There's a speech I've given to people in small businesses, in which I cover some of the emerging technologies they should consider adopting (see related column). One of the big ones is blogging. I recommend that anybody who runs a business keep a blog, for two reasons: First, writing down your thoughts is smart--you might learn something from yourself. Second, customer relationships are built through communication, and a blog is an excellent way to communicate what's happening in your company and industry.
But small-business blogs haven't gone mainstream yet, and your business may have many customers that are not as high-tech as you. This might lead you to conclude that you shouldn't bother with blogs, at least not yet. Because what good is a blog if nobody reads it?
The real question you should ask yourself, though, is, how can I get my customers to read what I write? Blog publishing and reading tools are flexible, and you may be surprised at how many ways you can get your business diary out to your current and potential customers, even those who don't know a blog from a cog.
Put your blog on your home page
First things first: Make sure readers know you have a blog. Put a prominent link on your business Web site--on the home page. Don't hide it.
Better yet, put the blog content itself on your business's home page. Many businesses have an "in the news" section on their page with excerpts from news stories or press releases. You want to have a section like that with excerpts from your blog. Sound hard? It's not. Go to FeedDigest (thanks to Ismael Ghalimi at IT|Redux for the tip) and point the service to your blog, and FeedDigest will generate HTML code that you can insert into your page. You need a modicum of Web publishing experience to do this, but considering how important Web marketing is in business, it's worth the time to learn it.
For example, using FeedDigest, I created a live excerpt (top 3 items, headlines only) of the CNET Alpha Blog entries tagged "Web 2.0." The site generated a block of code, which I pasted into this column's text. And this is the result--an up-to-the-minute view into the blog:
Make your blog easy to subscribe to
You can't count on people coming back to your home page or your blog every day to read it. But your most loyal customers, and your most tech-savvy ones, might want to subscribe to your blog posts in an RSS reader so that they always have access to your latest thoughts. Make this easy for them. Here's how: Go to FeedBurner and tell the site your blog's Web address. It will "burn" a feed with a friendly landing page (for example, here is the CNET Alpha Blog Web 2.0 feed) that makes it easy for users to add your blog content to their RSS reader.
Newer browsers support RSS and blog feeds automatically. You'll see a little icon (like this one from Firefox: ) somewhere on the page, indicating that the site or blog has an RSS feed. Currently, the RSS functionality inside browsers is limited, but awareness of RSS is increasing, the quality of RSS reading tools is improving, and there's no reason your business blog should not be riding the wave.
It's likely that many of your customers and potential customers won't want to deal with an RSS feed at all but would be happy to get e-mail updates from you. You can make it possible for people to subscribe to your blog via e-mail. FeedBurner offers a blog-to-e-mail feed, as does a new company, Zookoda. Either one will take your newfangled blog posts and send them via old-fashioned e-mail to people who prefer getting their content in a more traditional electronic medium.
Book your blog Finally, if you record anything approaching lasting value in your business blog (for example, if you use it to document finished projects, or if you record tips on working within your particular industry), you might find it useful to select some or all of your blog entries and print them--and not just on your inkjet, but in a nice, bound book that you can give out to valued or potential customers. A few blog printing services will do this for you, such as Blurb and BlogPrinting. They can make your simple blog look really professional.
Many people in nontech businesses still think blogs are silly, since many blog posts are hastily written and about issues that won't be important five minutes from now. But a thoughtful diary of a business can be of great value to customers, to business partners, and thus to your bottom line. Such a diary deserves to be seen, read, and preserved, and to do that, it should be published in whatever format and medium its readers are comfortable with.
Does your business blog? What good (or harm) has it done to your bottom line?