Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Elle, What Should I Blog About? - Artisan Crash Course

I'm starting to get variations of this question asked to me often enough that it deserves a post of it's own.  Let's start with the points I think you absolutely need to know.

1. You're not going to be perfect but you will get better with time and hard work.
The first thing you've got to do is stop beating yourself up because you don't have followers yet or your blog stats aren't that great.  Everything takes time and I'm working to improve just like you are.  You've got to promote your blog for people to find it and interact with other bloggers by following them and commenting on their posts.  It can be time consuming, but it's worth it if you want to build an audience.  There are numerous tips out there on the wondrous "interweb" about how to write better articles, improve your spelling, and be more colorful with your language.  For example, writing your posts in Word allows you to check your spelling with the spell check tool before you post.  Seek out the information you need to help shore up the weaknesses in your writing by using Google.  If you can't figure out what your weaknesses are, have a friend, family member, someone in the Etsy or ArtFire forums, or a Twitter tweep to take a look over your last three posts and give you honest feedback.  Don't be all sensitive though and allow your feelings to get hurt because someone is blunt with you - the criticism will help you grow and develop as a blogger.  Focus on doing better not lamenting the past.  (Have you seen my first EB blog posts?  You should read and see the difference.  It'll make you feel better, I promise!)

2. I've read dozens of articles and even a couple of paid guides about blogging for the online seller.  They ALL say you need to blog about your passion.
While poor grammar and spelling can distract readers, a few small errors here and there are not a big deal - especially if people are aware that English is not your first language!  What's most important is your content.  The way to be interesting is to blog about things you're interested in.  If you're an artisan it's CRUCIAL that you don't make the mistake a lot of craft bloggers make - to get followers, you need to ensure that your blog is not only self-promotion.  It's cool if occasionally you show me what you made over the weekend and post a tutorial about how I can make something similar.  It's not cool if virtually every post you write seems like a shop ad for your products.  If I wanted to see that, I'd already be in your store, right?  If you make jewelry you can write about techniques, materials, other artisans, etc.  If you crochet maybe you can post tutorials, features, reviews, etc.  Put some effort into thinking about this and really just find out what interests you and write about it.  Once you jump in, you'll be able to find out what readers respond to and what they don't.  And save the majority of your personal horn tooting for your sidebar(s) with an Etsy mini, Zibbet graphic, etc.

3. Blog often.
Too often I find a blog via Google that looks like it is awesome and then I find that their last update was two months or even two years ago.  I typically unsubscribe to blogs if they haven't posted in 4 weeks and haven't posted a reason (childbirth, illness, financial troubles, etc.).  It's not that I'm all about the $$$ and think everyone has to be actively interacting with me.  Let's be reasonable though.  If you're only posting sporadically, I don't know if I can expect to get more good content from you.  So I become uninterested and unconcerned.  I like to keep my blog roll full of fresh, interesting content and if you're not providing it regularly I'm not going to be clicking on your blog link.  What if you can't remember to update?  Do what I do and make a schedule for yourself and tweak it as needed.  I have had blogs in the past and this is the only one that I've updated frequently and gotten some readers from and my schedule was essential to that.  My readers know that barring a personal emergency, I'm going to at least post a review once a week.  The goal according to the experts is to blog at least 3-4 times per week,  but I say at minimum you should plan one day a week to post a really good blog post...full of SEO keywords, of course!  This consistency will encourage first-time visitors to return on a regular basis.

4. Narrow your focus.
So let's say you're interested in gardening, politics, and the vintage finds you sell on Etsy.  In your personal blog, feel free to ramble on about any of these topics at any time.  On the blog you want to use to promote your business, however, you need to have a more specific focus.  My blog's main focus is reviewing tools and resources I've tried that can benefit (or be useless to) fellow artisans.  In addition to that #1 priority, I work in my interest in the environmental movement by talking about eco-friendly handmade topics and products.  I'm still posting relevant content about the handmade community so I don't think it detracts from what my blog is trying to do.  (Other people may say things contrary to this, but I believe in variety - just in reasonable doses.)  Be fair to your readers.  If you cannot relate your love for gardening to what you sell on Etsy, you should keep it out of your business blog.  You want people interested in your product plus your competition (i.e. fellow artisans) to be the ones reading your blog because that's where you're trying to generate your sales!  If I'm searching for vintage finds on Google, click on your blog link, and then I find your most recent post (or half of your posts) is about petunias, I'm going to click the back button pretty quickly.

This guy has more than 2000 followers.  I don't 100% support all of his endeavors, but it's obvious he knows his stuff!  He is a must read.

5. Be personal.  And personable.  But not too personal.
Your blog is a tool that cannot be underestimated.  Through your blog you have a way to connect with current and potential customers on a personal level that you'll never be able to achieve via a shop announcement or posted bio.  For example, you might consider adding turning your straightforward, matter-of-fact blog entry about the rising popularity of online craft selling into a semi-"self feature" that shares some of your online selling experiences and tips for newbies you wish you'd know when you started out.  It makes you more interesting by humanizing you.  The internet can be personal when it's used correctly and that's what we're trying to achieve in the handmade community - something more personal and special than large-scale manufacturing.  Just...don't go overboard.  There needs to be a balance here.  Be friendly, engaging, and positive (yes, positive...the rebel "bitchy" blogger is only amusing for so long).  You'll soon make your readers aware that you're more than just the products you've listed and they'll be more likely to buy from you than a competitor to whom they don't feel a connection.  Don't write post after post about your life (i.e. how you had a fun time at the dog park or the wonderful religious experience you just had.)  More often than not, your bloggers aren't going to care.  This goes back to point #4.  Narrowing your focus means toning down on the deep personal information that doesn't relate to your blog's subject matter at all - that's what your personal blog is for.

These are my top 5 tips but as I wrote this I thought of another two points you really need to consider.  These are the optional tips but they give you a way to become a valued contributing member of the blogging community.

Bonus tip: Respond to everyone that comments on your blog.
You might not have to do this if you have upwards of 200 active followers, but if you're already that successful you're probably not reading this post.  You need to think of blogging as a social networking tool.  If you're using social networking correctly you're not just posting but interacting with others.  Instead you're following other blogs and responding to posts with relevant and thoughtful comments.  You're also responding to every person that comments on your blog by replying to them and potentially by commenting on one of their blog entries to return the good will.  Not only can you learn a great deal from reading other people's content, but you also have an opportunity to stake out your competition so to speak.  For example, if you crochet scarves some of the bloggers you follow should be fellow scarf-makers.  You should study the posts the more successful artisans make (people with more followers and sales than you) and try to improve your content to be on par with theirs.

Optional point to consider: Be helpful!
People are going to need a reason to follow you out of the thousands of blogs that exist.  You should want your posts to benefit other people in some way.  This can work for you by encouraging them to stick around and potentially end up in your shop.  Do you post about other artisan's work?  People who are looking for the products you're promoting will like your blog.  Do you post about social networking resources and how they can benefit my business?  I'm going to want to subscribe.  Do you have links to crafty tutorials on your blog?  People will be coming back again and again looking for instructions on fun things to make.  Being helpful tends to pay off, so consider what your expertise is and post about that.  You're knowledgeable about something I promise!  And there are people out there who will benefit from you posting it.  Plus, it's just good karma. :)

What are your tips for new bloggers?  Do you think your blog directly benefits your business?  Post in the comments and share your answers to these question with us!  Don't forget to leave your blog link in your comment.  You never know which bloggers allow trackbacks!

Until next time,