So you're a consultant. Should you blog? What issues do you need to consider?
- Yes. The answer to the first question, that is. Blogging is one of the best ways to promote yourself, build contacts with others in your industry, and establish a personal connection with your potential clients. In just a few years, we've moved from "what's a blog?" to "why don't they blog?" It's expected now. If you don't blog, people wonder what you're hiding — or else they conclude that you're just behind the times.
- Confidentiality. Naturally, you must never blog information that's held in confidence between you and your client. But you also shouldn't divulge any information that could be damaging to your client, whether or not it's covered by an NDA. That would include business strategies that have not been made public and could be used by a competitor. Sometimes that can crimp your style, especially when you're working on some really cool new technology. When in doubt, ask your client if it's OK to blog it.
- Criticism. Be bold when criticizing companies and individuals with whom you have no consulting relationship — it often results in an engagement! If you have critical remarks for your clients, better to direct that to them privately. If they aren't listening to you, then maybe you shouldn't be working for them. You're the consultant, after all. Conversely, you don't want to shill for your clients either, because readers can easily see through that. Adopt a neutral tone, or fully disclose your self-interest when praising them.
- Personal posts. Blogging is all about being a real human, so you should include some personal thoughts and details about yourself in your blog. Deciding how much can be difficult. Remember that anything you say on your blog can be read, at any time in the future, by any of your clients or potential clients. Should you blog about religion or politics, you'll probably tick someone off. On the other hand, maybe you only want to find clients who will accept the whole you. Personally, I maintain one blog that sticks to technical topics and another one where literally anything goes. That way, people can choose whether they want to know what I know, or know me personally.
- Time. Between writing and promoting, effective blogging takes plenty of time. Make sure that your clients know it isn't coming from their billable hours, unless you happen to land a blogging engagement (sweet). Typically, you'll have to consider time spent blogging as a cost of doing business. Budget that time accordingly.
- Branding. Ooh, nasty word! But people are going to get a lot of impressions about you from your blog. For instance, if you don't have your own domain name and you're in IT Consulting — big credibility gap. You'll also want to pick a blogging platform that provides all the expected amenities: full-text feeds, pingback/trackback support, site search, etc. I use WordPress, as does TechRepublic. Choose a theme that doesn't offend the eye or look like the work of a third-grader. It represents you, visually. Include a picture of yourself that looks like someone they'd like to get to know better.
- Conversation. Do allow comments, in spite of the extra time that requires for managing spam and trolls and (oh, I almost forgot) responding to legitimate comments. Conversing with your readers is worth all of that. You'll make great friends and contacts, and they will educate you in ways you never dreamed.
Chip Camden has been programming since 1978, and he's still not done. An independent consultant since 1991, Chip specializes in software development tools, languages, and migration to new technology. Besides writing for TechRepublic's IT Consultant blog, he also contributes to [Geeks Are Sexy] Technology News and his two personal blogs, Chip's Quips and Chip's Tips for Developers.