In July, I celebrated my 1,000th blog post at Planning Startups Stories. I started in 2006, but did only a dozen posts in the first year. I really started in April 2007, with a post called “Reflections on Family in Business,” a personal note about passing the torch to a second generation. I changed jobs then—my choice—from owner-entrepreneur-president to blogger president of Palo Alto Software.
My favorites posts are the ones in which I say something I believe in, and that I think matters; especially when it’s something I think will help other people.
Here are 10 blogging lessons I’ve learned over the years:
1. Imitation isn’t just flattery; it’s learning.
When I said I wasn’t a blogger, Sabrina Parsons, CEO of Palto Alto Software and a blogger herself, said, “You will be. Just start reading blogs.” So I did. And I imitate a lot of other bloggers I like to read. Good blog posts inspire me. I love a blog post that makes me think, and that makes me want to write one that will make others think.
2. Titles make a huge difference.
That’s not just true for blogging. It’s been true for a long time. People decide in seconds whether they want to read something. It’s yes or no at a glance.
My more successful titles tend to offer lists, like “5 Business Fundamentals I Learned the Hard Way, “10 Lessons Learned in 22 Years of Bootstrapping” and “5 Entrepreneurship Basics Business Schools Don’t Teach.”
One title I liked a lot from recent posts was taken from a bullet point in somebody else’s post: “Too Many Bullets and Not Enough Zen.” I like irony and paradox when I can manage it, like “In Praise of Not Knowing.” I like to surprise people and lure them into reading the post.
3. Keep it short and simple.
Short sentences, short posts. I like one-word sentences, and one-sentence paragraphs.
I like short posts, but I don’t always manage to keep them short. Shorter is actually harder. I frequently find myself taking a portion of a draft post and saving it for later as a separate post.
4. Break grammar rules. Carefully. Rarely.
Like right here. There’s no verb in either of the previous two sentences, so this post would have gotten me an F in Brother Salvatore’s 12th-grade English class.
But these are rare exceptions. Grammar and spelling are both really important. I consider them a matter of courtesy and respect for the reader. The English language works better when you follow the rules.
5. Pictures add meaning.
Shutterstock has supplied me with the bulk of the pictures I’ve used on my blog for the last year. It has more than 12 million images available for instant download. Shutterstock gives me a free account because of my blogging, but they also offer monthly and on-demand subscriptions.
6. Write often, and keep writing.
Find your pace. Honor consistency. Once a month doesn’t feel like a blog, but three good posts weekly is better than two good and three not so good. Break your routine occasionally for mental health.
It’s easy to post most of the time, but then there are those down times, when you’re dragging and uninspired, that are harder. For me, what helps is sticking to the general rule of five posts a week.
7. Love the comments.
Thank you. Not you spammers. But even you critics with annoying comments. Especially you critics with smart, well-written disagreements. I love the comments; they make my blog live.
I try to answer comments as often as possible, particularly when they ask a question or pose some issue that deserves response. I do moderate comments. Although I have accepted some comments that recommend products or websites, I won’t allow an empty plug that is just taking advantage of context to do some free selling. I don’t approve personal attacks or pointless anger.
8. Love Twitter.
Twitter has done wonders for my blogging, my daily workflow, and my growing satisfaction with social media. It’s an effervescent collection of people posting thoughts, recommendations, opinions and, most important, links to blog posts they liked. It’s an instant view of the world of blogging, what people like and don’t like. It’s a very powerful generator of ideas for new posts.
9. Tell the truth.
You can’t fake it for long. Keeping track of all your various personae is exhausting. Write as yourself, or maybe (just maybe) who you really want to be.
10. Tell; don’t sell.
Lots of us blog for business. As much as I sincerely love the books and software I’ve done, I don’t blog about them.
How do you feel when people tell you how great their kids are? Peter came close to a high-school track record and Muffy won the spelling bee. That’s a drag, right?
Turning a blog post into a sales pitch has the same problem. You don’t believe me when I talk about my software or books any more than you believe the neighbor when he talks about his kids.
In 1,019 blog posts, I’ve mentioned my Business Plan Pro software 38 times. The vast majority of those mentions were anecdotal, talking about some business lesson in which Business Plan Pro was part of the story. One of them shows data gathered from Business Plan Pro users about the impact of business planning on their goals. None of those mentions is just a sales pitch. They’re all relevant to the subject matter.
As for gallery owners, I think you have the same problem I do: much as you believe in what you’re selling, if you call a series of sales pitches a blog, nobody will read that blog.
Tim Berry is president and founder of Palo Alto Software, co-founder of Borland International, founder of Bplans.com, an author of books and software, a teacher of entrepreneurship, a blogger, and a father of five, married 40 years. You can read his blog here.
Now that you’ve heard from a veteran blogger, check out NICHE’s brand-new blog, by associate editor Claire Patterson Blome.