What you’ve always wanted to know about blogging and never dared ask…

What you've always wanted to know about blogging and never dared ask...

Some blogging “gurus” circle you like turkey vultures…

Have you noticed the hordes of “gurus” swirling on the internet trying to persuade you (or in one or two cases, bully, patronize and embarrass you) into believing that blogging is an atom-splitting science?

Then, they circle you like turkey vultures, scaring you into believing that you can’t possibly manage on your own. Because they come across as so knowledgeable and expert, you feel intimidated about asking some basic questions … and you will very rarely get the basic answers you want.

(For a list of the top 10 most helpful articles on blogging for business as chosen by our readers, click here)

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The People’s Republic of Blog: welcome to the new blogging nation

Given that blogs have become more than a passing fancy with close on 200 million of them floating in cyberspace, I thought it was time we organize these extraordinary entities together into The People’s Republic of Blog. Here are my suggestions for the first ten Bloggonian provinces, and yours are more than welcome, too – please add them in the comments below.

Know-it-allian Bloggers think that because they know a fair amount about their topic they can intimidate readers and potential clients into buying their services by writing condescending and patronizing posts, usually giving the excuse of “keeping it simple.” These people speak to their readers in whiny, high-pitched voices as if the latter are naughty children who need to be told what to do and what unpleasant consequences might ensue if they don’t do it. Not surprisingly Know-it-allian Bloggers often piss their readers off and lose useful traffic as a result, as well as losing clients who are bored with being spoken down to.

In Rantersland, every Blog is banging the drum about something the Blogger concerned feels very, very strongly about, nearly always in a negative way. Often the cause of the blog is an ongoing issue and blogging in this way is a very handy way of stalking the alleged perpetrators and reporting on their every dastardly move. Prominent Ranters can get quite a lot of attention from the media and no doubt from libel lawyers scouting for potential business in case the Ranter concerned writes a whoopsie. Lesser Ranter Bloggers tend to burn themselves out after a few months and go back to pulling the wings off blue-bottle flies.

This province is the domain of niche-huggers who just know there are readers out there who are fascinated by the digestive systems of grass snakes and want to know every last tiny detail about the snakes’ diets, gastric juices, ileal and colorectal functions and of course, whether they fart in the key of C or the key of F sharp minor. Nichyan Bloggers do not do generalities, which is refreshing. They love specifics, technical intricacies, and amazing facts no-one has ever published before because they were of no interest whatsoever. Nichyan Bloggers tend to live to a good old age, alone in remote locations with several rescued cats.

This is the largest province in The People’s Republic of Blog and comprises many blogs which actually provide something that’s useful, from relatively specific topics to the more general. Unfortunately Usefullian Bloggers are obliged to compete with so-called useful blogs in other republics, which without going into brain-deadening detail means there are quite a few similar citizens out there in the mainstream blogosphere. However Usefullians are confident that this province only has useful blogs that are really useful, not merely pretending to be. Usefullian Bloggers are usually confident and wear expensive running shoes.

The People's Republic of Blog: welcome to the new blogging nation

The Funnyfarms Province

Funnyfarmers love baggy clothes, geeky horn-rimmed eyeglasses and are prone to exploding into laughter about their given subject, often forgetting that there are people suffering from or otherwise enduring whatever it is the Funnyfarmer is taking the piss out of and who don’t therefore find the jokes amusing. Many Funnyfarmers think they can get away with insulting anything from religion to ethnic minorities and people with disabilities as long as there is a laugh for someone, somewhere, in it. Fortunately the more intelligent Funnyfarmerian Bloggers do manage to make people laugh without offending anyone other than people and institutions who richly deserve it.

The Magaziner province is one of interesting geographical contrasts. On the wooded hilltops there are Magaziner blogs that have metamorphosed successfully from the early primaeval cultures based on glossy paper. However grovelling in the depths of muddy river banks are Magaziner blogs which try desperately to get away with being online magazines using ill-disguised advertising puffery as editorial. This is coupled with articles thrown together by semi-literate, over-caffeinated Magazinerian Bloggers who generate clichés and editorial bullshit between sipping lattés and lying about their sex lives.

Newspaperians are an embarrassment in The People’s Republic of Blog due to their undemocratic class system. Their upper class is based on the ancient traditions of the broadsheet species and while supposedly delivering “news” consists largely of right-wing diatribe. The Newspaperian middle class blogs channel the tut-tut spinster style of news reporting in which hair is referred to as “locks” or “tresses,” to drink is to “quaff,” and people spewing vomit over each other are “sharing a joke.” Finally the Newspaperian lower class blogs avoid the news altogether and simply pay impoverished arts graduates with big tits to feature on the home page.

These are the darlings of The People’s Republic of Blog because as long as everyone else leaves them alone to get off on their algorithms and formulae, they are happy as pigs in poop and are utterly harmless. The Games Techielanders lock themselves in their homes for days on end in gloomy rooms peering at glittering screens showing monsters, gargoyles, Druids, vampires, zombies and most other characters commonly seen in party political broadcasts. Techieland streets are always quiet apart from the traffic caused by a roaring trade in home pizza delivery services.

Keywordians are the show-offs of The People’s Republic of Blog and go to some ridiculous lengths to get themselves noticed in the front rows of search engine rankings – especially that of the Great Google God. Because they do this verbally their blogs are packed with keywords in a way that makes a nonsense of keywords because the keywords concerned are used at every imaginable keywords opportunity and then a few, because keywords are so important to work into anywhere keywords are mentioned and even where keywords aren’t required. Keywordians are often found strangled, in dark alleyways.

The People's Republic of Blog: welcome to the new blogging nation

The Advertizia Province

Located in a remote part of The People’s Republic of Blog, Advertizia is a barren, shrinking community made up of former content mills, article spinners and keyword blitzers too poor, even, to live in Keywordia (see above). Their land having been badly damaged by two major Google storms in recent years, Advertizians now struggle to make ends meet by paying poor unemployed graduates from the Indian subcontinent USD $3.00 to write 28 “different” articles about paper clips each embedded with lots of lovely linkies to an office supplies manufacturer in China. Advertizia is fast becoming a no-go area and other Bloggers are advised not to travel there, especially after dark.

blogging,writing,blog writing,business,newsletter,HowToWriteBetter.net,How To Write Better,Suzan St MaurNow, what further provinces do you feel are needed in The People’s Republic of Blog?

Now, let’s get your blogging into the stratosphere :

“How To Write About Yourself”…how to make the most of yourself, whatever you need to write

“Business Writing Made Easy…everything you need to know about writing for business in English

“Banana Skin Words and how not to slip on them”…over 1,500 spelling and grammar tips to perfect your written English

photo credit: papalars via photopin cc
photo credit: Swami Stream via photopin cc
photo credit: brentbat via photopin cc

How to write as people speak

Now that the mass media with its “newspeak” vocabulary has been part of our lives for several generations we really can’t afford to be pompous about traditional English any more. Even the stuffiest of academics has had to admit that stiffly formal writing is not clever, it’s boring. They may look down their noses at the language of popular tabloid newspapers, FMCG advertising and the Internet, but that’s the language nearly everyone speaks today. [Read more…]

How to get good ideas for your business blog: be a resource squirrel

Being a bit of a squirrel and gathering research fodder to take back into your nest is a very useful way to breed and develop ideas for blog posts that will work really well. Here as just a few ideas to help you squirrel away some useful information…


Google Alerts are very useful tools that can help you keep up with your topic all over the world. You simply set up however many words or phrases relevant to your topic that you want, and Google will email you whenever they are mentioned on the internet. It’s a free service, too. Obviously you need to be fairly precise in what words or phrases you search for, if you don’t want to receive a lot of irrelevant stuff along with the good bits.

Another helpful tool is Google Keywords. This is intended to help advertisers find out which key words and phrases, relevant to their product or service, are being searched for on Google, and in which volumes. It can be useful when checking out an idea, as well, because the results will give you an indication of overall interest in that idea or topic.

Of course, the whole of Google and other search engines are available to you and it’s well worth monitoring your topic or idea on a weekly or monthly basis while you’re developing it.


Cutting articles out of newspapers and magazines may seem like a rather charmingly old fashioned thing to do these days. But it’s amazing how many people still find it a valuable thing to do whenever they read something that either triggers an idea, or adds substance to an idea they are already playing around with. And in any case, “cuttings” today can mean literal cuttings from paper papers, or simply cutting and pasting articles from the newspapers’ online personae.

In fact it’s probably worth packing a small pair of scissors in your briefcase or bag when you’re out and about, to make the process easier than tearing! (Avoid taking them in your hand luggage when you’re flying, though, or the security people may think you want to stab the pilot…) You never know when you’ll see an article that you want to keep hold of – it’s just as likely to be while reading the paper on a train, or a magazine in the dentist’s waiting room, as it is when you have deliberately set out to research something.

Needless to say you can get reasonable results from searching online versions of national and local newspapers, magazines, etc., then creating a “cuttings file” on your computer. However bear in mind that the contents of online and offline versions of publications are not always the same, and online versions often tend to be shorter and less detailed.

Cherish your ideas

Finally, never discard an idea which you like, even if – on researching it – you find there isn’t a market for it. There may not be a market for it at the time, but this can and often does change.

As I write this, I have three other book concepts in negotiations with publishers. One is 15 years old, the second is 9 years old, and the third is 4 years old. The first two are novels and neither tickled any publishers’ fancies when I first came up with them, but now I have a publisher wanting to do both. Their concepts – the ideas behind them – have become fashionable.  And this can be true of anything from a work of fiction to a new type of can opener.

As far as your blog is concerned, keep your ideas in an actual or virtual folder, in a nice safe place, and keep looking back through it. Not only can an old, undeveloped idea suddenly become flavour of the month, but also old ideas can often trigger new ones.

Now, let’s get you writing that business blog – beautifully:

“How To Write About Yourself”…how to make the most of yourself, whatever you need to write

“Business Writing Made Easy”…everything you need to know about writing for business in English

“Banana Skin Words and how not to slip on them”…over 1,500 spelling and grammar tips to perfect your written English

How to get good ideas for your business blog: lessons from industry

Many people imagine that good ideas for a business blog post appear by magic, like those cartoon lightbulbs that switch themselves on over a character’s head with a caption that reads “Eureka!” The bad news is, they don’t; the good news is, there are ways of generating enough electricity to light up that bulb yourself!

Okay, inspiration can happen spontaneously. But what most people don’t realise is that there are thought processes and mind-triggers you can use to feed and nurture your imagination … ways to ensure you spot opportunities and make sure that inspiration happens. In the case of many, many businesses and non-business activities, creative inspiration comes about through method – not madness.

Nowhere does this apply more vigorously than in my own background as an advertising copywriter. In that business, you need to have good ideas on demand. Multi-million spend advertising clients do not expect to wait around until light bulbs switch on over the “creatives'” heads. Ideas, and damned good ones, are required on schedule. It’s “I want a new campaign by Monday morning – or else.” Happily you’re unlikely to find yourself under this kind of pressure, which in some ways is a shame … it’s surprising how well that pressure can work!

Opportunity spotting

A key trigger for creative inspiration is opportunity spotting – to see where there are gaps in your readers’ knowledge about your topic, your niche, etc. and fill them with inspired new thinking. Let’s look at some examples in the business world…

Think Dyson vacuum cleaners: paper bags were fiddly, dirty to handle and tended to break. Solution? Bagless vacuum cleaner.

Think no-frills airlines: all this paraphernalia of fancy meals, drinks, snacks and lavish pampering by a large group of grinning cabin crew was a hangover not only from 1950s and 1960s commercial air travel, but also from ocean liner travel even before that. It made modern air travel too expensive. Solution? Get rid of all but the essentials and make airfares more affordable.

Think sushi bars: people – especially in the USA – grew to love Japanese food, and hey presto, it just so happened that it could be made quickly and theatrically. Solution? Combine the concept of that entertainment element with the popular fast-food culture.

– and so-on. The people behind these good ideas followed processes to gain inspiration and use it profitably – from entrepreneurs to engineers, from scientists to artists, from writers to inventors.

There is the potential for expensive mistakes here, though:

Avoid solutions that are looking for problems

The sadly pot-holed roads of many developing countries could be repaired and paved successfully with solutions to problems that don’t add up to a row of beans in real life. In your blog you want to grab readers’ attention by addressing an issue or problem they know they have – not have to persuade they have a problem in the first place.

For an example of how that works we should look at the IT industry in the 1970s and 1980s. This was in the era when techies swanned about in white coats working in air-conditioned buildings closed to anyone without a PhD in wizardry. They were paid to come up with great ideas for magic boxes which would then be sent over to the sales and marketing wallahs with a message saying, “here’s an M-9-24 Version X. It does this, this, and this. Now go and sell it.”

In those days when most of us were in awe of technology, the method worked; businesses and other organisations didn’t have very much at all in terms of information technology to make things run more efficiently so in a sense, anything was better than nothing. However once IT had become more common, customers became increasingly picky until one day the MD or CEO of some relatively important organisation turned around to their IT suppliers and said this:

“I don’t care how the box works or how many gadgets it has; what will it do to improve my bottom line? And I want the damned thing to speak English, not computer gibberish, so you had better translate all that cr*p that appears on the screens. I want to understand what it’s achieving for us, and pronto.”

Shock, horror!  For the first time in history, the IT industry was obliged to become “customer-focused.” No longer could the IT giants of the era come up with magic boxes that achieved what their engineers thought was a cool performance and then expect their customers to find something useful to do with them. No longer would customers buy solutions that were looking for problems.  And those of you who are old enough to remember the way the IT industry went through a throat-grabbing culture change in and around the 1980s will know what – and who – I’m talking about.

Reality checks – worth their weight in gold

I think it’s a cruel truth to say that no matter how good you think your idea is, you need to conduct some sort of reality check before developing it beyond a single thought. Some people worry that if they discuss their ideas openly someone else might steal it and do it themselves. Sadly this is true; it happens. That’s a hard fact of life and we have to get over it. But 99 percent of the time your ideas will not get pinched and even if they do, whoever pinches them won’t have your unique expertise and slant on the subject.

A reality check conducted with people whose views you trust and respect is only a very small risk, and it’s well worth taking. It doesn’t have to be a major research exercise, either; all it might take is a question to your closest Google Plus circle or Facebook group, to find out if they think you blog idea will be of interest. Good luck!

Now, let’s get you writing that business blog – beautifully:

“How To Write About Yourself”…how to make the most of yourself, whatever you need to write

“Business Writing Made Easy”…everything you need to know about writing for business in English

“Banana Skin Words and how not to slip on them”…over 1,500 spelling and grammar tips to perfect your written English

How to get good ideas for your business blog: brains and noses

Business blogging can be a very lonely exercise when you’re trying to come up with fresh content on a daily or almost daily business and brainstorming is one way to speed up the flow of ideas.

The brainstorming technique has been around as a quick-fix way to generate ideas for a long time now, and even has been teleported into the hi-tech age with such methodology as Tony Buzan’s “Mind Mapping.”

Both hand-written and electronically generated spider charts plus various other systems have been developed which formalize what many people had been doing for decades anyway, which basically involved doodling on a piece of paper.

Verbal brainstorming is popular, too, especially in its form of “think tanks” and “retreats” often used by corporations and other organizations to whip their people up into a frenzy of new ideas that ultimately will benefit the organization, and – we assume – the recipients of its services. Whatever method suits you, beware of brainstorming for new ideas when the ground rules have not been set properly, though.

Brainstorming thunderstorm

I remember being asked to attend a brainstorming session for a very large chain of estate agencies (real estate brokers) some years ago. They had developed various new, hi-tech methods which bypassed many of the traditional ways of buying and selling homes and as such wanted to promote their uniqueness in a video. I was brought in by the production company to attend as the writer/producer and help them develop their thoughts.

After a very early start and a long drive I arrived at their offices in one of England’s loveliest northern cities, to find the group of company staff looking slightly haggard and worn after two hours’ debate over the bacon rolls and coffee. I was presented with a long list of reasons why their service was better than everyone else’s. Not wishing to wee-wee on their bonfire but also not wishing to spend the following two days there, I said, “OK, that’s great. But what is it we’re really doing here, with all these features that make the process easier?”

Blank looks all around.

“Isn’t it that we’re taking the stress out of buying and selling your home?”

More blank looks. Followed by smiles. And what had I done? Merely turned around that hairy old chestnut of features versus benefits. Now, because we were no longer looking at features, we could come up with ideas that were benefit-led and therefore far more likely to grab our audience.

Brainstorming is great – provided you set it up right. Remember, what we don’t need is solutions looking for problems.

What problems need to be solved?

Having warned you about the dangers of solutions looking for problems, whatever you do, don’t assume there aren’t any problems to solve. There are plenty. What you need to do, though, in your search for a good idea, is to ensure that you keep your eyes open for real problems in your particular market or topic area, and keep aware of what’s missing from whatever options there are currently to solve those problems.

Time, probably, is on your side. Solutions put forward to problems 10 or even 5 years ago, may no longer be appropriate and may indeed have been superseded by better solutions. Your solution might be even better still.

What are you really good at?

This may seem obvious, but have you really thought the uniqueness of your idea through? You know all there is to know about your topic, but in all fairness there may be other experts out there who are in the same position.

What is unique about you, though, is what will sell your idea. You may not even be aware that your ideas on your topic are unique, but hey – have a look back through your earlier musings, notes, essays, articles, papers, speeches, presentations, advertising, press releases, etc. I’d put money on the fact that you have a unique take on your topic. Find it, develop it, and make it happen.

Be nosey

If you have even the inkling of an idea, don’t be shy. Get out there and try it out. Ask around. You have a great deal to gain by sniffing out whatever sources you can to seek out to see whether your idea – or your germ of an idea – is worth taking further. Look for problems, in your area of expertise, that need solving – really need solving. Those can appear when you least expect it, so be vigilant. And keep asking around!

Watch your topic

This may seem glaringly obvious, but once you have an idea you need to watch very carefully to see what is being discussed about that particular topic. Or, should your idea be moving into uncharted waters, you need to keep abreast of everything that might be relevant.

So keep your eyes open!

Now, let’s get you writing that business blog – beautifully:

“How To Write About Yourself”…how to make the most of yourself, whatever you need to write

“Business Writing Made Easy”…everything you need to know about writing for business in English

“Banana Skin Words and how not to slip on them”…over 1,500 spelling and grammar tips to perfect your written English