Antique Book Store Image Free

The Small Business Toolbox is your place to find free and low-cost software and services to help grow your business.

The resources I post are usually easy to use and will provide some value to your business. All of the tools are ones that I either currently use or have used in the past. I don't go into much detail here so I encourage you to take some time and explore each one to see if it will be of help to your business.

If you have any ideas or suggestions for tools, you can contact us here.

Ben Sound – Creative Commons licensed royalty free music.  Great if you need an audio jing for your video or podcast.

GIPHY – Everone loves watching animated GIFS on social media.  GIPHY lets you download and create your own animates GIFS.

Google Keep – Many people still don't know that this exists.  It's a free note-taking and to-do list app and is one of my favorite productivity apps.  Simple, visually appealing and has lots of great advanced tools if you need it.  Mobile app + Chrome app available.

MissingLettr – Great social media tool that lets you create a 12-month social media marketing campaign out of any blog post or content you want to share.  Automated and awesome.

The nicest thing about not planning is that failure comes as a complete surprise, rather than being preceded by a period of worry and depression.
Missinglettr

VOIP Office Phone Small Business

Being able to make phone calls through the internet has become fairly common, there are hundreds of mobile apps and services that allow you to make Voice Over IP calls or VoIP for short.  From Skype to Gmail Voice, it seems like VoIP communications are everywhere.

But is the VoIP quality and reliability there so your business can make the switch from a traditional telephone service to VoIP communications?

If you have ever used one of those free mobile VoIP apps, or even Skype, you know that the quality can sometimes be sketchy, and that won't cut it when business grade communications are required.

Both internet bandwidth and speeds are growing at a rapid rate, making the transmission of a bandwidth heavy medium like voice communications not only possible but of a quality that matches any traditional telephone line.  As internet and mobile data plans get faster, VoIP becomes even more reliable to use as a communications platform.

We made the switch to VoIP about 7 years ago using Ring Central and haven't looked back.  As internet bandwidth and speeds increase, VoIP gets more and more reliable and the feature set keeps expanding, making it an even better choice for business communications.  Being able to seamlessly use our phone lines both in the office and out in the field via mobile apps has been a game changer for us.  And added features like setting up conference calls, virtual faxing and scheduled call rules, has made VoIP has been awesome.

Although VoIP can bring your small business communications to a whole new level, at a price that's cheaper than traditional telephone lines, there are still several things you need to consider before making the jump.  This guide will serve to help educate you on VoIP technology as well as what to look for when deciding to make the switch.

What is Voice over IP (VoIP)?

VoIP is the transmission of communications of voice and other communication-based media like SMS messages over the internet, instead of using a Public Switched Telephone Network, a fancy term for your traditional Ma Bell telephone line.  Your phone connects to your modem/router and communications travel over the internet via WiFi, high-speed internet connection, or your mobile data plan.

The small business playbook guide to voip

How does VoIP work?

In very simple terms, for a VoIP phone call to take place, several things need to happen:

  • A “session” is created by the VoIP protocol that  is being used
  • The protocol attempts to connect to the termination point, otherwise known as the phone number you are trying to call
  • If a connection is made, they “Shake Hands”, starting the session (phone call)
  • Your voice is turned into digital “packets” that are sent through the internet connection.  When those packets reach the termination point, it is turned back into your voice for the other person to hear.  I always visualize packets of sugar flying through the internet whenever I hear the term “Packets”.
  • When you hang up, the session is terminated

As you can see, the transmission of your voice (or any other media for that matter) is actually a very complicated and technical process that is made simple for everyday use.

The Good Things About VoIP

  • The speed of the internet today makes VoIP communications not only reliable but of a quality that matches traditional phone lines
  • Long term costs are almost always lower than using a traditional telephone line
  • A VoIP communications system comes with loads of features that you either have to pay extra for or aren't available with traditional phone lines
  • Almost always includes all of the basic features like call forwarding and caller ID in the base price

The Not So Good Things About VoIP

  • Voice quality depends largely on the speed and quality of your internet connection.
  • Unless you have a backup power source, you will lose your phone lines if the power goes out.  If the internet goes down, you will also lose your ability to make calls
  • Depending on your needs,  setting  up your system and maintaining it can become complicated
  • If your business is a heavy internet bandwidth user for other applications and you do not have a very fast internet data plan, you may need a second internet line just for your VoIP communications.

VoIP Terminology You Should Know

SIP – Session Initiation Protocol – is a protocol that is the proposed standard for initiating, modifying, and terminating an interactive user session that involves multimedia elements such as video, voice, instant messaging, online games, and virtual reality.  While there are several types of protocols used to initiate a VoIP phone call, SIP is the most widely used.

PBX – Private Branch Exchange (also called Private Business Exchange) – is a telephone exchange that is owned by a private business, as opposed to one owned by a common carrier or by a telephone company.  A PBX system allows a business to route calls to different employees (ie; employees have their own extensions) and manages the system themselves.  While a traditional PBX system involves a big physical piece of hardware on site that you have to manage, with a VoIP system, you can have a cloud based version that is hosted and managed remotely on a server.

IVR – Interactive Voice Response – otherwise known as an auto attendant, it is the annoying computerized voice that big corporations use to direct your call and to drive you insane.  They can be useful if used the right way.

DID – Direct Inward Dialing –  is basically a phone number that is assigned to your telephone line.  With VoIP you have can several DID's (phone numbers) assigned to a single line.  An example would be, with a single phone line, people can call your 1-800 number, your local number, as well as any other DID's you, have assigned to that line….and they will all ring to the same phone line.  As you can see, you can have multiple DID's for a single phone line.

IP Phone – VoIP phone – Allows you to place calls over your VoIP network.  An IP phone has it's own IP Address (like your computer does, to identify itself online) and houses all of the “brains” that helps it to communicate and connect on a VoIP network.  All of the information is stored on the phone itself, rather than with a traditional phone, which does not store any information inside it.

ATA – Analog Terminal Adapter – is a small device (looks like a modem or router) that allows you to use a traditional telephone with VoIP.  The ATA houses the “brains” (the same inside an IP phone) because traditional phones cannot communicate on a VoIP network without one.

Latency – Otherwise known as “Lag”, Latency is the time between the moment a voice packet is transmitted and the moment it reaches its destination.  If the latency is too large, you will start to experience reduced call quality and stuttering when speaking on the phone.

QoS  – Quality of Service – Most routers you buy today have QoS features built in.  What it does is it determines the importance of different types of internet activity (voice calls, viewing video, downloading, etc) and gives some activities priority over others.  So if you are speaking on the phone and someone else starts downloading a large file, QoS will know to slow down the file download as not to degrade the quality of the voice call.

Things You Can Do With VoIP That You Can't With A Traditional Phone Line

  • Assign multiple DID's, aka “phone numbers”  to a single phone line without having to purchase additional phone lines
  • Assign a virtual FAX number without having an actual FAX machine
  • Plug and Play. Since the IP phones or ATA's house the “brains”, you can unplug them from the internet, take them halfway across the world, plug it in again…..and you would get a dial tone that rings when your phone number is called.
  • Voicemail sent directly to your email inbox
  • Complex call rules like simultaneous ringing on multiple phones and automatic call forwarding after a certain amount of rings.
  • Create a cloud-based PBX system for your business
  • Make calls from your computer and even on your cell phone using your data plan.
  • Seamlessly integrate your office phones and your mobile phones so you never miss an important call.


What do you need to know before making the switch to VoIP?

There are several things you will need to take into consideration before making a decision, some are technical matters while others are business related questions you need to answer before you decide.

How many phone lines will I need?

The cost difference between traditional phone lines and VoIP really start to show when you are using several phone lines, though you will still see cost savings even with a single line.  If you are currently using several phones in your business, you will need to make sure you have Cat5 cables (these are the standard cables you connect your router to your computer devices with) that reach the areas where you intend to have a phone.  Depending on the layout and needs of your business, it may be easy to install the extra cables or it may complex.  There are also several new alternatives to installing additional Cat5 cables.

How fast is my internet connection?

Though internet speeds are pretty fast these days and can handle the load of a VoIP call, several factors need to be assessed such as:

  • The number of phone lines that will be installed and the expected use of those phones.  Will you have several people on the phone simultaneously?
  • Does your business make heavy use of computers?  If you are downloading large files or accessing HD streaming video, it may reduce the quality of your VoIP connections.

In order to have a reliable quality VoIP call, you will need to have about 100kbps of both upload and download speeds as a starter.  Fortunately, high-speed internet plans can easily handle several simultaneous calls without a hitch.  The only thing you need to be aware of is the bandwidth requirements of the other devices on your internet connection like your computers and possibly a Point of Sale (POS) system you are using.  You can check your internet connection speed here, the results will vary depending on the current bandwidth load on your internet connection.

Number of Concurrent Calls Minimum Required Bandwidth Recommended speed
1 100 Kbps Up and Down 3 MBps Up and Down
3 300 Kbps Up and Down 3 MBps Up and Down
5 500 Kbps Up and Down 5 MBps Up and Down
10 1 MBps Up and Down 5-10 MBps Up and Down

Is my traditional phone line powering anything else in my business?

Be sure that removing your old telephone line will not affect other services in your business.  If you have an alarm system, your phone line is usually the way the alarm company connects to the alarm in your business.  Also, your credit card machine or Point of Sale system is sometimes connected with dial-up service from your phone line, though most also offer a high-speed connection and are the standard connection these days.

What will be the total cost to switch to VoIP?

While your monthly payments will most likely be lower with VoIP, you still need to take into consideration the costs for the initial setup.  New IP phones/ATA's, additional equipment like extra Cat5 cables and installation can easily add up to several hundred dollars.  Calculate the entire cost of switching and determine you Rate of Return (ROI) when you recoup your investment.  Fortunately, many of the larger VoIP providers, like Ring Central,  offer some kind of incentive to make the switch.

Do I have a backup plan if I lose power or an Internet connection?

For residential VoIP customers, I usually just advise them to use their cell phone if they lose power, but for a business, you have to have a backup plan as a phone line is the lifeblood of most businesses.  For business customers, I usually make the following recommendations:

  • Have a battery backup source in case of a power failure.  For less than $100, you can get a battery that will power your modem, router, and phones for several hours
  • Keep one traditional phone line for backup.  I like to keep one traditional line to use as backup in case of a power/internet outage
  • Learn how to access your VoIP admin panel (your VoIP service provider will give you access) and learn how to forward your business phone number to another phone, like your cell phone, in case of an outage

Some Final Tips

Learn how to troubleshoot your VoIP system.  Having someone around that is familiar with the system will save you a ton of headaches when problems are encountered.  Though VoIP is very reliable, sometimes little things happen that you will need to know how to troubleshoot.  Learning how to reset your modem, router and IP phones/Ata's and being able to access your admin panel (your VoIP service provider will give you access) will save you a lot of time and headaches when you encounter problems.

Learn how to use your new system.  While VoIP offers features that traditional phone lines can't provide, they are useless if you don't take the time to educate yourself on their use.  Most VoIP users end up using their new systems exactly the way they used their old phone system (which is ok) because they never took the time to learn all of those cool features that makes VoIP such a great technology.

Making an informed choice

Do your homework before choosing a provider.  Speak to other business owners that are currently using VoIP for their phone service and see what company they use and their experience with them.  While there are many national VoIP providers like Ring Central, 8×8, and Vonage (a good choice if you will only be needing a single line and maybe a FAX line) that have very good reputations, there are lots of smaller, local companies that can provide VoIP services.  The most important thing is to find a company that has a reputation for great support as there is definitely a learning curve and bugs to work out when implementing a new VoIP system in your business.

Making the switch to VoIP communications for your business can not only save you money but can help increase business productivity and flexibility with how and where you and your employees communicate.  The important thing is to educate yourself on the technology and make an informed choice….hopefully this article helped you with both!

If you have any questions, contact me here

Laptop and Tablet on Clean Desk Ready For Work

Having a presence online for your business is vital.  Don't you agree?

Whether you are an established business or just starting out, your business website will be an essential part of your business.

If you are just starting out online and not familiar with web hosting services, this article is for you.  Here I'll go over what web hosting is, what kinds of web hosting services are available, and things to look for and to avoid when looking for a hosting provider.

What is web hosting?

Web hosting is a service that provides the infrastructure to store your website and its files online and allows other people to view your website via the internet. Think of it like your home computer, where you store all of your files, pictures, and videos.  Whenever you want to view something, you just open it up on your computer and enjoy.  A web host does essentially the same thing except they store all of your website files on what's called a server, which is essentially a centralized computer (group of servers) that a web hosting provider owns that stores thousands of websites files for all of there customers.

What kind of web hosting options are there?

Shared Hosting

Shared hosting is when your website is stored on a web hosting providers server along with hundreds of other websites.  It's kind of like renting an apartment in a building where you have lots of neighbors.

Pros:

Very inexpensive.  You can get a lot of features for very little cost

The shared hosting market is very competitive, this helps to keep prices low and features high

Very reliable, considering how cheap it is and support is usually pretty good (depending on the provider)

Cons:

Security.  Since you are hosting alongside 100's of other websites, a major security breach by one website can potentially affect your website.  Hosting providers are really good with monitoring security threats and it's usually not a problem, but the threat still does exist.

Reduced capacity. There are bandwidth and storage limits with shared hosting.  Many hosting providers advertise unlimited everything, which is not the case.  They reserve the right to shut you down or throttle your service if you are using too much bandwidth or disk space on their servers.  For a small business, this is almost never a problem so I wouldn't worry about this

Dedicated Hosting

Dedicated hosting is when your website is hosted on its own dedicated server.  You are the only website on there and do not need to worry about other websites affecting yours.  Think of it like owning a nice single family home where your neighbors are far enough away as not to annoy you.  You also have managed hosting where the hosting company actively manages your website and the server to keep it running optimally and to maintain a high level of security.

Pros:

Great for large businesses and websites with lots of traffic

Full control over your server settings.  You can customize your server without worrying about your neighbors, like with shared hosting

Cons:

Can get expensive.  Not really feasible for a small business or if your just starting out

Requires someone to actively manage the server to keep it running smoothly

Virtual Private Hosting (VPS)

A Virtual Private Server is when your website is hosted on a server with other websites, but it's partitioned off from them and offers costs closer to shared hosting but security and performance similar to a dedicated server.  It's kind of like living in a luxury high-rise condo building, you have neighbors, but your walls are thick enough so you never hear them.

Pros:

Better security features than shared hosting

Allows custom configurations even though technically you are sharing the server with other websites

Much cheaper than dedicated hosting, though more than you will pay for shared hosting

Cons:

Still quite a bit more than shared hosting services

Quality of a VPS depends on each individual hosting company

Since you are still technically sharing server space, there may be some bandwidth and storage limitations, like with shared hosting

What is the best web hosting option for a small business?

It depends on your business.

If you are just starting out and will most likely not have thousands of daily website visitors in the near future, I would opt for the shared hosting plan.  It's cheap, reliable and makes it really easy to just get started……which most of the time is the most important thing.

When I would consider an alternative to shared hosting is when security is vital (storing sensitive customer information like with e-commerce) or I will be anticipating a large jump in visitor traffic right off the bat, I might then look at a VPS or maybe a dedicated server if finances allowed.  There is no set traffic number when you would make the switch, but if you are consistently hitting 20K unique visitors a month, you may want to start looking at it.

 

Tips on finding a good web hosting provider

Reputation.  Ask other business people with websites what service they are using.  Do some online research on a potential service provider, you'll probably find that there are lots of customer reviews and forum comments on all of the major web hosting providers.  I have had the most success in picking web hosting providers by reading reviews (and complaints) from current and past customers.  Look at their Twitter and Facebook pages to see get an idea of what customers think about them and how they communicate with their customers.

Support. Unless you are an online veteran, comfortable with programming, you'll want a hosting provider that is ready to help you out when you need it.  Just like above, search online and look out for words of praise (or scorn) from current customers.  It may even be a good idea to call the web hosting provider and see how helpful they are in answering your questions.

Scalability.  If you will be starting out on a shared hosting platform, check to see if you will be able to easily upgrade to a VPS or dedicated server if your business starts to take off.  Upgrading to a new level of service is not usually a big deal, but switching to an entire service provider can be a pain in the butt.  Make sure you have room to grow if you ever need it.

Price. Don't base your purchase on it.  You won't be high fiving yourself on the $2 a month you are saving when your website is down and your service provider is not returning your calls.

** Note: A company called EIG has purchased most of the shared hosting companies over the last few years, leaving very little competition in the shared hosting market.  Unfortunately, it has been the case that when they take over a company, the level of customer service and hosting reliability takes a major drop.  As an example, see reviews for Hostgator before 2016 and after, a stark difference in how customers feel about the company.  For shared hosting, we have been using A2 Hosting for several years, very reliable and still independent.

 

More Web Hosting Tips

Dedicated IP address.  With shared hosting, you share an IP address with the other websites on the server. If one of those websites is doing something they shouldn't and gets in trouble ( gambling sites, porn, etc), the search engines might punish them by restricting or banning the IP address of that user.  That could affect your website and unfortunately, you do not get to pick your neighbors with shared hosting.  For only a few bucks a month, it's still much cheaper than VPS hosting and gives you a little piece of mind.  And if you will be attempting to run e-commerce on a shared hosting plan, which some companies will allow, make sure you get a dedicated IP address as well as a SSL security certificate.

Avoid free hosting.  There are lots of web services that will host your website for free.  While this may be great for a personal blog or hobby website, it's not a good idea for your business.  Why?

  • You will most likely not get your own domain, but a sub-domain.  When you have your own domain, your website will look something like yourdomain.com , where with a sub-domain, it will look something like yourdomain.freewebhosting.com .  It's much more professional and beneficial to you and your business to have your own domain.  If you don't think such a vital part of your business (a website) is worth a few dollars a month, maybe you should rethink your business.
  • Most free web hosting providers will place ads on your site to recuperate the cost of hosting it for free.  It just looks unprofessional.
  • You have no control over your website or performance.  In exchange for getting it free, you give up any right to complain about the service.
  • Support is usually poor to non-existent

 * Some free hosting services offer you your own domain and upgraded features and service with a paid plan.

 

Summary

As you can see, there are lots of choices and decisions to make when choosing a web hosting provider.  It's an important decision and I would take my time and do my research before signing up for a service.  Your hosting provider is the foundation for your website, so be sure you don't jump into any old service or you might regret it later on.

If you have any questions about hosting providers, just shoot me a message and I'd be happy to help out.  You can also check out my small business resources page and see what services and tools I use for my business.

Advertising

Below is a roundup of online advertising posts for April 2017 that you may find interesting.

The Simple Step-by-Step Google Adwords Tutorial For Small Business Owners

Need help navigating AdWords? Check out this Google Adwords tutorial before you spend another dime in search engine marketing.

https://smallbiztrends.com/2017/04/google-adwords-tutorial.html

On – 04 Apr, 2017 By Tom Demers

4 easy ways real estate agents can use Google Adwords

Capturing leads online takes practice. Here are tips to bolster your online presence with a well-thought-out campaign

http://www.inman.com/2017/03/27/4-easy-ways-real-estate-agents-boost-business-google-adwords/

On – 27 Mar, 2017 By Michael Weinhouse

How to Make A Google Data Studio Dashboard for Adwords, Facebook, Twitter & Bing Data

I'm happy to share the next great reporting template – a Paid Channel Mix template with Adwords, Facebook Ads, Twitter Ads and Bing Ads data.

https://supermetrics.com/blog/paid-channel-mix/

On – 18 Apr, 2017 By Anna Shutko

How to Set Up an Effective Facebook Ad Campaign : Social Media Examiner

Wondering how to set up a successful Facebook ad campaign? This article shares fundamentals to help you avoid mistakes that cost time and money.

http://www.socialmediaexaminer.com/how-to-set-up-an-effective-facebook-ad-campaign/

On – 05 Apr, 2017 By Charlie Lawrance

3 Ways to Boost Your Lead Nurturing Strategy with Facebook Ads | Social Media Today

This post outlines three lead nurturing strategies for lapsed users using Facebook’s retargeting features.

http://www.socialmediatoday.com/marketing/3-ways-boost-your-lead-nurturing-strategy-facebook-ads

On – 16 Apr, 2017 By DianaMackie

Making the Best Facebook Ads in MailChimp

Since rolling out Facebook Ad Campaigns a couple months ago, we’ve curated some content to help you learn the basics of Facebook ads and create an effective campaign strategy. It’s not only easy to

https://blog.mailchimp.com/making-the-best-facebook-ads-in-mailchimp/

On – 30 Mar, 2017 By Maggie

How to Create a Basic Evergreen Facebook Ad Campaign – Jon Loomer Digital

Create a basic evergreen Facebook ad campaign to limit waste and enjoy consistent results for months at a time. Here's how you can create your

https://www.jonloomer.com/2017/03/30/basic-evergreen-facebook-ad-campaign/

On – 30 Mar, 2017 By Jon Loomer

How to Get More Clicks on Your Facebook Ads

The network that more and more marketers (myself included) are turning to these days is Facebook. Facebook Ads is fast becoming the go-to platform for paid ads. Just look at how the interest level has

http://neilpatel.com/blog/get-clicks-facebook-ads/

On – 25 Mar, 2017

HOW TO: Track Facebook Ads in Google Analytics (March 2017 Update)

A step by step guide for tracking Facebook ads in Google Analytics.

https://adespresso.com/academy/blog/facebook-ads-google-analytics/

On – 05 Apr, 2017 By Ana Gotter

Free Data Studio Template and Tutorial: Facebook Ads

In this post, I'll explain Facebook is a problem for Data Studio and how to overcome it. Also you can find free Google Sheet and GDS templates to to explore

https://supermetrics.com/blog/facebook-ads-data-studio/

On – 28 Mar, 2017 By Anna Shutko

The Facebook Ad Types: How to Choose the Best Ad Type for Your Goals

When it comes to Facebook ads, which ad type will be most valuable for your brand? Find out which Facebook ads you should use for different purposes now.

https://blog.hubspot.com/marketing/the-facebook-ad-types

On – 07 Apr, 2017 By Bethany Cartwright

How to Create Facebook Lead Ads: A Beginner's Guide

Ready to collect lead information directly from your Facebook ad campaigns? Learn the essential steps to creating effective Facebook lead ads in this guide.

https://blog.hubspot.com/marketing/how-to-create-facebook-leads-ads

On – 28 Mar, 2017 By Bethany Cartwright

How to Build a Powerful Keyword List for a Thematic PPC Campaign

Public holidays and special occasions are always a good reason to launch an advertising campaign and drive relevant traffic to your website. In this guide, we’ll share with you some useful ideas on

https://www.semrush.com/blog/how-to-build-a-powerful-keyword-list-for-a-thematic-ppc-campaign/

On – 10 Apr, 2017 By Maria Raybould

PPC Pitfalls to Avoid as a Small Business Owner

A small business may think PPC is not for them because they tried and failed. In reality, they've likely fallen into one of these avoidable PPC pitfalls.

https://smallbiztrends.com/2017/03/ppc-pitfalls-small-business.html

On – 30 Mar, 2017 By Ronald Dod

4 Ways To Know If PPC Is Right For Your Business

When deciding whether or not to involve PPC in your marketing strategy, you must first thoroughly examine your existing business and marketing practices to maximize PPC’s potential.

http://www.forbes.com/sites/ajagrawal/2017/04/18/4-ways-to-know-if-ppc-is-right-for-your-business/

On – 18 Apr, 2017 By AJ Agrawal

Freedom to do what you want
5 Things Every Small Business Should Be Blogging About

Blogging is one of those things that seems easy on the surface but is difficult to do in practice.  People who don't write think writing is easy until they try it for themselves.

The majority of bloggers quit after just a few months of blogging.  In the beginning, it's a lot of effort for very little gain.  It can take a blog several months, even years to get the kind of traction that turns a blog into something worthwhile.  With a good social media and online advertising strategy, you have the potential to get results much faster.

When I first started blogging in 2007, I don't think I saw any increase in traffic until about the 8-month mark, and that was after about 35 blog posts under my belt.  I basically just posted articles and waited for Google to send me traffic, which is a long and slow way to grow your blog.  Social media was just starting to catch on so I had limited channels to share my content, which I did none of anyway, I just posted and moved onto the next article.  Online content is more competitive today but you also have more channels where you can share and promote your content.

One major benefit I had from my blog is that over the years  I met so many wonderful people from all over the world as a result of my blogging, those connections alone was worth the effort.

So why blog at all?

First off, blogging isn't for everyone.  Just like social media isn't for everyone.  You shouldn't do it just because someone said that you should.  Just like any marketing channel, you have to make sure it is a good fit for you and your business and that you have the resources and determination to make it work.

47% of buyers viewed 3-5 pieces of content before engaging with a sales rep. (Demand Gen Report, 2016)

Business Blogging

A successful blog can attract thousands of targeted, potential customers to your website each month.  If your content ranks high in the search engines, people will find it when they do a search and will visit your website.  If you have engaging content, you can drive lots of people to your website through social media.  A great blog can also position you and your business as a thought leader in your industry, helping to make your business stand out from your competitors.

Setting up a blog is a long term marketing play for your business.  It's something that you have to put a lot of resources into up front with little gain, for a bigger payout later on down the road.  Kind of like SEO, where there is no immediate payout for your efforts but has great long term ROI potential.

You don't need to be a writer in order to blog.  I've been blogging since 2008, I've written over 500 blog posts, and I still don't consider myself a writer.  Writing is always a constant struggle, even professional writers struggle with their writing.

But what you do need is a clear understanding of what blogging is and how it will benefit your business.  You need a strategy for your blog so you can turn your content into leads and customers for your business.  This is where most business blogs go off the rails.  They start blogging without a clear goal or strategy in place and end up writing about random nonsense that nobody cares about.  Usually, after a few months of no direction and strategy, they see poor results and quit.

Don't let that be you.

If you are serious about blogging then read on.  Adding a blog as part of your marketing strategy can pay huge dividends for your business down the road.  The most important thing is that you have a strategy in place and you're not just blogging for the sake of blogging.  You also need to understand that blogging is a long-term marketing strategy, so don't expect immediate payouts like you would with advertising.

Marketers who prioritize blogging are 13x more likely to achieve a positive ROI on their efforts. Hubspot, State of Inbound

Here are a few basic tips for your blog. 

  • Content should be at least 500+ words in length. Shorter than that and you probably didn't explain the topic fully enough and the search engines tend not to rank flimsy content.  600-1200 words is a nice sweet spot to aim for
  • Add images and embed video when you can. People like multi-media and adding these can enhance your content
  • Use quotes, facts, and statistics when you can
  • Use headers,sub-headers, bullets and bolding.  Just like a book, a blog post, especially a longer one, is easier to read when it is broken down into sections
  • Set a steady posting schedule for your blog. It can be daily, weekly or monthly. The more quality content you produce, the faster you will grow
  • Aim for quality over quantity, the internet is already littered enough with sub-standard content

You should also take a look at popular blogs in your niche and look at how they structure their blog posts.

So if you are ready to start blogging, the next step is to form a content strategy.  What will you blog about?  I've listed some blog topic ideas for you below, along with why they are good topics for your business.

Question & Answer Blog Posts

This should be at the core of your blogging strategy and can be the biggest driver of traffic to your website over time.  Q&A blog posts are the most likely to rank in the search engines because people are always online searching for answers to their questions.  Your goal is to provide full and complete answers for people interested in your product or service.

It's easy to get started.  Make a list of the top 20 questions you get from potential customers and turn each one of them into a detailed blog post.  Sure you can create an FAQ page on your site and give 2 sentence answer for each question like most people do, but FAQ pages never rank high in the search engines and rarely get found.  Do the opposite, and provide the best answer to that question out of anyone in your industry and you will get rewarded with a higher place in the search engine results when people search for it.

If you need some ideas and examples, simply ask a question about a product or service you are interested in and read the top 5 results.  Then go read the results on page 3-5 of the search engine results and note the differences in quality and structure.

 

Case studies & Customer Success Stories

Potential customers love reading case studies and success stories, especially if they can relate to the challenge you solved for the case study subject.  These types of blog posts are great for converting potential customers into paying customers as it provides real-life examples of how your business solves people's problems.

These types of blog posts are great for social media, advertising, and email marketing.  You can also showcase them on your website and use them as a conversion tool.  Case studies and customer success stories also work great for Facebook Advertising, where you create a case study for a specific demographic, then target that demographic on Facebook with your case study.

Here are some tips for creating great case studies.

 

Local Topics

If you are a local business then local is what you should be talking about most of the time on your blog.  Instead of writing about general industry topics, write about those topics through a local lens.  Writing about industry topics but making them local in nature can greatly help with your local search engine rankings and make your content more relevant for you audience.  Localizing your content makes it easy for the search engines to determine that you're a business in a specific area and is much more topical for your local audience.

Make your case studies about a local business people know.  Talk about industry topics and use examples from your city.  Your city may have unique challenges when it comes to whatever industry you are in, point these out and let people know these differences from the generic content they read online from other blogs.

So if you are a real estate agent, don't write about generic real estate tips like every other agent, make your content local and specific.  Write about the 5 best neighborhoods in your city for young families, or do a profile on a new housing development in your area.  Interview other local businesses and community leaders and do writeups about local events.  This kind of content is much more interesting to your readers than another, “5 Best Tips To Sell Your Home Fast” nonsense.

Whatever industry you are in, take popular topics and turn them into local blog posts for your readers.

 

Industry Content

Write about what's happening in your industry.  Talk about new products and services, trends happening and how your industry is evolving.  These types of blog posts help to educate your customers and potential customers about the latest in your industry.  It also helps to spread awareness to your customers and potential customers to create new buying opportunities.  Just be sure to use common language and not industry speak, which will confuse and bore your audience.

These types of blog posts are great for emailing to your existing customer base and for sharing on social media to existing and potential customers.  This type of content positions your business as a thought leading for your industry and helps you to stand out from your competitors.

The easy way to execute this is to stay on top of industry news, trades journals and other professional publications, then write a consumer friendly version of it for your readers.  You can include this content in your newsletter as well as on social media.

 

Behind the Scenes & Your People

Look at many popular TV shows like Undercover Boss or How It's Made, people love to see the inner workings of the businesses and products they know.  Take your customers behind the scenes and show them what life is like behind the counter.

If you sell products, show your audience how your product is made and the people who make them.  Most people will likely be surprised at all of the work and moving parts that are involved in bringing a product to market.  People may better appreciate your product or service if they can see all of the hard work that goes on behind the scenes.

Showcase yourself and your employees.  People love to know the faces behind the business.  If you have consumer-facing employees, do a  profile on them so people can better relate to them.  If you have behind the scene employees, bring them front and center and show your customers how they make things work behind the scenes.

Social media is a perfect platform for this.  Post pictures and stories on Instagram about your business.  Same with Facebook.  Make videos you can post to Youtube and on your website.  Most social platforms let you embed your social feeds, so put them on your website so customers can stay up to date on what you are doing to better serve them.  These are perfect times to relax and show your customers the lighter, more fun side of your business.  People love being a fly on the wall, let them see your business how you see it.

 

Start your business blog today

Starting a blog for your business isn't a quick way to generate leads or gain popularity.  It's a long-term strategy that can pay off in spades if you do it right and stay with it for the long haul.  Business websites are littered with blogs that started half-hazard and stopped almost as fast as they started. Don't let that be you.

Before you start blogging, make sure you have a strategy in place and you are committed to making your blog an important part of your overall marketing strategy.  If you do this, a year from now you will be a very happy person as you watch all of the wonderful things a great blog can do your business.

Never Settle