Blogs are everywhere. These self-publishing platforms where individuals are showcasing their opinions and ideas exist in almost every industry, and chances are many of the websites you visit are actually blogs (including this one).

Blogging is a modern-day marketing platform for cultivating client, prospect, and center of influence relationships. A well-designed and properly structured blog can provide you with an opportunity to pro-actively manage your online reputation and attract new clients into your business.

Technorati recently published it's 2010 State of the Blogosphere Report, and you can read an excellent summary of findings from Lee Odden. From this report, here are the top ways that blogging has helped individuals with business:

  • greater industry visibility (64%)
  • acquired new customers, made sales (58%)
  • built thought leadership (54%)
  • asked to speak at conferences (32%)
  • helped recruit employees (17%

If you've thought about blogging but haven't made the investment, perhaps it's time to get going!

What exactly is a blog?

A blog is a self-publishing tool that allows you to wrap your personal brand around your practice.  Blogging is the new “educational marketing”.  It is a digital journal where you can share your insights through multiple media formats including articles you write, videos, images, and even screen-casts.  Blogging allows you to communicate your thoughts easily and effectively to your target audience, which can ultimately grow your influence.

Rather than driving prospective clients and social media connections directly to your website, driving them first to your personalized blog provides an opportunity for them to get to know, like, and trust you. Thus, a blog provides you with an opportunity for client relationship development and engagement, rather than simply showcasing your products and services on your website. Your blog should be personalized around who you are, what you care about, how you help people, and ultimately what makes you different.

In addition, most blogs have built-in social engagement tools that can help you build stronger connections while getting your message out. For example, it is quite simple for a client to read your blog post on a particular topic and share it with a friend on Facebook. Blog posts can be easily shared as links on social networking sites, and posts can be sent automatically to your email subscribers. The more people who see your value-added insights, the more opportunities you have to build new connections and generate introductions.

What kind of content should I publish on my blog?

Your blog can be anything you want it to be. You can write about your hobbies and interests, local events, books, charitable endeavors, restaurants that you love, or anything else that you value on a personal level. Blog posts are a great way for your target audience to get to know you and connect with you around common interests. People do business with people, not companies. Your blog will be more effective if you can weave your personality into your content and develop your unique content strategy.

Secondly, your blog is a place to publish your expertise about the opportunities and challenges in your industry.   You need to be passionate, interesting and different in order to stand out.  In addition, always insert your personality and opinions.  People are looking for trusted guidance and advice.  They want to be told what to do and how to do it.

What if I'm not a good writer?

Blog posts don't have to be long-form articles. They can be short commentaries about anything from your opinion on a current event or news story, an analysis of something happening in your industry, how to's, book reviews, personal stories, etc.  Blog posts can also be in the form of mixed media such as images, videos, audio, and screen-casts.  Find what works for you and use the media formats with which you are most comfortable.  The opportunities are endless and limited only by your creativity!   Most importantly, determine what your target markets are interested in learning about and craft your content for them.

How can a blog help me build my online reputation, and my business?

A blog gives you the opportunity to share your thought leadership and expand your reach. You have a great a message, but how are you communicating that message and who is listening?  Answer questions and provide solutions to your target markets through your blog.  Give them education, education, education!   If you do it well, blogging can help you communicate your message and increase your visibility in the markets that matter most to you, while simultaneously adding value to the conversation.

What about capturing leads?

If a prospective client visits your blog site, he or she can be encouraged to subscribe to your updates, and you will be able to capture information about that prospect and stay in touch with them. Additionally, you can research and potentially connect with these prospects through social networks and learn more about them. Ultimately, growing your network will help you grow your business and never before have you been able to have influence AND reach of this magnitude!

Doesn't blogging take a lot of time and effort?

Blogging does take significant time and dedication if you want to really have an impact.  It is not for everyone. You must be willing to publish your ideas, thoughts, and opinions on a consistent basis.  Also, you'll want to have a professional presence with regard to your blog.  Although there are several free blogging platforms, consider investing in a professional design and flexible platform such as the self-hosted WordPress platform for your professional brand. You are in the business of giving professional advice. Everything you do online must have a professional look and feel because your reputation is at stake!

What typically works best in my opinion is to have your blog serve as a digital asset that is somewhat separate and distinct from your company or business web site, which you can do either by choosing a unique URL or by placing it on a sub-domain of your existing website.  Splitting the two allows your content to be more easily discovered, and your blog will be indexed separately from your website by the search engines which can help improve your actual search results that come up under your name (you will own more slots). Most importantly, you don't want all of that great content you are publishing to get lost behind your website. Your blog should serve as the first stop, or the window into your personal brand where you can focus on building personal relationships first, and business second.

How do I promote my blog?

Promoting your blog is a key factor for success. Get the word out and let all of your contacts know about your blog! This can help generate buzz and visibility. Sharing your posts in the right social circles to stimulate engagement also drives traffic to your blog. That said, be careful about being too promotional. Writing guest posts for related blogs, commenting on relevant blog posts, submitting your posts to article sites, and partnering with other successful bloggers in the industry are the right ways to grow your visibility.

With millions of people sharing and searching online, your online reputation becomes increasingly important. What will they find when they come across your professional brand on the web?  A blog can help you shape your online reputation.

If you consider yourself a thought leader and you enjoy writing, speaking, and sharing, don’t overlook blogging as a way to build your digital identity. Your blog will be a digital asset that grows in value over time, while paying dividends along the way.