Northfield, Minnesota, must have the largest concentration of small business blogs anywhere in the world. This is due to one man, Griff Wigley, who has coached over 20 small business owners in the art of blogging (see Griff's company site for the complete client blogroll). Griff has recently returned from a trip to the UK where he shared expertise in the area of civic leader blogging. We talked about blogging over the phone.
JH What does a blogging coach do ?
GW I think the dilemma of the small business person in a weblog is how do I keep my website up-to-date in a cost-effective way. If that’s all it was going to be, there probably wouldn’t be any need for a coach because most of them can see how to put little blurbs in their blog that update people about their products and services, but they tend to do it in what I call PR lingo. They tend to write in press release language; they’ll write in the third person, “Our company is pleased to announce that…” - that sort of language and there’s a whole other array of types of blogs posts that never really occurs to them. So my role as a coach is firstly to get them to write in a language that is more appealing to their site visitors and secondly to get them to consider the wider range of posts and then to do it. One of the ways I build a coaching relationship with them is to help them with some of the technical stuff. I’ve got a couple of bloggers who are doing audioblogging, so I’ve taught them that. I’ve got a couple that are wanting to use their camera phones to post photos to the blog. So there’s a two-pole coaching role that I take – the technical and then the content.
JH What benefits can a blog bring to the type of small businesses that you coach?
GW I think the one that seems to resonate with them is bringing a voice of authenticity to a medium that they have typically thought of as a brochure. The stock-in-trade of small business owners – it helps them compete with much bigger rivals - is their personal approach. This whole personal touch that they bring to their business dealings typically goes out the window with the website. The website is this dry, impersonal brochure that it just sitting there. So I think the voice of authenticity and keeping the site current are probably the two main benefits. I also think a lot of them are surprised when they see how low they come up in a simple Google search for some of their products or services. So another benefit is that Google and the other major search engines now key in on weblogs because weblogs are typically full of links. So once you let Google know you’ve got a blog on your site and you post to it regularly, its spider comes back frequently. A lot of these businesses are small enough where they’re not about to buy a Google text ad, let alone pay somebody to optimize their site for search engines, so another major benefit that I pitch is that once you add a weblog to your site, it’s much more search engine friendly.
JH Do you think that anyone can do it, given a minimum amount of coaching?
GW One of the things I've started to do more regularly when I pitch a blog to a business owner is ask them to show me their typing skills because that's a major inhibitor. I think that that would probably be something I would assess more regularly right up front and say 'Right, are you more comfortable with the keyboard or are you more comfortable with the telephone?' and get them comfortable with audioblogging if they're not comfortable with the keyboard.
JH Do you think that all small businesses should be blogging?
GW I don't know. I've seen some of that discussion lately and it's hard for me to endorse everybody always in every case without really thinking it through. Likewise, it's equally hard for me to see why this would not work for a small business. I think, all things being equal in this age of spin and press release and canned promotional materials, that the general consumer out there would appreciate a voice of authenticity on a small business website so I'm sort of torn about it. I'm reluctant to be proselytising to the point that everyone should have one. On the other hand, it's hard to see what the drawbacks are. I think that time-wise the major hurdle is spending the time to do it and what gets them over the hump is the feedback that they get, whether it's from employees or people in the community or customers or citizens; but unless you get that serendipitous feedback be it via e-mail, telephone or face-to-face, it's easy to stay in the mental mode of thinking of blogging as one more busy work task.
JH You talked about audioblogs before, podcasting. Do you think these will be adopted readily by small businesses?
GW Yes I do. Text is just so convenient and easy to scan for users, site visitors, but I think people are surprised at how easy audioblogging is. I think the next one that I'm waiting to try is v-logging, with video. There's a hundred dollar v-log software package that should be out in month or so. I don't know that small businesses will use it a lot but I think for them to say "I'm going to make this quick little one-minute video clip that explains my product or service. I'm going to put that up on my blog." To be able to do that over and over again for very little money, I think that's going to be a common usage of blogs in the next year or two.
JH How much time do you spend on your own blogs?
GW I try to put something up there once or twice a week. I've actually got another interview today with a guy who's doing a blogging book and I said to him via e-mail that my blog is not one you'd want to profile in your book about notable blogs. It's my own Wigley Associates Consulting Practice and I profile my new clients or things that existing clients are doing that I find interesting. I've got my companion book sites leadershipblogging.com and smallbusinessblogging.com that I try and update with little tidbits here and there but my Wigley Associates site's been very good for me. It's not so much I get local businesses contacting me - it's not as if a local retailer would stumble on Wigley Associates on the Internet and contact me that way. Virtually all my local business clients are gotten just through word of mouth and me approaching people here in town. It brings me national and international contacts in ways that are always surprising, so I get more speaking engagement invitations, I get article/interview requests and all of that helps to get the word out about my coaching.