Tuesday, June 15, 2010

What Good Is It, Without Immediate Return?

"Everyone says it's a great idea, but no one uses it" sums up much of the business world when it comes to blogs. For every entrepreneur who is successfully producing such electronic articles on a regular basis, there are likely ten whose efforts remain forever in the planning stage, stay perpetually sporadic, or die within three months.

Probably the top reason given is "not enough time." And cranking out a thousand or more words per week does take time (no matter how many non-writers think in terms of "dashing something off"). Still, I know several business owners who run highly profitable solo enterprises and still find time to turn out three or four blog posts a week, while many businesses with decent-sized staff pools are still planning to "get around to it someday." And anyone who really considers something a high priority will make time for it--or hire someone to do it.

So why do blogs and other e-articles, popular as they are in theory and given the number of successful businesses that swear by them, sink to the bottom of so many priority lists?

Probably because of a widespread tendency to judge everything by immediate and obvious results. It can be hard not to think in terms of "Getting people interested in what we do and what we know is all well and good, but shouldn't we devote the bulk of our resources to encouraging them to buy immediately? Where's the return on investment in giving out free health hints or telling funny stories about what it took to develop our new product?"

Some businesses decide that the best solution is to make one item serve both purposes, and create "blogs" that are really loosely disguised advertising campaigns. It seldom works; readers get bored with sales pitches far faster than with articles. In nearly every case, the two should be kept distinct.

What can a business reasonably expect from a well-written, consistently produced blog?

The building of long-term relationships. As people have always had their favorite magazines, they now have their favorite blogs. And as people rarely buy a magazine for the purpose of reading the advertisements, few will follow a blog primarily for the purpose of learning what the host can sell them.

Higher attraction value--and higher frequency tolerance--than advertising. Many people find their favorite blogs through Web browsing for information on a specific topic. Links to interesting e-articles are frequently forwarded on a casual "thought you might be interested" basis, whereas few people forward information on purchasable items unless (1) they have direct experience with the item or particularly long-term experience with the company, and (2) they immediately think of someone who is specifically looking for an item of that nature. Moreover, readers are generally glad to see a new blog installment, whereas advertisements frequently evoke a "quit bothering me" reaction.

A building of your reputation as dependable, consistent, and caring about more than the public's money. When a blog keeps to a steady posting/delivery schedule, every new installment sends the message "We can be counted on to deliver what we promise, when we promise." And if you regularly offer helpful or interesting information from your field of expertise, rather than simply talking about yourself, you also send the message "We care about your needs even when we don't immediately profit from them."

What you can't expect from most blogs is instant profit or instant new customers. Well-run businesses have both short-term and long-term goals; both are equally important, and the "article" approach serves the latter. It's worth the effort. Thinking entirely in the short term--the "putting out fires" approach--often means that the business itself will be short-lived.

If the long term is important enough to you to rate a large investment in a professional writer, you might even aim higher and create a full-length newsletter or e-zine. Visit this link (3/30/10 post, "Quick Quiz: What's Your Strongest Tool for Turning Prospects Into Clients?") and this one to learn from those who found it worth the time and trouble.

Conversely, you may appreciate the value of the business blog or newsletter but not be quite ready for a firm regular schedule. Or you may want to produce a piece that's too long for a blog but wouldn't really fit into a newsletter. The solution there is the informational brochure or booklet (electronic or print), which will be discussed in my next post.

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