Monday, October 27, 2008

Using Blogs to Improve Your Business

One of the many benefits of business blogs is their ability to connect with the readers of them. Whether it’s with customers of a company, potential new clients or simply visitors looking to see what’s happening in that particular industry niche, business blogging is an instant way to connect with your target audience.

Yet this works both ways. While there’s no doubt that business blogging can offer an invaluable way for businesses to connect with their customers, bloggers can also connect with businesses and offer insights into where they’re going wrong.

With the power of a large following that many bloggers now have, they can virtually make or break a new product or service with a scathing review. Once that review or comment is online, it’s instantly available to millions of readers worldwide – a powerful number in anybody’s book. Therefore, knowing what’s being written is just as important as what you’re writing.

One of the best ways to interact with the blogosphere is by reading different blogs by leaders in their field. They don’t necessarily have to be in your particular business niche, either – the best bloggers write about topics that can be transferred into any business model.

For example, the emerging trend online at the moment is social media. While the basics of social media have been around for a few years, it’s only now that the medium is being exploited fully to enhance business use. One of the foremost bloggers in this field is Chris Brogan, who not only writes about social media, he encapsulates all that social media is about with consistently useful advice on how to use it more effectively, both on a personal and professional level.

Another blog similar to Brogan’s but from a marketing perspective is that of Seth Godin. His outspoken manner isn’t always everyone’s cup of tea, yet for out of the box thinking and fresh spin on old ideas, you can’t go far wrong by reading Godin’s blog. His books on marketing are bestsellers, so you know the information will be worthwhile.

Perhaps one of the best and most thought-provoking blogs for any business owner is by Howard Lindzon. A self-made entrepreneur who manages a hedge fund and continues to lead the field in new ventures and innovative thinking, his blog posts are not for the faint-hearted. What they are, though, is a collection of some of the best insights into being both passionate and unafraid to take risks when it comes to succeeding in business.

These are just three particularly strong blogs in an impressive worldwide blogosphere. To truly benefit from all that blogging can offer, however, they are excellent starting points that you can begin to build a varied and knowledgeable reading base. The added benefit is that as well as offering excellent business views and opinions, reading more blogs will invariably improve the quality of your own blog. And that can never be bad.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Why Blogging Isn’t Going Anywhere Soon

Despite recent stories to the contrary both in online and offline publications, the popularity of blogging shows no sign of abating anytime soon. From its early days as an outlet for bedroom writers to share their personal thoughts to the power it holds today as a business tool, blogging’s popularity is, if anything, increasing.

A recent report from Technorati confirms that blogging is growing at a phenomenal rate. Hailed as the Blogger’s Bible, Technorati measures not only how popular blogs are individually, but also how many are currently being written worldwide. In their State of the Blogosphere Report 2008, Technorati shares some impressive figures:

  • As of March 2008, there were 184 million blogs worldwide

  • Blogs in the US enjoyed 77.7 million unique visitors, compared to 41 million visitors to Facebook and 75.1 million to MySpace

  • 77% of all active Internet users read blogs

Apart from confirming that blogging as a pastime continues to find new fans, these figures from Technorati also act as a wake-up call for any businesses yet to have a corporate blog.

The Numbers Game

According to recent statistics, over half of all businesses in North America don’t have a blog, which means that just under half of all businesses do. If your business is in the half that doesn’t have a blog, you’re offering your competitors a major advantage over you – access to your target audience.

One of the reasons that blogs are so popular is that they offer an instant voice, both from the blogger and the reader. A personal blog can share the latest news or pictures of a newborn baby to family and friends in a different part of the world. A business blog works on the same premise.

Working on just some of the figures that Technorati provides, it’s easy to see why blogging should be a part of every business’s marketing or PR strategy:

  • 46% of all bloggers are professional bloggers. This may mean that they’re writing a corporate blog, or simply writing about the industry that their company is in, while not necessarily mentioning their company at all.

  • This equates to just over 84.5 million bloggers that are, in essence, business bloggers. If your company doesn’t have some kind of blog presence, that’s potentially 84.5 million businesses ahead of you when it comes to reaching your target audience.

  • Online sales in 2007 totaled $260 billion. Blogs are known to increase awareness of new products and offers from companies. Less than half are utilizing this, which means that 1 out of 2 companies are losing a large part of $260 billion dollars of online income.

As the economy continues to waver and businesses tighten their belts, not using every tool at your disposal is akin to commercial suicide. The popularity of blogging and blog readers should be seen as one of the most cost-effective and essential business tools available.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Why Market Research is Even More Important in a Tough Economy

“Goals are not only absolutely necessary to motivate us. They are essential to really keep us alive.” – Robert H. Schuller

The smart business owner knows two things – economic downturns are not new, and how we deal with them defines our future success. Continuing to look for growth even in the toughest circumstances is key to seeing any difficulties through. This is why it’s so important for businesses to keep a level head and stay focused with their market research, and make it business as usual.

While it’s natural for us to look at the markets and wonder what tomorrow will bring, it’s also an opportunity to take stock, evaluate how we can turn negativity into positivism and move forward. By keeping a level head and continuing with your current market research plan, you can minimize any risk that your business might face in the current climate.

Think about it – what’s helped you get where you are today? Yes, you may have a great product but if your intended customer doesn’t see it or isn’t interested in it, who’s going to buy it? Market research can help take away the doubt about what audiences go for, and whether your product or service will be accepted. Limiting the risk also reduces the unnecessary costs of a poorly planned launch.

Obviously you need to make sure that certain things come above market research – the ability to meet your expenses and pay your staff. After all, your staff have helped your business get to where it’s at today as much as anything else (if not more so). So of course you need to look after them as much as you possibly can.

After that, you need to make sure your name is the first one in the mind of your customers – old and new – while your competitors are staying in the shadows. To do that, you need to know what your customers (and those of your competitors) are thinking. Market research will tell you all of this and more.

As well as knowing what your target audience is thinking, market research offers two crucial advantages to your company in this type of market:

1. Reduced risk of costly campaigns. Testing your advertising before you go to market is a good way to stay on budget and use your best option.

2. You have access to a company that knows your market; that of your competitors and most importantly of all, can offer you unbiased answers from your potential customers. Well designed market research can get people to really open up and say what they want, without the sub-conscious thoughts of saying what they think you want to hear. That’s how you know to launch a product or service that will be a success.

In this time of economic uncertainty and unstable stock markets, businesses can’t afford to be missing out on a single opportunity. Having a solid market research plan that you stick to in tough times will keep it business as usual.