Not everyone is a writer. Not everyone likes to write, wants to write, has time to write or has a clue how to start writing. I get that.
But everyone wants a successful business, wants to reach more customers, build authority in a field, get credibility and attention and boost SEO. And the horrible, scary bottom line is that having a business blog is one of the most powerful ways to do all that.
So what’s a non-writer to do? Whether you’re resisting the idea of writing or really want to tackle it but just don’t know where to start, here are ideas to get you going and tips to keep you rolling.
How To Build A Successful Blog: Start Before You Start
I do not want you to start a blog. I do not want you to just start writing. If you already have a blog and it’s not doing so well, I want you to put it on hiatus and take a long break. If your blog isn’t doing so well, nobody will miss you anyway. That’s right, I want you not to blog.
What I want you to do is plan instead. And here is how you’re going to do it.
Read And Learn
Find blogs in your industry and make note of what they’re talking about, the comments they get, what topics are hot, which fall flat. You can do this by going to Google’s Blog Search and entering a few keywords there. Or visit Technorati and peruse their list of the top 100 blogs.
“But nobody in my industry blogs!” I can hear you whine.
Then look for blogs disguised as “news”. See what your competitors are putting out there. Take note of anything that is either inspiring or boring. And by “take note” I mean actual notes. Copy entire paragraphs into a text document for later inspiration. Keep a pen or other note-taking device within arm’s reach at all times and note everything and anything that stands out as either good or bad.
There’s a great app I use called Instapaper that lets you bookmark with ease and sync with your phone or iPad, and it strips out all those annoying ads and even the site navigation so all you get is the important content. Plus you can read offline even if you don’t have an internet connection so cough up the few bucks and save yourself a lot of time.
I want you to read more than blogs, too. In fact, I want you to look at your book shelf right now and if the only things on it are a battered copy of The Catcher in the Rye and the one marketing book that you never even broke the binding of, then it’s time to build your library. Buy a book or download one to your device of choice.
As you read, make more notes about what you’ve learned, including ideas for topics or just thoughts that spring into your head.
This will be the start of your plan.
Decide Who Your Audience Is
You aren’t writing in a vacuum. You aren’t writing to a blank wall. You’re writing to people who are your customers, could be your customers or might refer you to someone else who could be your customer.
Your writing should sound like a conversation and the only way to do that is to know who you’re talking to. Get out your pen again because you’re about to create a dossier. I want you to envision the person who you will be writing to. Envision a very specific person. Is it a man or woman? Is she wealthy or struggling? Is he a good-old-boy or a Wall Street one-percenter? Suburban mom or urban socialite? Tech-savvy or tech-wary?
Close your eyes and visualize the person you’ll be writing for. Imagine having a conversation about one of your topics. Write down everything you know about this person – interests, income level, family, career. Do this for each “personality” you’ve included in your audience.
The better picture you can draw of this person, the better able you’ll be able to have a conversation and call it a blog.
You can have more than one person in your mental conversation, with different personalities and needs, but make sure you know this up front so you know exactly who you will be writing for.
Avoid this mistake of many new bloggers: don’t try to be everything to everyone. Your audience is never “everyone”. The more specifically you can define your niche the better chance of success.
Decide Who You Are
This is usually referred to as “finding your voice”. You probably won’t really find your voice until you’ve had some practice writing and start to get a feel for it. But that doesn’t mean you should start haphazardly. You have a personality. Your brand has a personality. Your writing should reflect that. If your company is fun-loving and light-hearted, don’t go for dry technical writing. If you’re dealing with technical issues then don’t be slangy and glib.
If you’re a storyteller, use that to your advantage. If you throw an anecdote into everything you say, throw one into your blog posts. If you’re direct in real life, be direct on your blog.
You don’t have to “be” anything or like anyone else. Avoid this other new blogger mistake: don’t try to sound like someone else. After you read blogs for a while you may decide you really like a particular writer’s style. But that writer is not you. You must be you.
Build An Idea List
If you’ve been reading and paying attention you shouldn’t have to look hard for ideas. Start making a running list of things you can write about. You don’t need full blown blog titles or whole paragraphs. Just a few words to remind you of what you can write about.
On your topic list I want you to include titles of other blogs that particularly struck you. Maybe you liked a turn of phrase or a concept. Write the whole title down and insert a blank space where you can fill in your own idea later. For example, if you read a great blog about “15 Ways To Cook A Mean Chicken Dinner”, your idea might be “15 Ways To [xxxx].” Later when you’re fishing for ideas, you can use that sentence starter as a jumping-off point.
Your idea list should be very long. There may be some things on it that you never write about. But this is not the time to judge, only brainstorm. At any given time I have about a hundred topic ideas on a list waiting to inspire me. When I’m ready to write, I scan through them and pick one that speaks to me, is particularly relevant or seems like a topic my readers would want to know more about.
If you’re in app mode, Evernote is a great way to make quick notes about ideas, whether you have one while you’re working at your computer or in the middle of the night in your dreams. Plus there’s a free version, so bonuses all around.
Pay Attention To Your Customers
One of the easiest ways to build an idea list is to start noting questions your customers ask you. In fact, this very blog post was inspired by someone I know lamenting the undesirable need to blog!
Remember those lame FAQs we used to put on our websites? Most of the time we made that stuff up anyway, because, well, you just needed an FAQ page, didn’t you? Forget that. Take your actual customer questions or any good leftover ones from the FAQ days and turn them into blogs posts. If one person asked, there are many who didn’t.
Set A Publication Schedule
Yes, before you write one little word I want you to commit to writing those words. Don’t get overly ambitious and decide to write every day. Start with once per month if you think that’s all you can manage. Go for once per week if you want better odds at generating sustained interest.
How often should you write? That’s a question hotly debated. Some people say, “Only when you have something of value to say.” Other people say, “Minimum three times a week.” What that means is that there isn’t a right answer. There’s only the best answer, for you and your business. But I insist that you need a regular writing schedule or you simply won’t do it. I’d rather see you put out a blog post that is less than award-winning than put out none at all. If you’ve done your homework and follow through, you’ll be providing value even when you’re a little off your A-game.
Whatever schedule you decide on, put those publication dates in your calendar and treat them as deadlines. Schedule an entire year’s worth of specific publication dates. Yes, a year. You will be more likely to keep a commitment if you make one first, and blogs don’t get successful overnight.
Once you get in the groove you can set up an editorial calendar where you sketch out the topics you’ll cover on each day, but for now let your inspiration guide you.
With A Plan In Place, Start Writing
My high school English teacher taught us a writing strategy that was so simple and effective that I use it to this day. And each of my five brothers after me (yes, there are that many) who had the same teacher still remember and use it, too.
Its essence is to start with an opening statement, choose three supporting points and end with a conclusion. Tie that conclusion into your opening paragraph and “close the loop”.
You’ve probably heard it something like: tell them what you’re going to tell them, tell them, then tell them what you just told them.
You can work on your creativity and the nuances of writing later but for now I want you to get into the groove of writing and the simplest way to do that is to start with a simple format.
As for how to get started, there are two schools of thought and you have to decide which one works for you…
Dive In Head First
Some people work best when they dive right in. I’m a “dive right in” kind of person. When a topic calls to me I start putting everything that’s on my mind onto the page. If this works for you, start writing and keep writing. Don’t get hung up on spelling and grammar. Don’t write a paragraph then go back and edit. Keep going right through the end and go back later with the figurative red pen.
I find it helpful to mark things in bold or red if it’s something that requires a bit more research. It’s better to make a note to research later than to interrupt your flow and start hunting around for some fact or figure or quote.
Or, Write An Outline
Dig deep into your junior high memories and pull out the outline. This doesn’t have to be anything fancy. Make a list of the points you want to hit and add in all the facts, figures and quotes you want to use. You don’t need to do this in full sentences; you just need to organize your ideas.
Once you have an outline you can start writing and put the pieces together. It’s still a good idea to ignore spelling and grammar and go for the flow.
Remember you aren’t married to one of these strategies, so if you think writing an outline is a great idea but find it bogs you down, then try diving in next time.
How Not To Write A Blog
More people have mastered the art of the blog title than have mastered the art of writing the actual blog. Countless times I’ve visited a blog based on a promising title only to find six paragraphs that read like a third grade essay. You remember those… your teacher told you to write a two-page essay on your hero or your favorite food and you did everything in your power just to use up space.
Why Cookies Are The Best Dessert Ever (promising title, I’m ready to be convinced…)
The purpose of your blog post is not to take up space. It is to provide valuable content to your readers. Your readers should be able to take something away from your blog, to feel encouraged, informed or otherwise satisfied. Do not cheat your readers.
Plan, Blog, Rinse, Repeat
This entire process is a cycle that will continue throughout the lifetime of your blog. You must continue reading, asking, learning, noting and exploring.
The more you read, watch and listen, the more you’ll find yourself uncovering ideas for blogs. And the more you write the better you’ll get at expressing yourself. Blogging is not something you learn and then do. It’s something you keep learning and keep doing. You learned your business – you can learn this, too.
If you’re not convinced by now that even the most non-literary among us can blog for business, well, all I can say is… hire me. I’ve got plenty to say.
Until then, get out there and make the fantastic opportunity that is a blog work for you and your business.
PS: Check back in a few days because I’ve got a whole arsenal of blog ideas and inspiration to kick start your writing.