Can Blogging Work for Your Small Business?

By Beth Cox | Posted February 03, 2004

Like many entrepreneurs working to build an e-commerce business, I don't get a lot of downtime, and I have to admit that sometimes I can be a bit nostalgic for my regular job office days of old. I sure had more time back then to prowl the Web.

For example, I used to really enjoy keeping up with the Weblogs (hereinafter called blogs) written by the analysts at Jupiter Research, a division of Jupitermedia, which is the parent company of SmallBusinessComputing.com.

Blogs, at the most basic level, are publicly accessible personal journals. Some of them are really insightful and helpful; some of them are incredibly insipid. Roughly two percent of the online community has created a blog, according to Jupiter Research, and that translates into millions of blogs.

But lately I just haven't had the time to keep up with even the most insightful of blogs. And I can no longer peruse all the cool, hip sites like slashdot.org and Fark.com and others where Internet insiders (or wannabe insiders and smirking 20-somethings) comment on the latest developments in tech and often poke fun at the pretentious and/or the absurd.

Now, there are simply too few hours in the day and my focus is on sales. And sales. And, ah, sales. Such is the life of an e-commerce entrepreneur.

Now don't get me wrong. I'd love to have a blog as a supplement to our Web site, and I even went so far as to see whether my Web host offers special software for a blog. They don't, but it sure seems easy enough just to add a page and start typing.

Other hosts and domain registries are starting to offer blogging apps as part of the package and of course there is plenty of free or low-cost blog software and services available, things like Slashcode, Scoop (which calls itself "Collaborative Media for the Masses), Moveable Type, Blosxom, Blogger, LiveJournal, DiaryLand, Greymatter and many others too numerous to mention. Just do a Google search if you want to go this route.

Many of the blogs created in this manner are just an absolute waste of words, however. Face it: Not everyone has something worthwhile to say. Perhaps that helps to explain why Jupiter estimates that only four percent of the online community reads blogs at all.

However, there already has been a conference or two on business blogging and no doubt more can be expected. There was discussion of corporate blogs, and who in the company should write them, etc.

Most retail sites involved in blogging "are using feedback areas or message boards for consumers to create community," says Patti Freeman Evans, retail analyst at Jupiter Research.

"There could be a way for entrepreneurs to use blogs as a marketing vehicle to extol the features, benefits and new introductions of their product," she added. "They could play on the viral nature of blogs to gain awareness and communicate about their product ... However, as a selling tool, blogs are problematic. The content isn't really searchable so it could be hard for consumers to find the product they want if there is a lot of content on the page."

One small business person who is using a blog as part of her promotional effort is CPA Yelena Vaysburd in Massachusetts, who told me that she started a blog with the initial goal "to direct existing clients to the site for additional information (policies, check lists, directions, on-line payments)."

She's using one of the free software packages available.

"I can't estimate improvements in terms of number of new clients," she said, "but I believe that the site has improved quality of my services. I have received positive feedback already."

She told me that she likes having the ability "to add new and edit existing content fast, from any browser, not knowing HTML [hypertext markup language], and without help from a programmer."

"I can publish short notes and news, almost instantaneously. (However) the specifics of my business make it hard to engage my clients in active discussions," added Vaysburd.

Still, I'm finding it difficult to find the time to handle our eBay listings, Web site updates, keyword advertising, shipping, inventory control and an occasional newsletter, much less a spare half-hour or more to update the world on my thoughts or my business dealings.

I can see the value: Ongoing education for readers about the various orchids we sell, for example. And a chance to maybe get a discussion going among our customers — hints, growing tips, etc. I'd also like to think I'm enough of a writer to attract a bit of a following, but I'm not sure how that would translate into anything other than a little brand marketing for our company — at the expense of a lot of effort.

So for now, I'm going to "just say no" to this Internet trend. But I'm open as always to being educated, so if you have a blog that is directly related to actually increasing sales, I'd love to hear about how you're doing it.

Adapted from ECommerce-Guide.com, part of internet.com's Small Business Channel.

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