I’ve written on the subject of blogging before, but I wanted to share some updated information from my own experience of starting my own travel blog (and continuing this series of occasional posts on PR and communications).

A blog is a great way to communicate your brand – it doesn’t go through the ‘filter’ of the media, allowing you to get your message across to your audience (of potential customers) undiluted. But if you don’t currently run a blog, how best to get started? Here are a few of my tips for creating a great blog from scratch – that people actually want to read!

1. Do you really need a blog? Firstly, ask yourself this crucial question! So many business owners feel they should have a blog, simply because everyone else does. But do you have the commitment to contribute regularly (or the budget to pay someone to do so for you)? A clear sense of what you want to say? The platform to carry it? What do you want the blog to do? Blogs don’t magic themselves out of thin air – you have to be clear about why you want one. Write down this objective and always keep it in mind when writing your blog posts.

2. Create a professional-looking platform: A lot of people use the free WordPress platform to blog from – the one where you can create a free account and blog from a URL that looks like this – www.[your name].wordpress.com. This is a nice way to start and test the water – many people continue using this and integrating it into their purpose-built website – but it can look a little unprofessional with an unwieldy URL address (that screams “cheap!” – this coming from me, who used a similar free platform for way too long as a ‘stop gap’ until I got around to creating a ‘proper’ website). WordPress (not the free platform but the content management system) is behind some of the most slick looking websites around – after almost resigning myself to having to pay a hefty fee to commission a web developer to create my site, I was pleasantly surprised to find that I could create most of what I wanted through WordPress, myself. I signed-up to a great online course Simply WordPress – a straight forward but smart set of modules run by web designer Julie Hall, who has a lot of hints and tips up her sleeve for non-techy business owners (N.B. the next course sign-up deadline is 30 Sept 2012 so book quickly!). Register a domain name (I use 123-reg) and try and get both the .com and another version (such as .co.uk) secured. Then choose a web hosting company – I use Cyber Host Pro who are based in the UK so often easy to get hold of if anything goes wrong. You’re on your way to creating something nice and professional looking…

3. Content is king! You’ve probably heard this phrase before, but it’s certainly true. Good quality content – words and images that are original, inspiring, informative, useful, funny, moving…those are the blogs that people want to read. And want to share – hence your name, and brand, spreads. Take some time to consider topics that are relevant to your audience and reflect your brand. Think laterally as well as literally – posting thoughts or advice on your area of business helps position you as an expert. Traditionally, blogs were online diaries (and some still area), and today topical subjects for blog posts tend to work best – if you have your own take on the story of the day (remember – how does this help people engage with and understand your brand?), write up an entry and post it as soon as possible. For my client ASIP (the Association of Stylists & Image Professionals) I keep blog posts as topical as possible.

4. Proof-read (and proof-read again): There is nothing less professional than copy full of spelling mistakes or grammatical errors. Don’t rely on your computer’s auto-check, once you’ve finished writing close your post (as a draft) and open to read again after a decent time gap (you need fresh eyes!) to correct any mistakes or tweak a few lines. If you don’t trust your own ability, get someone else to read it (or just except that you need to pay an expert to do it for you and budget accordingly – this is your professional reputation and, therefore, worth paying for!).

5. Remember the visuals: Rather ironic of me writing this on a blog post that never includes pictures (oops! Check my travel blog Goodtrippers to see that I can do this!). People connect with pictures on a more instinctive level than text alone (yes, OK I’d better start thinking of images here…) – and it also helps take up a lot of space which is always welcome! Either use your own pictures (put your copyright in the file info or embedded on the picture) or, if you’re blogging about another brand go to their press office (us PRs can be very obliging if you’re promoting our client/employer) to ask if you can use any images to accompany the blog post. Otherwise, you’re left with the option of stock photography websites – the varying fortunes of which I’ve already blogged about here…good luck!

6. Keep it up! It can be very off-putting when you click on someone’s blog and see that the last entry was several months ago (are they still in existence?). Visitors won’t assume that you’re so successful and busy that you haven’t had time to update your blog; they’ll think you either lack commitment, attention to detail, get bored easily, have run out of things to say, or have just given up – any of those assumptions is bad for your brand/you. When you start, commit to a (realistic) schedule for new posts and stick to it – whether it be daily (short 250-300 word posts for daily, please, no-one has time to read that much from one blog!), weekly, fortnightly or even monthly (pushing it for effort). And if you haven’t got time to commit to that – just pay someone else!

7. Spread the word: Blogs don’t find readers, and readers don’t find blogs all by themselves. Promote every new post through your social media channels and e-newsletters. Remember to add these social media icons to your blog so that people can easily follow you, and add an RSS sign-up button so that subscribers will automatically see new content when posted (don’t worry, Julie Hall will show you how).

Those are my tips on getting started, but it’s all down to what you write – good luck!