6 Simple Ways to Brainstorm Blog Post Ideas + A Free Worksheet

Free Worksheet to Brainstorm Blog Post Ideas

Blogging can be a great tool for small business owners. It provides a way to connect with your audience, share your expertise, and even help convince people to work with you. It can also be a fun creative outlet or provide a needed break in your daily routine.

While the pros are easy to count, that doesn’t mean it is always easy to come up with new blog post ideas! Especially if you’ve been blogging for a while, you may feel like you’ve hit a wall with new post ideas. Luckily, there are several simple ways to generate some quality post ideas.

Why do you blog?

The first step for any blogger is to identify who you are trying to reach. Many bloggers get overwhelmed or feel unfocused when they aren’t sure who to write for. If you are a business owner, you might be writing to attract potential new clients. If you have a personal blog, you might be hoping to connect with fellow fashion lovers or food connoisseurs. When you identify this, it makes your focus that much clearer and the ideas easier to form.

What are some of your favorite blogs?

Think about the blogs you read, and make a list of ones you can’t wait to dive into when you see a new post. What about their posts attracts you? Perhaps they share knowledge, share personal stories, or use a unique voice to tell their story. When you identify what attracts you to your favorite posts, it will help you write your own!

What is a problem you recently had and then solved?

People love reading free tips and learning from their peers. A great way to connect with your readers and contribute to your community is to share something you learned. Not only might you help someone with the same problem, it helps you relate to others by showing you are human and don’t always have all the answers right away either.

What is a question you get asked all the time?

Do you find yourself receiving similar emails, tweets, or queries often wanting to know the same things? Make the answer a blog post! Not only will this help position you as an expert with the answers people are looking for, it will make your responses oh-so fast by simply directing people to your post for an answer.

 

What is something you wish people knew about your business, industry or passions?

Is there a misconception about the industry you are in? Share your perspective and experiences! Do you find yourself running into the same problems with clients or customers? Write a post sharing your advice on dealing with the issue. Instead of feeling frustrated, use the energy to share a positive post and help others who might be fighting the same battles.

What resources or tools that you’ve found could help someone out?

Making a list of helpful resources is a great post generator. You could include tools you use to run your business, people in other fields that could be resources for your clients, or even podcasts within your niche that you love. As with many of these points, being generous with your knowledge not only builds trust with your readers, it will bring them back time and again.

To make this even easier, you can use this free brainstorming worksheet to get your creative vibes flowing. There is also space for those moments when you have a post idea and need to jot it down somewhere before you forget! Try setting aside a small amount of time each week to knock out your ideas, and writing will become even easier.

Download the Free Brainstorming Blog Post Ideas Worksheet

While blogging can seem overwhelming, it is a great tool for connecting with others in your industry, with clients, or with your community. When you look at it as a way to share and have fun, it won’t seem like a daunting chore anymore! Need even more help getting started? Check out Ciera’s new e-book, Blogging With Intention.

 

Laura is a graphic designer who loves working with small, creative businesses to build thoughtful brands at her studio, Dotted Design. 

A 9 Step Guide To SEO

At the end of every year, I really try to evaluate my business, this blog and my website to see what improvements I can make. This year, SEO is something I want to improve so today I have a special guest post and infographic from Jeanette at Create The Bridge. Remember that each person will have to find the right balance for them, your focus should always be your readers and then SEO. Take it away Jeanette!

Any website or blog owner must understand that if you are doing SEO (search engine optimization) the right way, it is not instant and there’s actually no guarantee. But if you do it wrong, you may get quicker results, but your blog will look spammy while attempting to maneuver the search engine traffic.

To make an optimized blog, focus on the main category or theme of your blog. The topic you promote will, to a massive scale, dictate your ranking. There are high competitions when it comes to SEO for say “real estate” or “weight loss”. Focusing on your geographical location in addition (for example, “real estate in Fort Lauderdale, Florida”) can really help. This is only one part of creating an optimized blog for search engines, check out the infographic to see how you can do more.

9-Step Guide to Creating an Optimized Blog for Search Engines

Let’s wrap this up with a little overview shall we…

Your blog post should be long, containing at least 2,000 words. According to Serpiq, the longer the content, the higher you rank. Your title tag makes all the difference. If the right keywords are missing from the title tag, how will your targeted audience find you? Second to the title, the content in your blog is KING. You should write quality content and post often using long-tail keywords. Research shows that 40% of people will respond better to visual information than plain text. Simply put: it’s all about the images. Having a powerful social media strategy and having a presence on all major social media sites will also affect, positively, your search engine rankings. Pay attention to design. A well-structured site is a crucial element when it comes to building a SEO friendly website. The design of a website is important because it affects how quickly visitors can find what they are looking for. Last, but definitely not least, your blog must not contain misspelled words or grammar errors!

Why Small Businesses and Bloggers Need Private Cloud Storage

Why Small Businesses and Bloggers Need Private Cloud StorageCiera-Design-Studio-DeskCiera-Design-Studio-DetailsCiera-Design-Studio-Computer Ciera-Design-Studio-Workspace

Today I want to tell you about why you should set up your own private cloud for your home office or creative business, but first a story.

My business has been going through quit a bit lately. Some good, some bad. Let’s get the bad out-of-the-way. I have been having some serious computer issues. I limped it along for months but finally had to send it off for repairs. As y’all know, my computer is a major part of how I make a living and it’s really not possible for me to get much done without it. Luckily I was able to borrow a computer but it still hasn’t been easy. I had to save all my files to a drive making sure I didn’t forget any fonts, graphics, working files, estimates, etc. Not fun.

Another challenge is that I’ve always worked from a laptop. I like the versatility but it’s not ideal as my only computer. I have been contemplating getting a desktop but I wasn’t sure how I’d work on both without constantly sending files back and forth.

Now the good! Something else going on behind the scenes right now is that I’m bringing on some part-time help in the design studio, exciting but scary! I’m so used to working alone. Everything is organized in my head but having employees means that everyone needs to be on the same page. So I’m working on some new processes and implementing some new technology. We all need access to the same files, otherwise things will get very confusing.

I wasn’t really sure how to achieve all of this seamlessness that I was after. Then with absolutely perfect timing WD, a Western Digital Company saved the day by providing me with a My Cloud EX2 to use and review… serious dream come true. This is what I was looking for and I didn’t even know it. Personal cloud storage! Basically, it is a physical hard drive connected to your Internet that you can access from anywhere. Totally ideal for small office and home office businesses.

 

Why I Love Private Cloud Storage

  • one-time cost – unlike many public cloud options, the My Cloud EX2 just has a one-time cost, purchase the drive and you’re done. You can also add as many users as you need!
  • easy setup – plug it in and go through the simple setup and you’re up and running with an intuitive interface
  • security – allows you to set up permissions-based folders so you can give an employee or family member limited access to access or upload files
  • peace of mind – knowing your data is backed up and secure with cloud storage for small businesses makes it easier to focus on other things to make your business successful
  • wireless back ups – the drive gets plugged into a power source and your internet during setup but never directly to your computer so your backups happen without you even thinking about it
  • file sharing – easily generate email links for files or folders. When a client clicks on the link they are given a zip of the files you selected. This allows you to send files that are too large for emailing.
  • anytime, anywhere access – with mobile and desktop apps you are not limited to what you can fit on your phone – if you download the app you can view all files from your drive at home. You can connect multiple computers and devices for seamless integration.
  • automatic transfer via camera – you can connect your camera directly to the My Cloud EX2 and it copies files automatically
  • storage space – photos from my blog take up a lot of space and I NEVER delete client projects. Luckily the My Cloud EX2 provides several capacity options, up to 8TB, to choose from.
  • speed – files load much faster to the EX2 than they do to a remote cloud.
  • working remotely – I want to be able to travel and I want employees to work from anywhere.My Cloud EX2 is such a huge benefit when working in multiple offices, computers or on the road.
  • streaming – stream videos and photos to connected TVs, media players, gaming consoles

If you have a small business, you really need to get one of these systems! I can’t believe I’m only now setting one up!

Many thanks to WD for letting me try the private cloud with the EX2. Thank you for supporting this blog by allowing me to post occasional sponsored content. All sponsored posts feature products or services that I truly feel would be of interest to you and all opinions are my own. The two photos of me are by Hannah Hudson Photography.

Free and Affordable Stock Photo Sites That Don’t Suck

Free and Affordable Stock Photo Sites Great For Bloggers

I think by now we all know the importance of using great imagery, whether it be for blog posts, design projects, social media or anything else where you are trying to look professional as well as capture your audience’s attention.

While I’m a huge fan of completely custom imagery, we don’t always have the skill set, time or budget to do that. But that shouldn’t stop us from having great photographs. For me, those classic cheesy stock photos are not an option, I like stock photos that don’t really feel like stock photos! While I’ve been searching for the perfect, affordable image time and time again, I’ve also been bookmarking those image source sites, and today I’m sharing my favorites!

Free Options

Affordable Options

Any other ones that I missed out there? I’d love to hear about them!

Please check the licenses before using photos from any of these sites.

Growing Your Blog By Positioning Yourself As An Expert

Just two weeks ago me and these lovely ladies got up in front of the Alt Summit crowd and chatted about growing a small blog.
Alt SLC Summer Thursday Morning

If you came to our panel at Alt Summit, here is our slide show as promised! And if you were not there, or need a refresher, here is an overview on what I spoke about, growing a small blog by positioning yourself as an expert! You can download the worksheet we handed out, and then work while you read this post.

Growing A Small Blog

I’m sure y’all have all heard the advice to blog about what you know and love – it’s usually the first piece of advice you’ll get for blogging and I don’t think anyone will deny that as a great starting point. But I want to take it a little further by talking about positioning yourself as an expert. One of the main ways I’ve grown my blog is by sharing tips from my experiences in graphic design, social media and running my own small business.

I use the term “expert” loosely, because obviously I don’t know everything about these topics, but I am passionate about them and I do have a degree in graphic design and have been working in the industry for eight years. So I probably know more than the person opening Photoshop for the first time or who just signed up for Twitter last week.

So basically, you don’t have to wait for somebody to call you an expert in order to give expert advice.

Give Expert Advice

I’m always getting questions through email, on social media, and even from friends and family, whenever there is something design related they know they can come to me. And I’m sure the same happens to y’all from time to time. Maybe people are always asking you about how you put your outfit together or asking for your recipe when you cook for them. That’s people showing that they value what you know and trust your opinions.

So if you find that people are consistently asking you a about the same topics, it’s likely they would become a reader of your blog if that’s what you focused on. As your name starts to get associated with a specific field, then your network will start to grow.

Ok, let’s move onto a strategy for coming up with content:
First you have to figure out the types of problems that your readers are having in your field. So, using the worksheet in the download, jot down a few things that you enjoy doing and that people always ask you about. What do you know that can benefit other people?

What Do You Know That Can Benefit Others

So for example, I’d be writing down that people ask me about the fonts I use and other design related questions and how I made the switch from working at an agency to full-time freelance. Remember – no problem is too big or small to write down.

Then, once you know the challenges your readers are having, you can come up with a plan to turn those problems around into solutions.

Growing Your Blog Content Strategy

Here is an example of how I determined my readers problems and then solved them by writing an additional post that I didn’t originally intend to:

When the Facebook layout was updated two years ago to the timeline it was a pretty major change. It was much more design oriented with the large cover photo and app tabs. If you remember, they even allowed users to preview their changes before they had to commit for good so that everyone could ease into the new design. I decided to jump right and update the few different pages that I manage. As I was designing the cover images and doing the updates, I anticipated that my readers may want to hear some ideas on how to keep their pages consistent with their blog or business branding, so I wrote a blog post Design Tips for your Facebook page.

I ended up getting tons of questions beyond the design aspect of people wanting to know how to actually install the apps I was using. So every time I got a question, I was stopping in my tracks and individually responding to them all with detailed instructions in an email.

As much as I’d love to be able to answer every question one-on-one like this I realized it just wasn’t realistic or a productive way to work. So I decided to write another post with step-by-step instructions for installing the apps which has ended up being one of my most popular posts. Turning reader questions into blog posts is now one of the ways I build my editorial calendar.

If you find people still have questions after you write about it, you can take it further and create a blog post series or even teach a course or write an e-book focused on digging deeper into certain topics. That’s actually something I recently did, I wrote a guide on planning a local event series because I needed to go more in-depth than a blog post would allow. And this helps even more to position yourself in your field.

Now I know some people are new to their field, so if you are just getting started, you can write about things that you are interested in learning more about, classes you are taking or things you are teaching yourself along the way. You can have this learning experience with your readers.

Have A Learning Experience With Your Readers

But you never want to risk losing credibility. So if you’re not quite certain of something, just let it be know that you are experimenting and figuring it out as you go, because you don’t ever want to put incorrect information out there – you don’t ever want to lose your readers trust.

Do Not Lose Your Readers Trust

Now I’m going to give you guys a few formats and examples that I find work well for showcasing your expertise:

– how-to posts or videos
• Merricks Art
• Pugly Pixel

– provide valuable resources
• I’ve shared resources like My Favorite WordPress Plugins
• I love to share my favorite fonts

– curated posts
 theme thursday from Oh, What Love
• round ups like products used to create on-the-go on The Fresh Exchange

– featuring others
this is a great way to show support and recognize others doing a good job in your field

– lists
these are really easy for your readers to share, especially on Twitter
• ByRegina
• Elembee

When you’re able to solve a problem for someone, they feel like you’ve given them insider tips & tricks and in turn form a stronger bond which makes them more likely to come back for more because people appreciate free advice.

People Appreciate Free Advice

But don’t feel the need to do it all or try to imitate somebody else. Don’t post what you think people want to hear if it’s not something you truly enjoy writing about.

I don’t really know anything about fashion but do share style posts from time-to-time, because it’s fun for me, but that is not how I have grown trust from readers and my readership over the past four years. It’s been by positioning myself as an expert. It’s not easy and it won’t be an overnight success but as Stan Smith Says, people need experts.

People need experts. They have value because they have done the research, legwork, and training that we can’t do on our own.  Not only that, we rely on experts to see further down the road than we can.  We cherish their insight and lean on their wisdom.  Having an expert means that you can shortcut the process and achieve your goals quicker.” – Stan Smith

So now, looking back at what you wrote earlier, write down a few topics that you could write about that will help to position yourself as an expert.

Because before you look to other blogs for things like guest posts, advertising or giveaways you need to get your own blog in a good place. Consider what you do really well and what you love and start sharing that compelling, informative and unique content.

Share Unique Content

Download the full slide show here and then head over to Mariah, PJ, Melissa and Tan’s blogs to read all about their parts of the panel!

PJ Feinstein – Growing a small Blog through Self Promotion and Networking

Mariah Danielsen – Growing a small Blog through Guest Posting on Other Blogs

Melissa Bahen – Growing a Small Blog through Collaboration

Tan Rutley – Growing a Small Blog through Social Media Collaborations and Giveaways

Do you have questions or tips of your own? I’ll answer them in the comments!

first photo was taken by Justin Hackworth for Alt Summit • slides by me

Tips & Tricks for Your Email Newsletter

Tips and Tricks for Your Email Newsletter

An email newsletter is a tricky thing when you own a small business. While having an email list and sending out emails on a regular basis keeps you top of mind to your subscribers, knowing what you should send out and how frequently is a question that many small business owners struggle with. In a previous post we discussed why the email list is so important and a few different ways you can get emails from your customers and readers. Today we’re going to discuss some tips and guidelines for sending emails out to the list of emails you’ve gathered.

Getting Started and Setting Up

There are lots of great email newsletter platforms out there – some you can pay for and some are free. While you can pay for a service like Aweber or Constant Contact, I’m particularly fond of MailChimp’s free options. They make it easy to set up a newsletter and have great template options.

Once you sign up for a free account, you’ll need to import your email addresses or type them into your account. When you have them set up in a list, you’ll want to choose a template or design your own within the site. To make your newsletter cohesive and consistent, try to use the same template for each email and have it match your current website and branding design. Now that you’ve got your emails imported and your template designed, you just need to add in some content!

Deciding What Content to Email to Subscribers

No matter what line of business you’re in, you’ll want to send out content you think is most important or helpful to your list. If you have got a giveaway coming up or have a post that’s getting lots of comments, these would be wonderful things to include in your email newsletter to get more entries or visits to your website.

If you sell products, you could share some best sellers or featured items in your email, or if you’re a web designer think about sharing some of your recent work or progress on a current job. Updates give your readers a chance to see what you’ve been up to if they haven’t visited your blog or website in a while.

Some other things to include are:

  • Recent guest posts on other blogs
  • Links to a few of your favorite new posts on your blog
  • Your social media links
  • A question for your subscribers to answer or an invitation for them to comment on a Facebook or blog post.

Whatever content you choose to send out, use your own unique voice, and write it like you’re emailing an old friend. Your subscribers will feel like you’re emailing a little note written just for them!

The Dreaded Question: How Often Do I Email Out My Newsletter?

Frequency of emails can be tricky because you don’t want to send out so often that you’re getting a bunch of unsubscribes, but you want to email out enough to stay top of mind and in their inbox.

Personally, I cringe when my phone or inbox alerts me when I have an email waiting for me. Because of this, I try to send out newsletters sparingly – once every few weeks or once a month.  But frequency will depend on the type of business you’re in as well. If you’re a social media marketer, it might be a nice service to your subscribers to send them a short, actionable social media tip each week. Or if you own a retail store you could blast out your weekly sales or a product of the week.

Send your newsletter out as often as you feel comfortable. Try out different schedules and then choose one you feel that isn’t too intrusive to your subscriber’s inbox but still keeps you in their mind. Go with what feels right to you!

Email newsletters are wonderful way to get your work in front of potential customers. Consistency and respect for their inbox is key, but once you get a schedule figured out, they’ll be excited to see your email in their inbox.

Do you send out an email newsletter? What tricks have you found helpful? Share in the comments!

Mariah is a Graphic Designer/Wedding Stylist who has a passion for helping creative entrepreneurs turn their passion into profit. She writes for the Advice column.