Thursday, November 26, 2009

The Power of a Blog

One of the recommendations I make to nearly all of my clients is to start a blog. RainToday shares what can happen if you follow this advice:

The Blogging Payoff: How a Law Firm Used Its Blog to Generate 7 Figures in Revenue

By Gwen Moran

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Harris & Moure is a Seattle-based law firm, but its target audience is primarily international companies that do business in China, Russia, Korea, and Europe. The firm also has a lawyer and staff in Qingdao, China. When co-founder Daniel P. Harris was looking for a way to get his company in front of more companies doing business internationally, he happened to have a conversation with a friend who was a technology expert. As his friend discussed the power of blogs, an idea began to take root.


Blogging His Way into a Niche Market

Approximately three years ago, Harris hired his friend as a consultant, sending him to a conference to report back on how Harris & Moure could possibly use a blog as a marketing tool to get more business from companies doing business in China—a sweet spot for the firm.

"Our practice has always been international law and it was clear China was the hot area," says Harris. "But there was a huge amount of misinformation out there—old information that was no longer true and complete misinformation. There were some lively China blogs, but no China law blogs that were at all geared toward the non-lawyer."

Harris knew he could do better, especially with his boutique firm's team of seven lawyers in the U.S. and China. What he didn't know was how big a part of his business this blog would become.


Ready, Set, Launch

With the help of his friend, Harris set up a blog with its own domain——in January 2006. And he and his China based co-blogger, Steve Dickinson, began writing content for it, posting about four to five times per week. Harris, who has a conversational writing style and a good handle on technology, reviewed the few posts he didn't write himself to ensure they were engaging, informative, and accurate.

"The plan was to establish ourselves as people who know what's going on in China. We thought people would look at the blog and say, 'Oh, they're doing this. They must know what's going on in China,'" he says.

Instead of using a free template blog through Blogger or Wordpress, Harris opted for a hosted domain and had the site design customized. That helped the boutique firm achieve a more professional look for the blog, he says, which was an important consideration for the firms he wished to attract.

Be Relevant

At first, Harris was worried he wouldn't have enough content to keep a blog going. But soon he realized that worry was without merit. While the focus of the blog was mostly what a business would want to know about the legal issues surrounding operating in China—the majority of the firm's business is American and European companies moving into the Chinese marketplace—he also sprinkled in content about general Chinese business culture or observations. For example, he recently wrote about a study on the growing number of cell phone users in China and his views that such growth was a barometer of how the middle class is growing, and what companies should be doing to sell to that market.

"We would never claim that we're management or marketing experts, because we're not," he says. "But when I throw something like that out there, I know there will be comments from people who read the blog and who really know what they're talking about." That adds even more value to the content of the blog, he says, by creating a community of business experts who give good information via comments.

The site is also easy to use with obvious buttons for "tweeting" posts via Twitter, subscribing to the blog's RSS feed, and bookmarking posts to sites like Delicious or Stumble Upon.

Say What You Need to Say

Unlike many bloggers, Harris doesn't limit his posts to 500 words or fewer. Instead, he may post some short pieces or quick reads. But when the topic merits space, it gets as much as it needs. For example, a recent rant about the necessity to have someone who knows the Chinese marketplace at the helm of legal decisions in China topped out at nearly 2,000 powerful, engaging words.

"Every day, there are about six or seven people on Twitter who are saying, 'You've got to read this post.' It's really creating a lot of buzz," he says. The reason is because it resonates with the audience he's trying to reach, he adds.

Harris says the variation in posts keeps the blog interesting and different types of posts get different types of reactions. Some people like the short, fact-based posts, while others like the lengthy, thought-provoking pieces.


The blog required a modest investment at its launch, which Harris estimates at about $2,000. Hosting and maintenance cost about $500 per year. Then, there's the time he and his colleagues spend crafting posts. Some posts take 10 minutes, while others could take 10 or more hours, especially if Harris is writing a white paper that he will turn into a blog post, for example.

"To do a blog like this successfully, you have to spend time keeping up. We do that anyway—if we're doing business in China, we have to know what's going on. If you counted that toward time we spend on the blog, it's a huge amount. But it's also what we have to do for our business," he explains.

For that bit of cash and block of time, ChinaLawBlog has brought in "well into the seven figures worth of work" over the past three years, says Harris. Many companies that have contacted the firm mentioned that they heard about it from the blog.

Additional Insights Shared by Harris & Moure

  • Blogs get ink. A happy side effect of ChinaLawBlog has been a serious uptick in the amount of publicity the firm increasingly gets. Harris and Dickinson have been interviewed by media, including Fortune, Forbes, Christian Science Monitor, The Wall Street Journal, Barron's, and The New York Times. Reporters who write about Chinese legal issues find ChinaLawBlog easily via any search engine.
  • Don't discount the residual effect. Harris says a great deal of business comes indirectly from the blog. He often finds that decision-makers read his blog, then see his firm in the newspaper, and keep them in mind for future business. Some clients mention after they have been working with the firm that they had been reading the blog. So, his estimates of how much business it has influenced may be lower than the actual numbers, he says.
  • There aren't "so many blogs." When Harris hears about getting lost in the blogospheric clutter, he rolls his eyes. "There are a lot of mistakes being made out there—starting too big, quitting too soon. It takes a long, long time to build up readership. When I need to find a good blog on a legal issue, I'm often shocked at how many people started out with big plans for their blogs, but then abandoned them before giving them a chance," he says. If you have good content and stick with it, the audience will find you, he says.


Gwen Moran is a veteran, award-winning freelance journalist and author. A columnist for Entrepreneur for more than a decade, she has written for Strategy+Business, Crain's New York Business, Family Business,, USA Weekend, Ladies' Home Journal, Woman's Day, and many others. She has collaborated on or ghosted more than a dozen books on topics ranging from business planning to retailing to process improvement to diversity issues.

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