NEW LONDON -- A group of small-business owners looking to maximize their exposure and increase revenues were given hands-on experience on how to use blogging as another social media business tool during a free workshop last week in New London.
The three-hour tutorial gave business owner Nyla Fifield a chance to fine-tune the fledging blog she started in September. She uses the online journal, peppered with colorful photos, to showcase products she makes at her longarm quilting machine business in New London called Quilted4You.
She's already had 400 hits on her blog.
"From having nothing, I think that's pretty good," said Fifield.
Those 400 hits could represent potential customers that may not otherwise walk through the doors of Fifield's Main Street New London store.
Creating a business blog can be a low-budget tool for getting word out about a business, said Ryan Pesch, a University of Minnesota Extension educator who led the workshop. It was part of a series of free classes offered through the Kandiyohi County and City of Willmar Economic Development Commission and designed to help owners of small businesses get a better foot-hold in Internet marketing.
Some of the participants at last week's class had never looked at a blog on the Internet before, two had just launched their own business blog and one individual has degrees in multimedia and is in the process of starting a business that helps businesses use all forms of social networks, including blogging.
Pesch gave pointers on the basic mechanics of setting up a blog, which is often described as a type of Web site that's regularly updated, like a journal, that's made public on the Internet.
Although the step-by-step process of starting a blog seemed daunting to some, Pesch encouraged them to "get your hands dirty." He said blogs can be edited and worked on before they are made public to allow time for bloggers to find their voice. "Give it a try," he said.
Eric Anderson, who's starting a home-based mobile media business in Spicer called Lakes Area Design, said if small businesses want to have a fighting chance against big business, they need to use mobile marketing. He was attending the class to find out what local business people were doing with Internet marketing and how he could help them.
Written like a "reverse diary" that posts the most recent entries at the top, blogs can help businesses provide informative, interesting and useful information about their enterprise, their products and the people who make the business tick, said Pesch.
Pesch, who also produces and sells vegetables at his family's farm in Ottertail County, has a blog that includes cute pictures of his children surrounded by luscious produce as well as updates about the growing season and recipes for how to cook the vegetables he sells.
Earl Bach, who has a patent for a unique "beehive" leaf rake that he wants to manufacture and sell, was skeptical and got down to the nitty-gritty of the value of a blog.
"How does this help me advertise to the world and how does it put money in my pocket?" asked Bach, of Spicer.
Pesch explained that a blog can create credibility for a business and help them find new customers.
Content on a blog can "lead people to say, 'I want to do business with that guy.'" He said blogs can also drive customer traffic to business websites where online purchases can be made.
Tag words that are included in the blog post are vital, said Pesch, because they are the key words used during an Internet search that can bring customers to a business blog.
Blogging is another tool in the Internet arsenal, along with websites, Facebook and Twitter, that small businesses can use to compete with big businesses, he said.
There are advantages to each system, but using a mix of the mediums can help attract a wide variety customers or clients.
Unlike websites that can be expensive to create and maintain, free blog systems, using such sites as Wordpress (www.wordpress.com) or Google's Blogger (www.blogger.com), can be an affordable way for businesses tell their story to the public through regular updates, stories, photos and videos.
Ginny Lief, president of the Little Theater in New London, was at the workshop to see if a blog would be a good fit for the volunteer organization to use for promotional purposes.
"It looks like a lot of work. A lot of time," said Lief.
Maintaining a blog, which Pesch said should be updated a couple times a week to keep the content fresh and keep viewers coming back, can be a "time sucker."
Blog updates can be short -- but not so short that a viewer feels their time has been wasted, said Pesch, who said it takes him about 20 minutes to make a blog update.
But writing long updates, adding photos and taking and editing video for a blog can add on time that business owners don't have. Businesses have to ask "is this right for me," said Pesch.
Deb Krueger, who's started Red Door Treasurers with a friend in Svea, has been a regular user of Facebook for the new business and started a blog, but has posted only one time. Inspired by the advice she got at the workshop, Krueger is eager to revamp her blog and be more diligent about posting updates.
A blog, said Krueger, is a way to "add something else to our business."
Business Internet classes continue through January
The "Blogging for Business" workshop was part of a series of classes offered through a unique partnership involving the Kandiyohi County and City of Willmar Economic Development Commission, the University of Minnesota Extension and the Minnesota Intelligent Rural Communities program coordinated by the Blandin Foundation.
Classes, which continue through January, are free and open to new participants. Workshops are held alternately in Willmar and New London.
Future topics include Google tools for business, financial transactions online and mobile e-marketing.
Instructors are available for one-on-one training in the EDC office on the day of the workshops.
Funds for the classes are provided through a grant by the U.S. Department of Commerce.
For more information contact the EDC at 320-235-7370 or toll-free at 888-815-7370.