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Top 10 Reasons to Stop Writing Top-10 Posts

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number-ten

number-ten Lists: Bloggers love them. Readers love them. Pinterest loves them. So why not write lists all the time, right? Well, not so fast. Before you go churning out one more top-10 list on your site, consider the following reasons why you shouldn’t:

1. They’re Overdone. Everybody writes top-10 posts. You can find top-10 posts about everything from Ask Men’s Top 10 Websites to Use in 2014 to the FedEx Blog’s 10 Best Posts in 2013. Why be like everybody else? When you join the top-10 crowd, you can get lost in the sea of similar content.

2. They’re Gimmicky. In an oversaturated blog world, top-10 posts can be rather lacking. They’re gimmicky. They’re link bait. They promise something valuable but often leave readers disappointed, feeling like you’re just trying to get them to click through your site.

3. They Come Across Phony. Why are your top 10 reasons your top 10 reasons? What’s the significance? Why are they the best? Most lists won’t say this, creating a phony significance that your readers will know isn’t real.

4. You Might Annoy Your Readers. Curated content is OK, but too much curated content can annoy your readers. So when you merely repackage past posts into “top 10s,” your readers could wind up feeling cheated — and cheated readers don’t stick around.

5. They Make You Seem Stale. Everybody knows lists are a go-to tool for writers stumped for ideas, so when you post a lot of lists, you tell your audience you’re out of things to say.

6. They Take Time. Despite how they may seem to readers, lists take time to create, even if you’re just sifting through blog archives to find which posts to use. If this time isn’t yielding results, it’s wasted — why not focus on drafting original content instead?

7. They Don’t Go In-Depth. By their very nature, top-10 lists tend to be quick, shallow articles that don’t explore a topic in depth.

8. Write 10 Posts Instead. That quick top-10 list could turn into 10 informative posts if you would break it apart and explore each point further. This not only generates more content for you, but it also gives more value to your audience.

9. You Run Out of Ideas and Fill Your List with Fluff. When you’re writing a “top 10,” you may feel pressure to come up with more ideas than you have — and those fluff ideas aren’t actually helpful to your readers. Top-10 lists put you into a box.

10. Care about What You’re Saying. Here’s one of the biggest reasons not to write a top-10 list: You don’t care about it. When you’re only writing a list to write a list, everybody will know it. So rather than writing about what you think you should write about, write about what you care about instead.

Your Thoughts
Do any of the above reasons ring true to you? Do you write top-10 lists? Do you read them? Why or why not?

Five ways to tell a visually compelling story online (Sponsored Post)

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3d person holding a megaphone forming the word blog.

SNAG_Program-0665 In today’s digitally focused world, it can be hard to break through all of the clutter. This makes it increasingly important to stay on top of trends. As part of the Army Marketing and Research Group, we constantly think about how we can bring our target audience the information they seek, in the best possible way. As we look to where digital and social media will go in the next few years, one thing is for sure – visual storytelling is imperative for getting your message across online.

Below are five ways you can tell a visually compelling story online that will help you reach and engage with your audience:

1. Think Mobile First
For the first time in history, people are now using the internet more through their mobile devices than through their desktop computers (Business Insider). And with more than 61 percent of mobile phone users in the United States using smartphones (Nielsen), adapting your site(s) for mobile consumption ensures a seamless user experience regardless of device and allows for more interaction online.

2. Develop a Web Content Series
Web content series are a medium still growing in popularity and open to a broad array of multimedia. The Starting Strong program is an original content series that follows young men and women as they are immersed in the U.S. Army experience for three days, ultimately making the decision on whether or not to enlist. A fully integrated marketing approach is key to not only driving viewers to watch the content, but also to keep them engaged with your digital properties.

3. Multimedia Blogging
Now more than ever it is important to include video and photo elements in traditional text blog posts to keep your audience interested and engaged. More and more, photos, videos and GIFs are driving the bulk of online engagement as you look at sites that have achieved mass popularity. Consider embeddable videos, compelling photo visuals and other free tools to easily engage your audience online.

4. Infographics
Data is important. But most times, data can be hard to digest. Infographics can add valuable context to existing stories by using visuals to represent numbers, relationships and facts that might otherwise be overlooked. For example, our signature Soldier blog, ArmyStrongStories.com, houses an incredible amount of information such as how many Soldiers contribute to the site, which countries they’ve posted blogs from and how many comments their blog posts receive. An easy way for the Army to package this information is through a robust infographic that tells our blogging story in a visually appealing way.

5. Include Paid Social to Support Your Content Syndication Program
This year, widely used social networks, namely Facebook and Twitter, made design and layout changes based on imagery. In addition, the fast adoption of Instagram, Pinterest and Vine shows just how important visual storytelling is in social media marketing strategies. Using quality visual content, as well as allocating spend to paid social, are growing in importance to reach your core audience.

 

For more information on the social/online strategic media outreach programs at Army Marketing and Research Group (AMRG), check out www.goarmy.com, Facebook, Twitter and YouTube.

Six New Years Resolutions for Small Businesses (That You Can Do Right Now)

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Is it too soon to be sick of 2014 predictions, resolutions, and assorted New Year’s fodder? Wait, don’t answer that until you read this post. Here are the top six things you can do right now and be done with your list (until 2015 anyway):

1. Get Mobile

Obvious? Yes. Have you done it? Maybe not. Whatever your business model—from consultant to small business—it’s easier than ever to adopt a responsive design to ensure viewers experience an optimized view of your website. In fact, the majority of templates these days have these capabilities already built in, just make sure yours is or can be adjusted it on-the-fly (WordPress makes it easy). Remember, mobile viewers no longer tolerate sites that are difficult to navigate, slow-loading, or result in irksome moments. You can’t afford to lose them in 2014, so don’t.

Shortcut: If you’re not familiar with responsive design, or want to learn how to trick out your site to accommodate mobile viewers, check out an everything responsive design site.

2. Refresh Your Social Media Presence

If you’re like me, your social networks are live, well, and blasting out content on a regular basis. But how often do you check your business description, followers (and those you are following), and general housekeeping of your social media? Strangely, these are the items that get put on the back burner, even though they’re the first impression people get of your brand. Why not check, edit, and improve for a coordinated effort?

Shortcut: It’s unnecessary to create separate versions of social network descriptions based on differing word counts (always tempting to reach the word count, isn’t it?). Instead use a crisp, concise summary for all networks (Bonus: You’ll never have to worry about one being outdated from another. Consistency is underrated).  

3. Set Up Meetings With Prime Customers and Prospects

You might think the beginning of the year is the worst time to get in touch with customers who are just coming back to work. In reality, this is the best time to reach out. With most people still on a “holiday high”, you can snap up their attention for a quick chat, formal meeting, or lunch date. Once 2014 gets underway, they’ll be too busy with other priorities.

Shortcut: Take a cue from the sales playbook. Offer a specific date and time rather than asking the other party to supply one. People are much more likely to accept or counter with another date. Open-ended offers, on the other hand, are more likely to be put off or ignored.

4. Slot in Conferences, Vacations, and Time Off

Anyone who knows me can vouch for the fact that I’m not a big vacation planner. The reason is simple: When you’re a consultant, you never know when client projects will get you in a pinch (not to mention the ever-present desire to keep the revenue stream flowing). Whether you have an online business, brick-and-mortar store, or consulting service, your busy times likely fluctuate by seasons, holidays, or by client activities. Mine this information at the beginning of the year and allot your time off. It may seem like a risky move, but planned events are 99% more likely to happen if you…plan them. It will ultimately save time, money, and headaches. Remember why you made the choice to go into business for yourself. You don’t work for “The Man”; you work for YOU. Go ahead and take that vacay or staycay!

Shortcut: Take another cue from the sales playbook. Ping your clients about their plans for next year (it also makes you look proactive and an excuse to get in touch). For retail businesses, study the purchasing schedules of seasonal, big-ticket, and regular customers, or conduct a quick online survey to find out buying patterns.

5. Be Ahead of The Curve

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve made recommendations to clients based on an understanding of what’s coming next in their industry, a new marketing tactic, or other valuable information I’ve discovered. Sure, they may be familiar with some of these ideas already, but the fact that I can confirm this also validates their choice to hire me in the first place. Not surprisingly, I often get my best info by setting up an organized curating system. Whether it’s making recommendations to retail customers or  clients, they will thank you for it.

Shortcut: Google Alerts is not the only game in town. Check out these newer, customizable site and article curation services, or do a test run to see which ones you like.

6. Consolidate Your Marketing Resources

Say you’re doing email campaigns four times a year, pushing out social media content twice a week, and managing a monthly blog. That’s a lot to maintain, organize, and publish; plus you need to review analytics to determine the best performers. Though I’ve always valued  articles and resources from Hubspot, it took client access for me to discover the power of their marketing dashboard. Still, they can be quite expensive for a small business. For those who view HubSpot as the equivalent of the Microsoft Evil Empire, there are many alternatives, some free (but don’t expect the bells and whistles).

Shortcut: Truth be told, making a move like this is time-consuming. Consider adding capabilities to your marketing operations web site or software once a month. You don’t have to do the whole enchilada at one time, but at least make that first step.

Bonus: Add a Resolution Wild Card: We all have something to do for our business, but often we don’t have the time, resources, or budget to pull it off. We tend to get overwhelmed with the anticipation, or we get busy with other things, or both. But think of your own wish that you want to do…and do it!

What’s your first New Year’s resolution for your business?

Why Blogs Are the Future for 2014 and How to Prepare Your Blog for the New Year

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blogs are the future

As the calendar inches ever closer toward the new year, there’s never been a better time to talk about blogging. Everywhere you go these days, someone’s saying something about how many blogs there are and how the blog world is over-saturated. Could these ideas actually be true? Are blogs over, or is 2014 a good time to start your own? What will 2014 hold for blogs—how will things change, and how will they stay the same? If you already blog, how can you prepare your blog for the next season?

To help answer those questions, let’s look at what the experts are saying about why blogs do matter—along with strategies for making the most of your blogging efforts.

Blogs Still Matter

Despite what you may have heard, blogs are not done yet. “The need for an online presence has never been stronger,” says Jayson DeMers at Search Engine Watch. “[But] the landscape has never been more competitive.” Whether you’re thinking about improving your business’s search results or looking to become an authority in a specific niche, blogs are powerful, especially when you know how to use them. Below, consider what experts are saying:

  • “Extremely Relevant.” In February 2013, Clayton Lainsbury wrote at the content marketing site Crowd Content Resources that “intelligent marketers still know that blogging is extremely relevant if you apply it properly in a social and mobile driven world.” His point is that the world is online—and blogging gives you a way to reach it.
  • “There’s No Better Way.” In an April 2013 blog post at Social Media Today entitled “Blogging is More Important Today than Ever Before,” author Nicole Beachum said, “There is not a better way to add relevant content to your website on a regular basis than to utilize a blog.” Citing reasons like search engine optimization and keeping up with the competition, Beachum goes so far as to say hiring a professional is a savvy step.
  • “Effective Marketing Strategy.” According to Content Marketing Institute’s 2014 Report for B2B content marketers, 62% of marketers still see blogging as an effective content strategy.
  • “A Public Record.” There are intangible benefits to blogging, which is something personal bloggers like Lisa Endlich understand well. For individuals as well as businesses, blogging offers a place to chronicle your story and connect with like minds.

How to Blog Strategically in 2014

Based on a Google Talk given in October at PubCon 2013, staying ahead in the blog world is simply a matter of knowing what to expect. With that in mind, here are some tips for making the most of your blogging efforts, at least in terms of search results, next year:

  • Focus on Quality: Search engine algorithms are always changing, but one bottom-line principle stays the same: High quality content works. Rather than worrying about how to trick the search giants, focus on publishing the highest quality content you can.
  • Benefit Your Reader: If you aren’t answering the #1 reader question of “Why should I care?” you’re sabotaging your own blogging efforts. Look at your blog right now—what does it offer? What do your readers gain? Why should they come back? Make those answers crystal clear in order to prepare your blog for the new year.
  • Blog Like You Talk: As voice searching grows in popularity, blogs that are written the way people talk may rank higher.
  • Niche = Authority: The more specific and focused your blog topic, the better your chances of becoming an authority in your field. Rather than blogging about food, for example, blog about gluten-free, dairy-free recipes. Rather than blogging about lifestyle, blog about being a stay-at-home dad of twins in New York City. Look for ways to specialize, and you become more valuable.
  • Make the Most of Social Media: Social profiles are not only good for building relationships, but also they help you increase online authority. Search engines look at social activity—how often your blog is mentioned, linked to, etc.—to determine ranks.
  • Know Your Goals: Gone are the days when all you hope for with a blog is a reader. Moving forward, bloggers will need to determine their exact goals (Conversions? Subscribers? New leads?) to quantify success.

Your Thoughts

Will you or your business be blogging in 2014? What changes are you making to prepare for the new year? What changes do you think are important?

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Four Ways Service Businesses Can Stand Out This Holiday Season

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bigstock-businessman-creative-design-39173434 Christmas Creep started even earlier this year (was it my imagination or did I see ads before Halloween?). For retail owners—both brick and mortar and online—the pressure is amped up to get in the holiday spirit, rack up sales, give deep discounts, and plaster their real and virtual storefronts with holiday decorations. But for professional services and consulting businesses, it’s a different time of year: distributing cards and gifts to clients while phone calls and emails slow down, filing more—in other words it’s low season.

Fortunately there are many ways you can stay on your customers’ radar, show appreciation for their patronage, and leave a lasting impression to start 2014 off right. So get going now with ideas from real people in the service business trenches.

Fill Someone Else’s Pockets, Not Your Own

The holiday season is a popular time for people to give back—whether donating food to shelters, taking part in a coat drive, or giving to a favorite charity. For service businesses, think about tying that donation to a meaningful cause in your industry. For example, Forward Push Media came up with a promotion for a client who does prenatal chiropractic treatments: the company is taking online donations through the season to help out moms-to-be facing financial hardships; the perfect outreach for staying true to the brand while giving back to the community.

Your Blog Can Be A Gift (Really)

Your blog is a great tool for your business year-round, but the holidays present more personal opportunities to detour from business as usual, throw in some creativity and spice, and yes, everything nice. Add to that, you can use time you’d normally allocate for follow-up calls to connect with your clients in a different way.

For example, tell a personal story that inspires you—it doesn’t need to be work-related but should remind readers of the season or what’s important in life; do a funny year-in-review, or post predictions that you hope don’t happen in 2014; think up an evergreen post that’s good all year long, such as tax deadlines if you’re an accountant, or the best months to buy furniture if you’re an interior designer. And remember, your blog doesn’t have to be written: It can be a short, crisp video (or depending on your audience, use super-hot Snapchat‘s new “Stories” feature for a holiday greeting that hang around for 24 hours).

Invite Clients “Over”

When we think of service businesses, some people envision slaving away in their PJs or crammed in a teeny cubbyhole, but this is not always the case by a long shot. Many professionals have offices with multiple employees scurrying about. That said, you won’t witness a “50% off” sign in the window. All the more reason to invite customers to your place of business during the holidays. And you don’t have to spend an arm and a leg; if you have a great idea and you promote it, they will come.

Just ask Carla Higgins, a real estate agent with Grubb and Co. For their wildly popular annual holiday promotion, Santa Claus makes an appearance at the office to entertain clients and their families, while treats are served. Mona Koussa of ehomesurf is inviting clients and prospects to the office parking lot for a “Shredding Event”. A mobile, environmentally-friendly truck will destroy confidential documents and guests can nibble on sticky buns and drink hot chocolate all the while. Plus mortgage- and real estate-related vendors will be on hand to answer questions—nice touch.

Embrace Your Inner Black Friday

When it comes to promoting, there’s no reason you can’t turn up the volume and play like the big-box retailers who thrive during the season: From having a one-day “flash sale” on your priciest services to free add-ons for 2014. Your only barrier is imagination (plus your time and ability to do the work).

This time of year, Diane Shapiro Sommerfield, a social media marketing consultant, offers 25 percent off her normal price for a new client package, which range from kick-starting a social media program to a facelift on clients’ current social networks.

These are just a few ideas to get you started on the holiday season. Are you now spurred to come up with a promotion of your own? Well tick-tock!

Editor’s note: Stay tuned! NMX will be featuring our very own holiday promotion, the 12 Days of Giveaways, where we’ll be giving away tons of freebies starting in mid-December. Want an email when the 12 Days of Giveaways starts? Make sure you are signed up to our newsletter list on the sidebar!

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Five Quick Social Media Tips for Brick-and-Mortar Businesses

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bigstock-Thinking-11766491 It took radio 38 years to reach 50 million views, 13 years for TV, four for the Internet. Facebook got there in nine months. The iPod got there in a couple days. How do brick and mortar businesses keep up? Social media isn’t optional anymore.

We’re out of the Technology and Information Ages and into the Participation Age. The hallmark of this age is “sharing”, which is why social media is so big. It allows us to share on a multitude of levels. It is a lot less expensive than advertising and when done well, is much more effective. How do we get our arms around it?

Don’t panic. Social media is just another communications medium, like radio, TV, fax and email. Except it is much more interactive and participative; like the phone, except at your leisure (you don’t have to answer right away).

Here are a few quick principles I use dealing with social media:

1. Pick just one or two entry points that can be highly integrated, that can push traffic to each other, and go deep.

In 2007 I picked blogging and Twitter. I would highly recommend that you blog (some are questioning that these days, I think it is still by far the best social media platform available), and then interact with people on Twitter about their interests. Or you can pair up Facebook and Google+ (some people use it to blog now). Or Pinterest and Google+, etc. Whatever you do, start small so you can actually participate and learn, not spam. You can expand later if you find you have the bandwidth, but stay focused until you are sure.

2. Become the expert in something.

Again, BLOG IF YOU CAN!! It’s by far the best way to use social media to become an expert. Write comments on other people’s blogs, and offer your material to others to repurpose it. Check out this post on the 10 reasons you need to stop making excuses and start blogging for your business.

3. Be INTERESTED, not just INTERESTING (and be interesting as a result of being interested).

Social media is all about discussions, not self-promotion. Example – join existing conversations on Twitter, Facebook, Google+, etc. Support others in their comments and blogs, answer questions, and eventually they will want to know what you have to say and will visit your blog or community group. If you only promote, promote, promote, no one will care what you are saying.

After you have established yourself as someone who can contribute to others’ communities, maybe start your own Google+ hangout, forum, Facebook group, etc. Learn first, then invite your existing friends to join you. If you just self-promote, you could even get kicked out or banned, depending on the community. Build a network, don’t do networking! SERVE, DON’T SELL. Do NOT use social media to attempt to get a zillion new friends! All the research shows you should target your social media at your existing raving fans. SERVE them, and they will bring you new readers and new customers

4. Further your education by reading.

Read Rework by Fried and Hannson. Read Seth Godin’s blog and 37Signals.com’s blog. Find other blogs that you respect. (Editor’s note: Check out the NMX speakers list for blogs by authorities in the new media industry). See how they provide something of value. Don’t completely copy their content, just follow their lead – serve others with interesting content.

5. Search for local relationships and develop them online as well as off.

Connect, then offer offline opportunities. About 85-90% of all conversations about a product start off line and then move online. And again, starting with local relationships allows you to use social media to support your existing friends, who will then bring you more viewers and customers. If you go after herds of new people with your content, your friends will smell that and walk away.

Don’t see yourself doing this? There is a growing number of credible people who can help you by ghost-blogging, and by managing your business social media. (I would never let anyone else manage my personal Twitter account.) If you are going to hire others, make sure the public knows it’s not you – be authentic.

There are a bunch of other things you can do t boost your social presense, but if you start with these, you’ll be on the right track. For more great social media and blogging advice for businesses, check out the Business Category right here on the NMX blog.

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No More Excuses: Top 10 Reasons to Start a Business Blog in 2014

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bigstock-Beautiful-woman-with-thoughtfu-29888243(1) A few weeks ago I taught a blogging webinar for consultants as part of a social media education series. At the beginning, I did quick survey to gauge the knowledge base. Not surprisingly, my audience ranked high on awareness and interest in social media, and also appeared savvy in running their businesses.

What I didn’t expect, though, were the reasons accomplished business owners didn’t have a blog: lack of confidence, worrying about that first step, not knowing where to start. See a theme here? It’s all about getting started. For all you “blogcrastinators,” 2014 is the year to launch your small business blog. With each passing day, you’re missing out on one of the best, easiest, and most fun ways to grow your business (yes I said fun). Not convinced? Here are the top ten reasons:

#10-Be an original: Blogging was the first social media: If you think showing your social media chops consists of retweeting other people’s ideas, reposting industry articles on LinkedIn, or asking provocative questions on Facebook, you’re not seeing the whole picture. Blogging is the granddaddy online social media provocateur, and in a larger sense, the hub of all social media network connections—so go be an integral part of it.

#9-Regurgitated content doesn’t help your business: All that social media you are blasting out might be interesting, but it doesn’t have your thumbprint on it. Why not take advantage of social media to its fullest? Even better, your blog will provide you with an ample, endless supply of content to use, repackage, and repurpose for other marketing. In other words, promote yourself first, others later.

#8-Add instant cred to your business: Want to impress a client, customer, or new prospect? That’s guaranteed when you mention your blog in conversation, include it on your email signature, or any other subtle PR move—people will automatically take your business more seriously. It tells the world that you’ve made the investment to reach, influence, and connect with your audience, and those perceptions help your business star rise.

#7-Create an “open space” for thought: One of the great things about blogging is that it will stimulate and trigger an amazing cornucopia of ideas. You’ll find yourself constantly scouring for interesting ideas to post (in a good way), getting inspired to tackle topics you wouldn’t have dreamed of otherwise, and feeling the push to research new topics of interest. Blogs provide a great venue for this. You have to experience it to believe it, but trust me you will.

#6-Win-win with the competition: Check out the blogs of your competitors and see what they’re writing about, their style, how often they post. Then make sure you are writing better and differently, with a style unique to your business. Stand out in the blog crowd. And of course when you’re pushing yourself to higher standards, it nudges everyone else to get on that higher ground too.

#5-Become a better writer: They say a habit takes three months to adopt: When you start blogging on a regular basis, I guarantee you’ll find that your writing becomes more crisp, focused, and better as time goes on. Practice makes perfect, as the saying goes, and nowhere else is that more true than the art and discipline of writing.

#4-Get out of your comfort zone: It’s not often we get to email an industry expert to get an interview,  become an instant authority overnight by reading up on a topic voraciously, or whip up commentary post on anything we desire. Whatever path your blog takes, you will meet interesting people, learn about new things, and blogging will surely stand out as a unique, creative part of your business—and life.

#3 Become the master of your blog domain: Don’t drive yourself crazy with high expectations that you will be blogging on a daily basis—That is just not going to happen (feel free to prove me wrong though). Start your postings slow and build up—consider once a month or every other month. Then add in as you can. Posting every week on a certain day is a noble act, but only commit to what you can reasonably do. I advocate regularly and religiously, but not ridiculously.

#2-Cultivate a new way to express yourself: For those fearing the combo click of the keyboard with the white computer screen, you’ll be surprised at how you enjoy writing when it’s a topic you’re interested in, and even passionate about (here’s hoping you find your business at least interesting, otherwise you should find another lot in life). That’s not to say that some posts won’t be difficult to write, or get rewritten 20 times and you’re still not happy, but in the end, you will be proud of your accomplishments as a whole. That I know to be true.

#1-Your small gains can lead to big changes: I’m not sure what the attendees of my blog webinar did after that course I taught a few weeks ago, but I can only hope it pushed them to the next step of starting a blog, whether it was to check out blog templates, or commit to some topics to write about, and in some way ultimately get over their fears to begin a blog. Speaking from personal experience, having and nurturing my own blog for three years led to a regular monthly post here at BlogWorld and a cascade of blogging work for my own business. Ask any successful entrepreneur, anyone who has changed a habit, or any small business owner that started a blog—it’s totally worth it on all levels. So start 2014 with your blog!

What’s your excuse for not starting a blog? What’s holding you back?

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Six Ways to Make Your Brand Shine in a Small Business Blog

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Ask a dozen marketers what “branding” means and you’ll get a dozen answers. Why? Because it’s a word with many meanings, depending on who’s doing the defining. This blog alone shows 30 unique definitions, and that’s just the tip of the iceberg.

What we do know is that branding is that it is the yin-yang of your business: You tell the world how you want to define your services or products, what differentiates you, and why people should trust and buy from you. Ultimately though, your brand ends up in the hands (and minds) of customers and prospects—they will be the ones collecting experiences and driving business to or away from you. Some even argue that companies have lost control of their brands altogether, unintentionally passing the baton to consumers, thanks to the power of social media. That’s why it’s even more important to exploit the brand equity you do have with the vast web connections, from your web site to social media presence to search, and anywhere else your business lives.

In the end, your blog can be one of your biggest brand assets, or do nothing to add value and attract business. Here are some top tactics to work it to your advantage:

#1 Mirror, Mirror On The Web

Starting from the outside in, your blog should walk the walk as a natural extension of  your company name, logo, color scheme, and all other tangible elements that make up your brand identity. The best way to stop that natural flow in its tracks is to publish a blog that lacks brand identity. A company blog should be a seamless transition from anywhere you’ve marked your (brand) territory: a real-world meeting where your business card was passed, a visit to your store, an eBook you wrote, or a transaction on your site. Make sure to give your blog a name—not just a “blog” section on your web site—one that reinforces who you are and what you do (My business name is LiveWire Communications and my blog name is Marketing Sparks. Get it?). And don’t forget about a tagline so readers know what your blog is about (Mine is “Insight about Advertising, Marketing, and Branding.”).

#2 No Blog-ots 

Of course your blog should not only walk like your business, it needs to talk the talk too. Speak in your brand voice at all times: Is it funny? Conversational? Whimsical? Even if you’re a number-crunching accountant, you can still let your personality come through (unless you’re crabby). The tone, style, and words that you use act as a conductor for your brand. Be true and authentic, whether you’re a storefront or a one-person shop. No one would question speaker and self-proclaimed “Unstuck-er” Erika Napoletano about this: Whether or not you like her cussin’, in-your-face style, her brand is illuminated in every word of her blog, even the four-letter ones. That also goes for your “About” page too. This is a great opportunity to showcase and reinforce your brand story.

#3 Stand Out From the Competition

It’s pretty easy to be a “Me Too” when it comes to blog topics for various industries. You can go outside the lines, but only so far. Your blog is a prime opportunity to bring out the uniqueness of your brand, no matter what the post is about. Marc Sheridan turned River Pools blog into what it calls itself  “…the most educational swimming pool blog in the country” through his efforts to educate and inform readers on the pool industry (which he turned into a successful content marketing/speaking career as The Sales Lion). Conversely, another tactic is to deliver contrasting point of views from industry bloggers. For instance, if all graphic designers are writing about the hottest trends in typography, write about the suckiest fonts instead—you’ll stand out for your knowledge in a different way.

#4 Dole Out Your Branding in Quick Hits

Another way to continue brand extension in your blog (and amp up your content promotion while you’re at it) is to leverage a thought-provoking quote, stat, or visual from a post and blast out to your social networks at various intervals. It will make a brand statement and also serves as a call- back to the blog while you’re at it. And don’t forget to make thoughtful, impactful comments on related blogs, this can be another great opportunity to put your branding stake in the ground.

#5 Hitch Your Wagon to a Like-Minded Star

Reinforcing your brand in your blog can be also be achieved by bringing someone else into the writing mix. Think interviews, quotes, or a guest posters. And I’m not talking about using a generic quote from Abraham Lincoln here; more like showing your affinity with a thought leader, industry luminary, or cheeky scofflaw who will draw attention. This will speak volumes about who you are (not to mention getting your blog some back links).

#6 Look Inside Yourself

Still stumped on how to bring out the essence of your brand? Conduct a brand audit to get more clarity. That may seem fancy pants if you’re a consultant or small business, but it can also lead to valuable insights. Do a free quickie one with a consultationdownload a tool, or ask yourself a few pointed questions. Doing these exercises can help reveal the true essence of your brand and point to any disconnects communicating to your audiences. If you’re strapped for time, try Wordle to visually capture brand descriptors and get a snapshot of who you are. After all this soul-searching, you may find that your brand is not reflecting what your small business is about, and it might be time to rebrand—but we’ll save that subject for a future post.

What tactics do you use in your blog to bring out your brand?

How to Stay Committed to Your Small Business Blog

Author:

bigstock-Dictionary-Series--Attributes-4045852 One of the biggest marketing gurus in the country, a well-known author and researcher, also happens to be one of the most erratic bloggers I’ve come across—her smart, insightful blogs are published randomly. Sometimes I’ll get two in a week, other times it’s months before I see a post. It makes me wonder: if this big marketing name can’t crank out a regular blog, what hope is there for us poor souls running a small business?

The answer is easier than you think…but only if you make blogging a priority by really committing to your blog.

Be Brutal

I sometimes run across corporate and small business bloggers that aim to post every day of the week. Their reasons vary, from building up SEO to outblogging the competition. This is an admirable  stretch goal, but is it realistic while running a small business? Doubtful.

The first step is to take an unflinching look at your time and how much you can devote to your blog. Chances are you’ll have to recalibrate the ideal frequency from the day-to-day tasks of running a business (not to mention putting out fires). Is it once a week? Twice a month? Or Some other cadence? Once you accept that baseline, planning will be easier. If your honest answer is once every three months, wait for a time when you can devote more energy to it.

Wherever you end up, bolt that frequency onto your schedule and be accountable to it. If you miss a post date, don’t blow it off because you’re “busy” or don’t feel like it. Finish up writing as close to the original post date as possible. Otherwise, you could end up on a slippery slope delaying more, making excuses, and before you know it, it’s RIP, blog.

Be Branded

Not surprisingly, one of the reasons blogging gets pushed to the side: it often does not generate income in a direct way. Your blog might get comments, shares, retweets, and likes, but kudos don’t pay the bills, right? Because I’m in marketing, promotion is in my  DNA, but if you’re busy running an insurance, retail, or other type of small business, you are likely more focused on the guts of getting and doing business. That doesn’t mean you don’t understand the importance of  marketing, but it might not be your number one focus.

No matter what you are selling—services, products, or something else—the key is to view your blog as a strategic, fundamental part of your brand; not something you can turn on and off. Your customers and prospects will appreciate you blogging consistency, and it will also help instill trust in you as a business.

Be Brainiac

Everyone knows that cliché that the best ideas come to us while taking a shower, or getting that light bulb moment while driving to the store. That is how our creativity percolates sometimes. Or as Agatha Christie once said, “The best time for planning a book is while you’re doing the dishes.”

That’s why you should be ready to catch those gems before they disappear, never to return (trust me, the older you get, it will happen more frequently). Don’t rely on your “great memory” when it comes to those moments. No matter how organized you are, we all still need a little helpnow and then.

Luckily there are endless task-master sites, tools, and apps to organize your ideas, random thoughts, and future blog fodder. Having them in one place, on-hand is the first step to incubatinga future post. Most of these tools are no-cost at the basic level and offer a premium upgrade. Some of the biggies are: Evernote, ToodledoRememberthemilk, and the wittily named Tjjeklist and  Wunderlist. Here’s a comparison list.

Be-holden

OK, now that your ideas are organized in one place,  you know what you want to write about for your next next post, but you still have to sit down and do it. That is often the hardest part and when a  well-timed bout of procrastination can kick in. There are a lot of ways to fight this urge.

Besides a cornucopia of books, articles, sites, and tools to help get initial thoughts on that blank computer screen, there are shortcuts that can help: Written Kitten as promised, shows a kitten at  selected intervals (wonder when the puppy version comes out). Write or Die takes a more dramatic approach with its “gentle” to “kamikaze” non-compliance settings. This post also has several ideas to help you get that post done when it is fighting you.

Also be aware of your personal blogging habits: some people thrive on deadlines, others freak out with anxiety about The Looming Word Count. The key is to know your writing personality. I like to write my posts slowly but surely, starting about a week before, ideally, then edit (and edit). I know if I start a post the day before, it simply won’t meet my standards.

Of course, you can also use an editorial calendar to keep you on track. This may seem too formal for a small business or feel like extra work, but plugging in topics and dates will keep you focused on the big picture and reinforce your commitment. Besides, what a great accomplishment to see the blog post published on the day you planned for it!

There are many editorial calendars to choose from, but if you want to keep it simple and integrated, WordPress Calendar can help (.org site only). Heck, you can even use Microsoft Excel or Google Calendar, but using a tool built as an editorial calendar offers more features and functions.

Be Bold (and Brave)

However you get yourself on track for your small business blog, keep a schedule, be committed, and most importantly, know that your blog can make a big difference— both for your business and your readers.

What are your tricks to keep committed to your business blog?

Image credit: Bigstock

Free Blog Content: 15 Places to Find Free Blog Posts

Author:

free As a small business owner, keeping a blog going can be extremely difficult. Blogs are only useful if they are updated regularly, but devoting time to a blog isn’t always possible, especially if you don’t have the resources to hire a blogger. But what if I told you there were some places to find free blog content? If you could find free blog posts, would you update more regularly?

The reality is that a blog can’t run on just the blog content ideas listed below. However, these free blog content ideas can help you keep things going, supplementing your editorial calendar so your blog is always updated and fresh. Check out these 15 placed to find free blog posts the next time you’re scrambling to come up with content:

1. Text interviews with experts

Who knows a lot about your industry? Contact that person and ask for an interview. People love to be interviewed, and this is one of my favorite sources of free blog content. It strokes the ego when someone thinks you know enough about a topic to be interviewed. Personally, I always jump at the chance to be interviewed!

Text interviews require the least amount of time because you just send off a handful of questions and the person answer them. Think about who in your industry could be really beneficial to your potential customers. For example, if you own a lawn care business, is there a florist in your community who could talk about the best flowers for different soil types? Or if you run a bakery is there a dietician in your area who could talk about how to add desserts into a healthy diet?

2. Audio/video interviews with experts

If you’re willing to put in a little more time, audio or video interviews with experts can also be extremely effective for the same reasons. People love to hear from experts.

Audio or video interviews can also be cut so you’re presenting little snippets over time, which allows you to stretch the free blog content even farther. With a text interview, a single paragraph answering a question probably doesn’t warrant a stand-alone blog post. But if someone talks for a minute about a specific topic, that can be a very effective stand-alone video. In fact, some data suggests that shorter videos perform better.

So, don’t feel like you have to produce an hour-long video to be effective. Record that long interview, then cut it up to use it for several blog posts (and at the end, share the entire thing uncut as well).

3. YouTube, Vimeo, and other video sites

If you don’t have the time, talent, or interest in recording videos, either with experts or on your own, no problem. YouTube, Vimeo and other video sharing sites are filled with interested videos to use on your blog – and most people want you to take this content for your blog posts. That’s why they make embedding the videos an option.

Simply look for interesting content related to your niche, write a quick intro, and post it. Be careful, however, that you aren’t posting videos from your competitors. If you’re a mechanic and you post a video about changing your oil that then promotes a different shop in your community, you’re not doing yourself any favors, even if the content is interesting.

4. Flickr, Instagram, and other image sites

Just like video sharing sites, image sharing sites can be a great source for free blog content if you work in a very visual industry. For example, if you’re a wedding planner, you could find images on Flickr of cool bridal hair and post “100 unique ideas for wedding hair styles” or if you’re a travel agent, you could post “10 beautiful beaches you have to see to believe.” These posts require very little writing on your part.

Note: ALWAYS use images that are uploaded with a license that allows you to share and credit the work as the owner specifies. If you want to use an image from the general pool, get permission in writing first.

5. Comments

The comments section of my blog is one of my favorite places to find free blog posts. Often, members of my community will ask great questions that I can flip around so they become their own blog posts.

And if your blog isn’t getting a lot of comments? Ask for questions! Sometimes, readers just need a little prompting to actually leave a comment. Ask your readers what their biggest challenges are (relating to your industry) and answer each question you receive with a separate blog post.

6. Statements and questions on social media

Along the same lines, you can also find questions and statements from people via social media sites. You can even embed Tweets and Facebook statuses directly into your blog posts.

The bonus here is that not only are you finding free blog content, but you’re also interacting with potential customers. Make sure to share with these people the blog post you’ve written, and often they will promote your link, so you gain even more exposure.

7. Quotes from other bloggers

While content scrapers are the scum of the earth (in my humble opinion), it is perfectly okay to quote other bloggers. As you read interesting posts from others in your industry, think about how they can become blog posts of their own. You can take a single quote and run with it, voicing your own opinions about the topic, or you can create a post that’s filled with quotes from others, like I did with “25 Posts About Blogging that Will Change Your Life.”

Remember, always give credit to the person who originally said whatever you are quoting by linking back to their blog.

8. Links from other bloggers

Link resource pages are awesome for your readers and require little writing work on your end. You do have to spend the time to gather the links, but if you’re reading a lot about your industry anyway, this isn’t difficult. Our Brilliant Bloggers series is a great example of how a list of links can be inspiring and educational for your readers.

9. Infographic sharing sites

Visual information, especially in infographic form, is always extremely sharable. However, you don’t have to have graphic design skills to post this kind of blog content (though there are several sites to help you do this if you have the time and inclination). Often, if you see an infographic online it will be accompanied by embed code so you can share it on your own site.

You can also find free infographics to use by visiting sites like Visual.ly.

10. Guest bloggers

Guest blogging (i.e. writing blog posts on other people’s blogs) is a great way to get exposure for your own blog. So, others in your industry might be interested in providing some free blog content in exchange for a link.

Don’t just wait for people to come to you. Extend the invitation. Guest blogging is different compared to the past, so often people wait to be invited instead of reaching out. Not everyone will say yes to you, but by having even a few guest bloggers a month can help you keep your blog fresh.

11. Guest contributors

When someone writes a great guest blog post for you, turn them into a regular contributor. All you have to do is ask. Not everyone will be interested, but some of your guest bloggers will happily provide high-quality, free content for you once or twice per month in exchange for a link.

Just be wary of guest posts and contributors who are in competition with you. If your blog links back to your competitors, you’re not drumming up business for yourself–you’re just sending them to someone else. Choose your guest contributors wisely.

12. Sponsors/Customers

Depending on your industry, sponsors might be a great source of free content for your blog. For example, let’s say you run a radio station. Maybe one of your restaurant advertisers could write about their top favorite songs to play during a romantic dinner.

Along the same lines, customers can also write content for you. Testimonials are always great, but they can also write education or entertaining content. For example, if you run a daycare, one of the parents could write “10 Things to Never Send to Daycare with Your Kids” or if you run a pet grooming service, one of your customers could write “How I Trained My Dog to Sit for the Groomer.”

13. Partners

Who works in an industry related to your own? If you have partnerships with other local businesses, these people make great guest contributors, even if they don’t have blogs of their own. For example, if you’re a hair salon owner, maybe the spa owner down the street will write something for you. By partnering with like businesses, everybody wins.

Like with guest posters and contributors, usually all you have to do is ask.

14. Affiliate programs

Are you an affiliate for any products or services? Ask if they have content you can post. Often, affiliate programs give you access to free blog content that you can simply tweak a bit and post on your own blog. As a bonus, this content is typically crafted to sell as much as possible, so you’ll make some extra money as well.

15. Other members of your team

Lastly, don’t rely on just YOU. If you’re having trouble blogging, ask your team for help. Not everyone will be a great writer, but some people will rise to the occasion. If you have four other people on your staff and they each write just once a month, that’s a post per week!

And don’t believe them when they say they have nothing to write about. What questions do they get asked most often from customer? What do they wish people knew? What’s the hardest part about their job? Help them come up with content ideas and before long, you’ll have a stable of writers working for you.

Image credit: Bigstock

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