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Is it time to shut down your small business blog?

stop-blogging.jpegNo more blogging? No more Twitter? No more podcasting, writing or public speaking?

Why is Joel Spolsky – who has marketed his successful business, Fog Creek Software, using almost nothing but blogging – quitting?

Blogging has been a huge source of traffic to my site – and, less directly, revenue – for over 5 years. And not just for me, but for plenty of other businesses, too. That’s why I recommend blogging to many businesses as a way to generate interest in their products and services.

But is it possible that Joel is right? Is blogging a bad way to get customers?

First, let’s hear from Joel himself (all emphasis mine):

Was it worth it? Should you blog?

Well, it worked brilliantly for me, but the more I’ve looked around, the more I’ve noticed that plenty of start-ups have managed to get customers and grow nicely without devoting a huge chunk of their early years to building a cool blog.

What’s more, I have trouble pointing to other successful entrepreneurs who have used the same formula and reaped the same dividends I have.

The big-hit technology companies from the past 10 years tend to have pathetic blogs. Twitter’s blog, like Facebook’s and Google’s, is full of utterly boring press releases rewritten to sound a little bit less stuffy. Apple’s employees produce virtually no blogs, even though the company has introduced several game-changing new products in the past decade. Meanwhile, hundreds of Microsoft’s employees have amazing blogs, but these have done nothing to stave off that company’s slide into stodginess.”

Huh? That doesn’t make sense. First, Joel says “…[blogging] worked brilliantly for me,” then says “…plenty of start-ups have managed to get customers and grow nicely without devoting a huge chunk of their early years to building a cool blog.” Well, sure. But what evidence does Joel have that his company would have grown that way? He’s just said that blogging worked brilliantly. What makes him think other ways of marketing would have worked equally well?

Then Joel notes how few successful entrepreneurs he knows have “…used the same formula and reaped the same dividends.” But the key question is this: What difference does it make if it worked or not for other people? Does it work for you?

Many companies struggle – or fail outright – because they don’t do enough to distinguish themselves from their competition, whether in their marketing or in their products and services. If you only do what your competition does, you’re unlikely to have much success in the long run. Blogging will work for you because you offer something to your customers, not because it works for your competitors. And, if you don’t offer something of value to your customers, blogging isn’t going to help. But then, neither will most other things. So why choose whether to blog based on your competition’s results, especially if it’s already working well for you?

He continues,

The best evidence also suggests that there are many other effective ways to market Fog Creek’s products — and that our historical overreliance on blogging as a marketing channel has meant that we’ve ignored them. I realize now that blogging made me, and Fog Creek, a big fish in a very small pond. As a result, we have the undisputed No. 1 product among the 5 percent to 10 percent of programmers who regularly read blogs about programming. Meanwhile, we’re almost unknown in every other demographic.

My hope is that giving up blogging and the rest of it will be the equivalent of making a cross-eyed kid wear an eye patch on his good eye for a while: The weaker eye will grow stronger. My company needs to get better at what every other company already knows — how to promote and market products without depending on one single channel. We’ve completely saturated a small slice of the target market, and now we have to go after a much larger group of potential customers.”

There’s no disputing the two points I’ve bolded above. Joel is right. Marketing your company by putting all your eggs in one basket rarely produces the best results. Good marketers make use of a variety of channels to reach their customers. But, his approach to blogging seems downright bipolar, swinging from one extreme to the other, blogging exclusively to not at all.

The great thing about internet marketing, whether it’s blogging, PPC, SEO, social, etc., is that you don’t have to put all your eggs in one basket. Each allows you to experiment simply and inexpensively to find where your customers are and how you can best reach them. Blogging may be the best tool to reach your customers, as Joel found in his early days, or it may not. But that’s true for most other forms of online marketing, too.

I recommend reading the whole article. Ironically, in it, Joel offers great advice for how to produce an effective, useful blog that can help you grow your business. As for the first question, whether you should shut down your blog (or start one, if you’re not blogging already)? That depends on a number of factors specific to your business, which I’ll look at in more detail in the coming days. But if your only reason for shutting down your small business blog is because your competition achieved results you want using some other method, as Joel seems to be doing here, then I recommend you find a better reason.

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Tim Peter is the founder and president of Tim Peter & Associates. You can learn more about our company's strategy and digital marketing consulting services here or about Tim here.

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