Thursday, December 6, 2012

Promoting Tips & Tricks Part IV: Blogging

Last time I covered newsletters and talked about how they differ from blogs. This time, I'll go over starting and designing a blog.

Unlike your newsletter, which should be short and focussed, your blog gives you a lot more leeway to play. Post often, around once a day if you can, to keep people interested. Pictures and HTML formatting are fair game and in fact pretty important -- a good picture will catch the eye and get people looking. I try not to post without using at least one picture (though I don't always manage it).

Your first decision is where to host your blog. There are a lot of free blogging sites available. I have blogs on both Blogger and Wordpress, and I find them both easy to use. I've also read blogs hosted on TypePad and SquareSpace, and there are a number of other such free or inexpensive hosts.

If you have your own web site, you can also host a blog there. I haven't tried this so I don't know a lot about how it's done.

Pick a host you like and are comfortable with using. Get to know its ins and outs -- yes, I'm talking about reading the directions again. Play with layout and such until you have at least some idea of what you're doing.

Write up your profile with the same care you used in your shop profile -- consciously or not people will judge you by it. Upload an avatar -- use a good clear photo of yourself, or a picture of some of your products, or perhaps your shop logo. Make sure it's a good high quality image.

Choose a name for your blog that reflects what you're going to be saying there. A lot of people just use the name of their business as the name of their blog; others choose something else that echoes the feel of their shop.


Speaking of feel, think about the sort of blog you want to have. Is it going to be folksy and friendly? Will you write frequent but very short articles on very focused topics? How about long, rambling ones that go from one topic to the next? Formal, informal, colloquial, erudite?

Do you post strictly about your shop, or do you talk about other indie sellers as well? News about the indie craft movement in general? Do you post personal things as well as those strictly business-related articles? Will you post in celebration of a big sale or about the snowstorm that's had you snowed in the last few days?

Whatever you decide on, your blog should be consistent enough that your readers feel comfortable being there. Like a visit to an old friend's home they want to know what to expect. It's your blog -- but you've opened it to welcome in your readers and you do want to help them feel welcome. Therefore it's best to create a feel for your blog and stick with it.

Which isn't to say that you have to decide all of this before you've posted a thing. Take some time to find out what feels comfortable to you -- you spend more time there than anyone else and you have to feel at home. It may take several posts, a few weeks, even a couple of months before you start finding your voice. And it will always evolve over time.

Don't worry if you don't feel that your writing skills are up to much, either. The best thing you can do to improve your writing is keep writing. I could go on on this topic -- perhaps I already have -- but others have covered it far better than I could.


The 'feel and mood' thing applies to the look of your blog as well. Your blog should be well laid out and easy to navigate, but in addition you'll want to find a look that complements your writing style. Dark and dramatic? Bright and cheery? Simple? Cluttered and friendly? Here are a few examples of how the look of your blog can complement the feel:

Timothy Adam Designs uses a simple grey background; the colour is reminiscent of the metal he uses to make his jewelry. He has a lot of things in his sidebars but the way he uses the orange titles makes each element stand out while at the same time pulling the whole design together.

La Chapina Huipil Crafts has a clean, simple style which emphasizes the photos of the Guatemalan huipils she uses.

Miss Knits' site is cozy and friendly, a calming pair of browns as the background with the delicate tracery of foliage to the left. There's a lot in her sidebar but she keeps it well-confined to the right side.

Paper Girl Productions, like its proprietress, is bright, cheery and cute. The theme and feel is a nice complement to her unique stuffed animals.

Feel free to experiment for a while before you settle on a feel and a look for your blog. (As you can see I've been inspired to rearrange mine...again.) And there's nothing wrong with the occasional complete overhaul, either.


But what to write about? That's part of the 'mood and feel' decisions you made above (or not). Things every shop blog should include:

* New products -- this is often the fastest way for people to find out you've introduced something new. Tell your customers what it is (again, you can crib from your item descriptions). Tell them what inspired you to make it. Link to it, so they don't have to go looking for your shop. And include pictures!

* Sales and specials -- what's on sale, what the discount is, why you're having the sale, a coupon code if appropriate. Add a link to your shop, so anyone who's just stumbled by can find it easily. Include a picture or two of what's on sale.

* Upcoming shows -- where, when, who else will be there, what else there is to do, any entrance fee, hours, directions, a map, a link to the show's website if any. If the show has a logo, put that in. With a link to the show's website. If they don't, put in a picture of your booth. Or a kitten.

* Competitions, challenges, and contests you've entered (especially if your readers can vote in it). Include a link to the competition and a picture of what you've entered.

* Pointers to any blog or webzine where you've been featured, reviewed or interviewed. Include a quote from the interview or feature, but not the whole thing. This is part of an unspoken deal between you and whoever interviewed or featured you -- you get the exposure of being featured or interviewed, but in return they should get the exposure of being mentioned in your blog. Include a link, and maybe a screenshot of the feature or a picture of what they talked about.


You may be seeing a theme here. Include pictures. Blocks of plain text make people's eyes go unfocused, and then they go away. Pictures catch attention.

I bet you looked at the picture above before you read the couple of paragraphs before it. Am I right?

Hold your mouse over it (or click on it if you like). It's got a link to my shop. Any time you include a picture of one of your items, make it link to your shop. It's a little more work, but it's worth it.


Some other things you may wish to write about:

* Features, interviews, and reviews of other people's stuff. Remember that unspoken contract above? They get exposed to your readers, you get exposed to their readers, everyone benefits. Include pictures of their products, and make sure every one of them links to their shop. Include a link to their blog if they have one.

* Informative articles. This series is a good example; so's the article I posted a while ago about why you don't want to put arnica in the bathtub. Remember that great piece you put in your newsletter six months ago about how to turn an old t-shirt into a shopping bag? Repost it here. Complete with step-by-step instructions and pictures.

* Personal posts. Anything from 'I'll be on vacation for the next week so any orders will be sent out the week afterwards' to my ongoing posts about my cats. You should be careful not to let these overwhelm your business-related posts (I probably should do fewer kitten posts, but I can't resist) but a certain amount will help your customers feel a connection to you as opposed to just your business. Also, pictures.

There's a fine line with personal posts, though. Too many and you're just another personal blog. Griping about how bad business is -- or worse, complaining about the awful customer you just dealt with -- is likely to alienate your readers (and what if the awful customer sees it?). More on this below.

* Pointers to contests, sales, or special events someone else is holding -- especially if that someone else is a friend or business associate who may wind up returning the favour.


Some things that you should probably not post about, or if you do, it's best to be cautious:

* Politics

* Awful customers

* How bad sales have been

* Anything else that's likely to be controversial

I'll bet you grumbled when you read that last one. I did, too. I'll write about what I want, you're thinking, and be damned to anyone who's offended!

My advice? Keep it to your personal blog. Remember that your blog -- indeed, anything public that's connected to your business -- is your workplace. If you wouldn't say it to a customer in your booth, don't say it in your blog.

And believe me, I do let loose in my personal blog.


So -- look, feel, mood. Make a space where you feel comfortable talking and others will feel welcome to stay a while. Take advantage of your avatar, your profile, and your sidebars to help convey what you want to. Post often, post things that people will enjoy reading. Use pictures to illustrate your point and get people looking. Your blog is an extension of your shop, and it's just as important to make it look and sound good.

Next up, you've got a blog. Now you need people to read it.

Written by Kate of

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