2003 ACE Personal Trainer of the Year Stephen Holt, has shared his business and training expertise at numerous Club Industry events. Stephen operates various Web sites including PersonalTrainerFastTrack.com and BlogsAndRSSRevealed.com. Have a comment or question about the most effective and efficient ways you can use blogs as a marketing tool? Just post it on Stephen’s blog at BabyBoomerFitnessExpert.com.

There are currently more than 71 million blogs with 175,000 new ones launched every day. Sure, the vast majority of these will never have more than a handful of readers, but, done right, a blog can be a crucial element in your marketing mix. Blogs, in the words of blog tracking behemoth Technorati, “are shifting the Internet paradigm as we know it.” Even more to the point, a recent survey by research firm MarketingSherpa cites blogs as the fourth-most popular tool for generating sales leads. It’s time for you to take advantage of this marketing medium, too.

Here are seven reasons to start a blog:

1. Blogs can allow comments and encourage feedback from your readers. This can serve as free market research you can use in developing new programs and improving your customer service proactively.

2. A blog gives your company a personal voice. This can help increase customer loyalty and instill a sense of community.

3. Blogs make web publishing easy.No more FTP headaches. Blogging software can make publishing as simple as writing an e-mail.

4. No fancy Web designer necessary. Sure, you can pretty it up with your logo, a custom header and some photos, but with the themes and templates already included with blog software, you can easily make your blog both attractive and easy to read.

5. Blogs allow RSS subscriptions.The Internet is moving toward “pull” technology whereby your readers come to you to get only the specific information they want. That’s different from the old-school “push” technology in which you force your e-mail marketing messages on sometimes reluctant recipients.

6. Syndication of RSS feeds.This allows your content to be posted instantly and automatically on sites all over the Internet.

7. It’s easy to have multiple authors.
If writing isn’t your strong suit, it’s simple to set up your system to allow other staffers to post so that you can focus on your strengths.

So now that you’re convinced that you have to have a blog to maintain your Internet presence in the Web 2.0 era, let’s get started in five steps:

1. Decide on your blogging platform. The big two are Wordpress.org and Blogger.com. Wordpress was the blog of choice for savvy marketers, but the latest release of Blogger is starting to change some minds. Both platforms are free and easy to install. My advice? Go with the open source Wordpress. Google is fickle at times, so you may not want them in control of your blog.

2. Set your marketing goal. Do you want a blog to establish a sense of community? Make quick announcements? FAQ? Lead generation? Hard sell? Your goal will determine your content and tone and keep you focused.

3. Decide on the voice of your blog. Frankly, serious, cold, “corporate” corporate blogs don’t work well. The most successful corporate blogs have a warm, inviting and personal tone.

4. Pick a URL you can live with—forever. Whether you set up your blog in a directory, subdomain or separate domain from your main site, make sure you never, ever have to change the URL of your blog.

5. Create your “Profile” or “About” page. No, not the typical Mission Statement or “We were established in 1994.” Today’s Web surfer wants to get to know what you’re like. Let your personality show.

Here are seven more tips once you’ve started your blog:

1. Keep it useful. Sure, you have memberships to sell, but your readers won’t come back if you’re constantly talking about your club or studio only as a business entity. Make sure your blog is dominated with helpful information your readers can’t get anywhere else.

2. Write to one person. Don’t write as though you’re addressing an audience. Write each post as though you’re addressing an individual in your target market.

3. Post frequently. You’ll keep your readers coming back (and give them multiple exposures to your sales messages) more often.

4. Remember to use relevant keywords throughout your blog, especially in your post titles. You’re not blogging just for fun. You need to remember basics of search engine optimization, too.

5. Take advantage of your RSS (or ATOM) feed. You’ll never know who will find your feed and publish your message to a whole new market that you wouldn’t have found yourself. Make sure your feed is auto-discoverable.

6. Make helpful comments on other fitness blogs. When you do them right, comments link back to your site, increasing your link popularity and traffic sources.

7. Link to other fitness blogs. Build an interacting network with other blogs your readers will appreciate.

So what are you waiting for? It’s easy to get started right now.