I have been reading Shawn Callahan’s blog ever since he commented on one of my early posts, Sadder but Wiser, about the use of an anecdote to show you had really learned something. The Anecdote is a well-known blog, one seen as successful. Among blogs it has a Google page rank of five, something for the rest of us to aspire to. So, I thought it might be useful to see if he has turned up any business through it.
Shawn’s firm, Anecdote, consults on the use of business narrative and collaboration techniques “to redesign and improve the way people learn, share information, retain knowledge and build resolve to make changes in the workplace.” Asked what that means, he gave this example:
One of our clients is a leading financial institution and they have just completed an organizational culture inventory. These survey instruments can be a little dry and difficult to understand so we are helping them collect stories that illustrate the culture and then working with people in the company to design and implement initiatives that will shape their organizational culture.
The firm has served many large corporations and departments of the Australian government.
Shawn has been blogging since 2002, the Pleistocene by blog standards, and The Anecdote blog is his third, so he had two earlier ones to shake the ticks out of his approach. That accounts, in part, for its professional look and content. The Anecdote dates back to November 2004.
Callahan reports that he gets lots of leads traceable to the blog. Because I have not found many blogs that generate a significant number of leads for a professional firm, this becomes an important case. Here are the reasons that I think he has been more successful than so many others.
First, he had the insight to get in early and the persistence to keep at it. Yes, I mean that the blog’s high productivity probably results, in part, from its age, a factor of much importance in a network, as described by Albert-Lázlo Barabási in Linked: The New Science of Networks [Perseus Publishing 2002].
Second, it is also, in Barabási‘s terms fitter, because it has masses of content and lots of links. Type in “knowledge strategy,” “business narrative” or “storytelling training” into Google and you will find Anecdote on the first page.
More importantly type these terms in with a geographic location such as Melbourne, Canberra or Australia and it’s number one. That this may be a more significant differentiator in Australia than it would be in the US or Europe, because the nearest alternative, outside resources are likely to be a ten-hour plane ride away, does not diminish what Shawn and his colleagues have done. We all must adapt what we do to our local conditions for better or for worse. I mention it because each of us must determine what will make our blogs fit in our market places, meaning we cannot expect to succeed in exactly the way he did, using his approach as a recipe. Remember that Callahan had two blogs prior to this one. That experience undoubtedly helped him make this one fitter from the start. We, too, will have to do some experimenting.
The third reason his blog is so successful has to do not so much with the blog, itself, as it does how Shawn takes inquiries he receives on it and turns them into consulting assignments. Turning an inquiry from someone who has first heard about you on the web into new business costing the client a large sum is a big aspiration for a professional and a bigger increase in commitment than most people buying services are willing to make.
Callahan and his colleagues have addressed this problem by inserting a step between the client making a query on the basis of something read on the blog and asking him to sign for a full-blown consulting engagement.
In my book, Cross-Selling Success, I call this a portal service. In Anecdote’s case, it takes the form of courses that the representative of an organization can attend for a modest fee. During the course, the consultants get to show what they can do and what they would be like to work with. They also learn a lot about the client and its issues. After the client and the consultants take this small step together, both have learned a lot about each other and the client is more likely to sign up The Anecdote team to help them run their own business narrative projects.
It took between two and three years for the blog to evolve into an effective lead generator. It proved valuable in other ways earlier. Shawn praises the discipline it creates to get ideas down on paper and finds it a useful place to store and access ideas and information, a consultant’s stock in trade. Says Callaghan, “I often send links to specific blog posts to clients and prospects to keep in contact and show we care about them and their business.”
It’s not all fun. Like other bloggers, he feels the stress of perpetual demand for content (I can identify with Shawn’s concern: I feel that my blog sits at my feet all day, moaning, “Feed me. Feed me.”)
To address this problem, he has developed a set of posting categories: the quick link and short comment; the mini idea (a couple of paragraphs); the foundational idea (4-10 paragraphs). Assigning ideas he has for posting gives him a sense of how much time he must devote to producing the postings. Keeping his posts short, he can distribute ideas over more days When there is nothing substantial to say, he links to other people’s blogs which not only provides content for his readers, it also increases his social network.
In spite of the demands, Shawn is clearly hooked on blogging. He says, “I really love blogging because the more I think about how things connect, the more connections I make. The blog posts become conversation topics and you are rarely lost for something interesting to say while at the same time you become attentive and mindful for new ideas and perspectives.”
Here are some valuable takeaways from Shawn:
- A blog is a major commitment, in which a professional will have to invest up to two years before you start seeing a return in the form of new business. I hope that some of my readers can prove me wrong on this, but I doubt it.
- In addition to time, your blog’s success as a lead generator will depend on its fitness. What constitutes fitness will vary from market to market, but at the very least it means good content frequently posted—and probably the right links to other blogs and sites, as well.
- Rather than trying to convert a lead generated by the blog into a full-blown client, it is probably better to have a small sample of what you do that clients can try first. A blog, like any other marketing technique, can’t just be glued onto the side of your practice. To be successful, it must be integrated with other things you do.
- Blogs have many small uses as places to store information and to refer clients and prospective clients who are looking for a bit of information.
- Blogging is fun and can be addictive.
And, now that I’ve had my jag for the day, I can stop writing.
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