Labcast: S. Anthony Iannarino on How to Create a Successful Business Blog
Starting a business blog is easy, but how do you gain a following and help move your business forward?
With millions of blogs on the Web, starting your own blog may seem daunting, let alone building an devoted audience, and developing it into a healthy source of inbound leads for your business. However, that doesn’t mean it is impossible.
In this week’s Labcast, S. Anthony Iannarino shares his hurdles and triumphs in creating his widely acclaimed site, The Sales Blog, and offers advice for businesses looking to start their own blog. Iannarino shows that with patience and an interesting point of view, generating thousands of subscribers is attainable.
- You’ve got to build a community. Follow your competitors, share other bloggers’ content, and engage yourself in the web community. [7:00]
- Write, write, write. You’ve got ideas — write them down. [4:14]
- Don’t limit yourself to one platform. Want more subscribers? Reach others through multiple social media platforms. [6:27]
- Put in the time. Your blog can help your company grow. Treat it like it’s part of your business. Because it is. [9:53]
- Have an idea. Your content is the star of your blog. [12:10]
“Traffic has grown tremendously and it’s allowed me to build a community and to share these ideas with that community. It’s an outstanding ROI.”
Kevin Cain: Hi everyone and welcome to this edition of LabCast. I’m Kevin Cain and today I’m joined by Anthony Iannarino. If you don’t know Anthony, he’s a sales expert and the President and Chief Sales Officer for SOLUTIONS Staffing, which is a staffing company based in Columbus, Ohio.
Anthony’s been a guest with us in the past, but today actually we’re not going to be talking about sales. We’re going to be talking about blogging and the success that Anthony’s had with his blog, which is called The Sales Blog.
Hey, Anthony, thanks so much for joining me on LabCast today. How’s it going?
Anthony Iannarino: It’s great. Good to talk to you again, Kevin. How are you?
Kevin: I’m doing well. Thank you.
I mentioned in the introduction that you’re a sales expert, someone we’ve talked to in the past, but today’s LabCast actually we’re not going to be focusing on sales, per se, but rather talking about “The Sales Blog” which is the blog that you created and how you created it, how you’re using content to drive your business.
I wonder if to kind of start that off you could just give people a quick overview of The Sales Blog and tell us what it is.
Anthony: It’s an interesting story how I got here because I bought the domain, TheSalesBlog.com in 2007 and I wanted just Sales Blog but somebody in North Carolina had it. They were sitting on a part and they weren’t doing anything. It turns out it’s Jeffrey Gitomer and he now has a blog up at that address.
I knew I had something to say but I really wasn’t sure what to do with the social media tools. I wasn’t really sure how this works. What are you are supposed to write about, how frequently are you supposed to do it. I kind of dabbled a little bit and in 2009, I read a couple of things.
One, I started following Seth Godin very closely. I started following Chris Brogan and a number of other people that had big social media presence and had built some community and I saw the model.
I read Chris Brogan’s book Trust Agent and I started reaching out to him. In 2009, I sat down and said “Listen. I know what I need to do now. I have ideas, I’ve got the ability to help sales people and help sales organizations and I need to share my voice.” I figured out what I needed to do, and at that point I decided I’m going to write every day.
I sat down with my wife at that time, and I said ‘I’m going every single day. I’m going to post a blog and I’m going to go and consult with organizations and speak to sales organizations and I’m going to use this actually to drive to that business.’
She said ‘I don’t really understand what you’re saying and I don’t really care that much but it sounds good to me. Go ahead and try it’. Ten months in, I started getting speaking gigs and more work and more work on top of that. The more that I gave away content, the more work came to me.
It’s been an outstanding journey for me for the last now three and a half years of operating the blog. It’s a place where you can generate content that helps buyers along the path wherever they are.
You can create value for them, whether they don’t know that they’re dissatisfied and they should be, whether they know what they want, whether they need an idea.
It’s this content that lives on the web forever, people can find you when they need you and when they’re thinking about you. It’s worked brilliantly for me.
Kevin: You got to hit head on one of the challenges that I think many companies and content marketers in particular, and that is this whole idea of, “How do I generate enough content?”
Certainly for a one man operation like yourself, creating a daily blog post is a huge commitment. I mean, we’re not talking Monday to Friday, you’re doing it seven days a week.
How do you go about creating that value of content and how do you come out with fresh ideas? How do you kind of keep your momentum going?
Anthony: I’m a writer and so I write because I feel bad not writing. So that’s the first thing. It’s easy for me to do that writing piece.
Where do you come up with the ideas? And it’s interesting that you ask the question this way because when you talk to businesses they say What would we say and marketing does that. They don’t really understand where the content works.
The idea is to share your idea. And because it’s on the web, it doesn’t have to be the right idea for this customer right now. It just has to be the right idea for some customer along the journey because you’re writing it and it gets to stay forever.
For me personally, I track every idea that I come across. So literally I have an iPhone with me or my iPad with me and whenever any idea strikes me, no matter how great or how small, I capture that idea in Evernote.
So I’ve got this giant notebook of every kind of business problem, business challenge, leadership challenge, sales challenge and my view point on it. So I’ll just take a few notes or I’ll record directly into the iPhone. I’ve got a catalog of ideas that I can build into the frameworks of things that I talk about.
That happens in business, too, all the time. I think we miss those opportunities. We don’t say ‘Here’s an interaction we had with a client. It would be really great if we could help them understand this in a way that they would have access in a way that they would have access to this.
We would help shape their thinking at this stage of the sales cycle or this stage of our customer life cycle. If you come up with ideas, you should write them down and capture them so that you can share them over and over and over again.
I would tell you, most of the problem in the way of business operating is that they think it’s marketing’s job. But when marketing does a lot of this stuff, it looks and sounds like marketing.
When you have the people who actually touch the business start sharing the ideas, it starts to look more like content that people build community around and communicate with. And you’ve got that inside the four walls of you business, you just got to capture it to make sure you get it out.
Kevin: The content creation is one aspect of fueling your blog.
Of course, the other piece of it is that you got to market that content. Now, over time you’ve developed a site that has, I’m sure, regular followers and people that subscribe for your RSS feed. But you still need to do things to get people to find your content.
Can you speak a little bit to whatever you might be doing, whether it’s promoting through social or optimizing your post or search or things of that nature?
Anthony: I don’t really worry about SEO as much as some people do and think that if you write good content that’s the very best SEO that you can have, is good content that’s unique and interesting to other people.
For promotion, I use a number of tools. I have a Facebook fan page and I have something like 2,100 people there. I’ve got thousands that subscribe to the blog as either an RSS feed and I think I’m about right at a thousand that get an email every single day that I post that I read it on an email.
I’ve got 16,000 on my newsletter list because in addition to writing seven days a week, I write a newsletter on Sundays that’s probably the best content that I create each week.
I promote all of that through Twitter, through Facebook, on LinkedIn and I think the trick for businesses to figure out is that as an individual operator I’m part of a community.
You’ll see me sharing content for my competitors and you can’t do that when you’re a business but you can share relevant content from other people who have relevant ideas.
If you’re in the software industry, maybe you don’t want to promote your competitors but you do want to promote ideas around software and where the industry’s headed.
That kind of mindset of “I’ve got to be able to share other people’s content and have them share mine.” If you look at my Twitter feed, you’re going to see Mark Hunter at tweeter feed. Mark’s speaks and consults with sales organizations like I do.
You’re going to see Charlie Green in there. You’re going to see Mike Weinberg in there and you’re going to see 25 or 30 other people that I’ve developed relationships with and they’re sharing my content with their audience. I’m sharing my content with their communities.
Together, we notch each other up by making sure that our good content is found and seen by people that can help.
Kevin: Doing all of this is a significant investment and time. I mean, it’s time that’s obviously serving your business and your overall efforts but it’s still a huge commitment of time, you know.
How much time do you etch out in your schedule every day or every week for this and what would you recommend other companies and other individuals who just can’t justify making time for it?
Anthony: I would feel that the other way. How do you justify not making time for it? And this is sort of you don’t get to vote anymore. The web is here, social web is here, content marketing is here and I don’t know that we go back and we ever go away from sharing valuable ideas and insights with our clients.
This is sort of the tool kit we’ve all been waiting for so we have direct access to create value now wherever they happen to be living along their buyers’ journey. You have to dedicate the time.
For me, and I’m a good writer but not a great writer. I’m a decent editor but definitely not a great editor. I separate writing and editing, so I write in the morning and I get up at 5:00 in the morning and I immediately sit down to write before I do anything else except get coffee.
Then I do editing at night because the editing process is a different process than the writing process. All in, I probably invest about an hour in the blog post. And that’s choosing an image that serves as some sort of metaphor for the point of the post, writing the post and editing the post and then going out and promoting it.
Somebody has to find time to do it and I’m doing it as an individual. If it’s a business, there maybe a couple of people that can share in those responsibilities to do the idea generation, to do the drafting, to do the editing, to chose images.
Maybe there’s some combination between sales and marketing that you can get together and create really good content and I see companies doing that now.
I think you have to invest this time. Your customers are on the Web, they’re looking for information. They’re looking at you, they’re trying to decide are you somebody who can create value for me.
If you don’t have anything on your site that’s value creating, that’s sharing some idea, that’s helping them along their journey, then they’re right to click off of your page and go find somebody else’s page.
You have to put the time in this. Marketing is critical, it’s part of business and you have to do it.
Kevin: Can you give me a sense and you kind of alluded this throughout our conversation but what the impact of all your effort has been? I mean, you’ve alluded to some of the size of your audience to speaking engagements but can you give me a fuller picture of the impact this has all had for you
Anthony: It’s completely changed my life and my business life beyond anything that I’ve expected when I started. Ten months in I decided I was going to start keynoting sales events and at ten months in I started booking sales kick off meetings and quarterly meetings. And now I’m doing that for Fortune 100 companies.
It took far less time. I have business offers all the time for consulting work and coaching work and speaking work because it’s there. The income from all of these ventures has been tremendous.
People say you spend a lot of time there but the reward is also tremendous and I’ve got stats so I can tell you. When I decided to blog every day, I was getting about 700 views a month on a blog that didn’t really have any content. Last month I had almost 60,000 views on the blog. The traffic has grown tremendously and it’s allowed me to build a community and to share these ideas with that community. It’s an outstanding ROI.
Kevin: There are a lot of people out there blogging. Some people just getting started, some people very advanced. Our audience here is for those companies that are trying to get off the ground, maybe have a blog going that’s very basic. They maybe blogging once or twice a week but they haven’t reached the scale or the output that you have.
Is there any advice that you would recommend to those people to help them propel their blog forward and take it to the next level?
Anthony: Yes. Two pieces of advice I think that would be critical for businesses that are in that position. One, what really matters is that you have a point of view. So you started this business with an idea that we’re going to create value for some group of people.
You understand their pain. You understand their problems. You understand their dreams, their hopes, their ambitions. You have this present state and this future state that you build a business plan and a business model around.
Speak to that but you have to speak to it through your eyes and you have to be able to say what you should be thinking about is you’re along this journey from this point to this point.
Are these issues and here’s our unique take on this and here’s the way that we think you should think about it. And what I see businesses do is do too much marketing and not enough talking about why. Why did we make the choices that we made? Why don’t we do some of the things that you think we should do?
I’ll give you a quick example from our space. If you look at Twitter’s new offering Medium. You look at Medium and there’s almost no way to share the articles that you write for Medium because they want it to be long form.
They want you to actually have to do the work to share with your organization so it doesn’t turn into sort of a blogging form.
They made the decision on what not to do and they’re willing to talk about “we’re not going to let you do that here. If you want to embed videos, you’re not going to do it here because it distorts what we’re trying to do.”
That point of view’s what they’re looking for. How should I think about this and why?
Then the second thing is you got to build a community. You got to engage. It’s not enough to go on to the social web and develop this content and decide that it’s content marketing and then not engage with their community. You got to reply to every comment, you got to share other people’s information on Twitter. You got to deal with the reciprocity factor.
People are willing to help you but you got to go out and find other people that you can help and you really have to join the community. The mistake I see is that we want to put this content out there because we want to talk about us and draw attention to our offering.
You really have to dive into the community and you have to be there and be part of that for you to get the full value of what blogging in the social media forms do for you.
Kevin: Right. Anthony, this has been really helpful and I really appreciate your time. Obviously, I encourage everyone to go check out The Sales Blog.
Is there another place people can go to connect with you?
Anthony: TheSalesBlog.com is my platform. But I would say, when you get there, there’s a number of boxes on the site. There’s one where you can get one of my eBooks and there’s another one where you can just sign for the newsletter. Both of them will sign you up for the newsletter.
I would say, that’s the most, probably the most critical thing to do when you get there because that’s going to give you my best content. It’s also where I share some things that I don’t share on the blog about other activities that I have going on and where you can see me speak and things like that.
Kevin: Fantastic. Well, thanks again for your time today. I really appreciate it and look forward to catching up again with you soon.
Anthony: Thanks, Kevin. Good talking to you.
Photo by: Simon Hattinga Verschure
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