As a digital marketer, brand strategist, writer, and editor for more than a 15 years, I’m not used to being stumped by a question. But there it was, a high and tight fastball careening my way, courtesy of a coworker. “Do all small businesses need a blog?” asked Natalie Tomko, who at the time was a social content specialist for an interactive marketing agency in Dallas, Texas.

“I mean, I get that blogs are important—I’m good there. What I mean is for these…small businesses, are blogs really the be-all and end-all?”

Mentally, I immediately shifted from a stance of “What kind of question is that?” to a head-cocked-sideways position of “I bet numerous small business owners ask themselves the same question.”

For businesses of any size, blogs can be a great tool.

Blogging allows your business to communicate with prospects and customers; makes it easier for search engines to find your business, increasing the likelihood that it’ll show up in the search engine results pages (SERPs); provides a voice and platform for your business, allowing you to cover topics in a timely fashion, allowing you a means of highlight the brand’s expertise; and amount to the de facto PR arm of your enterprise, ensuring you get the attention your product or service deserves.

What’s more blog posts are often the primary means by which customers discover your business. To put a finer point on it, take a look at these stats from KISSmetrics:

  • 61% of consumers have made a purchase based on a blog post they read.
  • 60% of consumers feel positive about a company after reading its blog.
  • 70% of consumers learn about a company through its blog versus ads.

Clearly, we can deduce that blogs have value. However, we still have not sufficiently answered my co-worker’s question, of which there are two parts:

  1. Are blogs necessary for all small businesses?
  2. What else should companies be doing along with—or in place of—blogging?

For the first question, the answer is, “it depends.”

Blogs are not the endgame

If you’re a small, one-person, local operation on a tight budget, the logic of blogging has to be weighed against the constraints of limited resources (e.g., time and money) and value. Are there other, more meaningful things you could be doing to drive business that would have a bigger impact than blogging?

For example, say you’re trying to get a small plumbing business off the ground in a small town. Setting up a website and using it to drive qualified leads to your business is never a bad idea. But (a) you likely don’t have time to blog consistently, and (b) paying someone to do it for you is not yet in the cards (i.e., budget). In this example, I’d recommend you initially focus less on the online space and more on your community.

Perish the thought, you say? I recognize the value of organic search, paid media, and social as much as the next person. But for this one-man band, the offline connections you can build in three months of dedicated work will pay huge dividends to your website later on. Word of mouth is huge for small businesses. So instead of creating blogs, e-books, and tons of onsite pages, I would…

  • Create a website with a clean, user-friendly design; manageable CMS; limited number of web pages around the key terms she wishes to rank for; clear calls to action; and that features an impossible-to-miss phone number at the top of the page.
  • Start “pressing the flesh,” getting into the community and personally drumming up support for the business, and being on the hunt for partnerships. This journey might start at the chamber of commerce, but it should weave its way through local retailers, including grocery stores and hardware store, in addition to other non-competing vendors.
  • Forge relationships and build partnerships with others by learning more about their businesses and efforts they are involved in, then looking for natural ties that can produce mutually beneficial relationships.
  • Sponsor events and contests, in addition to supporting local charities and non-profits. Also, joining directories and/or creating a worthwhile local guide are all smart ideas, too, which John-Henry Scherck deftly examined in this deck.
  • Analyze onsite traffic and links to discern who’s linking to and visiting the site, then—and this could be pages, not blog posts—create content to answer the questions they asked in search that brought them to the site.

I can assure you that doing all of the above will create more links, drive more traffic, and result in better SERP placement than blogging alone for this small business. Will it be time-consuming? Yes. Will it be easy? No. Will it be effective at helping this business gain links and, with it, rank for some of the core keywords and long-tail keywords in the local area? I think yes

Manage expectations to score quick wins with your blog

As a small business consultant, I was always hearing clients talk out of both sides of their mouths. “I understand that content is part of the long game,” they say one day. Then, the next day: “I don’t get it. We have a new site. Google has crawled it. We have fresh content. Why are we not ranking? It’s been two weeks.”

I finally arrived at a place where I could be brutally honest and not be afraid of losing the client:

“I don’t care about your rank; I care about your conversions, sales.”

We’ve all conditioned clients to see organic search traffic and rank as the all-important machine we know it as from our daily work in the online marketing space. However, clients want qualified leads and conversions, despite how much they clamor for “Number 1 in the Google.” For businesses with limited resources, beating the streets and drumming up business is not only an effective option for growing the enterprise.

It’s often the most effective option for gaining some traction and getting the ball rolling downhill. I’ve found it an easy sell to say, “Commit to spending 30-plus hours a week on the phone or meeting with community leaders, non-competing vendors, and anyone else you can partner with to benefit your business. Those offline connections come back as long-term relationships for you personally, and as links and increased business professionally.

No, it’s not sexy, but unless you have gobs of money to throw at paid media, this really is your best option right now.”I’ve seen this work numerous times with my own clients, many of whom started out with little more than a few thousand dollars in the bank but grew to make tens of thousands each month, simply by creating the lasting relationships first, which effectively allowed them to own the local scene.

In a Reddit Ask Me Anything, well known SEO consultant Rae Hoffman shared similar advice:

“This may sound very unicorny, but for small local businesses, I believe in ‘put good out there and it will come back to you.’ …We think of building [businesses] almost offline with the goal being to increase it online. We advise our local clients to get active in the community. …The key…is looking for the actual publicity first, with getting a link or a domain mention being gravy.”

So, to answer the second part of Tomko’s question, I say yes, you should blog, but that’s only a small part of what it takes to be successful. Building partnerships within the local community is no less essential and, early on at least, can be even more essential. The question is less “Should you blog?” and more “What else should I be doing in addition to blogging?”