How blogging can boost your business: Fiona Robertson Graphics case study

So you already know that there are a ton of reasons to start a business blog.
But where should you begin? How do you fit blogging into an already manic schedule? Can you really make sales from your business blog? And how the hell do you cope with writer’s block?
Panic not, Fiona from Fiona Robertson Graphics, who has been blogging for 10 years (!) has ever-so-kindly agreed to talk about how she earned the (unofficial) title of blogging superstar.

Well, she needs a break from blogging now and then.

Not that fiona set out to become a blogging superstar. In fact, she didn’t really have much of a plan at all:

‘To be honest I was just jumping on the bandwagon. It was 2009 and I kept reading how blogging was so good for your business that I just thought, ‘hey, I’ll give that a go’.

It was all very haphazard. I hadn’t planned what to write about, how often to write, or how I could make it lead to sales. Not at all the way I recommend people do it now! When I started my second website, I made sure to plan out the blog. That’s had a much more strategic start than my first attempt.’

Wait a minute…a second website?
Yup, as well as running her visual branding business, Fiona has a second business venture, Fox and Finch, where she sells adorable handmade illustrated cards and gifts.
So with two businesses to run, how in the world does she fit blogging into her busy work week?

‘I actually write it into my schedule. Google Calendar and Asana basically run my life for me — if it ain’t in the calendar, it ain’t happening. So I have a regular spot in my week reserved for working on my blog and an editorial calendar in Asana that lets me plan out what to write and when.’

And when things get really hectic?

‘Sometimes I do have to bump it from my schedule. If things get too busy in other areas, blogging is usually one of the first things to go. I used to feel really guilty about missing a session, but I’d feel worse about missing a client deadline because my calendar told me I should be writing a blog post instead, so these days I’m a bit kinder to myself. As long as I stick to the schedule most weeks, I’m good with that.’

Of course, when things get really manic, Fiona knows that outsourcing can be a good option:

‘I love spending time on my blog, but running two businesses by myself I have so many other things needing my attention, so something has to give. I can be a control freak, so outsourcing design or finance stuff just stresses me out. But blog posts are one of the things that I didn’t fret too much about outsourcing. You’d already worked on other parts of my website and I knew that I was in safe hands. I could trust you to write quality posts that would fit the style and tone of my blog.’

Aw shucks, thanks Fi (I owe you some chocolate cake for that one 😉)

One of the things most people struggle with is coming up with new content ideas — after 10 years of consistent blogging, you’d think that she’d be on first name terms with writer’s block by now…

‘It has been a recurring problem over the years. Now I keep a big list of post ideas so that I never need to be stuck for something to write about. I add to the list of ideas regularly. And actually, that brainstorming session we had a while back [Fiona kindly helped me road test My Business Blogging Boot Camp]  is still giving me post ideas. I haven’t used up all the ideas you came up with yet, and I’ve been able to riff off of them and generate even more topics than those we came up with during the session.

Sometimes the block is more that I just don’t feel like writing, but that’s ok. I’ll check my list to see if there’s a quick-win type of post idea — like a quick tip that will take me less than a half hour to put together. But if nothing grabs me I just let myself be blocked. I’ll go do something else and maybe another day I’ll be in a better frame of mind to write.’

So with the stress of running two businesses, scheduling in writing time and dealing with writer’s block, Fi could certainly be forgiven for packing it all in — or taking a lengthy break.
So what keeps her going?

‘The first time I had a post shared by someone I really admired I think I actually squeaked with excitement! Then finding out that my blog had been mentioned in a post by FreeAgent was a real happy dance moment; having a big company like that mention little old me felt like I had really ‘made it’ and that it was worth sticking with blogging :D’

Ooooh yes. You can’t beat a good backlink for blog promotion. And I’m guessing the additional sales don’t hurt motivation either?

‘Yep. The beauty of things like Google Analytics and Facebook Insights is that you can track this stuff — perfect for geeks like me. I’ve had sales of my eBook that I can see resulted from me sharing the blog post about it on social media. Then I’ve had several people book services with me who’ve read my blog and then got in touch. I make sure to regularly promote my posts, both new ones and old ones, so that they keep sending people to my site — you never know if the person reading it will turn out to be a potential client.

So extra sales is always a bonus, but there’s a much sweeter reason that helps her push through those ‘can’t be arsed’ moments: She really does love her readers.
Fiona Robertson graphics: business blogging case study

Feeling the love!
Photo by Steve Halama on Unsplash

‘When I share my posts on social media I get lovely comments from people who say the content is useful. I send new posts out to my email list and I regularly get people replying to the emails with positive feedback, saying that it’s helped them in some way, or perhaps asking for a little more detail on some of the points raised in the post.

If I was just blasting posts out and getting crickets, I might have given up, but knowing that I’m helping people – and that they take the time to let me know about it – makes it all worthwhile.’

Blogging has now become such an integral part of her overall business strategy that Fiona can’t imagine what her business would have looked like without it.

‘Yeah, I think it would be quite different. For one thing, I wouldn’t have an eBook and my Pick My Brain and 1-1 WordPress training sessions probably wouldn’t be there. Those have all come from writing and sharing blog posts.

I’d probably have fewer web design clients in general, as sharing WordPress tips on my blog definitely helps me gain those. I can think of a number of awesome clients I would have missed out on because of that!

And my whole marketing strategy would be different. Blogging is a big part of that, as it’s much less scary to put yourself out there by sharing a post you’ve written than by going out and saying ‘hey, I’m a great designer, wanna hire me?’ – let’s face it, that doesn’t sound like fun at all!’

So what’s her take on the ‘blogging is dead’ war cry? Is she even a teensy bit tempted to jump ship and try her hand at video or podcasting?

‘I’ve been doing this a long time and regularly people come out with the whole ‘blogging is dead’ thing. I’ve been hearing it since shortly after I started blogging yet blogs are still popular!

Things have changed though; so many people are blogging now that you’re basically shouting into the wind. If you want people to take notice you have to be properly useful and compelling.

Some of the blogs I love to read don’t have anything to do with design or freelancing, yet I keep tuning in because the content is so damn good. So I guess the thing is just to work at being better than you are now, then work on being better still, and keep going like that.

I have thought about doing podcasting and video. I’d probably choose video, as that would be useful for the tutorial posts rather than just having static screenshots. It would be as well as blogging though. I’m not particularly at home in front of a camera or microphone, and I’m way more articulate in writing than when I speak – just ask anyone who’s had to put up with my umming and ahhing through a phone call, or talking super fast because of a combination of nerves and caffeine! Plus people learn in different ways, so adding short videos in addition to the written posts would let people consume the content in the way they prefer.’

Fiona’s best tip for creating a winning post? It has to be useful.

My most viewed post is Chasing Unpaid Invoices. It’s really old (2012) but it still gets a regular flow of traffic. It’s a fairly short, straightforward post with tips for getting paid plus a couple of copy-and-paste email scripts people can borrow.

SEO-wise it’s probably not that great given its age (I really must update it soon!) but I guess it’s just something that a lot of people are searching for. It’s sad that so many people need it, but I’m glad that it’s useful. Its success has been helped too by the fact that FreeAgent (who I mention in the post) link to it in one of their own blog posts – thanks FreeAgent!

Thanks so much to Fiona for sharing her blogging journey. If you’re feeling inspired to launch a blog on your own website (or breathe new life into a blog you’ve abandoned) Fiona as a few more tips for you before you skip off to find your notebook and pen!

‘There’s no getting away from it, blogging is hard work.

I won’t sugar coat it and if someone hates having a blog then should they really be doing it? But having said that, if they’re just in a funk, that’s totally fixable. I’d recommend trying to figure out why they feel bad about their blog – are they struggling to find time because they’re trying to post three times a week? Cut back to once a month and put less pressure on themselves.

If they don’t know what to write about, they should totally book a brainstorming session with you, Clare! Or if they’re not confident in their writing skills, then practice, practice, practice – my posts used to be rubbish but the more I wrote the better I got – or try another medium, like podcasting. And if a lack of traffic is the problem, then they need to look for ways to promote their existing content rather than focusing on creating more new content.

Also, remember that it takes time to get traction. Can you name anyone who was an overnight blogging success? I sure can’t. But keep plugging away, concentrate on being useful and creating the best content you can and after a while, you should see a difference.’

Cheers, Fiona! Choccy cake headed your way.

Photo by Toa Heftiba on Unsplash

7 Benefits of Having a Business Blog

 

Have you started a business blog yet?

Or have you started, uploaded a couple of posts and then let it fade?

I mean, you have other stuff to do, right? You know, designing, coaching or whatever it is that your clients pay you to do…

I get it. Blogging takes time and it takes effort.

You have to set aside time to research, write and (for the love of the wee man don’t forget this bit), promote your blog posts.

Given the whole ‘time and effort’ objection to blogging, you might wonder why I made such a big deal of it in my previous post ‘How to market your business when you’re broke’. Sure, it’s free but is it really worth the hassle?

In a word, yes!

Now, if you’re happy to take my word for it, then you can go and get started right now.

If you still need a bit of convincing, I’ve listed below the most basic benefits you’ll get from starting your own business blog.

1. Improved SEO (Search Engine Optimisation)

Now, many copywriters are SEO experts—I am not. I’m not super- techy and they keep moving the damn goalposts on this one. Google changes its algorithms more often than I change my mind about my favourite Game of Thrones character.

 One thing that remains constant though, is that search engines love fresh content.

There is absolutely no point getting yourself an all-singing, all-dancing website and then letting it stagnate.

And that’s what’ll happen if you don’t keep updating your content. All of the well cared for websites, with new and exciting content will float to the top of the search pile, leaving yours to sink lower and lower into the depths.

It’s heartbreaking. Especially if you paid a fortune setting up your site in the first place!

The easiest way to introduce fresh content to your website: a blog.

2.Long-tail keywords

While we’re talking search engines, it’s worth knowing about long-tail keywords. This is something that probably deserves a post of its very own but I’m going to stick with just a simple explanation for now.

What are long-tail keywords and how are they going to help your business?

Let’s take my own business as an example. A relevant long-tail keyword might be ‘how to write a great landing page’. In search engine terms, this is going to have far less competition than the more generic ‘copywriter’ or ‘marketing copy’.

The more long-tail keywords your website contains, the more people will be able to find it —providing you are not jamming keywords in just for the sake of it. (Don’t do this! Google will recognise that you’re trying to cheat the system and will penalise you for it. Always remember you’re writing for people, not search engines).

Blog posts are a brilliant way of naturally incorporating long-tail keywords into your website.

3. Building relationships

Blogging is NOT about making sales. Increased sales will happen further down the line, but when you’re writing it’s worth remembering that the main purpose of your blog is to help your customers.

Before you even start blogging, it’s a good idea to spend some time putting together a strategy.

Consider who your customers are, what they want to know and how you can help them. What kind of topics could you cover that will improve their lives or their businesses?

Assuming you’re providing useful content and showing a bit of personality, your customers will come to know, like and trust you. When they get to the point that they’re ready to buy, they’re far more likely to come to you, the person they know, like and trust.

4. Establishing credibility

In a similar vein, by posting useful information about your industry you’re proving to your audience that you know your stuff.

Diplomas and qualifications are great but producing relevant content highlights that you are constantly honing your skills and keeping your knowledge fresh.

This shows your professionalism and your expertise —and instils confidence in your customers.

5. Getting to know your customers

When you’re blogging, invite your readers to comment on your posts. The conversations that can ensue here are a goldmine.

Are customers frequently asking the same questions? Great, there’s a topic for a new blog post or even a new page on your website.

Is there a recurring problem with one of your products? Great, now you know about it, you can fix it and tell everyone about the improvements you’ve made.

Maybe some of the comments are highlighting a particular problem that your clients are experiencing — here’s an opportunity for you develop or repackage one of your products or services.

6.Improve your industry knowledge

Not every blog post you write will require research. You are writing about your own industry after all. Some will though and when you’re researching these topics, I guarantee that you’ll improve your professional knowledge along the way. This will ultimately improve the service you’re offering your clients and help you grow your business.

7.Increased visibility

I’ve mentioned it before but it’s worth saying again:

Promote your posts!

There is no point in writing a post that no one will ever read. As soon as you’ve hit publish, promote your post on every social media account you have, including your personal ones.

It is also worth adding any new posts to your newsletter or automatically emailing any new content to your email subscribers.

This is a great way to increase your visibility and stay at the forefront of your customer’s minds.

 

I’d love to know…

If you were on the fence about starting a blog, has any of the info here changed your mind one way or the other?

Have I missed anything out?

If you’ve been blogging for a while and spotted an obvious benefit that I haven’t mentioned here, let me know!

For more posts on marketing your small business, subscribe here:

 

How to market your business when you’re broke.

Marketing tips for when your piggy bank is empty.

 

You don’t need me to tell you that marketing your fledgling business isn’t optional. No visibility, no customers, no business. No good!

However, business start up costs can be pretty intimidating and the likelihood is that, for the first few years, if not longer, you simply won’t have much of a marketing budget to play with.

Luckily there are hundreds (if not thousands) of low-cost or free marketing strategies you can play around with to get things up and running.

Now, I don’t know about you, but I’ve got a to-do list the length of my arm to get through today. Rather than bombard you with ideas, I’m going to highlight the key strategies I’m focusing on at the moment:

1.Networking — in person and online

2.Using your existing contacts (you have more of them than you realise)

3.Cold emailing (how to do it without annoying people)

4.Creating valuable content

 

1.Networking

If you do nothing else to market your business, make sure you spend as much time as you can networking. Whether in person or online, this is, without a doubt, THE most effective low-cost marketing tool around.

In person

There are some amazingly effective networking groups out there that charge an arm and a leg just for joining — and that’s before you’ve shelled out for your train ticket, the event ticket and the cost of the coffee/wine/valium you’ll need to purchase to get yourself through the event.

If we look at this from the point of view of your ROI (and this IS how we need to view these things), say you pay £500 for membership, depending on what type of business you’re running, you may only need to score one or two clients, at most, to make your money back. Add to that the fact that you’re likely (hopefully) to get repeat business, word-of-mouth advertising and referrals from said clients, it probably is a worthwhile investment.

However, I’m writing this post specifically for those of you who simply don’t have £500 to spare right now.

I have to tell you — don’t panic!

Assuming you don’t live out in the sticks, there are loads of networking events out there that don’t cost a penny. And some of them are downright awesome.

As soon as you’ve finished reading this, start googling. In fact, go and have a look right now and don’t come back until you’ve registered for at least one event. It’s cool, I’ll wait…

Right, is that you sorted?

While you were doing that, I searched for “networking groups Glasgow” and this was the first result Google hit me with: https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/d/scotland–glasgow/networking/

Once I’ve sorted by date, I can scroll through and see which free events I can fit into my schedule. There are a good few to choose from and I know it’s just a matter of trial and error until I find the events that suit me.

Some will be great for meeting potential clients. Some will be more useful for meeting potential collaborators. Some will provide useful tips for how to improve how I run my business. None will be a waste of time and literally all I need to pay for is my bus fare into the city.

Online

social media marketing

I’m a massive fan of networking in person, however, as an introvert and a busy mum, networking that can be done from my own living room (or from the café of a soft play centre) is worth its weight in gold.

It goes without saying that you should constantly be working on your own social media accounts, building relationships and posting useful content, but don’t neglect  the possibilities of online forums and groups.

To use Facebook as an example, there are a million and one different groups for entrepreneurs. Some are specifically for mumpreneurs (sorry, I know, I’m not a fan of the term either!), some directed at women business owners, some are aimed at specific industries or specific countries or regions.

Before you get lost down the rabbit hole, it’s best to come up with a strategy.

Realistically, it’s better to join one or two relevant groups and take the time to use them properly rather than joining every group you come across and then not having the time to actually contribute to them all. Begin by building up relationships, offering advice and providing value. Keep an eye out for people looking for the skills or products you offer and don’t be afraid to pitch your business if there is a job posting.

2.Use your contacts

Don’t be so busy trying to find new contacts that you forget about the useful contacts you already have. I can almost guarantee that you know someone who needs your skills right now.

It may be your neighbour’s sister’s dental hygienist but until you put yourself out there you’ll never know.

So make sure that when you’re updating your business Facebook status, you update your personal status too. Tell your friends and family that you’re available for work. Assuming they like you and want to throw you a bone, they’ll share your status and help you spread the word.

And don’t forget to take your business cards everywhere you go. You never know who you’ll end up speaking to at your pal’s birthday party.

3.Cold emailing

I’m the first to admit that this one fills me with dread. I can feel the sweat forming on my brow at the very thought of it but do you know what? I have heard so many small business owners swear by this that I’ve decided to give it a whirl.

Now, it’s early days for me but as far as I can make out, the key to this is not to be annoying; don’t be “salesy” and don’t try to be too clever.

Rather than plodding my way through an A-Z of business listings to find potential clients, I’m having a good think about the types of businesses I really want to work with. For example, there’s a kick-ass pizzeria not too far away that I absolutely adore. I reckon I’d be a great fit for their business, I’m a huge advocate of their product and I KNOW I could help them kill it with their marketing copy. So naturally, they’re on my list.

When it comes to actually drafting your cold emails it’s best to stick with honesty every time. Tell them why you’re contacting them — what do you think you’d be able  to help them with, why are you attracted to that business, how can you help them thrive?

Be brief, be polite and, as with all marketing copy, highlight the benefits you’re providing, rather than focusing on your business.

More on cold emailing here

Obviously emailing is free but if you wanted to push the boat out you could try sending real, actual, I can hold it in my hand, letters. Stamps aren’t as cheap as they used to be but if you really want to keep the cost down you could target local businesses and hand-deliver your letters.

Assuming you find the right businesses to contact and your sales copy is shit hot, you might find that there is more chance of your business card (don’t forget to pop one in the envelope) being filed away for future reference than an email being kept and actually found when needed.

 

4.Creating content

creating content for small businesses

Do you have a blog yet? No? Why the hell not?

Given that many of my clients hire me as a blog writer, you’d be right in saying that I’m an itty bit biased when it comes to this free marketing strategy. However, if business blogging didn’t offer a decent ROI then I wouldn’t still be in business.

Want to know more about the benefits of having a blog?

It’s vital that you come up with a strategy before you start throwing content around and hoping that some of it sticks.

The most important thing to remember is that you’re not writing for yourself, you’re writing for your audience.

Sit down and think about your audience. Who do you want to read your content? Potential customers presumably? Now, rather than think about how you can sell to them, think about how you can help them. What do they want to know? What will help them improve their businesses or their lives?

Delivering quality content in this way shows your potential customers that you know your stuff. You’ll be building up trust and relationships. So when the time is right for them to put in an order, they’ll have confidence in you and will know your product is the right option for them. It’s a win win.

Just don’t go to the trouble of writing a blog and then forgetting to promote it! As soon as you hit publish, get your content out there. Stick it on Facebook, tweet about it, print it out and stick it to every lamppost in your neighbourhood. Okay, maybe not that last one…

(Writing a blog is free but it does take time, so if you feel like it’s something you want to try but you worry you don’t have the time to do it justice or you’re not too fond of writing — I gather not everyone relishes the challenge of a blank screen the way I do — then give me a shout with what you need and I’ll check my availability.)

Which will you try first?

As I mentioned earlier there are thousands of cheap or even free marketing tactics you can try to help grow your business. I’ve focused on these today because these are the ones that have either worked well for me or that I feel compelled to try after many hours of research on the subject.

If you’ve found any others that are working particularly well for you, I’d love to hear about them in the comments!