How Creating a Blog Is Like Climbing a Mountain

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As the old proverb says, there are many paths up the mountain.

This can apply to quite a number of business endeavors, and getting started with your business blog is definitely one of them. While it may seem daunting, the challenge of getting your blog rolling is absolutely worth it. It can drive traffic to your website, using SEO to target the right visitors, and deliver valuable leads who can eventually become customers.

Here are some thoughts to keep in mind as you work to get your blog up and running.

Creating a Blog Is Like Climbing a Mountain

  • Every expedition needs good planning. If you start climbing without planning your route, you’ll likely get stuck halfway up. Before setting out on your blogging expedition, address core issues like how often you’ll blog, what topics you’ll cover and what tone you’re going to take. This includes researching your competition. If they’re all producing heavy, jargon-laden blogs, perhaps adopting a more informal tone will help you carve out a niche.
  • Understand you must start at the bottom. A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step. Understand and accept that at the beginning you’re not going to have many readers. Do what you can to promote yourself, and focus on producing quality content.
  • Realize the summit will be out of sight when you start. It’s easy to get discouraged when all you can see are endless trees. Yet, once you’re above the tree line, the path to the summit becomes clear. You can speed up this process by allowing commenting on your blog, encouraging readers to contribute to the conversation. Interesting discussions make for repeat visits and social media sharing.
  • Find your climbing legs. One of the worst things to do when climbing a mountain or starting a blog is overdoing it. Pace yourself, and focus on quality over quantity. If you run out of wind — good ideas — too early, you’ll handicap yourself. Try to get into a rhythm of posting on a weekly basis and build from there.
  • Put together a team for your expedition. When Sir Edmund Hillary conquered Mt. Everest, he didn’t do it alone; he took over 400 people along as guides and porters. In business blogging, your help comes from social media. Make sure your posts have links so visitors can share them on Facebook, Twitter, Google+, LinkedIn and any other other social sites that seem relevant. Your readers are a vital part of the process, and they’re usually happy to help.
  • Keep climbing! Step by step. Reader by reader. If you produce good work, you’ll gain followers. Creating a blog that’s successful requires fresh content. You know all those websites with blogs that haven’t been updated in months? Those are memorials to people who only got halfway up the mountain and quit. In terms of public exposure, an abandoned blog is worse than no blog at all.
  • Plant your flag. How will you know when you’ve reached the summit? You won’t. But you will know you’re accomplishing something big with your blog. Traffic will be up substantially on your site and you’ll be getting valuable leads from your calls-to-action and landing pages. Your blog posts will be generating social media discussion and you’ll be getting comments. Most of all, your blog will have become a centerpiece of your marketing efforts and you’ll wonder how you ever survived without it.

If you want a takeaway, it’s this: Creating a blog is like climbing a mountain because it’s a big job that requires dedication and persistence. However, with good planning, hard work and a little help from your friends, you’ll make it to the top.

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Version Control — Don’t Send Out the Wrong Document

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With earnings season upon us again, it’s a logical time to look at the issue of version control. This phrase, which will make sense to anybody who’s worked through draft after draft of press releases, scripts, op-eds and the like, simply refers to the mundane task of keeping track of edits.

Mundane, but terrifyingly important.  You only need to send out the wrong version of a press release once to understand the danger of poor version control.

What is good version control? Ideally, it’s a foolproof system to make sure you don’t miss, skip over or otherwise misplace a set of edits as you draft and redraft critical documents. This can be very hard to do when you’ve got edits coming in from 4, 5, 6 or more individuals. I’ve had clients where the number rose to the dozens!

So, how is it done? Let’s first look at inadequate methods of version control:

  • Change the file name to reflect the draft number, such as earnings_release2.doc, earnings_release3.doc.
  • Change the file name to describe the change, such as earnings_release_table_update.doc.
  • Change the file name to describe the editor, such as earnings_release_bill.doc.

Each of these fails due to lack of specificity and the possibility of duplicates. For example, the draft number is no good if two people are simultaneously working on draft 2 … or if someone makes a “small” change that “doesn’t warrant a new draft.”

The descriptive change doesn’t work as there’s no way it can be descriptive enough. The last fails the second time the named editor reviews the document.

Better is to be specific about when the edits were made. For documents that won’t be edited very much, you might be able to simply date-stamp the file name, such as earnings_release_4-9-06.doc. That way you know by date which version is the most recent.

However, for heavily edited documents, I prefer a combination of the date-stamped file name and a time- and date-stamp in the document itself. So, for the document named earnings_release_4-9-06, you might find inside the document a header like the following (I picked this syntax up at Robinson, Lerer & Montgomery, the agency I worked for before founding my own):

DRAFT
Earnings Release
April 9, 2006/1:15 p.m.

Now, you’ll always know exactly when the document was updated.

Of course, the danger always exists that someone will edit the document without updating the header or the file name — wrecking your foolproof system. In this case, the only way to sort it out is to compare the time and date modified data in the document’s properties.

Editing functions like the “track changes” mode in Microsoft Word will help you figure out who has made the edits and actually see the changes. But with enough edits on each round of documents, it will be very difficult to figure out which were made when.

So a good time and date stamping method is critical. There are other ways to accomplish this, I’m sure. The key is to understand the importance of having a system in place — and then stick to that system.

One other trick: Before I send a press release out, I always check to make sure the very last change I made is in the document. If it is, I know I’m OK.

Want to Grow? Write What You Don’t Know

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I’ve seen a number of stories/posts lately providing writers with basic “how to” advice. When I encountered the following concept, I read right past it:

Write what you know!

A no-brainer, right?

Well, I’m going to take the opposite position here and argue that if you want to improve as a writer, you should focus on those topics that you know do not know well.

Really.

The reason is this. If you know a topic very well — so well that you can write about it with little or no effort — then you’re not being forced to think very much during the creative process. This leads to repetition of the same phrases and structures, introduction of jargon into the piece, and a subtle signal to readers that your work is only for people who are already well-versed in the topic.

If you think this sounds familiar, you’re right. This is the problem with academic writing. Professors and researchers spend their whole lives with the same set of material. Thus, their writing develops a ho-hum, jargon-ridden feel. If you’re not a member of the club, it says to the reader, then you’re not welcome.

How to combat this? Write about new topics and areas where you may have some familiarity, but nothing approaching expertise. This will force you to focus very hard on the writing as you work with a new universe of ideas.

And talk about a bonus. Who wouldn’t want to sit down for a few hours and enjoy thinking through new concepts — and then write about them for others to explore!

Writer’s Block? Draft a Headline

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We’ve all been there.

You begin writing up a piece — it could be a press release, op-ed, script, anything — and a few paragraphs into it the words just aren’t coming. You don’t know exactly where you’re going anymore and you don’t seem to be making a coherent point. In other words, you’re lost.

It’s time to take a step back and think about what you intended to say in the first place. What is the one key idea that drives the piece? Here’s a simple method I use to solve this problem.

I write a headline.

Now, I don’t recall where I first came across this idea, though I’m pretty sure it was a newsroom somewhere. I’ve found the approach works extremely well … despite my lack of direct attribution. (If you’re the one who brought it to my attention, please respond with a comment.)

The concept is this: If you can’t write a compelling headline about your idea, you haven’t developed the concept well enough to put it down on paper.

Give it a try. When you get stuck as described above, go back and try to craft a headline. It should set up the entire piece and encapsulate the main idea. This isn’t always easy. But as a practice, it forces you to think about just what you’re trying to say. And anything that gives us an opportunity to sit back and think a little has got to be good!