Tips to Help You Start, Maintain & Grow a Small Business Blog!
The online social media revolution that has bought us Facebook and Twitter actually started back in the late 90's when the term "blog", short for "weblog", entered the lexicon. Since then the activity of blogging has exploded and it was in May 2005 that BusinessWeek proclaimed that *Blogs Will Change Your Business. They certainly have.
 Why are blogs important for your business?
Blogs provide business owners with unprecedented ways of reaching and engaging with large audiences in a way that the traditional one-way information push of a company Web site could never do. Not only this, but blogs can help put a human face to your business while showcasing your knowledge and passion for your chosen field. For example, restaurant owners can share recipe secrets. Just about anyone from a landscaping business to an IT security company can share tips of the trade that connect them with their customer base. And unlike the static content of a business Web site, blogs are collaborative and invite comment - a great way to engage with and solicit feedback from your customers!
Blogs can even be lead generating. I read and monitor blogs religiously and have nurtured leads and networked with businesses that I would not have known existed, had it not been for the viral marketing effect generated by their blogs. Of course, if you are thinking of starting a blog you need to have an underlying strategy in place to ensure it is a success. Here are four things to consider before you enter the blogosphere:
 Identify a Purpose, Goal and Intention for your Blog
While you obviously want to promote your business, don't be over-promotional in your blog content strategy. Decide early on what you want to accomplish with your blog - and this should drive your content.
Most blogs are typically centered on positioning businesses or business owners as thought leaders in their space or for sharing information and tips that readers find useful. For other ideas on how to shape your blog strategy, including the use of case studies and interviews, take a look at this article - "*5 Winning Post Ideas for Your Small Business Blog" - from *OPENForum.com.
Once you have defined your goal, be sure to adhere to it. Consider publishing your blog objective on your blog home page. For example, the objective of a hypothetical company - JJ's Landscaping Services - might be to provide tips that help consumers maintain a thriving garden in all seasons, which could be summarized and published as: The Better Garden Blog Tips and Tools from our team of experts to keep your garden looking its best year round!
 Getting Started - Blog Software
Once you have decided to start blogging, you will need to consider the software options available for hosting your blog. Many social media experts advise businesses to be wary of some of the free blog tools available, since their basic features don't offer integration with existing business Web domains or allow for brand customization.
Truth be told, however, if you are just getting started with a blog, free blogging software can be a cost-effective and easy solution for many small businesses. If your blog does take off down the road, you might want to consider migrating to blog software that is installed on your domain and integrated with your Web site. And don't forget to devise a communication plan to let your readers know that you are moving hosts!
 Commit to Blogging Regularly and with Relevance
There are two tell tale signs that a blog has lost its way - no posts for two weeks or more, and content that has veered off course. Neither will give a favorable impression of your company.
If you can't commit to posting at least 2-3 times a week, then blogging is not going to work for your business. And this is something to consider before you even start your blog. A good way to keep posts regular is to share duties with others. This also adds a diversity of voices. Having an editorial calendar can also keep you on track. Written in advance (for the coming month or quarter), an editorial calendar should include not just the working title of upcoming posts, but a summary of the objective of each post too. Also include hyperlinks to other resources that can help you craft your post quickly and efficiently when it comes time to write. Don't forget to include placeholders for topical posts that spring up at the last minute. For example, in the case of our hypothetical company - JJ's Landscaping Services - topical posts that address current issues such as protracted weather conditions can keep your blog relevant and compelling.
 Develop a Plan to Generate Traffic to your Blog
Last, but by nomeans least, generating traffic to your blog is critical. The trouble is, many bloggers either do nothing to leverage the tactics available to them, or they go overboard and saturate their blog pages with links and social media icons to drive inbound traffic.
There are many traditional and non-traditional ways to drive traffic to your blog - from ensuring you have RSS feeds built in to adding a link to your blog from other customer touch points such as your email signature and main business Web site. This article from *Louis Gray - "*10 Pointers for Generating Traffic to Your Blog" - is essential reading to get any blogger started in thinking about ways to promote their blog content and drive inbound traffic.
 Blog Best Practices
PRIMARY OBJECTIVE: Strive for a focused approach with excellent content and Search Engine Optimization (SEO) via networking.
Specific best practices include:
- Make use of the free utilities on the web, as well as focused social networking and SEO.
- Quora is but one tool in your prospective social networking tool kit. Most of the tools are free. Content is king.
- Integrating networking platforms together is the best approach.
- Link everything together and begin answering questions as well as registering at many of the free applications for networking web sites on the Internet to see how that could benefit your work. Twitter, BlogCatalog, Facebook, Widgetbox, Empire Avenue, Pinterest, About Me and similar free applications will serve your site well.
- Develop your core content carefully on your web site or blog. Offer free applications for downloading samples of your work, testimonials, reference materials, books and other useful tools. Box Net is free. Behance also works well and is also free.
- Build in "About Me" and "Pinterest" features to further display your portfolio contents. Both are no charge.
- Then use SEO to network your site like spokes on a wheel.
 Additional Resources
- FTC to Bloggers: Fess Up or Pay Up (CNET) - FTC Regulations with regards using blogs for endorsement purposes.
- Should your Non-Profit Launch a Blog?
- Blogging's 11 Big Pay Offs - Small Business Marketing Guide Tips, tools and lots of information to help you market your start-up or small business.
Source of best practices No.1-4:
The U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) was created in 1953 as an independent agency of the federal government to aid, counsel, assist and protect the interests of small business concerns, to preserve free competitive enterprise and to maintain and strengthen the overall economy of our nation. The SBA helps Americans start, build and grow businesses. Through an extensive network of field offices and partnerships with public and private organizations, SBA delivers its services to people throughout the United States, Puerto Rico, the U. S. Virgin Islands and Guam. The SBA provides assistances primarily through four programs:
- Business financing programs including debt, equity and micro lending
- Entrepreneurial development through education, information, technical assistance & training
- Promotes small business Federal Government contracting with subcontracting procurement opportunities, outreach programs, and training to help meet the 23% goal for small business contracting
- Advocacy and research on behalf of small businesses
 Other Resources
The author of the specific best practices (No. 5) is Ken Larson.
Ken Larson has over 40 years experience in the Defense Industrial Complex.
He is a Veteran with two tours with the US Army in Vietnam. Subsequently, he spent over 30 years in federal government program and contract management and 10 years in small business consulting.
Ken is a Micro Mentor Volunteer Counselor and assists many small businesses with their planning and operations processes. Small business owners or prospective owners can locate free services through a background search at the Micro Mentor Web Site.
Ken receives and handles many inquiries from small companies wishing to enter or enhance their position in federal government contracting.
Jen volunteers his time, books, articles, and resources which are 100% free through Micro Mentor and his blog.
Ken maintains a blog on SMALL BUSINESS FEDERAL GOVERNMENT CONTRACTING (SBFGC) to help small business succeed in the federal government market.//www.smalltofeds.com