SEATTLE — For Nikki deRelle, the hardest part of starting a business isn’t acquiring start-up money or drafting a business plan.
It’s something far less expected: assuming the role of blogger.
That’s the thing that keeps deRelle up late at night reading how-to guides and poring over competitors’ Web sites. She’s looking for a magic bullet that will make her feel comfortable fusing the personal details of her life with her clothing design business.
“I’m trying to somehow combine my creative work with the company,” said the north Seattle resident.
She’s read the books and talked with advisers. But when asked what the blog will look like, she still doesn’t have an answer. “I’m still sort of struggling with that.”
Eco Plus launches in January, manufacturing and selling eco-friendly plus-sized clothes for children. And when it does, deRelle will be thrust into the blogosphere — ready or not.
That’s a realm businesses have inhabited for a while, but at rapidly increasing rates lately. The traditional one-way message of marketing has been trumped by a deafening chorus of online chatter, and businesses are scrambling for a place in the conversation.
For large companies, blogging is a way to communicate with customers and break news. For smaller businesses such as deRelle’s, it’s can be even more personal.
That’s the advice deRelle got from Marjorie Tyson, business development assistant at the Snohomish County Small Business Development Center.
“It’s a way to make your (company) more personal, so that they’re coming to you and not just a company,” Tyson said.
Talking with customers using blogs and social media sites isn’t optional anymore, said Laura Christianson, owner of Snohomish-based consulting company Blogging Bistro.
“A company blog gives consumers the opportunity to interact directly with a company’s decision-makers,” she said. “When consumers sense that the company owners are making an effort to be accessible, transparent and communicative, they develop trust in that company and are more likely to remain loyal customers over the long haul.”
But a successful blog takes more than a WordPress account and basic writing skills. You have to strike the right balance between promotional posts and updates conveying useful information. Christianson advises no more than 15 percent be outright promotions of services or products. If customers complain or ask questions in forums, the company should respond promptly.
And the blog should be updated at least once a week.
“Nearly every day, people tell me, ‘I visited a company Web site and they have a blog, but it hasn’t been updated in four months,’ ” Christianson said.
She added: “Neglecting your blog is worse than not having one at all.”
Read Amy Rolph’s small-business blog at www.heraldnet.com/TheStorefront. Contact her at 425-339-3029 or email@example.com.