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Crank Up a Blog!/Users/adamp/Desktop/SolutionsGuide08/images/blog

Are you ready to gain exposure by writing an online journal (called a blog)? Answer these questions to find out.

You don’t have a blog? Do you start your car with a crank, too? That’s the message that blog enthusiasts are sending today. If you’re not blogging, you’re so last-century. But sales associates are seeing mixed results with blogs as marketing tools. Take V.K. “Mel” Melhado, a sales associate at Downing-Frye Realty Inc. in Naples, who blogs at www.previewnaples.com/blog. “I talked myself into creating a blog, and I’m not sure why I’m doing it. I [feel like] I’m talking to myself [sometimes],” he says.

Courtney Silverman, a sales associate at The Keyes Co./Realtors® in Weston, has been blogging at http://westonflrealestateblog.com for more than a year and feels differently. She says her blog helps generate traffic to her Web site, which has boosted its rankings in search engines like Google and Yahoo.

However, more than just directly increasing business, a blog can set you up as an expert in the industry and just as easily turn people off if you choose to use your blog to vent about problems. With the right tone and accurate information, you can build a blog that brings you goodwill and business.

To determine if blogging is right for you before you launch a blog, ask yourself these questions:

1. Do I have the skills?
“If it’s done correctly, a blog can be a successful marketing tool,” says Greg Herder, CEO of Hobbs/Herder Advertising in Newport Beach, Calif. “Usually, the No. 1 driver of a successful blog is a writer who can communicate a message clearly, concisely and passionately to engage people in an ongoing dialogue.” So be honest: Do have the skills for a great blog?

You don’t have to be a great writer to be a great blogger; you just have to be clear and fun, and let your personality shine through.

2. Do I have some interesting insights into the market?
You need to post entries to your blog at least three times a week to draw regular readers, says Mary McKnight, a blogging trainer at RSSpieces.com in Cape Coral, which helps sales associates set up and maintain blogs.

Sound easy? Melhado thought so. “I’ve been told I’m a great writer,” he says, “but it’s very stressful to come up with ideas. I find it very hard to find material people might be interested in, so my blog is very much non-real-estate-related stuff, and I post only about once a week.”

3. Who’ll write my blog?
“Most agents want [to write] their blog, at least to begin with,” says McKnight. Some sales associates supplement their blog with posts from their assistant or business partner, but if you simply don’t have time to post, companies offer blog-writing services for $16-$20 per post.

McKnight often recommends that sales associates mix their own posts with those of a blog-writing service. Herder, however, isn’t sold on the idea of paying people to write your blog. “Those services are fairly expensive,” he says, “and there are a lot better ways to spend your marketing dollars than having somebody write your blog.” Aside from that, you want your blog to reflect your personality and that comes from writing it yourself.

4. What should I write about?
“Become a journalist on your community,” says McKnight. Since the goal is to publish posts that draw traffic to your site, “create a little [responsible] controversy to emotionally engage your readers,” she says. Herder agrees. If you’re going to blog, take a stand. “An agent has to have a position that’ll connect with a segment of the market,” he says. “That’ll turn off some of the market, but that’s OK. You don’t fail if some people love you and some people hate you. You fail if people say you’re bland.”

5.How much time will it take?
It’s pretty easy to set up your own blog. Go to www.blogger.comor www.typepad.com for step-by-step directions.

But, if you just don’t have the tech know-how, you can consider hiring a company to set one up for you. If you do that, make sure the company includes free training on adding posts. After your blog is in place, expect to spend about 45 minutes writing and entering each post, says McKnight.

6.What does it cost?
If you hire a company to create your blog, you’ll find that prices vary depending on what services you choose, but expect to pay $350 to $500, in addition to $20 a month hosting charges.

Can the blog generate revenue to offset costs? Maybe. Blogging will get your higher on an organic search with Yahoo! and Google. You might also consider allowing search engines to place ads on your site. Each time someone clicks on one of those ads, you’ll get a few cents to a few dollars. And though many sales associates expect to get local businesses to place ads on their site, few are successful. “A lot of agents talk about doing that,” says McKnight, “but you have to justify why they should advertise on your site.” It’s also time consuming to sell the ads.

7.How do I know if my blog is increasing my business?
Connecting direct sales to your blog can be difficult. But, you’ll get an idea of how popular your blog is by the number of people who mention it to you in the course of the transaction.

If you hire a company to set up your blog, make sure it provides statistics on how many visitors come to your site and where they’re from, says McKnight. Even with that information, however, it may still be hard to tell if your site is generating business unless people actually tell you they found you through your blog.

“Think it through,” says Herder. “People have so many options for what to read, and a blog is competing with every newspaper and professional writer out there. [On the other hand,] [i]f your blog is compellingly interesting, people [will] get involved.”