Blogging – A Reality Check

If you own a business, you’ve probably heard that a blog is a great way to add regular content to your site and that it will help get you found by potential customers who want whatever it is you’re selling. Both points are true.

But you want to know what else is true? Your blog won’t “make it big” overnight. Your blog might never make it big, depending on your definition of “big.” And if your blog does make it big, I can guarantee you one thing: it will require a lot of hard work, even after you make it.

Want proof? Here it is:

I recently stumbled on Young House Love, a husband-and-wife blogging team that has turned what started out as a simple blog to keep friends and family updated on the couple’s home improvement projects into a marketable, enviable brand. These are two beautiful people who are in love and doing beautiful work, so I was quite pleased when I read this honest assessment from Sherry on her blogging adventure, and I quote:

We’re not gonna lie – it’s the hardest job we’ve ever had. The biggest misconception is that our blog is a part time thing that we spend a few hours a day on. When friends and relatives picture me out on the patio with a magazine and a cocktail I snort with laughter. It’s hard to put into words how we manage to spend every waking moment working on the blog, but we’re essentially writing over 45 posts a month AND taking and uploading photos AND running an online shop AND offering design services AND coordinating giveaways AND answering up to 100 email and comment questions a day AND making & editing videos. Not to mention actually doing the projects on our home that we then photograph and write about. It’s pretty much a never ending to do list! In all honesty, I’m a million times busier than I ever was in my old New York City 60+ hour a week job. We work nights, weekends and on vacation (after all, the internet is 24/7!) so sometimes it can all be very exhausting. And I don’t make as much as I used to. I actually took a pretty hefty pay cut to see this full-time blogging thing through.

Sherry also makes another important point: she didn’t set out to write a blog that would fill a niche. She and her husband simply wrote about what they were passionate about, and the followers, slowly but surely, began to flock.

This point is worth repeating in Copy Bitch clarity:  passion-filled blog posts will attract more followers than writing around keyword phrases and creating optimized titles. Ideally, you should do both. But start with your passion. Unleash it. Let it lead you.

So you wanna blog for your business and have the sort of success YHL has experienced? Well, be prepared to:

  • work your ass off
  • write about things you really, really care about
  • do it regularly – yes, even when you don’t want to; yes, sometimes on weekends; yes, maybe even some holidays; yes, possibly on vacation
  • make mistakes
  • learn from your mistakes
  • ignore critics (well, most of them)
  • write, write, write
  • oh, and write some more

I realize not everyone is looking for their blogs to go ga-ga like YHL. But you know what? Even if you’re not looking to make it big like them, the bullet points above still apply, even for your modest 3-times-a-week business blog.

Update: It’s July 2017 and YHL took a major blogging hiatus a few years ago. They’re now doing a podcast and the occasional blog post.

My point: your blogging life will evolve. I’ve seen people hot-and-heavy with their blogs for years, and then they hit a wall. Others, continue on slow and steady.

So does your business need a blog? HubSpot and other marketing gurus say all businesses MUST blog. I hate “must” directives. You shouldn’t do something just because someone tells you to. Understand how your business *could* benefit, understand the drawbacks, and be realistic about what you can and can’t commit to. Blogging is a big part of my business, meaning I do lots of blogging for clients who are too busy to do it themselves. This a great compromise. Learn more about my blogging services here.

15 Facebook Post Ideas for Businesses

Dear Copy Bitch: You had a recent newsletter about status update ideas for company pages on Facebook. I thought it was a helpful article — is a digital version available so I can share it with friends and colleagues? Thanks!

—Susan W., Boston

Answer: Ah, yes. It’s summer. The web guy is busy drinking margaritas on the beach. So we’ll be adding it to my newsletter archive at some point. In the meantime, I’m pasting the ideas in full below. Enjoy!

15 Facebook Post Ideas for Businesses

Here’s how I see it: more and more companies, large and small, realize they need a Facebook company page. But most don’t know how to leverage the page effectively. A Facebook page is not another way to spam your fans. It’s not the place to promote, promote, promote. Why? Because it’s NOT all about you and your company.

Think about it — if you go to a party and you’re cornered by someone who wants to talk about only himself, what do you do? Exactly. The same thing will happen to your fans if you abuse them.


I think most companies go into Facebook wanting to do it the right way. But they’re just not sure how. One of the best ways to use your company page is through status updates. But you have to be careful: these status updates show up in your fans’ newsfeeds, so the bottom line is that these updates need to be valuable in your fans’ eyes.

And that’s what stumps many businesses owners. “What the heck should I say when all I do is sell products A, B, C or services X, Y, Z?” Remember, value doesn’t always mean money. Some people value humor. Others value education. Still others value being involved in your company’s decision-making process. Think about your customers. What do they value? This will help you craft the right status updates.

Still need ideas? Not to worry — the Copy Bitch to the rescue! Below, you’ll find 15 ideas for valuable Facebook status updates that almost any business can use. Customize them. Tweak them. Let them inspire more ideas.

15 Status Update Ideas

1. Promote contests taking place on your site. People love contests.

2. Run a contest on Facebook. This can be a little trickier to do since Facebook has some pretty stringent rules regarding contests on its site (it also has rules governing the promotion of outside contests on its site). You’ll need to plan this one out, but, if done right, you can really engage fans.

3. Run a poll/survey. There are poll apps, but if you don’t feel like dealing with figuring those out, simply asking a fun, easy, and/or provocative question can work well.

4. Ask a question about your products or services. Remember, you’ve got some hardcore fans — i.e. customers — in your fan base (along with the band-wagoners). Retailers are especially good at this. For example, a clothing boutique might show two different handbags and ask fans which one they like better. Talk about instant (and free) market research! Fans appreciate this because they feel their opinions matter, which, of course, they do. (They do, right?)

5. Think holidays. No one is expecting Status Updates of Enlightenment every time you do an update. A simple, “Merry Christmas to all our fans” is enough. It doesn’t have to be the major holidays either. Did you know July is National Baked Beans month? The offbeat holidays can make for some really fun (and funny) updates and comments. A good source for this material is Chase’s Calendar of Events.

6. Think trivia. Every industry has trivia — and not just the boring kind, but interesting stuff. Do “On this day in history” updates or “Did you know…” updates.

7. Think quotes. An occasional inspirational quote — even if it’s not directly related to your business — can be a nice way to add some spice to the usual updates. The Quotations Page lets you search via keyword or author.

8. Think in terms of “the millionth customer.” Remember when supermarkets and banks used to make big deals about the millionth customer? There’d be cameras and balloons and an oversized check for $5000 (or something like that)? Make a big deal over certain milestones on Facebook. Do a shout out to the 100th fan, the 500th, the 1000th, etc.

9. Answer an FAQ. Come on. You get them all the time. The status update is a great place to answer these questions (and educate your fans while you’re at it).

10. Announce new product lines or services. Let your fans know that they are the first to hear about it. You can make a short announcement in the status update and then link to a page on your website that gives all the details (a great way to drive traffic back to your site).

11. Share video. People LOVE video. Remember, YouTube is your friend. You’re bound to find something related to your business. Or, again, you can occasionally post one of those viral videos that’s going around, just to do something different.

12. Broadcast your blog. Speaking of your blog (you have one, right?), you should definitely broadcast it to your fans. You can do it manually, meaning every time you write a post, you grab the permalink and then use it in your status update — along with a little intro.

13. Promote your vendors. Do a shout out to vendors. It could be a vendor directly related to your business or it could be a vendor who delivers really amazing service, like whoever/whatever you use to deliver packages. This info could be interesting/helpful to fans, and it’s a nice way to recognize someone outside of your company.

14. Think current events. Current national events or world events can be good topics to do a status update on. Avoid controversial topics — your fan page is not the place to endorse a political candidate. Instead focus on current events that everyone is talking about (such as a sporting event). A caveat: anything you say should be delivered in good faith, i.e. your company backs what it’s saying.

15. Think product or service names. Ask your fans to help name a new product, service, or promotion. On the AJ’s fan page, we sometimes do this when we get a new shirt in and we want a fun name to go with it.

Two bonus tips:
1. How often should you post status updates? This is going to depend a lot on your fan base. To start off, do a daily update. Experiment with your updates, and see what types get people “talking.” As you build your base and your community, 2 to 3 times a day can work (especially for b2c industries) IF what you’re saying provides some sort of value.

2. Ugh! I can’t do this by myself. If you’re a sole proprietor, get in the habit of going to your company page at least once a day and doing an update. If you have employees, share the responsibilities. It’s easy to make people page administrators (i.e. when a person logs into his or her personal Facebook page, the person will be able to toggle over to the company page in one click, do an update, and then toggle back to his/her personal page). Here’s a good resource that walks you through setting page admins (it’s easy, trust me!)

Need help coming up with social media posts? Hi. Allow me. Learn more about my social media services.

Do You Mind Being Squeezed? Thoughts on Registration Forms

Dear Copy Bitch: I noticed on one of the client sites you list in your portfolio that you’re using a squeeze page for white paper downloads. There has been a lot of interesting blog chatter about content gates recently (my favorite from D. Meerman Scott). I’m curious — what do you think about it? I am writing an ebook for my new website and think I’m going to offer it without a registration page. What has been your experience with your client’s registration page?

—Clare M., Belmont, Mass.

Answer: I find that if people really want the content, they’ll fill out the forms — even long ones. But the content must be valuable. Burn them once with crappy content, and you’ve likely lost them forever. Last week, I talked about a long-ass form I had to fill out for a free magazine subscription. I went through with it, mainly because I’m fairly certain the content will be valuable to me.

To squeeze or not to squeeze? How do you decide?

It depends on your goals — if you’re looking to be a thought leader and you want your philosophy and way of thinking to spread like wildfire, you have a much better chance of that happening if you offer something free and 100 percent clear (e.g. no registration form required). If you’re looking to develop a list of people who are interested in your products or services so that you can continue marketing to them (with their permission, of course!) — then a squeeze page makes sense.

But let’s look at an example. Let’s say you’re a corporate mentoring consultant providing a free white paper on how to leverage a corporate mentoring program to attract, develop, and retain talent. Well, that’s a very specific (read: small) audience we’re targeting. If someone is interested in this white paper, it’s probably because they have an existing corporate mentoring program or they’re thinking of starting one — both excellent leads for the client.

Let’s say the same mentoring consultant wants to get out on the speaking circuit because he thinks his mentoring philosophy is the way companies should approach mentoring in the 21st century. And let’s say he has an ebook that provides insight into this philosophy. Well, if he offers that ebook free and 100 percent clear, it stands a better chance of being shared by many people — people who could be interested in bringing in this consultant to speak to an organization.

On most of my clients’ websites, we give away some stuff, such as newsletter articles, free and 100 percent clear, and then require registration for other things. I think that’s a good approach for most SMBs: having a solid mixture of free-and-100-percent-clear content and registration-form content based on the client’s goals.

Curious as to what my other readers think. Weigh in with your comments.

Yes, it’s FREE! Well, wait…

I just signed up for a free magazine subscription. Actually, the magazine comes out monthly, and you can buy the full 12-month subscription OR you can choose the “standard-level subscription,” which gives you four issues for FREE (if you qualify), one each quarter.  I’m signing up for this magazine because a client mentioned she thinks it has good info for me to follow regarding her business. She told me to sign up for the freebie since that would give me just enough of what I needed to know.


Here was my experience in The Land of (Not-So?) Free:

Why don’t they say “Click here for your FREE subscription – one issue, one per quarter”? Oh, because apparently they want to play. Here’s what they said: “Request a standard subscription.” That doesn’t sound very free, but maybe that’s me being a poor sport.

When you click on the “Request a standard subscription” button, you’re brought to a landing page that says:

Free Subscription to <Name Redacted> Magazine
It only takes 2 minutes to complete this one-page form!

And then, beneath that, there’s a big yellow WARNING triangle that says:

Did you receive a FREE COPY at your address?
Or are you an existing subscriber?
If so, do NOT fill out the form below!
Instead, LOGIN to confirm your pending subscription, renew or change address.

And then below this is the World’s Longest Form For Something Free (27 fields to fill out). It includes a field that asks me the first letter of my father’s first name, for verification purposes (as Dave Barry would say, “I’m not making this up.”)

After filling it out (I forget to time it to see if it took two minutes) and submitting it, I kinda felt panicky, like I just agreed to getting slapped with a $50 invoice. There was nothing saying “Congrats! You’ll get your first free issue in 6-8 weeks. And we’ll send you three more free issues after that. If at that point you want to subscribe to our 12-month plan, you can do so. And if not, no worries — you’ll never get an invoice from us unless you decide to upgrade.” Instead, everything felt vague and confusing. Even the follow-up email made me feel like I had an “account,” which I guess I do.

Here’s my beef: if you’re going to give something away for FREE, give it away FREE and CLEAR. Do not make me jump through hoops with a long-ass form. Do not make me believe, after filling out said form, that I’m going to be saddled with an invoice.

Since I’m filling out a request for a free magazine, I understand you’ll need my mailing address (that’s already giving you much more info than I provide on most forms). But for everyone else out there who is giving something away for free, get only the basics: a name and an email address and include an opt-in check box for future communications. That’s it. Yes, I understand what you’re giving away is a bait piece, but really, if I give you my email address and my explicit permission to continue marketing to me, that’s all the info you need. And if I DON’T give you permission to market to me again, get over it.

I’m a marketing copywriter, so I understand the “client side,” trust me. But I also believe that by advocating for the customer side first, both sides will ultimately win in the long run.

Recap: If you’re really giving something away free and clear, say so and stand by it. Make it easy for people to get the goods. Respect the fact that for many, this is all they will ever want from you. And then move on and focus on the ones who do want to hear from you again.

Next week, I’ll be answering a question from a reader about whether free stuff should require any sort of form at all. It’s a good question. Stay tuned for my answer.

Does Direct Mail Still Work? (Short Answer: Yes)

Dear Copy Bitch: We’re an HVAC company, and we keep encountering marketing consultants who say we should abandon direct mail marketing altogether. But here’s the thing: our direct mail pieces convert. The ROI is great. Still, I wonder if this is just an anomaly, and if I should get out while I can and redistribute my marketing dollars elsewhere. We have an optimized website, we add engaging content regularly, and we’re delving into social media. Should we put all our focus in those things, or is it okay to still have some of our marketing dollars going towards direct mail? What say you, oh wondrous Copy Bitch? And if you do think there’s still a place for direct mail, can you give some examples of effective direct mail pieces? Thanks for the great blog!

–M.H., Atlanta, GA

ANSWER: The death of direct mail has been greatly exaggerated, methinks. A good direct mail piece can still work — and might even have a greater chance of working today, thanks to the fact so many people are abandoning this marketing method (i.e. if done right, your piece has a great chance of standing out since there are fewer pieces of junk mail, at least in my mailbox).

Now as my regular readers know, I drink at the Altar of HubSpot, and I worship Saint Godin. HubSpot is all about inbound marketing, but it recognizes that outbound marketing tactics — like direct mail — still have a place in a company’s marketing plan. Saint Godin is all about what works and what makes sense for your business and, most importantly, your customers.

So, in essence, you’ve answered your own question: your direct mail is working, people are responding to it, you’re seeing conversions, and you’re experiencing great ROI. You have marketing dollars invested in inbound marketing efforts as well. Sounds like you have the right mix right now. The key is monitoring and measuring results. What works today might not work two years from now. But it sounds like you’re well aware of that.

So what does work? Here are three direct mail pieces that were delivered to my mailbox that caught my attention (for the right reasons):

  1. A free DVD of the Oscar award-winning movie Smile Pinki from Smile Train, a charitable organization that I support. Who wouldn’t love to get a free movie in the mail? And this movie has a great way of reaching other potential donors, since I’m bound to share it (and talk about it, like I’m doing here) with others.
  2. Coupon booklets – I always thumb through the coupon booklets I get and often use the restaurant coupons.
  3. The book Linchpin: Are You Indispensable? by Seth Godin. He didn’t send me his latest book because I ordered it. He sent it to me because I’d bought books from him in the past and he thought I’d enjoy it. Of course, I’d planned on buying the book on my own. I hadn’t placed my order yet, but in the letter that accompanied the book, Saint Godin said that if I already had Linchpin, then I should pass on this extra copy to someone else who could benefit. (Is the guy brilliant or what?)

Here’s a piece of snail mail that caught my attention for the WRONG reasons:

TruGreen and Lowe’s sent me an over-sized postcard with a coupon for $29.95 off my first custom lawn treatment. Problem is, I’m in an apartment building. All of us in the building got this postcard. Someone wasted marketing dollars on a mailing list that included apartment numbers, a field that could have been easily filtered out, had someone been paying attention to the details.