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

Is it ever okay to talk politics in your content marketing?

 

Trump: he’s gonna make America great again or he’s a giant walking Wotsit who’s going to destroy the world in a temper tantrum.

Brexit: hurrah for the Great British empire…or the economy is going to collapse and we’ll all be living off tinned ham and powdered milk by April.

Is it ever okay to talk politcis in your content marketing

This dude hasnae made his mind up yet…
Photo by Kyle Ryan on Unsplash

I’m yet to meet anyone who’s on the fence about either political issue — indeed international politics has never felt so divisive and I’m seeing more and more evidence on social media of businesses laying out their political leanings for all to see.

So my current pondering is: are they wise to do so?

Does politics have any place in your marketing?

It was one of my regular agency clients that set me off on this train of thought. A business consultant based in the US, he has very firm views on the Trump administration and gosh darn it, he’s not afraid to share them! He was determined to call out the president for his narcissism and admonish other political leaders for failing in their duty to stand up to what is (in his view) some truly awful behaviour from the White House.

Inflammatory stuff. And he wanted it wrapped up neatly in a blog post…

As a writer, I was thrilled — what creative wouldn’t want to have fun with such a straight-shooting client and a controversial topic?

As a marketer, however, I had to pause. Because if you’re planning to broach any potentially controversial issue in your marketing, there are a few things that you have to consider first:

Your brand.

What does your company stand for? What are the values that drive you? Does politically-charged content tie in with your brand or does it completely jar?

If your company specialises in renewable energy or doing business in a more eco-friendly way, then talking about political policies relating to climate change and the environment makes complete sense.

Likewise, if you’re heading up the marketing department of a social enterprise that deals with people living in poverty, why wouldn’t you pass comment on the latest government austerity measures?

Is it ever okay to talk politics in your content marketing

Photo by Brian Wertheim on Unsplash

Your audience.

The customer avatar of the client I mentioned earlier? Well, it’s safe to say that they’re not of the wall-building persuasion. In fact, he’s looking to attract the type of customer who’s going to love his anti-Trump rant – the kind of person who’ll find themselves nodding along with what he says and who’ll share his post because it ties in with their own self-image.

And that’s one of the most important things to consider when you’re creating any kind of marketing content, politically-themed or otherwise:

Who are you writing for?

Think about your current clients: what do they think about the issues? Are you likely to alienate them with your views? Can you afford to alienate them?

Think about potential clients: what does this audience want to know, what do they want to hear and what are they likely to share with their own followers?

When it comes to sharing things on social media people tend to share things that make them look good, whether they want to be seen as cooler, smarter, funnier or whatever. Essentially, people share things that help support their self-image. So the person whose self-image centres on their liberal values, on taking a stand for the things they believe in, on speaking up for minority groups, will be queuing up to share content that feeds that image.

So before you start writing any type of content, be really clear on who you’re writing for. How do they see themselves? And what kind of content will support that self-image?

Because that’s what they want to read, and that’s what they’ll share.

 

Your motivation.

Is it ever okay to talk politics in your content marketing

Grab the popcorn, someone’s talking politics…
Photo by saskia fairfull on Unsplash

Why are you considering getting political with your content?

If you’re getting political purely to court controversy, it’s probably not a great idea. If you’re heading down the path to click bait, stop right there! And if your political affiliations are dictated by trends rather than your own values, you’re heading for trouble — we’ve all become far too good at spotting BS.

In my client’s case, the rant against the US administration was only a small part of the article — it was a timely and relevant springboard for a wider topic that fits in perfectly with his content marketing strategy. And as is the rule with any form of content, it still provides his readers with tangible advice, relevant to them.

If you’re planning a potentially controversial piece, make sure you can say the same.

Beware the echo chamber.

Is it every okay to talk politics in your content marketing

Beware the echo chamber…
Photo by rawpixel on Unsplash

If you’ve read the first three points and you reckon you’re safe enough to go ahead and share your politics with your audience, there’s just one more thing I want you to consider before you start creating:

The power of the echo chamber.

When I took to Facebook with my musings on my Trumpian blog post and whether it was cool to get so political in marketing, there was one comment I found really interesting:

“Probably a safe bet…yet to find an actual pro-Trump person in real life…but they must exist?”

Well, yeah, they certainly do exist. And there are probably many more of them than we realise.

We spend so much time with our friends (who likely share many of our political views), reading our heavily filtered social media feeds and relying on the news outlets that most closely align with our beliefs that it’s easy to forget that we’re not all on the same page politically. There are plenty of folks out there with opposing views; people who may decide not to do business with us, people who might call us out and openly challenge us.

Our echo chambers give us a false sense of security when talking about politics.

So when you’re creating any type of controversial content, be aware that you’re probably wrapped up quite warmly in your cosy little echo chamber (I know I am!), and that by putting that content out there, you’re stepping into the fray.

You’d better be up to the challenge!

I’d love to know what you think? Are you happy to wear your political heart on your content marketing sleeve or do you keep business and politics strictly separate?

If you need someone to help you out with your own content marketing strategy and write those ( blog posts for you, give me a shout. I live for this stuff!