7 Tips for Bootstrapping a Business by Blogging

Wednesday, September 5, 2007 at 9:30pm by Site Administrator

If you do decide that your business website should have a blog, and that having a blog can bootstrap your business, you’ll likely want a few pointers on settng up and managing a blog. This is not a detailed guide, but rather a quick overview.

  1. Blog setup.
    Setup a blog on a subdirectory of the main site. That is, if your website is at http://www.example.com/, use http://www.example.com/blog/ or some such instead of http://blog.example.com/.

  2. Niche selection.
    This is the tough decision. Your blog’s topic niche should be related to your business, but be of interest to readers. First, decide who your customers are, whether they will be your blog readers, and whether they’ll convert into customers. If that’s not possible, the blog can be about a topic related to your business, even just peripherally.

    Either way, your blog builds authority over time, and that authority partly transfers to the main website. That’s where you are selling your products or services, and hopefully it will receive its fair share of web traffic from search engine queries. (I.e., people searching for a specific product or service tend to be ready to buy something.)

  3. Editorial calendar.
    Once you’ve selected a niche, it’s easier to come up with a plan for actual articles – an editorial calendar. A strict editorial calendar also indicates specific publication dates. For a blog, you can just come up with a loose schedule and a list of article ideas or actual titles. It’s important that you publish “key” content:

    • Resource lists and general linkbait articles.
    • Profiles and interviews of industry leaders.
    • Comparisons and reviews of products and services, though not of your direct competitors.
    • Tutorials of how to do something related to your blog’s niche.
    • Video screencasts of how use relevant software.
    • Ebooks.

    All of these types of content should be produced with the intent of establishing your blog as an authority on its selected niche.

  4. Regular schedule.
    Publish to the blog regularly. If you can publish quality articles five days a week, fine. If you can’t, fine. Just be consistent. Any less than three times per week is not a good idea, in my opinion. Neither is it expected that you publish more than 3-5 articles per day, unless there is an overwhelming reason to do so.

  5. Giveaways.
    Use your blog, which does not hard sell your products and services, to occasional give away what you’re selling. You can also hire a design firm to create plugins and website templates for blog platforms (such as WordPress – one of the most popular Open Source platforms). Give the plugins and themes away on your blog.

    Such freebies can generate an awful lot of buzz for you, especially if you do them on a regular basis. Your website’s link goes into the footer, as the sponsor. [Some search engines may discount the value of these links, but you will still get visitors from blogs that use your free themes, and some bloggers will write about and link to your site. So it's still a worthwhile move.]

  6. Build relationships.
    Relationship-building is very important online, but it must be sincere and diplomatic. It’s not easy, and you might slip, so do your best to rectify awkward situations. This applies if you comment at other blogs related to your niche, which you should consider doing.

  7. Promote and build links.
    All the activities above are for naught if you cannot succeed in building links to your site through good content, social media marketing and ongoing networking with other online professionals. For more reading material, check out Tropical SEO and Search Engine Journal.

This is the tip of the iceberg for building a successful “business” blog, though it should give you a general overview.

Bootstrap a Business Through Blogging

Tuesday, August 28, 2007 at 7:00pm by Site Administrator

For startups/ entrepreneurs considering launching a blog to promote business, heed the WSJ. The Wall Street Journal got it right when they said Blog it and they may come. Blogs, once established, can generate search traffic and/or regular readers.

The operative word is “can”, as there really are millions of blogs out there. It takes more than just writing, though. It takes networking and promoting your blog, as well as authoritative content to establish you as an expert on something. Do it right, and a blog can be more effective than advertising in indirectly producing sales.

What topic should you write about?
One question is ‘what topic’ to cover? Should the blog be about the business? Will anyone care? Will that drive the right readership and convert them into clients/ customers? Would a topic peripherally-related be more useful to readers? I.e., a topic that does not hard sell your services.

For example, a software company CAN blog about their updates and how great they are, but would that drive traffic? Would writing about software development be better? Would enough people read that to make it worth continuing, and are those readers ever going to buy a copy of the software?

Maybe a blog about managing a startup business or team management – with personal case studies – would be much more targeted. Wouldn’t those readers tend to be owners/ managers, and wouldn’t they be more likely to buy the product, thus justifying the blog?

Who should write on the blog?
Then comes the question of who should write this. If you want the blog to also be about the business itself, maybe you, the owner/ entrepreneur, should write. At least initially. If it’s your business, your writing doesn’t cost anything except your time, and you’re more likely to be passionate about it than a hired blogger from outside the business.

If you have the gift of good communication, then you are a good candidate. But keep in mind that the existence of the blogosphere didn’t suddenly create a world full of good communicators. Some bloggers can’t form a coherent sentence, no matter how intelligent they may be in person.

If you fall into that category, being the blogger will harm rather than help your business. Poor grammar and spelling are fine on a personal blog, not on a business blog. And I don’t mean the occasional typo. Mediocrity of topic will also harm your brand.

This is even more important if your website is actually trying to sell products or services. Blogging becomes a supplement to advertising, and can in fact be more powerful. Hiring a professional blogger, someone who can be passionate about a topic can make a difference. Making them a long-term partner, such as through vesting shares and/or a percentage of net profits, should make them more passionate – but it isn’t absolutely necessary. (That is, there are many professional bloggers who are simply passionate about writing period.)

Keep in mind, though, that if your business’ blog does well in readership/ traffic but doesn’t convert that into sales, the cost of your hosting could become a problem – as the Wall Street Journal article points out. So factor both a possible professional blogger and web hosting into your blog operating costs – at least in the medium- to long-term.

Summary
I’ve probably asked more questions than I’ve answered. Bootstrappers tend to do a lot of things themselves, usually because of lack of funds. But even a bootstrapping entrepreneur has to at some point delegate tasks they can no longer manage.

Innovate to Stay In Business

Tuesday, July 17, 2007 at 2:00pm by Site Administrator

Sounds like a fairly obvious directive, right? Unfortunately, not every company does it. Witness the demise of SunRocket [NY Times, free registration may be req'd], a reasonably successful player in the VoIP market.

VoIP, or Voice over Internet Protocol, is a group of related technologies that allow consumers to make phone calls over their Internet access – be it cable, high-speed dialup, satellite, power, Wi-Fi, or cellular.

SunRocket, like it’s very troubled direct competitor Vonage, are known as “pure VoIP” providers. They pretty much can only offer a few services, primarily because consumers use their regular home telephones and a special converter.

However, competitors such as Comcast, have a million VoIP customers to SunRocket’s 200,000. Why? Because Comcast is a cable company that can offer “triple play” services. Depending on the Triple Play provider, this may include TV, Internet and VoIP over the same “lines”.

Pure plays cannot offer much more than VoIP service, though a few made an attempt by offering home alarm services. So in terms of a service offering, while there is a market for Pure Plays, it’s probably much smaller than for Triple Plays. Pure VoIP providers simply cannot compete long-term, and were doomed to begin with.

Note, however, that with IPTV (Internet Protocol TV) offerings such as Joost and Babelgum, Triple Plays may very well lose their TV package customers. And with cell phone makers heading towards hybrid models that can work on both cellular networks and Wi-Fi networks (whether in your home or elsewhere), home phone providers may also start losing customers. So Triple Plays may become Single Plays – though probably not for several years.

Companies have to stay on top of these “convergence” trends in VoIP or other markets. Just preparing for the inevitable future is not enough. They’ll have to follow through and actually innovate if they want to stay in business long-term.

Moving a Business Online

Thursday, July 12, 2007 at 11:00pm by Site Administrator

Do you have a business that has traditionally been offline? Wondering how you might transform your operations to an online existence? This is a question that many print magazine and newspapers – and other businesses – are asking, in hopes of solving the loss of readership and revenues.

Large (inter)national publications have an easier time of the conversion because they have a wider pool of advertisers. They still have to be innovative, but at least they’ll probably earn some revenues.

Local newspapers will find it difficult, as will other non-web businesses, especially if most of their revenue is earned locally. It’s not that online publishers cannot target ads to visitors from certain locales. Rather, local advertisers may not know or understand this, and thus may be unwilling to give the online medium a try.

If you are considering moving to an online presence, whether solely or to supplement your bricks-and-mortar existence, and whether or not you are a publisher, here are a few tips:

  1. Research.
    Some people might have you think otherwise, but not every business needs a website (and not every website needs a weblog.) Make sure you understand if your business has to be operated differently online.

  2. Switch gradually.
    Your research may show that your competitors are online and even earning reasonable extra revenues. But don’t ditch your terrestrial operations all of a sudden, thinking you’ll do fine being only online.

  3. Start now.
    Switching gradually means setting up a basic web presence first. Then improve on it gradually, with extra features and functionality as you are able. If most or all of your revenue is offline, you do not necessarily have to spend thousands of dollars setting up a slick, AJAXified website.

  4. Test the waters.
    Maybe your budget does not yet allow a full-blown ecommerce site or lots of advertising. Why not start by offering valuable information to your customers? What that is depends on your business, of course.

  5. Promote.
    Just building a website isn’t enough to draw visitors. I.e., if you build it, they won’t necessarily come. You do have to promote your website, whether online or offline – which does not necessarily cost money.

This is only a very basic summary of the process for transitioning, though it should give you an overview.

Comments (0) | Filed under: Marketing

Should Your Business Website Have a Blog?

Monday, July 9, 2007 at 8:00pm by Site Administrator

You’re a bootstrapping entrepreneur or business owner trying to keep operating costs down. You’ve heard that everyone and their sickeningly cute lolcats are blogging and you’re thinking you should have a blog, too. Someone told you your website and business need it or you’ll be left behind. So what’s the story? Do you need a blog?

Usability and web design expert Jakob Nielsen of Nielsen Norman Group says no, and that you should write articles, not blog postings. He explains why articles add authority and the majority of blog postings – even those written by “experts” in a niche – decrease authority.

Premise

Nielsen conducted a number of “Monte Carlo” simulations, a statistical method used to predict a possibility of scenarios, given the right parameters. His simulation results suggest that the majority of blog posts in a block of 10,000 posts (1,000 experts each write 10 posts) result in average quality writing for most bloggers. Under the simulations, even a top-ranked expert will have the majority of their posts span from high-quality down to below average – which Nielsen suggests is unacceptable, that customers should want to pay for the information you provide them.

Exceptions

Now that said, these are statistical simulations based on assumed parameters. An experienced/ professional writer who has an understanding of the difference between blogging and article writing can produce an effective blog that adds authority to a business website.

This might mean, however, that you, a business owner, have to hire a professional instead of being the blogger yourself. And the content plan should include indepth pieces as well as short summaries. Nielsen discounts short summary posts, but they do have value:

  1. Increased visibility in search engines.
    The way that some search engines’ algorithms currently operate, not having regular fresh content means a decrease in ranking in the SERPs (Search Engine Results Pages). Producing indepth articles every day is beyond the ability of most writers/ bloggers.

  2. Varied content density.
    You do want regular fresh content. While quality is more important than quantity, if you can present quality short summaries, they do have value. One is varied content density, which gives regular readers respite from longer, indepth articles.

    That is, posting lots of long articles is no better than posting lots of short posts. In fact, it’s probably worse because regular readers may feel intimidated by the volume of content you are suddenly producing. Even the most popular indepth writers, such as personal development blogger Steve Pavlina, do not write every day.

    We forget that prior to the Internet loads of research showed that the average adult American male – who still dominates in online presence – gave very little time to daily reading. The blogosphere changed that, but some people still read superficially. Providing only indepth pieces is not the way to grab their attention.

  3. Personal connection.
    Some people actually enjoy reading the personal commentary of those writers they’ve attributed some authority and expertise to. Longer, indepth pieces can establish authority, but short summaries with added personal commentary add the personality that blogging enjoys over regular articles. We humans are social animals and tend to a sort of clannishness.

    This is ideal if your business wants to achieve a one on one relationship with customers. If you don’t want this, then having a blog will detract from your site. You especially do not want a blogger talking about what they had for breakfast – something that happens far too often on too many blogs. Unless, of course, your business has something to do with food.


Conclusion

While you do not have to produce daily content, sometimes short posts suffice. For example, if your business resides purely online, a blog that keeps readers updated as to new features, changes in development platform, announcements, etc., is a must. Only indepth pieces are completely out of place. For a blog of this sort, you do not need a professional blogger.

What’s more, what Nielsen fails to mention (unless it was buried somewhere in the sections of his very long, indepth piece that I skipped because it was too intimidating) is that no matter whether you write short pieces or indepth pieces, quality will still fall into a spectrum. As a reader, would you rather read lots of indepth pieces that are of average quality, or would you have more tolerance for average short pieces?

In short, while not every business needs a website and not every website needs a weblog, there are benefits to having a business weblog that offers a mix of article and post styles. The real question to be answered is “Can you present information of value to your site visitors, and can you do so in an accessible manner, with quality content?” Essentially, Nielsen appears to be saying that most bloggers cannot achieve this with short posts on a consistent basis. I’m saying you can, with the right blogger.

Comments (3) | Filed under: Marketing, Skills

21 Ways to Promote Your Startup Business

Saturday, June 23, 2007 at 7:00pm by Site Administrator

Whether you’re running a bricks and mortar business or something online, you can promote your business in both worlds. Here are a few methods that have worked for others. Keep in mind that not all of them will work for you, as some options lend themselves better to certain types of businesses. This list is intended as a convenient resource, and even a reminder of some promotional methods you may have forgotten about.

New Media

These are just ten ways you can promote your business online, even if your business is offline. Most of these methods are free or low-cost.

  1. Website and/or weblog.
    It’s not enough these days to have just a website. Consider a weblog about a topic related to your industry or business, and resident in a subdirectory of your main website. If you already have a domain name and website, WordPress is an ideal, easy-to-use, expanable platform for adding a weblog. Publish useful resources, articles, ebooks, video how-tos, podcasts, etc., that are either directly or peripherally related to your business or broader industry. Establish yourself as an authority in your articles, without doing a hard-sell.

  2. Blog carnivals.
    Of course, if you build it, they won’t necessarily come. In some niches, it’s simply difficult to build up a blog’s authority and rank without networking, so to speak. Blog carnivals can help immensely. If you don’t see one that suits, consider starting one, but prepared for the work that entails. Remember, however, that you are not directly promoting your business. You’re promoting the wonderful, useful content on your website or blog, and that of participants in each edition of the carnival.

  3. Social media.
    Social media comes in a variety of forms and includes bookmarking sites with or without voting (del.icio.us, reddit, digg, netscape, stumbleupon), wikis (Wikipedia), eprofiles (myspace), environments (Second Life), and others. These sites/ services can go a long way towards helping you promote your business, provided you respect the culture at each and are not overly commercial. Sites like Wikipedia allow you to build a profile page. (Note: some firms are now conducting job interviews in Second Life, a 3D social environment. Other companies are merely establishing a Second Life presence.)

  4. Online advertising.
    This includes graphic banners, text links, pay per click text ad campaigns, sponsorship, purchased editorials, web directories, etc. There are far too many to list them all, but Google AdWords and Text-Link-Ads are a couple of examples.

  5. Templates and plugins.
    If you have design or coding skills, you could create custom weblog themes and/or plugins and give them away. The former would mean links back to your website(s) from any site using your theme. The latter would at least build some traffic because weblog resource sites such as Weblog Tools Collection will list your plugin (and themes).

  6. Award buttons.
    Can you think of a unique way to reward other websites that fall into some award theme? Create a design for the award, make it a standard size, and start profiling other sites, to whom you offer your award. The result, hopefully, is a link back from awarded site, as well as curious traffic from those sites. This is not something that will work for everyone because there are so many awards out there. A couple of popular examples are Liz Strauss’ SOB award for “successful and outstanding bloggers”, and Kineda’s Are you an A-list bloglebrity.

  7. Ebooks.
    Seth Godin, Chris Garrett, Brian Clark, Yaro Starak and others have given away quality marketing, writing and/or blogging advice in the form of free ebooks. What do you think that did for their reputations? Right. Cory Doctorow, a blogger and co-founder of Boing Boing and a highly-praised science fiction author gives away copies of his works of fiction in ebook form, and he feels that this has increased sales of his work.

  8. Viral videos.
    Viral videos are simply any type of video that you’ve released to a video sharing site such as YouTube or Revver and which catches so much attention that loads of people start adding the video to their site. Of course, your website or weblog’s URL is shown at the start and end of the video, so you’ll get some type-in traffic. Depending on how viral you go, this could be massive. Of course, you want videos that are not only entertaining but somehow relevant to your business. They could be how-to tutorials. Or they could be like the Diet Coke and Mentos video below. Now, imagine if you were running a laundry/ cleaners. The video, had you created it, would be relevant, because you want people trying out these soda geyser experiments to come to you to get the stains out of their lab coats.

  9. Affiliate program.
    Are you selling something online? Do you have enough of a profit margin to offer other sites (probably blogs) a percentage of sales to be an affiliate? They advertise your program/ products on their site, and if a visitor to your site, referred by an affiliate, purchases something, the affiliate gets either a flat or percentage commission. It’s free advertising for you, and if you develop a symbiotic relationship with affiliates, that’s revenue for both of you. Before you can pull off an affiliate program, however, you need establish some sort of authority with your brand/ website/ weblog. For example, Amazon.com, who are probably a better known brand around the world than any terrestrial bookstore chain, have an affiliate program that earns some diligent bloggers reasonable extra monthly income. [Some affiliates, of course, earn nothing.] One great resource to read is Tropical SEO’s How to: build an affiliate site you can sell for $1M. While it’s written for the perspective of an affiliate, if you plan to run an affiliate program, it’s worthwhile reading. It’ll come in handy if you plan to actually help your affiliates be better at their end – something that, of course, is good for both of you.

  10. Copywritten sales letter.
    The massively long sales letter written by a highly-paid but experienced copywriter could be enough to boost your business into the millions or multi-millions in terms of units sold or revenue. And it works online (one-page websites) as well as offline (direct mail).


Old media

Of course, let’s not forget the offline methods of promotion that have been around for decades. Some of these will still work for you, even if your business is online, especially if your website URL is displayed prominently.

  1. Billboards.
    Obviously, this is likely to put a dent in your wallet, but there are some locations that might be affordable. In some bigger cities like Toronto, Canada, there are digital billboards in some parts of the city, especially near the main thoroughfares. So billboard operators can control the number of “impressions” of your ad. This might allow you to opt for a smaller, more affordable monthly plan.

  2. Coupons.
    Coupons are suitable for some businesses. For others, they’re tacky, unless you can come up with a unique design/ approach. Coupons work both offline and online.

  3. Flyers + inserts.
    Back in the late-80s, someone stood on a busy corner in downtown Toronto handing out flyers that were rolled up and tied with a red ribbon. I stood around and observed for a while. Nearly every one that passed by took a flyer. Compare that to the uptake ratio of a flat piece of paper.

  4. Radio ads.
    Radio ads do not have to be all that expensive. Ask for affordable plans. Also check with community and student radio stations.

  5. TV ads.
    Every TV station will occasionally have an unfilled ad slot that they reserve for local businesses. You might get lucky and get an affordable spot. Find out if your community has a filmmaking/ multimedia collective. You may be able to put together a commercial for less than a few thousand dollars. There even a few websites that offer entrepreneurs inexpensive TV commercial production. Examples are Cheap TV Spots, Cheap TV Spots!, and Spot Runner.

  6. Talk shows, lecture/ circuit.
    If you’re the averge startup entrepreneur, Oprah’s probably not going to be calling you up. But it could and does happen. Just make sure you don’t pull a Tom Cruise. There are, of course, local radio and TV talk shows, and if you have something interesting to offer, that’s a bit more publicity for you.

  7. Stickers and bookmarks.
    Don’t underestimate the promotional value of little piece of paper or cardboard. Stickers are always fun, but limited in terms of the age group you can target. Bookmarks – the paper kind that you stick in books – can be given away at bookstores or libraries.

  8. Business cards.
    Or even better, Moo cards with your Skype acct printed on them. If you’re a software company, burn a stack of “business card” mini CDs loaded with software and give those away instead. They’re the size of a business card but are fully-functioning software CDs.

  9. T-shirts.
    Everyone loves a t-shirt, right? Well, maybe. Get something interesting designed, print off a batch, and give them away to friends and at tradeshows, or wherever they’ll take them. It’s not free advertising, per se, but it can be effective at least locally, sometimes nationally or globally.

  10. Festivals.
    Most cities and towns have a festival or three in the Summer and Fall, or even at other times of year. If it’s suitable to your business, give away free product samples. Or t-shirts. Or business card CDs.

  11. Human body.
    Tattoos and shaved logos (head)? It’s true. There are people who will rent space on their body for your logos – sometimes even permanent.

What ever method you use, be creative, be innovative, and consider different perspectives from the consumer side. Either that or open up your wallet and hire an experience advertising agency.

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