Your guide to a successful online business!

I help businesses grow. It’s what I do. I created my own online press agency in 2008, before selling it in 2014. Now I use my online and offline PR skills to boost the profile of businesses and individuals.

In this extract from my new book, The Million Dollar Blog, I’ll explain how your business can use blogging to reach more customers. It doesn’t matter whether you’re a plumber or a marketing professional, blogging holds the key to growing your business. Let’s get going.

Imagine…

…you’re a dentist. That means marketing is tough. Not only do your customers visit you infrequently; some actually find any excuse to avoid you altogether. But people do worry about their teeth, and they do invest in good dental care – so you need to reach out to them even if they’re not due for a check-up. And you know from your own online experience that your target customers use social media; so…

You post some high quality content relating to mouth and dental health – helpful but not preaching or promoting – and it gets noticed on social media feeds. You also offer a superbly-designed 10-Steps-to-a-Whiter-Smile eBook – and people sign up for it, adding themselves to your mailing list. Now you can send them short, informative, authoritative and encouraging e-newsletters.

See how it works? The people on your list will definitely think of you when they do need a dentist. And in the meantime, they’ll be telling their friends about you too, helping to build your mailing list even further.

So – if you’re a tree surgeon, a plumber, a marketing manager, a lawyer a property consultant, a professional cleaning company, a horse stud farm… YOU SHOULD BE BLOGGING.

And I’m going to say it again. You absolutely should be blogging for your business. Your buyers are actively online, and you need to be stamping out digital footprints for your business around the web and social media; and blogging is the way to do that. Essentially, whether you invest in your own time or pay someone else to write your blogs, by using the right techniques you will generate more real world sales and attract more customers to your business. Content marketing generates 3 times as many leads as traditional outbound marketing – and costs less.

And that is true whatever it is that your company does, and whether you are a one-person band or running a large company with hundreds of employees.

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Natasha Courtenay-Smith

Since 2007, I have used and continue to use content (including blogging) in all my business activities. Whilst running a company, blogging twice a week bought us more traffic, made us appear more reputable, improved our position in the search engines taking us to the top of Google, made our clients like us and trust us more before they got in touch with us……need I say more?

And today as a business and digital marketing consultant it’s still a central part of my strategy. Without my new content, my website would be dull and static. I use blogs to demonstrate my expertise and bring me all sorts of professional opportunities, ranging from speaking engagements to radio guest slots – to my book.

The internet and digital media have turned the whole business marketing process on its head. Consumers are now actively looking for information, not passively receiving it via advertisements. And business owners need to meet the needs of their prospects and customers by providing helpful, interesting, engaging content in a way that reflects whatever that business has to offer, answers their questions and establishes a trustworthy relationship.

And it gets even better! Look at the overall impact blogging will have on your business:

  • You get more leads
  • People recommend you, increasing your content reach
  • You have the best opportunities to communicate your market differentiation
  • You show people what it’s like dealing with you
  • You get to state and claim your market authority
  • You build trust and reputational capital
  • You spend less time actually selling – your content brings people to you.

Business blogging – inbound marketing – content strategy – what’s the difference?

Don’t be confused by what different marketing companies might call it – for business purposes it is all effectively the same, all part of creating and sharing valuable free content to engage with an audience of potential customers and turn them into actual customers.

Whether you are creating content for a big business or for yourself as a freelance service provider of any sort, you still have an audience made up of those people considering buying your real world products or booking your real world services.

The type of content you create is closely related to what you sell, but you are trying to educate, inform and entertain potential and new customers – and in a way that makes them know you, like you and trust you.

Some of the UK’s leading business blogs in action

I was really interested to see the final of the UK Blog Awards 2016. This year in their company category, their finalists included a huge variety of businesses and organisations, both large and small, household names and local business, all using content in an inspiring and successful way. Let’s hear some of the UK Blog Award finalists in the ‘company category’ summarise both what their business blog does for their company and customers, and the sorts of topics that they write about.

Cottages & Castles self catering cottages

Our blog shows another, more personal, side to our self-catering letting business. Although we are holiday accommodation providers, we understand that going on holiday is about the whole experience – where you can go, what you can do and how you can get the most out of your visit. Through fun, informative and interesting content we have built a library of posts which share hints, tips, advice, and inspirational stories showing Scotland off as the fantastic holiday destination it is.

The Royal Mint Blog

blog.royalmint.com is the official blog of The Royal Mint. Content on our blog includes: designer interviews, historical articles, guest blogs from our many partners, new coin announcements, bullion news, coin collecting articles, videos, infographics, competitions, interesting facts, the stories behind museum artifacts, blogs from employees across The Royal Mint and much much more.

Salford Business School

Salford Business School blog offers a space for academics, students as well as organisations who work with the school to share their business related lessons, observations and comments. The blog reflects the School’s mission for “Global thinking, Sustainable practice, Industry Connected, Professional success” and supports our vision “to be the primary destination of students and industry for next generation management and law knowledge and practice, that is industry relevant, digitally informed and globally accessible”.

Cancer Research UK

Run by the charity’s media team, the Cancer Research UK science blog covers the latest issues in cancer research and care, including research funded by the charity, but also wider issues of relevance to our supporters and the general public. We also debunk myths and media scares, contextualise prominent stories in the headlines and provide links to other helpful resources and information.

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Let’s look at a brand that’s famous around the world and takes business content to an incredible level…

Now you may have seen the Red Bull name prominently displayed at all kinds of sporting events – and this is because they take their strategy to another level, even putting on their own events to get more film footage. But really, what we are seeing is still part of their enormous content strategy in action.

Don’t worry – you won’t have to start hiring teams of extreme athletes – but the underlying concept remains the same for any business. It is all about defining your niche (what you are selling) and thinking about what your audience (your potential customers) need to know from you. It’s also about differentiating yourself positively from your competition, something that is much easier to do through thoughtful content than blunt advertising.

And the good news is that whilst a fashion blogger needs thousands of hits in order to monetise their blog, you need far fewer website visitors for your business blog – just enough of the right visitors to become customers or clients and enable you to grow your business to your ideal size.

Most businesses don’t need to appeal to broad consumer audiences, or to everyone. They just need to appeal to those who could become customers. So your content also allows you to communicate your unique differences, approaches and offerings, as Jason Korman from Florida based business consultancy Gaping Void explains, and end up with fans queuing to work with you rather than customers that you have to try to convince in order to make sales.

Data collection and email marketing

When it comes to a business blog, email isn’t just a means of getting more visitors; it’s a loyalty and sales strategy too.

And the statistics bear this out. Research by the Nielsen Norman Group shows that e-newsletters are still considered a great way to grow or maintain relationships even during times when people aren’t actively making purchasing decisions. And when it comes to purchases made as a result of receiving a marketing message, email has a higher conversion rate when compared to social media or direct mail.

And according to Management Consultants McKinsey & Co, email remains a significantly more effective way to acquire customers than social media, converting at up to 40 times the rate of Facebook and Twitter combined. It brings one of the highest ROIs of all activities that engage and nurture both potential customers and existing customers; and even better, it can be automated.

Let me illustrate using my own experience of starting, growing and selling my online press agency business. Our email strategy was significant to us in two key ways:

1. Generating leads: We actively encouraged visitors to the website to sign up for our email list, offering them the ‘bribe’ that our newsletters would help them learn how to make a little extra money by doing paid interviews with the media. We built up a mailing list of close to 10,000 people and every week we would email them with the latest opportunities to grab some paid media work. The email list became a huge lead-generator for the business – but it was a long-term strategy. I was amazed how some of the people who came to us had first joined our mailing list two or even three years earlier. So it took that long to convert a lead into a sale; and if they hadn’t been on that list during that time, they might easily have gone to a competitor when they were ready to do business.

2. Selling the business: When it came to selling the business, the email database was considered a major asset, providing valuable access to all the people who had already visited the site and put themselves on the list, or been in touch with the business and opted in to the list at that point. And I know that under the business’s new owners, the email list continues to grow and generate leads.

How to produce content for a business if you’re not a writer

Even if you are now convinced by the benefits of business blogging, you will still need to create content – and much of that will involve writing. So what do you do if you’re not confident as a writer?

Firstly, there are plenty of online resources that can help you, such as www.copyblogger.com and www.contently.com. Sign up for the newsletter for both and they will send you content creation tips directly to your inbox. But before doing that, have a think about the ideas below – you may discover that writing is a lot easier than you thought, and you will certainly gain an appreciation of how good your content must be:

Take content seriously

Content-writing is not a job that can be delegated to a part-time PA or landed on the plate of an already busy employee. It requires thought – and a schedule. Even if you only publish once each week, the week can quickly roll round with the next blog post still not written. So take it seriously – make it someone’s primary job, or commission a freelancer via www.upwork.com who will do the job properly and consistently.

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Just write

Your content must be of a quality to reflect your professionalism, but nobody is expecting Pulitzer prize-winning journalism. Simply get writing, and write in the same way that you talk. You’ll need to edit and refine it, but it will give you a less formal but trustworthy style.

Think about what your customers are asking you and then write up the answer as a blog post. Remember you are blogging for your customers and potential clients, not for your friends or peers. So think about your customers. Their questions are the best source of inspiration all the time, but especially when you are starting out. Using these topics, you can also extend your thinking to include what you would like your customers to know about your business or understand about the industry you operate in.

Use your industry news for inspiration

All industries have their own news, and you can use developments and happenings in your industry to inspire your blog posts, and make you appear like the industry leader you are. Try to be one of the first to offer your comment or opinion on major industry developments, suggestions as to how the industry as a whole can improve. Over time your blog could even become a resource for others in the industry which will improve your profile as an industry leader. Set up Google alerts for keywords that relate to your industry and use these news stories for inspiration.

Train yourself to see ideas everywhere

Your working world is interesting – it really is! It’s just that when you’re in the middle of it all every day, you don’t see it that way. And showing a glimpse of your world also helps to build that all-important trust. So, look at the things you routinely do, see and say in your business and find the content angle in it. Whenever I work with business owners on their digital strategy, they only need to start talking and my brain will be firing ‘there’s a blog post in this,’ ‘there’s content in that’.

Forget what you learned at school

Lessons from the past can hold you back when you’re trying to write content – after all, you’re not writing essays or formal letters. Content needs to be quick to read and easy to scan at a glance. This makes it simpler for you to devise and write content – just create one paragraph for each idea, and keep paragraphs short, three or four sentences at most. If you find you can’t do this, you’re probably trying to write a dissertation! And nobody is going to read that online.

Vary post length

Continuing the previous tip, play around with different lengths of post; readers appreciate the occasional short statement-like piece of content, especially if it contains just one powerful reflection, thought or piece of advice. And throw in video posts and image-led posts too to shape up the mix.

Make blogging your number one marketing tool

By focusing on informative and educational content, your business blog becomes your most powerful marketing tool. And that tool has very well defined goals:

  • To attract new leads
  • To draw leads to your business website and down your sales funnel
  • To increase customer retention and referral
  • To establish your authority as an industry leader
  • To bring you other business-building opportunities such as speaking engagements, press interviews or book deals

This was an edited extract from Natasha Courtenay-Smith’s book “The Million Dollar Blog”, available now from Amazon and in all good bookshops. You can visit Natasha’s website here.

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