Anyone who has been following the business blogosphere for a while will be familiar with The Tinbasher, the Butler Sheet Metal blog written by Paul Woodhouse. You don't have to be in the sheet metal industry to enjoy The Tinbasher and Paul's northern humour makes for a very entertaining read. In fact, The Tinbasher has just won a well-deserved award for Best Small Business Blog.
JH How did The Tinbasher blog begin?
PW I set up a little sheet metal directory just for the sake of it and I put a blog within that site. It was just a case of messing about with a few RSS feeds for sheet metal news, but there isn't that much news you can get hold of. It was just really boring and I soon lost interest.
JH So how did it become as well-known as it is now. It's cited on lots of other blogs, mentioned in articles.
PW I basically just revamped it and thought, "Right, I'll start writing from a company perspective", which I wasn't doing before. It was from a strictly sheet metal news perspective and it was terribly dull but once it became a company weblog and I could talk more about the things that were going on besides general industry news, it became more interesting. I think that was the crucial turning point.
JH Are you surprised at how 'famous' you've become?
PW I must admit I'm terribly surprised, although it's more novelty value than anything else. It became a bit of a diversion but due to the fact that there isn't necessarily a niche in the blogosphere for small businesses per se and definitely not one for sheet metal, I found myself being drawn towards marketing blogs and the blogs which were talking about business blogs.
JH Who reads the blog? Do you have an idea of your audience?
PW I don't think it's necessarily all sheet metal workers. I can obviously track the referrals so I know what they're looking for. For example, we have a lot of people at the moment looking for 'stainless steel scratches' and all that kind of business so I'd classify those as being from a more home decorative market.
JH And in terms of numbers? How many visits would you get a day?
PW At the moment on the site meter, it's probably averaging about 70 but it's gone up tremendously this past month ever since I got some PageRank. I got a RageRank of about four and all of a sudden people started to find it on Google.
JH I was going to ask you about PageRank because I'm not sure I quite understand that.
PW The way it's supposed to work is that you link to sites and sites link to you. Google's algorithm then works out how relevant you are and how many links you have and that's supposed to transfer itself into PageRank. Theoretically, the more PageRank you have, the more likely you are to be found for whatever search terms may be put in and that's obviously the beautiful thing in terms of blogging. People are just naturally linking all over the place to people who are supposed to be more relevant. That means you get a natural boost in PageRank without having to go through all that nasty business of contacting sites and trying to get them to link to you. The updated content helps as well.
JH How does the traffic compare with your regular website? Do you get more on the blog?
PW Probably twice as much. I was probably only getting between 7 and 20 through the main Butler Sheet Metal site and then as soon as I integrated the blog into the whole web presence, it went from something like 240 to 1,500 and that was in the first month. Last month with the PageRank it had gone up to about two and a half thousand and this month it's two and a half thousand in two weeks.
JH How effective has the blog been in generating business? Can you make a connection?
PW I can, quite easily. Obviously, you've got more people looking, you've got better targeted key words and not only are we getting more enquiries, we're getting a better quality of enquiry. As opposed to people who are sending you an e-mail, doing the rounds, sending a quote off to maybe five or six companies, people are now starting to ring up. We're now actually getting fewer e-mail enquiries and far more telephone enquiries which are transferring more into sales. I'd say the blog bolsters the web site, but it's starting to bring in traffic in its own right.
JH How would you describe your blogging voice or blogging style?
PW I'd probably say it was parochial and colloquial. It's maybe my strongest point and also my weakest point. The people who like it are going to like it a lot, and those who don't will be quite turned off by it. But I'd rather have just one really good customer relationship through it than maybe 5-10 average ones.
JH Humour seems to be quite a big part of what you do. Most posts seem to have some element of humour.
PW That's possibly just the way I am and the way we are at work. I do write very personally and I find that quite easy to do. It's not necessarily the way we talk to customers but it is the way we talk to customers once we get to know them better. I commented just the other day that there's a lot of pressure on me being the world's foremost sheet metal blog comic.
JH As far as small businesses in general are concerned, what are the qualities you need to become a successful blogger? Can anyone do it?
PW I think that anyone can set one up and that's a very strong plus point but also to its detriment. I think there's a lot of people saying, "It's the easiest thing since sliced bread." I think it's also quite easy to make a hash of it and not do it as well as you necessarily might do. I keep finding ones that are either a blog about testimonials or blogs with just various products and that's not what it's about. As far as I'm concerned you don't use a blog purely and simply as an easy web publishing tool.
JH But there's the question of time as well. Small companies perhaps don't have a lot of time to invest or limited resources.
PW I think that's a very valid point. For example, there's obviously been more people who have taken up the idea of getting a web site than I think will take up the idea of getting a blog because you can conceivably throw as much money as you want at a website but you can't necessarily throw any money at a blog and expect it to work. You have to invest some time in it.
JH What would you say were the benefits of a blog as a marketing/communications medium in general?
PW The fact that we can explain ourselves as a company. A website is only an online brochure. There's obviously a lot more that goes on behind the scenes on a daily basis where you can actually expand upon who you are as a company. It's obviously the whole transparency thing - what you're like as a company, the personalities behind the business. I really do honestly believe that people can actually judge whether they want to do business with you.
JH What advice would you give to any small business thinking of starting a blog?
PW I can imagine that there are certain people who are wanting to get on the bandwaggon. I don't think that's enough. If it's not you that wants to blog, then you've got to find somebody within your company who does want to blog. There's got to be an authenticity, there's got to be a reliable voice - I'm not sure I like all these terms like authenticity and transparency and all that kind of business. But also the other thing that I'd say is actually get a feel for the blogosphere, spend a little bit of time reading a few other blogs, see what good business blogs are, see what good blogs are, see what they have in common, see what you like about them. There's got to be a blog somewhere floating about that you have an affinity with. Even go to certain blogs and learn how to post comments. Even though it's not the most difficult thing in the world, you've still got to get used to it.