Blogs (or Web logs) are being heralded as the next big thing in online communication. The devotees are legion. "Blogging is a true revolution,'' says technology writer Fang Xingdong. "You need no training, and there's no cost.''
Think of a blog as an online journal—entries are posted regularly and presented in reverse chronological order.
You can use it as a platform from which to lobby, network and influence sales. "It's a way to circumvent traditional media,'' says Debbie Weil, who created a Business Blogging Starter Kit (www.wordbiz.com). "And blogging can be done instantly, in real time, for a fraction of the cost of traditional media channels.''
So how can a blog make you, the writer, money? By helping to increase your visibility on the Internet. The goal is to impress potential clients and convince them to hire you for a writing project.
"I've found my blog to be a fabulous marketing tool for my editorial, training and consulting services,'' says writer Amy Gahran (blog.contentious.com). "I've seen it work well for independent professionals who seek to establish a relationship with their potential audience.''
Many writers say their blogs help them build valuable contacts and relationships that can lead to paying gigs. For instance, marketing writer Jennifer Rice won Microsoft as a client after one of its executives read her blog (www.brand.blogs.com). "I didn't approach the company,'' Rice says. "I got an e-mail from this guy saying he'd read my blog and liked how I thought.''
Brian Carroll landed a book contract with McGraw-Hill largely on the strength of his blog (blog.startwithalead.com). And writer/consultant Kirsten Osolind scored a magazine column and four clients from her blog (www.reinventioninc.blogspot.com).
The bottom line: For the writer, a blog can generate a measurable ROI (return on investment), not directly—readers don't pay to access your blog—but indirectly, by enhancing your visibility and getting your name around to potential clients.
Blogs are relatively easy to set up. There are a number of blogging software packages—some free, others not—you can use to start your own blog.
Simply visit their Web sites and follow the instructions. Blogging authority Debbie Weil recommends www.typepad.com.
You'll want to link your blog to an RSS feed—a service that allows blog readers to be alerted whenever a new post is made to their favorite blogs. Visitors can "subscribe'' to your blog by clicking on the RSS feed button when they visit. Virtually all blogging platforms and software include RSS links as a standard feature.
One benefit of having a blog is that it can increase both your search engine rankings and, as a result, the traffic to your Web site. "The search engines, especially Google, love blogs,'' says online marketing consultant Paul Chaney. "You'd be amazed at how many of your posts end up in the top 10 returns. Blogs are the best way to move up the ladder, as well as increase your page rank.''
But here's a warning: The quality of the writing in your blog has to be as good as your essays, articles and books. There's a noticeable tendency among bloggers to ramble and produce stream-of-consciousness musings. Your random thoughts and insights may be of interest to you, but few others care. And since you're trying to sell your services as a writer, your entries carry greater weight.
To be taken seriously by potential clients, your blog should contain the following:
• insightful analysis and carefully considered opinions
• how-to information—tips, strategies, methods and ideas
• inside information, interviews and research presenting little-known facts
• up-to-the-minute links to other blogs and Web sites of interest to your readers.
I first write my blog entries in Microsoft Word, which makes it easy to edit and review them. I usually write several entries at a time and store them in a Word file called "blog entries.''
Keep your posts brief. Messages longer than a few paragraphs or points are better suited to other formats, such as articles, e-books or special reports.
Finally, keep your blog active. Weil suggests a minimum frequency of at least one new entry every week. If you stop posting items to your blog, people will drop you from the list of blogs they read regularly. You'll be reducing your readership, which goes against the whole point of a blog: to get your thoughts and ideas read by as wide an audience as possible.