A colleague who recently entered the field of editorial freelancing asked me if I thought he should set up a blog. There’s no straightforward answer to this – it really depends on what your business goals are. Here are some questions and follow-up thoughts that aim to offer guidance.
1. Do you want to blog? This is the first and most important question. If the answer is yes, then do it – simple as that! Setting up your own blog provides you with your own space in which to write your thoughts on your terms. This doesn't guarantee your blog will be visited but if you simply want to write online that’s hardly relevant.
If really don’t want to blog, then the answer is equally simple – don’t. Many of us spend enough time working on things we wish we didn't have to, so why add to the pain? However, if you’re still interested in the idea, consider the following:
2. What do you want to say? Before you get going, spend some time sketching out what you want your blog to say. I follow a number of blogs covering a range of subjects including scholarly publishing, grammar tips, life choices and well-being, publishing, book-selling, editing, current affairs, and humour. Despite their diversity, the one thing they all have in common is that the focus is clear-cut. Yes, there’s cross-over between some, but each has its own distinct voice. I've attempted to carve out my own niche with The Proofreader’s Parlour, rather than trying to emulate existing blogs. For example, I never post about grammar or punctuation issues here – there are other bloggers who already do this, and do it far better than I ever could.
Offering something distinctive enables you to develop a network of returning visitors as the following examples demonstrate: In addition to her EditorMom blog, Katherine O’Moore Klopf hosts a website including the excellent Copyeditors’ Knowledge Base. Here on The Proofreader’s Parlour the most important single driver is my free, downloadable set of proofreading stamps. Liz Broomfield’s Resources for Word Users have proved hugely popular on her LibroEditing blog, and Mignon Fogharty's GrammarGirl: Quick and Dirty Tips site is a must-go for grammar chat.
3. What do you want to achieve? Do you want your blog to drive clients or colleagues to your website? If the former, you’ll need to ensure the things you are writing about are interesting to your clients, NOT your colleagues. My blog, for example, is an information-sharing blog aimed at other editorial freelancers. My primary clients, however, are publishers. The Proofreader’s Parlour tends to drive fellow proofreaders and editors, rather the people who hire my proofreading services, to my website. That’s fine and expected, because that’s how I set it up. I think it’s important to have a web presence, but my marketing strategy for getting work with mainstream publishers is not primarily web-based, because that’s not as appropriate to my particular client base at present.
If you want to drive clients to your website, your blog content needs to feed their interests, no more, no less. A good example is Anna Sharman’s biomedical journal publishing blog. Anna posts content that is of interest to the same people who might buy in her editing services. By writing excellent posts about how to publish in, and navigate the world of, scholarly journals, she’s generated a bank of followers who will be as interested in reading her articles as they will in hiring her to edit their own projects.
Whether your targeted readership is the client or the colleague, think about your network and what they might want to know. People who read blogs are used to finding the content they’re interested in by using the web. If you are not “connected”, how will you let your potential users know that you exist? If you’re not using the likes of Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn or Google+ you may find it harder to generate the initial interest and “virality” that online social media provide.
Still, if your content isn't interesting to your target group, it doesn't matter how well connected you are; you won’t drive anyone anywhere!
4. Do you want to make money directly from your blog? If you want to seriously monetize your blog from advertising, traffic is everything. Niche blogging about proofreading is probably not going to do it for you unless you have THE blog in the field with a huge and established following. Advertisers want a return on their investment. The profiles of people who visit your website have to fit those your advertisers are targeting, and the advertiser wants to see lots of them! Be realistic about whether your content and the resulting readership are likely to fulfil advertisers’ goals.
5. Do you want to increase your search rankings? Blogging, if done regularly, is an effective way of increasing your online profile in the areas you blog about, or so I’m told. But the key word here is “regularly”. When those search engines send out their bots to crawl all over your site, they’re looking for fresh content. If you don’t post regularly, this strategy won’t work. Remember, however, that it always comes back to the nature of your content and what you aim to achieve from it. If you blog regularly about copy-editing training, you’ll improve your rankings for this type of search; you won’t necessarily improve your chances of being found by potential clients because your content rankings aren't related to your their needs and their search terms.
In a nutshell … If you want to blog, then blog. Be sure about what you want to achieve, who your readers are, how you are going to connect with them, and that your content reflects their interests. Regular blogging takes up a lot of time and requires commitment. Establishing a loyal readership requires patience. However, I think it’s another wonderful way for a home-based freelancer to connect with colleagues and clients from all over the globe.
And don't forget to share you colleagues' blogs, too, assuming you think the content is worth your endorsement. No one likes a greedy blogger!
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