Podcast Episode 47: Should Freelance Writers Have Their Own Blog?

There is a lot of conflicting advice around about whether or not freelance writers should have their own blog. If they do, what should they blog about? Is it simply a way to show off your writing skills or can it have any further benefits? And should you write every day, every week, or just whenever you feel like it?

In this podcast episode I look at these issues, and more, along with some practical advice on how to go about blogging in order to have the most success.

Show Notes

10 reasons every freelance writer should have a blog – Michelle Rafter

Episode 7: Freelance writing – to specialise or not to specialise?

Do freelancers have to blog to get clients? – Carol Tice

5 ways writers kill their credibility online

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Hello, and welcome to episode 47 of ‘A Little Bird Told Me’. The freelance writing podcast, about the high’s the lows and the no-no’s of successful freelance writing.

I am Philippa Willitts and I am here today without my usual co-host Lorrie who will be back next week. Before we get started, you can find us online at www.littlebirdtoldme.podomatic.com. And if you go there you can find links to subscribe to the podcast, which means that rather than having to come back and check when it’s out, it will be delivered straight to you. That can be through ITunes, it can be through an RSS feed reader or on Stitcher if you’re a fan of that app, which I am. You can also there find links to all my social media feeds and websites and also Lorrie’s, as well as links to any websites or videos, or plug-ins or apps that we might mention during the course of the podcast. So www.littlebirdtoldme.podomatic.com is just full of tonnes of really valuable information, so go check it out.

Now I am Philippa Willitts, and today I am talking about whether you, as a freelance writer, should have a blog. Lots of writers do, lots of writers don’t, and there are certainly some pros and cons associated with it. So what I am going to do is look at, first of all, the benefits of having a blog – how it can help your business. Then I’m going to look at how to do it and also importantly, how not to do it, including any circumstances you might find yourself in, where it’s better to just not bother. So stay tuned to find out all you need to know about freelance writers and blogging.

7:2 :: writing
7:2 :: writing (Photo credit: ~Merete)

And so the first thing we are going to look at, are the benefits of having your own blog as a freelancer. Now there are lots of benefits to having your own blog. It is a great way of showing the world how well you write, basically. And as a freelance writer that’s what you want to do. Especially if you don’t have lots of other places you could send potential clients to, to have a look at your work, then having your own blog is an easy way to have good quality writing samples on view for anybody who needs them. You can even, if your blog takes off a bit, you can start to build your own audience and get a name for yourself that certainly does you no harm. And blogs are basically a great way of establishing authority, if you want to show the world that you know a lot about fishing, and that’s what you want to write about, then if you start a fishing blog with a link to your professional site then anybody who needs a writer specialising in fishing knows where to come.

Another reason that having a blog can be beneficial is good old SEO. Search engines prioritise websites that have regular updates on them. Now this only works if your blog is part of your main website really. If your blog is separate then itself it will improve its SEO chances but it won’t have much effect on your main site. However, if your blog’s part of your main professional site then it’s a particularly good way of giving yourself a little boost on where you appear on the search engine results. When you blog you use lots of important keywords, you use long tail key phrases, you get a lot of things crammed into your website that people might be searching for. If you imagine if you have a one page website with 500 words of writing on it and compare that to a blog with 30 different 500 word posts on it, the keywords that people search for are far more likely to turn up in the long blog with lots of entries than in the one page.

Another benefit is SEO related and is likely to become particularly useful in the coming months and years. And that is the newish protocol that Google started using called ‘Authorship’.

Now Google spends a lot of time trying to remove the spam from its search results. It’s done various massive algorithm changes in order to try to achieve this, and so lots of websites that are ‘spammy’ and not good quality that would have appeared in the search engines a couple of years ago, are now downgraded and 30 pages in or delisted altogether from Google. Now, something they’ve started putting emphasis on is this ‘Authorship’, and without going into too much complicated detail basically what this is, is a little tag you can put into your website, which labels you in a code that Google recognises as the author of a piece of work.

Now at this stage this doesn’t seem to have much SEO benefit in itself. But expert SEO people believe strongly that as Google continue its anti-spam measures, is that it’s going to give more weight to individual authors who have proved themselves to be authoritative and who have proved themselves to write good quality content.

So, whereas up to now a big part of the recommendations that informed where you appeared in Google search results were things like how many backlinks a website receives as a whole, it is thought that, over time, the individual author is going to take more prominence, and so starting a blog and making sure you have the right Google Authorship tags attached to your blog means that you can start creating an archive that where Google recognises you as the author, and this could – in the medium to long term – help to establish you as an authoritative writer.

Now SEO aside, there are still plenty of other benefits to writing your own blog. If you, a lot of clients these days hire freelance writers to write their blogs for them, so having your own blog on the very basic level shows prospects that you can write a blog, that you get the style, you’re good at headlines, that you can engage with readers and that’s all things that clients want when they hire you to write their own blog. Another benefit was suggested by a blogger name Michelle Rafter who wrote on her blog ‘If you’re normally writing one style, you can use your blog to practice different styles or voices. If you normally write straight news stories for business or trade magazines, use your blog to practice writing opinion pieces, personal essays, or comedy bits. If you are comfortable writing in different styles and genres for yourself it’s not much of a stretch to pitch those types of stories to potential clients’.

And I think that’s a good idea – you don’t want to show yourself off as too much of a beginner, and if you’re trying a particular style for the first time make sure it’s good enough to warrant being on your blog. But, I think she makes a really good point, that your blog is your blog and, if you’re going to experiment anywhere, it’s probably better to do it on your own terms than for a client who wants a comedy piece and you’ve never written comedy before.

A final potential benefit of having your own blog is that it can be a way of making money. Now don’t get too hung up on this one, because it’s a lot harder than internet marketers would have you believe, and it’s also more complex than internet marketers have you believe. However, there is the potential with your own blog of making some money, usually by having ads in the sidebar or through promoting particular products that your receive a referral fee for, if people buy through the link you provide.

So, giving those potential benefits that you can get from having your own blog let’s have a look at how to go about it. It’s really important first of all to be writing on your blog about something that you care about, if you’re just going ‘ohh it’s Friday I better do a blog post’, readers can tell if you’re bored, they can tell if you don’t really care, and it’s really off-putting. You won’t engage with people, you won’t attract people, they will just you know, they’ll just pass you by. There is no point writing a blog if it is going to be tedious, if it’s going to be something that you resent.

Now as to what to write about, this is a big issue to think about, because you might think, do I write about freelance writing? Because then I can show readers that I know what I’m talking about. However, the other side of that is that you’re more likely to have fellow writers as readers than you are to have potential customers, so, you know, it’s good and bad in its own way.

Another is to write a personal style blog about your life, about the things you are doing, and while this can be good in many ways, I’m not sure it’s necessarily the best idea for a blog related to your freelance website. You might want to write a personal blog but that might be better separate and somewhere else.

The third option that’s popular and can be really good, is too write about your speciality, we’ve talked in the podcast before about the benefits and drawbacks of specialising, I will put a link in the show notes to a former episode we made about that.

But if you do have a specialist subject, which is often a good idea to get better pay, to get more work that interests you more because it’s something you’re interested in yourself, then writing a blog about things in your specialist subject will show potential clients in that sector that you write with passion, that you write with expertise about, whether it’s fashion, or education, or health or whatever your specialist area is, if you write about fashion and a high street store approaches you wanting you to write their blog, you can point them to your latest posts about the trends for summer 2013 and that shows them that you know what you’re talking about and that you write well. If you consider your blog as a way to be a good showcase of what you can do, then you know that you need to pay attention to the how you write, you need to pay attention to how you present yourself.

WRITE (Photo credit: karindalziel)

Carol Tice, awesome freelance writer/ blogger, wrote on a blog post about freelancers blogging, ‘whatever your personal interests are consider writing on the topic you love. When you write about what you love, you tend to stick with it and strive to improve it, that blog will be more likely to attract an audience and will end up serving as a stronger marketing tool, than your lukewarm blog about your business’.

This is really true, and it backs up what I said earlier, be passionate, be interested, show that you care about what you’re writing about. This is the best way to show off your own writing. When you write blog posts use good headlines, now these aren’t always easy, and it’s always worth having a read of some good advice about how to write good headlines. Not least because the same or similar advice applies to email subject lines to press release titles and all sorts of different areas – so it’s an important and good skill to have for any freelancer, so try to write headlines that make people need to click to see more.

Similarly, consider using a call to action, this is an important device within sales copy, sales writing as a whole, and this is basically tell your readers what you want them to do, so if you want your readers after they’ve read your blog post – if you want them to subscribe to your blog, or comment or share it then tell them to. You might say at the end of a blog post, it can be something as simple as ‘do you have any experience in this area? Let me know in the comments’, or ‘Do you have a favourite colour for this season’s skirts? Let me know in the comments’. Or ‘If you like this post share it on twitter’ or something like that, it can be amazing the difference that including a call to action can make in terms of reader engagement. When you’re writing posts also use internal linking where appropriate, don’t overdo it or it looks spammy, but link to pages within your website, link to other blog posts you’ve written. This all helps with SEO but also with navigation just to help your readers find these things if they want to see more.

Now there is a lot of conflicting advice with blogging about regularity and consistency. More with regularity, some bloggers recommend writing daily without fail; always put a blog post up. Others say always put a post up every Monday, Wednesday and Friday at the same time, readers like to know what they can expect and when they can expect it. Others are a bit more relaxed about it and say that as long as there is some consistency, as long as you don’t write three posts in one week and then nothing for four months, then that’s good, that’s acceptable, people don’t necessarily expect complete predictability, nor would you necessarily want to be predictable. The problem with saying I will definitely blog three times a week is that you might end up putting up sub-standard content because you’ve run out of ideas or because you don’t have time.

Personally, I think reasonably regular and reasonably consistent is sufficient as long as you don’t leave people waiting for weeks and weeks then you still have a good opportunity to build a blog, a successful blog and build an audience and build followers, and you know, boost your own efforts. However you may be the kind of person who may react better and cope better with a much stricter schedule, in which case go with that, it’s your blog, you might want to read many of the discussions about this online and see what you think. It’s up to you and you can even try, try different things out, spend two months posting twice a week at 10 o’clock on Tuesdays and Thursdays and then spend two months posting as and when you get inspiration. And see – do you lose readers, do you gain readers, do you get more subscribers all that kind of thing – try it out.

Now the problem with doing it on a more laid back basis, is that is easy to get out of the habit altogether, so especially when you have paid work to do, it’s hard to motivate yourself to do a post on your own blog when you’ve also got four magazine articles and six press releases on the go. And I would always say prioritise your paid work but there comes a point where you might use that as an excuse and never update your blog at all.

Making blogging part of your routine or planning time specifically for blogging is a good way of trying to keep on top of it. It is far too easy to put it off when something more interesting comes along but it you’re going to make a go of it then integrating it into your working week will help you, there’s no question. So you may do your finances on the first of the month and you may schedule four blog posts on the seventh of the month, for instance. That’s something to bear in mind actually, some people work better writing a series of blog posts in one go maybe spending a day or two of nothing but writing content for your own blog, and then schedule the updates to appear twice a week or once a fortnight or whatever you decide to do. That helps you to prepare for ultra-busy weeks where you don’t have time and also some people just react better to getting it all done in one go. Again, try things out, see what suits your working style, see what you have the most success with, but all of the major blogging platforms have an option to schedule posts whether you’re using hosted WordPress, wordpress.com, Blogspot or Tumblr you can write in advance and schedule posts, you can on movable type as well but in my own experience, that can be a bit unpredictable. So consider that as well as part of your working style.

If you really want to take your blog seriously you need to make a plan and set goals. It’s easy to just meander through doing an update when you think of it or when you have something to say. But if you want to put effort into making it a great blog, rather than just something where you go through the motions, then set out a content calendar, say in July and August I want to cover these six topics, one a week.

Say for the rest of the year I want to cover these 12 topics, and I want four of these to be very in-depth posts and I want to make a YouTube video and you can even plan how you’re going to promote it within your content plan. So you can make notes about how many times you want to tweet your each new post, whether you want to share your posts on Pinterest, and come up with a really good, almost foolproof way of building a blog that you have planned in advance. Goal setting can have a similarly positive effect, you might want to start off with small goals like, ‘I want twenty people to read my first blog post, and I will promote it until I have hit that milestone’ or you might want to have fifty email subscribers by September and so you would then use your call to action to draw attention to your email subscription box, and that kind of thing. You might even say by Christmas I want to have had 100 really good quality comments posted on my blog post.

The goals you set will be entirely up to you, those numbers may seem too low, too high, your goals might be entirely different but if you have goals then you will work harder to meet them. If you want twenty readers for your first blog post then you will work until you get twenty readers if you haven’t set that goal then you probably won’t even notice that you’ve only had four people read it and so you won’t put the extra effort in that you would have if you had a goal.

So, if you want to have the potential to turn your blog into something big, something really valuable in the industry you want to write in, then make a plan, make a content plan and set goals. Set goals that can grow, so when you’ve had twenty readers of your first post, then make sure you promote your second post until it’s had fifty readers, and your third post until it’s had eighty readers. The good thing about goals is that you can adapt them as you go, if you set a goal for eighty readers and you suddenly find that you’ve actually had 350 readers within two days then you know that your next goal should be 500. Adapt them as you go, make sure they are realistic but also that they also give you a bit of a push to do your best.

So we’ve covered why you might want to blog, and we’ve covered how you might want to go about blogging. However, there are also times where, frankly, it’s best to just not bother. And so what about when you shouldn’t start a blog? One argument is that if you’re not going to update it reasonably regularly then it’s not worth doing at all. It’s up to you to decide really, does your site look better without a blog, or with a blog that was last updated in September 2010.

Consistency is important; you might decide that infrequent updates are better than none at all. It’s up to you, but just think about how it looks. If people see a very out of date blog, they might assume that you’re not in business any more if that’s connected to your website and there hasn’t been an update for six months or a year. Also, partly it will depend on your topic: if you write about tech, for instance – a twelve month old or two year old blog post can often be irrelevant and doesn’t even still apply, whereas if you write about something like antiques, old posts may have a longer shelf life.

You can, if you use self-hosted WordPress, set up your settings so that the date of a post isn’t that obvious, it still can be found, but you can set it up so the URL, for instance, doesn’t include the date, so it’s just your web address forward slash whatever the topic name is. Some people do that, especially if they know they’re not going to be really regular with updates. Other people think, no I’d rather just not have a blog at all than have something that I know I don’t have the time to maintain.

Another reason to not start a blog is if you think it is going to be a quick and easy source of direct income. It is possible to monetise a blog, but most people who do make money from blogging do it in kind of round about ways – or by using their blog to promote something else that they do, or something that they sell.

You can put ads on, using something like Google AdSense, often will earn you a few pence a day really. Recommending products that you have affiliate links for can be a good way of earning referral cash if somebody buys using your link, but it can also make people question the validity of what you are suggesting. If you suggest, if you write a post recommending a particular piece of software and you get 50% of the price when your reader buys that software they might well think, well I can’t trust this blogger to tell the truth, because if they earn money when I buy, then they’re not going to tell me the negative points about this. That’s not necessarily true but it’s certainly an impression that a lot of people can get.

Often, money-making from a blog is very much a long-term plan, and it takes a lot of work. So if that is your primary goal, really think carefully about whether you’re prepared to keep plugging as something with no promise of an income if that’s its main purpose.

Another reason not to start a blog is that you don’t want to. You can’t be bothered, it’s not your thing – somebody has recommended it to you and you’re wondering whether you should, but really you have no desire or motivation to do it, then don’t. There are alternative ways of showing off your writing even if you haven’t been published in lots of different places or even if most of your writing is ghost writing, so you can’t claim it for yourself. You can write guest posts on other blogs and make sure you link to them on your site. You can do some writing for a charity for free, but link to it as an example of your work. If you’re not entirely enthusiastic about a blog on your site then just don’t.

So, hopefully what I’ve gone through today in terms of the benefits of blogging, how to go about it, top tips on having your own freelance writing blog, but also a bit of reality about the fact that it’s not always easy and that it doesn’t suit everybody. Hopefully it will be useful for you, if you have a blog already or are already considering whether to have one, or whether to keep the one you’ve got.

If you’ve got any questions do contact me, all my details are on a www.littlebirdtoldme.podomatic.com. If you want to contact me on Twitter, Facebook or LinkedIn all by email, it’s all there.

So, if you think I’ve missed anything out, it you think I didn’t mention anything important, or if you have a more specific question – do get in touch. Also if you have experience of blogging as a freelancer, tell me how you found it. I know I’ve got work directly as a result of blog posts I’ve directly written, have you had that experience? Or do you feel like you’ve been plugging away at a blog for six months and it’s just had no benefit whatsoever? I will try to feedback in a future episode some of what people tell them as a result of this one, so do let me know.

Anyway, now it is time for The Little Bird recommendation of the week: where we share with you a link or a plug-in or anything that we think is interesting or that we think you might like. My recommendation this week is a blog post from a brilliant website called www.bang2write.com. Now this site is aimed at screen writers and novelists, and I’m neither of those things but I still find a lot of their posts really, really useful, and interesting. Anyway, this is a post from February and it’s called ‘Five ways writers kill their credibility online’ – and it’s talking particularly about social media – but not exclusively – and it goes through the ‘top five ways of isolating your peers and making pros think you’re nuts’. And, it’s funny mainly because it’s so true, don’t feed the trolls, don’t offer unsolicited advice on making a massive assumption, don’t over promote yourself – nobody likes that – and don’t get involved in arguments are just some of the points they make. I will link to this post in the show notes at www.littlebirdtoldme.podomatic.com. So, head over and check it out, there’s some really useful information, whatever kind of writer you are, there’s certainly applies to other groups of writers as well as screen writers and novelists and I recommend the whole site actually, not just because they did a feature on me a few months ago but because they’re generally brilliant.

And so, that has been episode 47 of ‘A Little Bird Told Me’. Let us know what you think, subscribe to the podcast, and like our Facebook page – so you can make sure you never miss anything we want to share with you.

I have been Philippa Willitts and we will see you next time…