Friday, March 30, 2007

Three Principles For Blogs And Businesses

A reader, noting the growth in traffic at this blog, recently asked the question of how one increases blog readership. My immediate reaction to the question was a thought that I hadn't explicitly entertained before: that running a blog is like running a business. True, no money changes hands with blogs. Nonetheless, the dynamics of blogs and businesses are remarkably similar. There are readers/customers who have needs, and there are providers of blogs/goods and services who attempt to meet those needs. The readers/customers typically have many choices available to them, so it is incumbent upon the providers of blogs/products to offer real value. The question of how blogs can increase readership is not at all unlike the question of how businesses can attract customers. With that in mind, here are three principles that have guided me in this blog that also make a lot of sense for businesses:

1) Always, always assume that the reader (customer) knows more than you - It's especially tempting for trading educators, coaches, and psychologists to assume the "guru" role. I work hard to avoid that. Readers know their needs better than anyone, so it is absolutely essential to listen to what readers tell you. I do look at my blog traffic numbers daily, not because I'm concerned about becoming the most widely read site, but because the data tell me what traders are truly interested in. Similarly, I read every comment to every post and try my best to respond meaningfully. Those comments are *my* education: they tell me what is on the mind of traders. A good blog doesn't just provide information; it also listens to readers to ensure that it provides information of value. Similarly, the successful business stays close to the customer. It doesn't assume that it knows customer needs better than the customer does.

2) Give more than readers (customers) expect - I smile at blogs that provide teaser content, hopeful that readers will click links and purchase products or services. I've never seen such blogs attract meaningful traffic. Look at the *really* successful financial blogs and you'll find more information and insight there than anyone realistically can expect from a free service: the voluminous links of Charles Kirk and Barry Ritholtz; the daily links, market updates, and articles from Trader Mike; and the in-depth economic analyses of Mish are just a few cases in point. Now look at the Alexa traffic ratings for those blogs: quite, quite impressive. Why? Because those excellent bloggers, like really good businesses, provide so much value that they build enduring loyalty. Many of the excellent comments I receive from readers express appreciation for the amount of good material I provide. Indeed, many of those same readers share with me their own research, trading methods, and outlooks. When you provide more than people expect, you receive far more than you anticipate.

3) Focus on addressing the reader's (customer's) needs; all else will follow - There is *so* much that is shoddy in the world of trader education. Vendors, brokers, exchanges: all have a vested interest in getting you to trade and trade more. Self-anointed gurus offer lavish promises and thin content; trading coaches lure traders with the hope that self-help methods will bring a trading edge. In the middle of all of this is the beginning trader, with little guidance, little capital, and a heart full of motivation and hope. When I started in the trading world as a grad student at the University of Kansas, my beginning portfolio was $2500--just large enough to enable me to buy 100 shares of stock with margin. But it was a great learning experience, and I eventually found an interested and helpful mentor named Joseph Granville. Granville was a showman, but he also studied and developed indicators and taught market interpretation with his newsletters. He addressed the needs of customers like me, and he built a reputation and a business as a result. If you view the reader/customer as someone you serve out of genuine interest--not as someone to exploit--success is bound to follow. Want to know a common feature of successful bloggers? They actively link to other blogs. That's because they're more concerned with serving the educational needs of their readers than with cornering their own audience. In so doing, they build a much larger audience over time.

Listen. Give. Serve: Three principles for blogs and businesses.

Now let's perform a little experiment. Go back to the three numbered paragraphs above and substitute the word "spouse" for "reader".

You'll then have my ideas, developed over 23 happy years, for how to make a marriage work. Whether you're a business owner, a blogger, a psychologist, or a spouse, it's all about building relationships that last and leading by being an exquisitely close follower.