday; there’s no way we can keep up with all of them. Do your homework on who the “gurus” of your industry are and read where they post and comment. Often these sites are the ones everyone defers to, and you need only to read them to stay abreast of current topics of discussion. You’ll also find inspiration for new content topics this way. Be sure to join the conversations and post a comment occasionally, always leaving your blog’s link in the signature.
3. Refrain from the sales pitch – This is probably the most common mistake beginning bloggers make. Nothing turns off a cruising sales lead looking for useful information faster than a hard sales pitch. By gathering knowledge and expertise from your blog, they’re getting the sales pitch from your business in a far more subtle and effective manner. And they’re getting to know you – the first step in a qualified referral.
4. Invite comments and even arguments – When readers are encouraged to participate with dialog and criticism, they’re much more engaged in your site and as a result, in a two-way conversation with you and your business. This is a great way to build relationships and build your business network with qualified professionals, as well as weed out any prospects who clearly aren’t of value.
5. Stay Current – The blogosphere is not a print medium. It moves at lightning speed. If you’re going to discuss a controversial topic, like privacy issues in business and social networking sites (NYT article), post your content the day the news first appears. Many top blogs post hourly. As a small business professional with limited time, you cannot, so be sure to make sure your daily (or weekly) post is as fresh as possible.
6. Stay Brief – Make your point and get out. Top ten lists are great.
7. Invite guests – Invite professionals from your business network to post a comment or discuss a newsworthy topic, particularly if it’s in an area in which you are less informed. This adds value to your site and lets others know your professional network of contacts is solid and diverse.
8. Use visuals only when useful – Don’t use photos unless necessary. If there’s a graph or chart that illustrates your point, great. Your audience is comprised of business professionals who want facts and information and insight.
9. Offer helpful links – Don’t be afraid of offering links to other businesses – even competitors, in some cases. Your blog is not a sales tool; it’s a resource for your customers, a forum for discussion – and its authenticity ensures they remember you. At Referral Key for example, we might invite readers to check out other tools that can help manage the referral process – while subtly reinforcing the points of distinction we feel set us apart.
10. Use your network to build an audience – Marketing your blog starts at home. Use your business network of trusted associates to promote your blog – one post at a time. But don’t send every post to every one of your contacts. Wait until the content is particularly relevant to their field of expertise, invite their comments and feedback, and ask them to pass it along to clients if they found the information of value.