There are seemingly endless tutorials that promise to help you “Start a Blog in 10 Minutes,” and while they might be accurate in their instruction, they can be horribly misleading in their implication.
While everyone loves quick and easy, just setting up the platform for a blog hardly launches you on a path to blogging success. As many would-be bloggers could attest, having a platform does not mean you’ll use it, and it certainly doesn’t mean you’ll use it correctly.
While seven days can feel like a significant investment (especially when compared to 10 minutes), it’s crucial that you take the time to build and understand your blog.
To do so, you need to begin with three basic assets:
- A platform
- Content ideas
- Writing (production) process
The foundation for each of these can be developed in just a few days, but you have to buy into the belief that a blog is a commodity in your business.
Why should small businesses blog?
Small business owners tend to have simple needs when it comes to their company’s functionality. It may be interwoven in a complex array of post-it notes, excel spreadsheets and the occasional panicked all-nighter, but at the core, you want to:
- Delight existing customers
- Bring in new prospects
- Make sales
While there are a lot of different ways to do each of those, there aren’t as many methods that can do them all, except for blogging.
It allows small businesses to:
1. Build trust – 81 percent of US consumers trust advice and information from blogs (Source: Social Media Today)
2. Drive leads – Small businesses that blog get 126 percent more lead growth than those that don’t (Source: Yahoo Small Business Advisor)
3. Grow business development – 76 percent of B2B content marketers use blogs (Source: Content Marketing Institute)
4. Increase sales – 61 percent of US consumers made a purchase based on a blog post (Source: Scott McKelvey)
5. Generate organic traffic – Blogs give websites 434 percent more indexed pages (Source: Exact Target)
Your blog can bring in new (big) opportunities for your business if you’re willing to dive in and do the work. Learn how you can launch your small business blog in seven days.
Day one: Development
The biggest hurdle for small business owners when it comes to blogging is often the fear of creating the platform, especially if you’ve never built a website and couldn’t recognize a line of code to save your life. Creating a basic platform for your content to live doesn’t have to be a disaster. For the sake of simplicity, we’ll discuss how to do this using Wordpress, as it is the most common blog platform.
I have a website, but not a blog
If you have a Wordpress website, you may be able to condense Day One and Day Two into a few short hours. Adding a blog to your website is a fairly simple process, but first you have to decide:
- Do you want your blog on the homepage?
- Do you want a static homepage and the blog in a separate tab?
By default, Wordpress puts all blog posts on the homepage. Assuming that is not how your website currently functions, you will need to add another page to your site for the blog to live.
Go to your Wordpress Dashboard and click Pages, then Add New.
Title the page “Blog.”
On the right side, under Page Attributes, you’ll see a Template option. Keep in mind that the drop down may look different for different themes. If there isn’t a Blog option in templates, like in this example, you will select the Default option.
Your blog is now live on your site, but you have to ensure your posts publish to the blog page, so go to Settings and click Reading.
If you are keeping your homepage static, you’ll want to make sure Wordpress knows that. Since Wordpress defaults blog posts to the home page, you’ll have to tell it not to do that in order to keep your homepage looking the same.
Make sure you have selected the radio button for a static page. For the Front page dropdown, you’ll want to select the page name that is your homepage. (In all likelihood, your website developer called this “Home.” If they did not, you may want to double check with them to ensure you are selecting the correct page.)
For the Posts page dropdown, you will select “Blog.” Make sure you click Save Changes.
Now that the blog is live and the functionality is working properly, visitors to your site need to be able to find it. The best way to do this is by adding it to your main website navigation.
Go to Appearance and click Menus.
All of your pages will be displayed on the left, while your navigation menu is on the right. Select “Blog” and click Add to Menu. You can drag and drop the menu order to change how it appears on your home page.
You now have a blogging platform, and it’s ready for posts.
If you would like to watch a video about how to create a static homepage and a blog page, check out this WP Beginner tutorial.
If you have a site, but it isn’t on Wordpress, you may want to consult with your developer. It is possible to add a Wordpress blog to a non-Wordpress site, but requires some more advanced skills.
I don’t have a website
If your small business doesn’t have a website and you’d like to start having an online presence, a blog can be a great way to begin building awareness and authority for your company. There are a few paths you can take to set up your website, each of which is a fairly relaxed experience.
- Wordpress.com or Wordpress.org – An obvious route to go would be to sign up directly through Wordpress itself.
- Wordpress.org, is the free entity where you can simply download the software and be on your way. The main downside is your domain will be tied to the software: [yourbusinessname].wordpress.com.
- Wordpress.com gives you the ability to purchase your domain, gain access to premium themes and get more robust support.
- BlueHost or GoDaddy - Sites like GoDaddy and BlueHost offer great step-by-step processes, attentive customer service and compatibility with Wordpress (along with other blogging software if you prefer to use a different provider). Pricing is relatively close to that Wordpress as well, with the opportunity to get even more startup assistance.
- OutstandingSETUP - Companies like OutstandingSETUP can get a high quality site up and running in a day at a very reasonable price, and they include extras, like premium themes, custom email address, video tutorials and more. You also have the comfort of constant support. This is the most hands-off approach if you’re willing to spend a little more upfront.
Regardless of the route you choose, each of these options can lead to your blog’s the functional framework within 24 hours. It will not be the final version of what you envision, but you will have all the right parts to make it so moving forward.
Day two: Design
You’ve completed one of the most intimidating aspects of starting your own business blog: setting it up. Now it’s time to make it look good.
If you’re starting your blog from scratch, most of the above companies will provide an avenue through which you can find themes to begin beautifying your site, but be warned, as the many options can seem overwhelming for a non-design mind.
Warning: Those with an existing site can change their theme at any time as well, but if a developer has done a lot of work on a site for you, changing the theme could cause major malfunctions.
If you’re struggling to find the best template, use a few of these tips for selecting the perfect theme for your blog.
Ultimately, you’re going for pretty, not perfect, right now. You want your look to be:
- Simple enough so that the functions don’t overwhelm you or your reader
- Aligned with your brand’s overall feel (if you’re a mechanic, you probably don’t want a flower theme)
If you would like to browse a multitude of themes, some of the top providers are:
Tip: Try not to get too hung up on the theme. While it is an important aspect, it’s easy to suffer analysis paralysis. Get an idea for the look you like and pick one that is within your price range or free.
To avoid hours of searching, you can browse themes and easily install them right from your Wordpress Dashboard by going to Appearance and clicking on Themes. There’s nothing wrong with going for a popular design; it’s popular for a reason.
When it comes to color, whether you are starting brand new or simply want to match your blog to your site, the point is to be consistent.
With a new site or even a new page it can be tempting try out something brand new and exciting, but this isn’t necessary and can make your brand look disjointed and unprofessional.
If you’re trying to color match your hyperlinks to the hue on your homepage or want the site header to be the same green as your office sign you want to make sure the color is exact. However, if you’re matching the color of something online, you can use a web app like ColorZilla on Chrome to identify the exact hue.
When pulling from an offline image, contact the creator and ask for the RBG.
Black and white is all right
Unless a simple black and white theme goes against everything your brand’s design stands for, don’t be afraid to start simple. Some of the best looking blogs adhere to a mostly black and white color scheme.
The header is the main visual aspect of your site, so if you’re only adding a blog, make sure any elements you add to the page align with the header.
If you’re starting a blog from scratch, you’ll have to add a header. You can either make a simple header yourself or you can hire a designer to help if it’s complex. Try to keep in mind that simplicity is key when designing your blog.
Early on, It’s okay if your blog is mainly there to capture your words. There will be plenty of time for upgrading and perfecting the look after you’ve established your blog as a permanent part of your business.
Day three: CMS
While the technical side of your mind may feel a little taxed by day three, knowing the functionalities that allow you to post your first blog entry is important. Critically important. You have to know how to post what you’ve written!
As with the other days, you don’t need to know how every button works right away, you just need to know how to format your post, plug in a picture or two and get it published on your site.
Luckily, Wordpress as a content management system (CMS) is intuitive and aligns relatively well with software like Microsoft Word.
When you’re ready to publish a pos, you will go to Posts in your dashboard, then Add New.
You can copy and paste your blog title, as well as the text-based body of your post straight from Word into Wordpress.
Note: Sometimes formatting in Word, like bullets and numbering, don’t translate to Wordpress. To save yourself from duplicating efforts, wait to add the formatting until the post is in Wordpress. You’ll have most of the same functions available.
Style features like bold, italicize, underline, basic bullets and alignment are all available in the post toolbar, but the ability to resize fonts is not. That is because it is a set feature. The only way to change the size of your text is by changing the Headline size, which can be found in the “paragraph” dropdown menu. This should be used for Subheads, which we’ll talk about on Day Five.
Adding a photo
Photos within your post make the content more aesthetically pleasing and interesting to the reader, however, you can’t copy and paste an image into Wordpress the way you can with text.
To insert a photo, click the Add Media button above the toolbar (below the title). From there, the process into your post is the same as attaching an image to an email.
Click Upload. Click Select Files. Find your photo on your computer and click Open. You’ll be given some sizing, naming and alignment tools on the sidebar. Once you’re satisfied with the image, simply click Insert into post and you will see your image appear in the place your curser was set.
Once you think your post looks just right, and you can check it by clicking Preview, you’re almost ready to publish.
On the right sidebar, you’ will see three main tabs:
In this tab you’ll find the button that allows you to save as you’re formatting (save early, save often). You’ll also be able to see some basic details about the status of your post.
If you want to publish your post as soon as you’ve finished all the details, click Publish.
On the other hand, if you’ve been awake all night agonizing over making the post perfect and don’t want to publish until tomorrow, you can click Edit next to where it says Publish immediately, and pick the date and time you’d like the post to go live. Make sure once you’ve selected the date and time you click OK and Schedule.
Categories help you organize the content you post. If you are a baker you may have categories that look like this: Cupcakes, Cookies, Cakes, Recipes, Custom Orders, Inspiration.
Be strategic in how you choose these categories, as it will eventually be a main function for how your readers find more content.
To add a new category, simply click +Add New Category and type in the category name. If you are using a category that already exists, just check the box next to the appropriate category.
This goes one level further than Categories and designates the keywords that are relevant to your post. Again, be strategic about how you tag your content so readers can easily find new content on your blog.
To add tags, simply enter the keyword(s) into the box and hit enter. You can add as many as you choose.
While the CMS can be a complicated machine, simply posting blog content is not. Use your instinctual skills from working in other systems to help you learn as you go.
Day Four: Brainstorm
Blogging is no small task from a production standpoint, but understanding why you’re blogging might be the most difficult element for small business owners.
For the sales-minded individual, letting go of product pushing in exchange for sharing expertise can feel unnatural, but understanding what your blog is for will help you brainstorm content ideas that people are actually going to like and read.
What a blog is not
- A place to talk about how great you and your product are
- A forum for your personal opinion
- A dumping ground for any and all news about your company
Good business blogging vs. bad business blogging topics
The problem with business blogging is that the way we think of topics is usually the opposite of what the reader is looking for.
For example, let’s say you’re a hairstylist who is trying to get more people to come to your salon and you want people to know how great you are at doing up-dos for prom.
A) Write a blog post about the education level of your stylists, the tools you use, and the affordable cost
B) Write about the top hair trends for prom this year
The most common mistakes businesses make is choosing A, and while it may seem obvious to some that B would be a better read, too often posts are created with the end goal of a sale in mind rather than the reader’s experience.
Topic A can live on your site in the product and services page, but it shouldn’t be on your blog.
3 ways to brainstorm better blog posts
- Customer Service Emails and Calls — Try to drop the product talk and consider times when customers just need help. What is their problem? Is there a way to help them solve it without pushing them towards a shopping cart? Your customer interaction history is loaded with blog material. Review some emails and voicemails to identify common trends.
- Go Back in Time — Try to recall the time when your company was brand new — maybe even nonexistent. What were you trying to achieve or overcome when you began forging your small business? Write down all of the pains, promises and fears that are reminiscent of that initial period.
- Scope Out Your Competitors — No one is asking you to bring brand new information to the world via your blog, so there is no shame in observing what kind of content your competitors are creating and following their lead.
You may have something new to add to an ongoing conversation or you just might have a different perspective. Either way, it’s okay to take a page from your competitors’ book and elevate it.
Before you begin regular post publication, come up with 20 topics. While it’s nice to know what your first post will be about, think ahead and seek inspiration outside of selling your product.
Day five: Write
Crafting a business blog can be tricky for writers and non-writers alike. The tone is professional without being formal. It’s conversational while being authoritative. It’s a style all its own and not one often taught in school. In truth, it just takes practice.
Aside from making sure you are writing grammatically correct, typo-free content, there are two main factors to consider when you’re writing a blog post: format and tone.
Blogs aren’t essays, reports or letters; they have a look and feel all their own, so if you aren’t a frequent blog reader, take some time to read a few before you begin writing. Get a sense for how bloggers form their sentences and break up information for their readers.
It’s the oldest trick in the (writing) book, but an outline truly will help you collect your thoughts and execute quicker.
Start with your headline or title. Choose something that is purposeful, intriguing and actionable.
From there, flesh out your main points. What will you share? How can your reader use it? What are the readers’ main take aways? Allowing yourself the space to be broad with your thoughts will open the space for your words to flow better.
There is no perfect recipe for how a blog post should appear, but there are a few elements every post should have to make sure it is engaging and easy to scan.
Use subheads, bold, spacing, and beyond
Think of subheads, bolded statements and bullet points as the SparkNotes for your blog post. If someone clicked on your post and wanted to get the gist in 30 seconds or less, these formatted lines help. From a visual standpoint, you can easily gather the post’s main points.
You don’t have to be an English major to create digestible content. You just need to know when to let your reader breathe and when to let them linger, which can be done with formatting.
The online world is becoming more and more visual. Social sites like Pinterest and Instagram have catapulted the need for images and their popularity has trickled into blog content. For the time being, just make sure you’re giving your readers at least one striking image to look at.
Make sure your image is:
Tone is trickier to address than format, as formatting includes elements you can see and duplicate. Tone is more emotional and personal.
The tone of your blog will be mostly defined by your attitude towards the topic. Know definitively how you feel about your topic and let that inform the word choices you make. From there, express that attitude through your voice.
What does your business sound like? Are you a band of smart aleck boy geniuses? Are you a team of mild mannered poets? Write your blog posts the way your people sound.
When you write in the language of your audience, personality finds its way in, which is how you connect your message with your audience.
Day six: Edit and upload
While today’s tasks will probably take less than an hour to accomplish, you need the day to marinate a bit on all you’ve done. Today your platform building efforts and writing endeavors become one.
Go through your post critically, but cut yourself some slack since it is your very first blog post.
Since you left some time between writing and editing you can be more open to the tweaks and changes that will improve your post. Feel free to revisit it a few times throughout the day. Every read through will result in tiny changes and give you confidence to hit Publish.
More than anything, make sure you have caught all typos and grammar issues.
Sloppy, careless writing can diminish credibility.
Using what you learned on Day Three in the CMS, load your post and forma it to your liking.
Don’t forget to Preview before you’ve settled on a final draft. It’s always important to see how your post looks once live on the site, since additional changes might be required.
Day seven: Publish and promote
By today you should have a blog post live on your site. Congratulations!
Introduce your content to the world by promoting it to one of your existing audiences, whether that is through a social network, your website or another platform. Down the road, your promotion will expand, but for the first publication, stick to Facebook or email to bring a little attention to your new blog.
All in good time
This first week of blog creation isn’t about bringing in droves of clients and prospects. The first week is about:
- Having a functional, attractive blog platform to work with
- Developing a few initial methods for cultivating topic ideas
- Learning to write a blog post like a blogger
“What about SEO?”
“What about capturing leads?”
“How is it going to make me money?”
“What about social media?”
These are all valid questions, but they don’t belong in week one of blogging. If you focus on what blogging can do and how to use it, rather than how to actually blog, finding success is going to be a struggle. Blogging isn’t a marketing effort that provides instant gratification -- it takes time. So give yourself the time to create a solid foundation that you can build upon.
Starting a new blog is a big step for small businesses and sometimes you need a stepping stone in between no blog and Wordpress. Find out if Tumblr is a good fit for your blogging needs.