I recently gave a presentation to the Online Network of Independent Learning Professionals about blogging to build your business. This is specifically about what I have learned about blogging to build your reputation as a learning consultant over my 9+ years of blogging.
The recording of the presentation and discussion is available on YouTube. Thanks to Patti Bryant for organizing the group and sharing the recordings each week. If you’re a freelancer or consultant, you should join our weekly calls.
Mistakes I Made
I started blogging in December 2006 as a tool for my own professional development. At the time, starting a business wasn’t even on my radar. If I was going back and starting a blog now as a tool to build my brand and my business, I would do several things differently.
Domain: Get your own URL from the start, even if you’re doing a free WordPress account. I didn’t, and I’m so established at my current address that I am afraid I’d lose a lot by moving to a new domain. Now I have my business in one place and my blog in another, which splits my online identity.
Post URLs: If you’re on a platform that gives you a choice, use a simple scheme for post URLs that doesn’t include the date. This gives you shorter URLs than what I have, which includes /year/month/date. If you stop updating later, you can call your blog posts “articles” and hide the dates so it doesn’t look like an abandoned blog.
Lack of Focus: I started with a lack of focus because I was just writing about whatever I was learning or working on at the time. If you’re trying to build a niche for your business or build your personal brand, be more focused. My audience is mostly other people in the L&D field, from new to old. I’m not specifically writing to an audience of clients. However, since mostly the people hiring me have are involved in L&D to some extent, they understand what I’m saying. Right now I’m trying to build my brand around storytelling and scenario-based learning, so I’m posting about that more regularly.
Every business needs a website. If you already have a website that offers a blogging option, use that. If not, these are the three options I recommend, from least to most technical. These aren’t the only options, of course. If you disagree with my recommendations, please leave a comment and explain why.
LinkedIn is the quickest option if you are not technical and don’t want to deal with setting anything up. If you have a profile, you already have the ability to post. It’s a good way to figure out if you enjoy blogging and to get into the routine of posting regularly, and you could move your posts later. If you already have a decent sized network, you have built-in followers. There are several drawbacks. First, it’s not on your business site, so you’re splitting your identity between your business website and your LinkedIn profile. Second, you have no control over the URL beyond your post title. Third, there’s no guarantee LinkedIn will keep hosting that content, and there’s no easy way to export it. If they shut down posting next week, you could lose everything. If you do use LinkedIn, keep copies of all your content as a backup.
WordPress.com is free, but there’s a small charge for your own domain (which you should pay). The hosting is already done, and you can do premium themes. If you are somewhat technical but don’t want to deal with loading things to a server, this is a good option. This could be your whole business website and portfolio with an integrated blog, all at one URL. You can’t load additional plugins on WordPress.com though, so you can’t extend it with something like LifterLMS. You can export everything to host it yourself later if you want. There are also limitations to the types of files you can share, so you may have to host portfolio samples elsewhere and link to them.
WordPress.org is a good choice if you’re more technical and you want the most control over what features are available on your website. If you have enough technical knowledge to self host a WordPress site, this is by far the best of the three options.
What Works For Me
- Plan to post regularly and consistently. Whether you post 3 times a week or once a month, be consistent about it. This helps your readers know what to expect and helps your SEO.
- Schedule time to write. If you don’t schedule time, it’s too easy for other work to come first and to never make time to write. I have a weekly recurring task on my to-do list to work on a blog post each week. You might find it best to blog one morning a month to write multiple posts. You have to make the time for blogging for it to be successful.
- Schedule your posts. About a year ago, I started a rough plan for my blog and what topics I’ll write. It’s much easier to have a plan for my topic so I’m not sitting down to a blank screen and no ideas. I also schedule my posts to publish on Tuesday, Wednesday, or Thursday mornings since those times seem to get me the most traffic.
- Collect and track ideas for posts. I get ideas for blog posts from multiple sources. I collect them all in a simple (albeit messy) Google Doc as the ideas come to me. That means I always have something to write about.
- Plan to write a series of related posts. This makes it easier to plan ahead and allows you to cross link to your own past posts for more traffic. Some of my most popular posts have been my series, like Instructional Design Careers and Voice Over Scripts.
- Write for online with short paragraphs, lists, and headings to break up blocks of text. Keep the F-shaped reading pattern in mind.
- Reuse content you write for other sources on your blog to save time. Where else are you writing now? Email, eLearning Heroes, LinkedIn groups? If I write a two paragraph answer to a question in one of those places, I already have half a blog post written. I always expand or update the answer on my blog, but I don’t always start from scratch. This post has started with the slide notes from my presentation.
- You can also use content from your blog for other uses like presentations, workshops, and courses. I submitted a conference presentation based on my Voice Over Scripts series. I would also like to turn that series into a paid course at some point. I’m also planning to write a book about scenario-based learning, and I’m currently effectively writing that book one blog post at a time.
- Include an image or multimedia in every post. I break this recommendation myself with my automated link posts, but all of my regular posts include images. Your post is much more likely to stand out when it’s shared in other social media if you include an image.
Remember to be patient. I had fewer than 17,000 views in all of 2007; now I get around 15,000 views each month. Blogging is not a quick marketing strategy where you’ll write a few posts and have lots of new clients next week.
Build Your Community
Respond to and recognize your readers and the blog community.
- Reply to comments: When someone comments, reply and acknowledge it, preferably within 24 hours. You might also email people to thank them for commenting.
- Answer reader questions: I get many questions from blog readers via email, some of which later become more blog posts. If someone asks you a question, there’s a pretty good chance other people have the same question. That makes those questions good topics for posts.
- Promote comments to posts: I haven’t done this recently, but I did use this technique early in my blog to help build the community of readers. When someone leaves a really insightful comment, you can quote that comment in a follow up post along with your response. Make sure you give credit and link to the original author’s website.
- Link to other people: I pay attention to pingback notifications when someone links to my blog, and I have search alerts notifying me when my name appears online. Many other bloggers do too. Talk about what other people are saying and link to them. Share the love and send some traffic to them. It’s a great way to earn some goodwill and for other bloggers to notice you.
- Comment on other blogs: This is another way to be part of the broader community of bloggers rather than crafting your own blog in isolation. Read what other people are writing and comment on their posts. They might return the favor.
- Call to action: I usually end my posts with a “call to action” asking them to comment or answer questions.
Expand Your Reach
I don’t spend much time explicitly promoting my blog, but when you’re just starting out you may need to do more than this.
- Share links: Automatically share links to your posts on Twitter, LinkedIn, and Facebook. With WordPress this is easy; with other platforms you may need to use IFTTT or another tool.
- eLearning Learning: Submit your blog to eLearning Learning (submission instructions here). I get more referral traffic from eLearning Learning than from any of the social media channels, partly because eLearning Learning is focused on elearning and there’s so much less noise.
- SEO: I don’t particularly worry about SEO. If someone is trying to convince you to use tricks or shortcuts, ignore them. Focus on posting regularly and creating quality content, as those are most important. There are other things you can do, but if you’re just starting out the quality of content is more important than SEO.
Here’s that call to action I mentioned earlier. Do you use a blog as part of your consulting or freelance business? What lessons have you learned? What strategies are working for you? Please comment and share your experiences.