Recently I did an Interview with Andrew from webuildyourblog.com, who has built his presence online, by helping many companies build and promote their business blogs online. We covered various topics such as the importance of a blog and how it can benefit your overall business.
Follow Andrew on Twitter: @andrewrondeau
Wasim: Hey Andrew for those listeners that haven't come across you before, just remind us, what is exactly that you do and some background info, such as what you have done in the past, and how long your site has been running for.
Andrew: If I start with what I’ve done in the past, for the first 30 years of my career I was in the IT World working for large corporate companies. Pretty normal stuff. Jumping on to the 9-5 bandwagon. I had a successful career, I liked the IT side and I got to particular high positions. But I was always envious of these other people who went off and did their own thing. They went off and opened up a bed and breakfast business. Or they went and opened up a clothing shop. In fact I know one guy that opened up a skateboarding park. I was always envious, a little jealous of these guys that went and did their own thing rather than working 9-5, or 8-6, or 8-late or whatever it was in the corporate world. But then I found myself thinking, “I have children..”, have a big mortgage, get a company car, get a pension, you get all these other things that come with a senior position and I thought I could never leave. I always felt that there was something missing. Five years ago I was talking to a friend of mine from work, this was over a beer, we’re out at the pub, and he said, “Have you ever thought about selling your experience?” And I said, “what do you mean?” because at that time I was a senior manager. I had lots, 20-25 years worth of managing experience. He said, “Have you ever thought about selling your experience? And I said, “What do you mean?” and he said, “People sell their experiences online” And I said, “really?” he said, “It’s the ‘in’ thing.” I’m going back 5 to 6 years. So he said, “Start selling the information products based upon your experience. “ So I had to look around, and I was excited, because all of the sell-letters said that what he was saying was true. People were buying these information products online on how to knit, and how to make jewelry. Anything you could sell online people were buying. I know the sell pages, which I came across, said “sell your info products and in 3 months you will be a millionaire and you will be retiring on the beach”, and I believed it. I thought I would be able to tell my boss, “Thanks but no thanks. In a couple of weeks I’ll be a millionaire…sitting on the beach!” 5 years later I am still working and I am not sitting on the beach!
Five years ago I did start my own online business. I was working in the evening, working on weekend. I was away a lot from home, therefore I used to work in hotels in the evenings on my own bit on the side. That took me 3 years to do, and 2 years ago I left the corporate world. I took the plunge. I now work full time on my own business, and I basically help other people go through that process of what I did for the first 3-5 years but, obviously, without making the mistakes, without that long-term period. Now, I mentor, I coach, and I build people’s blogs and I take people through that process itself.
Wasim: Do you do that yourself? Have you built a team?
Andrew: I outsource some of the work. I have a person in the Philippines, who does a lot of stroke, design, stroke-technical point of view. My wife works on the business in a part-time business, and does a lot of admin stuff. I have a few business partners, so it’s almost like joining ventures where we build products together and that sort of thing.
Wasim: How does it feel being full-time?
I love it. It feels like I’m not working. That may sound strange to people listening, but I do work, I work hard. I have a lot of clients, a lot of demanding clients, and that’s not a problem. I love that sort of thing. And therefore I have to work long hours to keep up with all the work, but it’s notwork. I love it. I really enjoy my day job, almost a little too much.
Now, I will tell you a little story. A friend of mine, about two months after I left the corporate world, he rang me up and said, “Look. I need someone like you. I have a 3-month job for you in contracting. 1000 pound a day.,” 1000 pound a day, obviously I was tempted, who wouldn’t be. I went for the interview, I was offered the contract, and I turned it down. The reason I turned it down was as soon as I walked in that corporate world, I thought I can’t do it. I just cannot do it. No amount of money would have gotten me back into that corporate world, and the stress of traveling up to London every day from where I am, getting on the packed train, all sorts of things that come with work for a corporate company, and I turned it down. That is 100% true. My family backs me up and says, “You do what you want to do. “ I have gotten to the stage where money is important, but it’s not that important. 20 years ago I would have jumped at the job, but when you get to my age, you want to do what you want to do. If I have to go back into the corporate world then I would, but at that time I didn’t have to I was earning enough money to live. Therefore I wasn’t tempted to say yes.
Wasim: I deal with many SME's in my day job, and also as part of my web solutions services, setting up websites. How important is it for a business website owner to have a blog too?
Andrew: Very. I did some research on some numbers and in a recent survey 46% of small businesses said they didn’t have a website, not a blog, a website. A web presence. So that means 46% of small businesses don’t have a website whatsoever. And where do majority of people go today to find out about a company or find out about a service? Online. The web. So 54% of those who do have a website, only 27% of them actually have a blog. Now I’m not a statistician, if that is a real word, but that makes something like 73% of small businesses do not actually have a blog. That means that 73% of small businesses are missing out. They’re missing out on attracting new customers, they’re missing out to sell more, they’re missing out on how they brand, they’re missing out on building relationships, they’re missing out on being seen as the expert. They’re missing out on all these extra new customers, branding, expertise sells, which they could be having if they had a blog. So I think a blog makes a tremendous different for a small business.
Now I’m not saying a blog will double your income tomorrow, because it takes a lot of effort to make the blog attractive and to get certain changes, but if someone that’s out there who has a business is not even on the web then they’re missing out on so much. There’s a shop down the road and it was a suit hire shop, and they had a website in their main frontage. It was just hosted, so they registered the main name but it came out with the hosting company, the standard site… the holding page. They didn’t have a website, but their shop front said they did. So I went and looked. What does that tell you about them? A couple of weeks later no name. But imagine if you were a hire suite shop and you had pictures of people wearing your clothes. You had customer testimonials about how great your service was, telling people what the latest thing what to wear to a dinner party. Imagine all of that on your website and you had customer relations interacting with testimonials. What a difference it would make for that shop front. (and also to the individual looking at that site too. What image it will give of them) The branding. Can you imagine seeing all of these people having a wonderful time in the shop, in the clothes you can hire from the shop. Yeah, I would go there and see what the shop could do for me. The shop closed about 6 months later. The blog would have made a different, don’t know about whether or not it would have remained opened, but having a website, having a blog, can make a huge difference to brand, customers, and the bottom line.
Wasim: We all know that WordPress is one of the best CMS platforms for a blog, but there is many options one can choose to build a blog, such as Blogger, Typpad, what would you say is the a good CMS platform for someone seriously taking blogging.
The Key word there was seriously. If you are serious about blog, if you are serious about your brand, if you are serious about your business then it has to be WordPress.org. The reason I say it has to be WordPress.org is you own the domain. Whatever the domain name you come up with, you own it. With many of the free ones you don’t. They own it. So when your website, and your brand is successful, that is obviously worth money. So you could either possibly sell it on if it’s a brand-able sort of thing. “I’ve made enough money now, I want to retire.” You could actually sell the domain name for a good price. Where if you go with a free blogging site, they own the domain name not you. That’s why I said WordPress.org. It’s not WordPress.com. Again, you don’t own the domain name. It’s WordPress.org.
Wasim: There are also many themes one can use on their blogs, such as Free theme, woo theme, Thesis…etc, for someone setting up a blog for the first time, what would your recommendation be, is it best to go in with a free theme, or to pay a bit extra.
Andrew: It comes down to personal budget. I started with a free theme. But within a day I had purchased a premium theme. I had the funds to purchase a premium theme. The main reason I transferred so quickly was I found the free theme so restrictive, and I was so limited with what I could do. Obviously I was so excited. I had just gotten a domain name and I wanted to play and design it. I was so restricted to what I could do with the theme. The design was hard to change. I couldn’t figure out how to change the layout. I couldn’t change the adverbs. There were so many things I couldn’t do. I went to the premium theme on the first day, and literally, things that were taking me 30 minutes in the free theme were taking me seconds in the premium theme. So it gives you much more flexibility around the design, where you want to move things, the colors, the backgrounds, the headers, all sorts. Now, I am going back quite a few years and the free theme I may have picked may not have been a very good one. Now I see the blog posts and the latest free themes that are available, how they do it I don’t know because with my clients I only use premium themes and for myself I only use premium themes. so the free themes they have these days may be better. But in my short experience, my day’s worth of experience, was to go and buy a premium theme for 60,70,80 dollars, not pounds, and I got the money back within a couple of hours because it was so much better.
A lot of people don’t put a value on their time. A lot of people think, “well, I spent two hours, added a new header to my free theme blog.” But those two hours, even if you just valued it at $5 an hour, that’s $10. To do that two, three times a week, within a couple of weeks you have the price back for a premium theme. And I think people don’t value their time as well as they should because instead of spending two hours trying to change your header, you can spend two hours doing research on product, or blogging, or doing some architecting, building up a joint venture with someone or whatever it is, rather than spending two hours trying to change your header theme.
I use lots of little tools, which improve my effectiveness. If I can buy a tools for twenty dollars, and will save me several hours a day, to me it’s a no-brainer. I’d rather be a lot more efficient than have to do things manually.
Wasim: We have heard that – "Content is King" and I guess this is what makes a good blog, if there is no quality content then no blog, but how do you educate your customers on how to keep their blog updated, and constantly live.
Andrew: There’s no real trick, I don’t think. Keeping a blog constantly up to date is simple, but it’s hard work and I think there’s a big difference between the two. Blogging is simple, but it’s hard work. And I think people need to understand that blogging is hard work. Lets say you’re in a small business and you create a blog today, I would recommend for the first 10 days, at least, you publish a unique blog-post on your blog every day and make sure it’s targeting the keywords you’re aiming for. If your keywords that you’re aiming for are, “time management for dentists” then make sure that some of your blog-posts include that key-word phrasing in title, description, etc… If you have 20 blog-posts, then for the first 20 days, a blog-post per day. Also the 20 days, you can then go down to at least three times a week. If you get into a three days a week sequence that is great. Every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. Get into a pattern. Rather than 10 for this week, then none next week. They don’t like that (Search Engines). They like consistent, regular updating, so three times a week after the initial spur.
I would mix it up as well. Write some texts blog-posts, maybe do some audio, some video. Don’t just do all text blog-posts or all video. Mix it up.
When it comes to what to write about. Read other blog posts in the same niche. What are they writing about? Not I’m not saying copy it, because whatever you write about, no matter what the subject is, I would guarantee that someone somewhere has already written about that subject. If you’re going to write about buying dogs in Scotland, someone somewhere has already written about buying dogs in Scotland. The difference is that you’re going to write your own experiences about buying dogs in Scotland and you’re going to share those. So you’re going to write a blog-post about buying dogs in Scotland but you’re going to be talking about how you did it, what the benefits were, what made it easy for you, how you overcame the problems. All those individual unique sharing experiences you need to add to make your blog-post unique. Go look what other people are writing about in your same niche.
You can then visit forums. There will be forums on the web, don’t know how many will be about buying dogs in Scotland, but there are hundreds of forums about buying dogs. Find out what people are complaining about, what their concerns are, get the common threads. Look at the common themes, write about it, and provide a solution to it. So if everyone is complaining about x, write about x, and provide a solution for x because that will attract customers to your blog.
The last thing is that if you’re starting out early in your blogging, you may not have a list, but if you’re going through a few months, one of the first things I say to my clients is to start building your own online list. Once you have got your own online list, you’ll be all set because you’ll be amazed about what people will come back and say they want to know about. Simply ask them, write on your list and say, “Hey, I need your help. Can you please help me? I’m interested in what you want to know about buying dogs in Scotland. What’s the biggest problem you faced? Share with me and I’ll share my experiences with you.” It’s quite easy to come up with ideas about what’s right. But as I say, it’s hard work; it’s not a 5-minute job.
Wasim: Running a blog is a full time job for anyone taking it seriously. Now running a business at the same time, you can end up quite over worked, is it okay to outsource the content of your blog, what are your thoughts on this, and general outsourcing.
Andrew: As you just said, running your blog as part of your online business is not just about writing blog-posts. It’s not just about running the blog, it’s about selling, it’s about creating products, writing sells pages, it’s about copyrighting, it’s about getting traffic, it’s about building links, building relationships, gaining obtainers, loads and loads of different tasks about running a blog as part of your online business. To be successful it takes all that. If you’re really serious about your online business, there is no way you can do all that yourself and be as successful as you want in a quick period of time.
When it comes outsourcing, I do it. And I would say do it, for the visitors that are listening, do it. Get some time back in your life. But what I would do is use your natural strengths. We all have natural strengths. Some things we’re very good and some things we’re not very good at. So as far as running your online business, take the things you really, really like doing. And they’re likely to be the things you’re good at. So if you like the technical side, stay with the technical side, but maybe outsource the writing and the content of the actual blog-posts, and maybe the research of the blog-posts. If you are a really good writer, and you love writing blog-posts and like doing the research and everything else, do that, but maybe outsource the technical side. So do the things, which you’re really good at, and outsource the things you’re not so good at. That’s the way I do it. I like the technical side and I outsource the rest. I’m not a very good designer, when it comes to the headers, banners, and all that sort of stuff. I outsource that kind of stuff. I tried to do it myself, and it would take me days to come up with a header banner, and I thought go to an expert who can do it in 15 minutes who has all the tools and charges you 50 bucks. They will do a much better job than what you ever will. It will look professional. When I would do mine, they were dreadful, they were terrible, but I felt I had to do it all myself. There will be a lot of people who really dread outsourcing. Outsource is a skill in itself. It’s not a matter of just finding someone and giving them a piece of work. Confident, and managing outsourcing is a skill in itself because you have to find the right person, you manage them, you have to keep tabs on them, you have to agree on prices, you have to make sure that they’re doing whatever you want them to do, there’s lots to it. In my case, it might be out in the garden because it might be lovely and sunny outside. Twice a year I want to do that. I want to go out and play tennis with my friends. I don’t want to sit in front of my blog so I will get someone else to create a banner design rather than me spending five hours on it. That’s a simple example, but by outsourcing you can run your business more successfully because you get a lot of things done, it’s inexpensive, and you can get some freedom and time back. Because you just can’t do it all yourself, or you will get frustrated and that will cause stress, and all those sorts of things.
Wasim: What has been the most rewarding thing about running your own blog? And on the flip side, what is the toughest? – both business point of view and also your own blog (webuildblog.com)
Andrew: Most rewarding has to be the freedom of working from home. When I worked in the corporate world I was often away from home. I would be on the road quite a lot. Some days I’d be working 14-16 hours including lots of traveling, and that sort of thing. Now I move to work from one bedroom to another and it takes me 15 seconds. Basically I can work when I want and that’s a very good thing as well. I might decide to work from 5 o’ clock in the morning, or I can begin working at 11 o’ clock at night. I don’t have to work those core hours. Remember when you work for a corporate company or for someone else you normally have to work 9-5, I like that so I’ve gotten to a routine where I can go to the gym when I want, I can go play tennis when I want, I can go to lunch with my wife whenever I want, I don’t have restrictions. The most rewarding is I can fit my work around all those things I want to do in my life.
The toughest point is running the whole business. I don’t just treat it as a blog. It’s my own online business. So running the whole business. The finances, the customer support, generating new ideas, keeping up with the newest technology, learning new things, ensuring that you give enough time to all those and give them proper justice. You suddenly realize you can’t do all unless you want to work 20 hours, 7 days a week. To overcome that, stick to your natural strengths because that will make you feel happy because you like doing it, and try to outsource the rest. As I said, I’m doing what I want to do day after day I don’t treat it like a job, and that’s almost a bad thing because I have to drag myself away from the office because I enjoy it so much. I do enjoy work, and I say, “Hold on. Get out of the office” because I’m almost too happy. I relax when I come to work, how weird is that? Because I do what I’m good at, I’m using my natural strengths, and that’s what keeps me motivated. Being happy and everything else.
Wasim: You are fairly active on Social Media Platforms, how does social media and blogging work with each other.
Andrew: Could you have a successful blog without social media? Most probably. Would it be more successful much more quickly? Most definitely. For me, millions and billions of people are using Twitter and Facebook each day and as a blogger I want to tap into some of that crowd. It’s really simple as that. When you create a twitter site, brand it, make sure it looks similar to your blog, to your website. Create a background that resembles what your blog looks like. And your Facebook page, I’m not a Facebook person, I outsource that, but make sure that you have welcome. On your Facebook page, make sure you have a welcome page with videos, links to your blog. Make sure that any sort of media you choose, make sure your YouTube channel resembles and brands and looks like your blog page. So that when people go to all your different media sites and blog they know it is branded like you. They’re fairly easy sort of things to do. It doesn’t cost a lot of money to put a background on Twitter and to create a background on YouTube, and create a Facebook page. It doesn’t cost a lot of money but it’s well worth to make sure that it all looks the same. Rather than my blog is based on a red color, my Twitter is based on a blue color, my YouTube is based on brown or black or yellow, and they’re all different. You want them all similar so that people know they’re on your branded site.
Wasim: What is the best way to promote a blog online?
I’m going to assume that your blog-post has got a terrific eye-catching headline, because headline is important and it needs to be curious. It needs to be eye-catching, and people want to read it. Within your WordPress Dashboard, you can change the writing settings to ping as across to other sites when you post an article.
You need to make sure that you’ve submitted your RSS feed to RSS directories so that each time you publish a post the RSS directories will also be updated and they give you a backlink. They’re one off jobs. You can’t just do them once. Lets assume that you create a new blog post and I have a fantastic headline. The first thing you want to do is share your post on the social media sites: Twitter and Facebook and maybe one or two of the others I will come to in a moment, and you can either do that automatically or manually. Automatically, when you publish your post, Facebook and Twitter can be automatically updated. Assuming you have a list, write to your list a summary of your blog post on your list with two or three sentences like a teaser, and make sure that you link to the actual blog post. Don’t put the whole blog post within the e-mail. You want it to come across to your side. I also use a tool called bookmarking demon, and bookmarking demon submits your post, not the actual post, but the link to your post to a numerous back linking social media sites other than Twitter and Facebook. I also, each week, submit one of my blog posts to all of the different blog carnivals. Not many people know about blog carnivals, but you submit your link to appropriate blog carnivals and they will give you a backlink as well. They get quite a lot of traffic. And the last thing I do is share with friends so they can share and comment. If you do those sorts of things, those are the best ways to promote your blog.
They’re not very technical. Writing to your list will take you 10 minutes. Bookmarking demon takes 10 minutes to set up. You’re talking about 30 minute work to promote your blog post. And of course you can outsource all of that. Every time you publish a blog post, and submit the feed to your outsource person, and your outsource person will know that it’s a blog-post. And then they have a set of criteria they have to go through to promote it, and it saves you time every time you post a blog-post. They do the work. They’re happy to take it and get paid to do what they like doing and you’re happy because you’re drinking a nice cold beer in the garden, in the sunshine.
Wasim: Can you give us some tips on how to encourage comments and increase engagement with the readers?
Andrew: When you first start out, be patient because it can take quite a lot of months of blog-posting before you get any comment whatsoever. It’s like the snowball effect. When I was a little kid I used to build a snowball in the garden and I used to start off really slow and tiny. I would roll it on the snow and it got a little bit bigger, and a little bit bigger, but to get it bigger it was easier. As soon as it started to get really large, to make it larger, it was easier. Comments are like that. When you first start out, you might be lucky, but on average you might spend two or three months of blog posting and you’ll only have one comment. Then some of you will get one or two, and then some of you will get three or four, and then some of you will get half a dozen, and then some of you will get ten, and then some of you will get twenty-five, and then you think, “Oh my God, I have so many comments.” It’s almost like the snowball effect where initially patience is required.
There are a couple of tactics, which I think help. One of them is, at the end of your blog post don’t just finish. Summarize it. Almost like a take-away. What do you want your visitor, your reader to take away from reading this blog post? So it’s almost like one or two sentence summary of the blog post. And offer a question. You may talk about buying dogs in Scotland. You might want to say, “What’s your experience in buying dogs in Scotland? Please share your views in the comments below.” People respond to a question. I try to make it stand out just so people can see I’m making a question. I have started asking the question in red, and of course whoever comments, if you accept the comment then reply to it. That is one thing I 99% do, if not 100%. Always reply to the comment because you’re trying to build up relationships with your reader, and if you start replying people will be coming back and comment again. If you don’t, people won’t come back. A lot of people don’t come back. Don’t get thinking that you can’t reply because someone has said, “I really like this post if only I was as good as you.” Just reply to every single one as they come in. And if you are struggling to comment, two things I would do (or I do anyway whether I’m getting enough comments or not) go and comment on other people’s blogs overseeing the same nature or related niche. I leave 10 comments a day because when you comment on other people’s sites, the owner of those blogs will come to your side and leave comments on yours and other commenters will see your comment and if they like the comment they come over and see as well.
The second thing is guest posting. If you can get your name out there on the guest post on a high profile blog than your own, people will then come across to your blog as well. So those are two things I would do as well to get comments on your posts and continue to get comments on your posts, not just start.
Wasim: Since the future is mobile what steps do you recommend to future proof a blog so that its mobile friendly.
Andrew: I’m going to be really honest here and say that I’m not the best person to talk to about this because this is not my strength. I would outsource this question. Just someone who has better knowledge on this than me, but there are two things you can do. One is make your blog accessible from mobiles, and there’s a simple plug-in called WordPress touch. If you install a free plug-in it’s called WordPress Touch and that enables your blog to be accessible in a mobile phone. The second thing is speed. It is a fascinating subject, but make sure your blog loads as fast as you can because speed is going to be extremely important, especially in a mobile world. There’s lots of things you can do on that to improve your blog-loading speed.
Wasim: What are your favorite online resources that you would recommend to bloggers and business owners for enriching their blogs qualitatively?
Andrew: I’ve recently moved over to the Head Way Theme, which is a premium theme. So a little plug for head way because it is an extremely flexible thing. I love the head way theme. If you get a chance, or you can afford it, then the head way theme is brilliant. It’s all drag-and-drop, it’s a resource of editor ways and resource things. Change things, change colors, every single page on your blog can be a different layout. With the drag-and-drop facility. It’s really, really good.
I like to keep up to date with Word Press and everything else and I follow Yoast, because he’s the best of the best when it comes to being inside the press and all that sort of stuff so I like to see what he’s up to and what’s he’s doing.
And there’s one more website that is a good read, more than anything else, it’s a fun but serious blog. It’s called the Blog Tyrant. He makes blog reading just fun, entertaining, but he also provides good insight into improving your own blog.
So they’re the things I read or use every day.