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March 28, 2008

What I've Learned About Blogging These Past 18 Months

Coming up on eighteen months of blogging, I realize I have developed some very definite opinions about blogging as it pertains to content, frequency, design and its use as a marketing tool.  It has been a learning curve for me, a deliberate decision to start from scratch, literally.  It took me five minutes to set up and endless hours to build content and reader loyalty which has converted to a viable (inter)national business. I've paid attention to the experts but also made many of my decisions intuitively based upon my background in marketing, advertising, promotion, sales and interpersonal relationships.

And from this experience I can share some perspectives, not as an expert on the subject of blogging, one who designs blogs or teaches about blogging, but from one who has experienced the power of blogging as a blogger...learned what to do and what not to do and achieved a certain level of success I'm comfortable with as my business keeps growing with this platform as well as my presence on the internet.

So, what I've learned (from the perspective of an entrepreneur...an individual trying to build a presence, create a following and earn a living):

Content is king.  This is indisputable.  You may catch me once with a snappy headline.  You may intrigue me to come back one or two more times because I want to like you. But if you don't follow through with the same high quality content and focus, respect my time as a reader, I will not come back. Those who read blogs want to know you value their time and will not waste it with off-topic nonsense, personal meanderings without relevance.

Define the mission of your blog and stick to it.  There is no denying I talk about Building A Solo Practice.  I never waiver.  Every post is related on some level to the issues surrounding solo practice.  Have I been tempted to discuss off-topic matters?  Absolutely.  I always have to refrain because I recognize if I meander I defeat my purpose for this blog and risk annoying and alienating those who have been long-time readers.  It doesn't mean I'm not human.  It doesn't mean I don't write on topics which allow me to interject personal experiences...but they all relate back to the main theme of this blog....issues facing solo practitioners.  I can't tell you how many times decent blogs I used to read started to meander and I ended up taking them off my feeder.  And once they start meandering, they don't seem to be able to find their way back to their stated purpose. Create a personal, private blog if you must.  But don't dilute your business blog.  Just don't. 

If you are going to change the core focus of your blog....start a new blogThe experts may disagree with me on this.  However, as a reader of blogs nothing irks me more, makes me distrust a blogger and their purported authority, than when someone starts with one focus, self-analyzes themselves on their blog and then tells me they are going to switch focus over and over, again.  Please don't subject us to your growing pains unless your growth is relevant to your mission. Our time is valuable. It's also unprofessional. If you are unsure of your practice area or focus, wait until things crystalize for you so you can blog going forward with certainty.  And if you do shift gears, either create a new blog for that focus or very specifically announce on your current blog that you are shifting gears....give your blog a visual facelift then state your new mission with conviction thereby showing you respect your reader's time and their loyalty.... and then blog away in your new direction.

Frequency of postings mattersYou will hear quite often that when you first start blogging you should post quite frequently for SEO while buildling blog content.  This will also help you develop good blogging habits. But it is also a little like Goldilocks and the Three Bears; blog too little, not good.  Blog too much, it can become overwhelming for you to continue producing quality content and overwhelming to the reader to read. Even if you are on their RSS feeder, your good blog posts get glossed over in the reader's rush to skim all your new headlines.  Posts you may have spent hours working on don't get the mileage they deserve. 

There is a 'just right' amount of blogging for each blogger.  I have found a rhythm which works for me, three or four posts per week with particular categories unique to my blog:  I post original lengthy posts on Mondays and Fridays.  I reserve Sundays for my "Tip of the Week" and Thursdays for "Passed the Bar - Hung A Shingle" and "Going Solo; Confessions and Inspirations".  Periodically, I'll have a flurry of activity just to mix it up or because it was a particularly newsworthy week on the blogosphere and I feel compelled to comment.  But my readership has come to rely on this blog's rhythm and I'm personally comfortable with the frequency as I am running a business just like yourself.

Design is critical.  Ironically, eighteen months ago, when I first started blogging on Typepad for $8.95 a month with a pre-set theme, I didn't think design was as important even though I understood it needed to be readable and relatively easy on the eye. And I certainly didn't want to spend vast sums of money on something brand new to me until I was sure of its value and that I mentally had the staying power to do it correctly.

I was concentrating on content, linking to relevant thought leaders, commenting on blogs, doing trackbacks and more as I learned the basics of having my voice heard.  Clearly, I wanted to drive quality traffic which had the potential to create loyal readers and attract those who desired my services.  Basically I spent fifty percent of my time 'conversing' which is the beauty of blogging.  I wanted to explore this wonderful world of blogging to see it's value as a marketing tool.  Readership grew.  Links abounded.  Comments increased. And the personal connectivity was especially gratifying. It was doing wonders for my business, presentation and authority.  And it also produced unexpected opportunities because I did not limit my expectations.  I kept an open mind.  Blogging is kind of like going into outerspace.  You know there are going to be stars and planets, some asteroids.  But in the largest part the universe is still the great unknown.  So is putting yourself out there through blogging.

But 18 months on the internet is the equivalent of five dog years.  Technology changes at warp speed, and your blog has to keep up with the technologies or it looks and functions like an old staion wagon plugging along on the autobahn. This can reflect back upon you as a service provider.  You don't want your potential clients to see you as dated and not up to speed.

After a few months I got bored with the look of my own blog and frustrated at its technological limitations.  So, I would change from one Typepad theme to another every few months.  The colors stayed the same but I realized it simply didn't reflect my personality or my mission.  I had conquered the content mandate as my readership grew and loyalty increased, but my site was visually uninspired. (I'm neither visually dull nor cookie cutter (lol)). It was then I understood I needed to showcase my individuality as well as my mission, make it different from others, not take on someone else's persona.  I didn't want to reflect the personality of Typepad.  I wanted to reflect my personality within the context of my blog's mission.  And this required customized design. Design that utilized appropriate colors, had visual appeal, elements which encouraged reading and was both unique and contemporary. I can't tell you how many blogs I am attracted to for their content but I am unable to read them because the design, font style and size, color choice, contrast between type color and background is so poor it is offputting.

I recognized I had maxed out my interest in conquering technologies and it was no longer a good use of my time.  I understood the actual act of blogging and I wanted to concentrate on content and other profitable enterprises. Therefore, I got myself a web-designer. Fortunately, my designer was wonderful even though he was somewhat handicapped working within Typepad's limitations. (Due to the number of links I enjoy, I chose not to risk disrupting them by switching blogging platforms).  However, if I was to start blogging today I would use Wordpress because it allows greater customization and is the gold standard from which your blog can evolve easily as technologies improve.  The new Solo Practice University will use Wordpress for its blog.

Improved design increased my readership, connectivity and business by 50%.  You read that correctly, fifty percent.  Yes, I timed the introduction of Solo Practice University E-zine with the launch of my new design but when you improve design (properly) clients respond on an unconscious level.  It's a fact.  Visual cues are very important.  And as bloggers fight for readership, visual appeal and easy navigability will be a huge factor.  And visual differentiation will be even more critical.  I take issue with solos sacrificing their individuality (the cornerstone of being solo) by getting stamped with another's assembly-line design.  If you are ready to spend money on upgrading your blog, find a designer who will help you express your uniqueness, not corral you into their existing format.  Readers want to feel as if they've discovered a new voice wrapped in a unique presentation.  Don't deprive them of originality.  The internet is not about sameness.  It's about breaking out.

While there is clearly so much more to blogging, these are some of my honest observations of blogging as a marketing tool as I have experienced them as an entrepreneur building her presence on the internet.  I hope it helps you with your blogging decisions.  I would love you to share your experiences as blogging is rapidly becoming the cornerstone of most solos' marketing campaigns and there are many trials and tribulations every blogger experiences.

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Comments

Eugene Lee

Susan,

Very thought-provoking and high quality post. I especially appreciated your point about not meandering off-topic. I've been guilty of that a few times, but I'll be more mindful thanks to your words of wisdom. I've only been blogging (seriously) for 5 months but, like you, I've found it to be very rewarding. Keep the great posts coming!

Susan Cartier Liebel

Thanks, Eugene. I'll keep working on it! And you've got a great blog. Nice job.

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