Ashraf Slamang’s blog is dead. The freelance Web designer from South Africa whose posts had included explanations on creating a simple gallery using Flash, XML and ActionScript 2.0, and adding a custom class to a single WordPress post in the loop, came close recently to burying the blog on his site less than a year after its launch and following several months without fresh output.
The reason for his blog’s demise is familiar to any freelancer who has tried to use a regular stream of articles to drag in leads and show them how they think: time.
“My blog has been dormant for months now as I haven’t been finding the time to write,” Ashraf told us. “Or rather, I haven’t been managing my time correctly.”
Ashraf isn’t alone. According to a survey by Technorati, a blog directory, 13 percent of all blogs online are operated by entrepreneurs or individuals writing for a company or organization they own. Eight-four percent of those bloggers write mostly about their own industry, 70 percent do it to gain professional recognition and 68 percent do it to attract new clients.
But they don’t seem to do it very much. The same survey found that 26 percent of all bloggers hadn’t posted in the last year. Forty-six percent hadn’t posted for three months, and 58 percent had gone a month without refreshing their blog.
Four Blog Posts a Day
That may suggest a missed opportunity. There are no figures that indicate the number of clients who hire freelancers after reading their blogs but there’s little doubt that well-written and informative blog posts can reveal a great deal about the freelancer and the quality of his or her services.
For Brennan Letkeman, an industrial designer who has been blogging for four years, writing posts allows service providers to display their approach, their thoughts and their styles in a particularly powerful way.
“It’s a narrative,” says Brennan. “A resume can be written by anybody with any intention, but to consistently write down your thoughts and explore topics shows who you really are and where you’re really coming from.”
Brennan’s blog, though, is updated at a frequency that other freelance bloggers can only envy. He typically posts twice a day but says that as many as four or five posts isn’t unusual if he’s particularly free or if it’s a holiday weekend.
“I try to post at least one thing a day to appease both my readers and myself,” he says. “It’s a discipline to write sometimes, but I think it’s good for you in the end.”
That sounds more like a full-time job. Brennan is now an industrial design student after spending several years as a Web designer, and while his work currently includes designs for objects that range from robot bodies to cattle prods and from chairs to shoes, it’s questionable that he’d have enough free hours to write so much if he were also trying to manage a full-time freelance business.
So what can freelancers do when they’re pressed for time but want the openness and connections that writing a blog can deliver to prospects?
Swapping a Blog for a Microblog
One option is to turn towards microblogging. If writing a 500-word post takes too many billable minutes out of a working day, then a series of quick 140-character posts might be easier, more spontaneous and still provide an insight into your way of working.
That was an approach that Ashraf considered. Commenting on CreativeOverflow.net, a blog for creative workers, he noted that he was thinking of taking off his blog and adding a Twitter feed that would be easier to update and still show that the site is active.
It would also easy to install, but Twitter isn’t a blog and its short posts make for limited insight. When it came to planning a new design, Ashraf decided to resurrect his blog, and make time for extra posts.
“I gave it some thought and now don’t intend to remove my blog completely – 140 characters is a bit hard sometimes,” he explains. “However, in my redesign I have given more prominence to my Twitter feed as that would be updated more often and keep the website somewhat fresh.”
Ashraf’s solution then is to use Twitter to supply his site’s vibrancy and rejig his schedule to include more frequent larger posts. An easier solution might be to follow at least part of Brennan Letkeman’s strategy. His posts might be remarkably frequent but they’re also short — usually less than 300 words — and filled with images. For a designer, that’s no bad thing. A client considering hiring someone to produce a visual or physical spec is going to be more interested in objects he can see or imagine handling than in reviewing the designer’s words. (Which may be just as well: a Mercedes design that Brennan Letkeman imagines as the work of a group off-track corporate designers actually turns out to be a concept design by freelance designer Steel Drake — none of which makes his review comments any less revealing.)
You’ll have to source the images, something that designers can easily do on the press pages of corporate websites. Add a couple of hundred words explaining why the design is great or terrible and you have a blog post — and an insight into the way you think.
It would be great if there were an easy solution to the dilemma that freelancers face when we build websites to promote our services. We know that adding a blog can help to land new clients, and win views. But we also know that every hour not spent doing billable work for clients is time that costs us money. Perhaps the best advice — beyond using Twitter to make up for missing posts and images to make up for missing time — is to write a blog you enjoy.
“It’s a journal of thoughts and there’s a small market for that,” says Brennan of his blog. “But I blog more for myself than anyone. Learn by teaching.”