Remember when businesses were secretive?
When getting advice from successful companies meant buying the book, attending the seminar, or collecting the twelve tape VHS series?
When the glistening treasures of competitive advantage were tightly locked in an impenetrable golden chest available only to the gatekeeper with the magical key?
Okay so perhaps I’m slightly exaggerating - the chest was more of a bronze colour.
But when I decided to write about my three favourite business blogs I quickly noticed all three had overriding themes of openness and transparency, the authors personable with a willingness to share their story and advice, to impart knowledge of their successes as well as their failures.
This wasn’t intentional. I wasn’t looking for a theme and could have chosen from any of the fifty odd blogs I follow but these three just seemed to pick themselves.
So without further ado or pause for applause and in no particular order my top three business blogs are:
1.The Buffer Blog
Buffer is a media scheduling app that helps users to easily share content online. It’s great for those responsible for their company’s social media management and especially handy for businesses needing to share content around the clock – even when they’re asleep or on vacation! I use the free version to share tweets automagically; it was a breeze to learn and as well as the core scheduling tools provides helpful analytics and link shortening options.
They also have a magnificent blog.
The Buffer Blog refers to itself as, “A blog about productivity, life hacks, writing, user experience, customer happiness and business,” and is primarily penned by Belle Beth Cooper with occasional posts by others including product updates by Buffer Co-founder and part time Twitter superstar Leo Widrich. The scope of topics seems rather ambitious for a company blog but Belle especially does a superb job of posting regularly and varying the topics from post to post. During the last seven days alone she’s published four articles:
- How Stress Can Change the Size of Our Brain and What We Can Do to Lower it
- The 13 Biggest Failures from Successful Entrepreneurs and What They’ve Learned from them
- Why I changed my name and what it taught me about who I am
- From Ideas to Traffic results: How we run a blog with 700,000 readers per month
The last post really exemplifies this theme of transparency and offers an invaluable insight into the creative process of a blog of this scale, not just showing how they do things but why. Belle shares some tips on using multiple headlines as well as some creative use of Trello for blog ideas and scheduling. The article goes on to introduce Rand Fishkin’s ideas that content marketing exists not to directly convert customers, generate leads or make sales but to build familiarity, likability and trust by creating content showing a combination of the exceptional, inspirational, unique, credible, fun and being beneficial to share.
Belle’s previous article explaining why she changed her name from Corina Mackay eight months ago was quite a personal story, and I got a good laugh from this sentence,
“the way we pronounced it was ‘mack-ay’, even though it’s spelled more like ‘mack-eye.’ So quite often it would be pronounced wrong by others, or it would be spelled McKay, or MacKay. The fact that Australia actually has a city called Mackay that’s pronounced ‘mack-eye’ didn’t help”.
Initially I thought this article seemed a little out of place for a company blog, yet it must have worked because I read it and enjoyed it and here I am writing about it. As well as ticking off the unique, credible and being beneficial to share boxes it adheres to Fishkin’s idea that one should not be “…sidetracked by an obsession with relevance”.
The Buffer blog really drives home the idea that a company blog needn’t be entirely about the company and how widening the scope of your content can make it appeal to a much larger audience.
700,000 people a month can’t be wrong!
2.The Dan Norris
Dan Norris is an Australian entrepreneur, founder of startups Informly and WP Curve. Earlier this year he won Smarter Business Ideas Magazine’s Small Business Blogger of the Year award and it’s not hard to see why. Dan’s blog The Dan Norris is extremely honest – outlining in detail his business journey for better or worse. He’s not afraid to tell it like it is, or at least how he has experienced it.
This is perhaps best illustrated in Dan’s article Is startup validation bullshit?
In this article Dan discusses his unsuccessful initial attempt at launching inform.ly and most certainly doesn’t do so through rose tinted glasses. The gist of the article was essentially don’t believe the hype, that despite the face he had:
- 1000 beta users
- 1200 signed up to be notified of launch
- A well known start up personality agreeing he was onto a winner
- Multiple positive unsolicited testimonials from beta users
- Coverage in at least six prominent tech media outlets
When he launched a paid service he ended up with only fifteen paid customers!
Intrigued, I asked Dan how this honest approach evolved and whether this openness was something he’d made a conscious effort to do.
“Not really, I’ve always been that way. I love the thought that other people will benefit from what I’m going through so I share most things on the site. I’m open about good things that are going on as well it just happens that last year there was a lot of failure so it’s been a bit negative. But I’ve hit on something with my new business WP Curve, so the overall vibe will be more positive from now on. Either way if it helps other people in a small way then I’m happy.”
I was also curious to find out if he considered this honesty risky and whether he could drive away potential customers or followers. I was heartened by his response and it is very representative of this article as a whole,
“I’m confident that being honest will bring me more business in the long run than being dishonest or careful. So I don’t worry about it too much. I’ve been in business a long time, getting noticed is half the battle and people really appreciate honesty. I’m not about to scale everything back just to make a few old nannies happy.”
Honest, confident and just a touch of tongue-in-cheek. I agree with Dan and wish him the best in his future endeavours.
Regardless of how they go I’m sure to hear about them!
3. The Middle Finger Project
Have you ever had one of those friends that you don’t know how you met? They just kind of popped up one day and now you can’t imagine them not being there?
Well I have no idea how I found The Middle Finger Project but last week it dawned on me that I was somewhere special while reading an article about adding personality to writing. The title, 3 (Top Secret Ultra James Bond Ways) to Add More Personality to Your Writing set off a few alarm bells in my head but it was the first paragraph that sealed it – an anecdote about someone carrying their mother’s ashes in a crowded elevator.
After reading the elevator article I clicked the link to the about page to try and figure out exactly where the hell I was and what this business actually did. Easier said than done. After reading through something approaching a disclaimer and scrolling through the obligatory meet the team section I finally came to the about - or so I thought. I was then presented with three options The Short + Sarcastic Version, The Extended Version and A Longer, More Poetic Version. I opted to read all three, didn’t know whether to laugh or cry, took a few moments to compose myself and promptly added the blog to my Feedly account.
Put quite simply The Middle Finger Project (TMFP) is different. I don’t mean that in a euphemistic, kid down the street with the lisp and the funny clothes who never quite fit in kind of way. I mean different and game-changingly original.
TMFP is the brainchild of Ash Ambirge, an American woman with a background in marketing, sales, copywriting and PR. The business offers numerous services including but not limited to web copywriting, ghostwriting, legal services packages, design and copywriting courses and webinars.
Much like the previous two blogs I’ve mentioned TMFP thrives on honesty and openness, detailing business experiences, ups and downs and offering helpful advice; but in its own wonderful way. Rather than try and explain here’s a few excerpts of words of wisdom straight from the blog.
On prospective customers making a choice:
“Imagine you’ve never drank a glass of wine in your life (the horror), but here you are at a fancy Italian restaurant, tasked with selecting a wine for the table. The waiter brings you a wine list the size of the Bible. How on earth do you know which one to pick? … Since you have no real reference point, you end up selecting based on the only thing you do understand: PRICE. Because what else are you going to go by? So you go for one that isn’t the most expensive, but isn’t the cheapest, either. You go for one in the middle and hope for the best. DON’T LIE TO ME I KNOW THAT’S EXACTLY WHAT YOU WOULD DO. Now–take that analogy and realize that when prospective customers are sussing YOU out, it’s the equivalent of staring at that wine list, feeling totally overwhelmed and with no idea how to choose.”
On people complaining there are no opportunities without experience:
“I hear a lot of that type of chitter chatter on the streets these days. And frankly, I’m tempted to buy a cane just so I can swat people with it.”
“I don’t want to hear about how great you are. Or how much money you’ve made. How “well-connected” you are. Or from what continent you’re snapping a picture of yourself on some beach. I want to know what’s going on BEHIND the smiles.”
After spending some time in the blog and delving through the hilarious stories, clever analogies and liberal use of ‘colourful’ language it’s clear that Ash and her team aren’t bound by traditional expectations of business communication.
And that’s true of all the blogs I’ve chosen.
Where historically business communication was rigid and usually limited to public relations, press releases or advertisements – transparency has become commonplace …. and it’s enthralling!
Congratulations to Buffer Blog, The Dan Norris and The Middle Finger Project. I look forward to your future posts and I encourage readers to check them out too.
Do you agree that honesty is the best policy? Can relevance be a curse not a blessing? What awesome blogs have I missed? Let me know below in the comments.