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But there are plenty of other areas to network online

To be successful in today’s online world, small business aspirants and owners are getting onboard with online networking. As consumers increasingly turn to online networks for information on new products and brands, having a solid online presence is really a non-negotiable.

And where does a new business start in creating such a presence?

With the company website, of course. An attractive, easily navigated and customer-friendly website, can go a long way in not only attracting prospective buyers, but in turning those visitors into a substantial percentage of your company’s sales over time.

Customers Need to be Able to find you online

So you have quality services and products that customers are searching for online? Splendid, but how do you help them find your local business in an ocean of digital isles?

To be found by all potential customers, small and medium businesses need to assert their presence beyond the official company website — and get picked up on social media sites like Facebook, Twitter, Yelp, Google Places, etc.

But how do you select which sites to be on — and at what cost?

The selection of, and kind of investment in, social media sites will depend on your type of business. For certain brands, the proverbial Facebook business page can fit the bill. But for others, the more professional and business-cut network might be a better choice. Spending a little time researching the activity of target customers on social media, can prove very useful here.

Joining an Online Small Business Community

Being in regular contact with likeminded small business professionals—whether in your local community, online or both—can be a tremendously helpful asset when growing your business. These communities typically offer a plethora of tools, information, business connections and ideas, that can open new vistas of entrepreneurial possibilities for you.

There are any number of online small business communities available for you to join. But just as in the social media arena, a little research can help with choosing the best fit community for your small business interests.

Before joining a community, why not sample a few and get a sense of what they offer and if it appeals to you, and remember, Stride Alley will always add fresh articles, blogs and case studies from other small businesses and entrepreneurs.

Capitalise on Social Media Hacks

When it comes to getting noticed online, it’s really a no-brainer to use every available item in your marketing toolkit. So let’s briefly consider a few of these:

  • Positive online reviews are a sure way to promote your products and services. And to get to better know your target customers and clients. Their feedback can be invaluable. Along with boosting brand awareness, online reviews can also optimise sales, services and products. What are you waiting for? Crank up your existing marketing strategy and start using customer reviews successfully for your business.
  • Use your Facebook and Social Media followers. If you have a stalwart social media following, take a closer look at your followers. Chances are, they have a significant following of their own. Take note of the business profiles with a large number of followers—should they spread the word about your brand? It’s a networking option worth exploring.
  • Offer an Incentive. Once you’ve discovered a potential networking partner, consider offering them a free product/service in exchange for a plug on their social networks. Keep in mind that some ‘brand advocates’ (as they’re known in social media), may charge a promotional fee—but don’t get discouraged if your advertising budget prohibits this. Thank them for their time and send them a complimentary gift. It’s good PR and may get you a little publicity.
  • Search Hashtags. If you advertise on Twitter or Instagram, an additional way to find brand advocates is to search for the hashtags that pertain to your business. All the popular social media sites tend to filter posts with high activity (likes, favourites, feedback, etc.) to the top of their search results
  • Be realistic. When researching brand advocates (advertising partners), it’s important to consider how extensive their advertising clout is. As a small business, it’s not worth your time chasing down celebs to endorse your products. Connect rather with professionals who are experts in their field, even if their following is fairly modest. When starting out, it is very much about quality (not quantity) when making your mark.
  • Reciprocate. If you manage to land an advertising partner (and you will with perseverance), show appreciation for their professional endorsement by promoting them on your social network. Not only is this an honourable gesture of gratitude, but reposting their review lets the online business community know that you’re open to partnerships. And that’s good for business!

Although your business website remains the hub of all online marketing, keep in mind that many customers may first stumble upon your company on social media, review sites or online registers. Be prepared to meet them there — on Facebook, Instagram, Google Maps etc. However, since social media sound bites don’t provide company information and product details until they are directly linked to your website, it’s important to straddle both communication platforms in order to connect with your customers. To that end, learn how you can optimise your networking by combining your business website and social media networks.

Online Networking is Literally at Your Fingertips

Starting or maintaining a small business requires daily attention to many details. From marketing and strategic planning, to staffing and budgeting, numerous challenges present themselves on a regular basis. Even if your business is well established, dealing with these issues is of paramount importance for its successful operation. The rub is, it can be time-consuming.

All the more reason therefore, to make use of the online business tools at your fingertips. As a small business owner, you will need support and advice to take your business to the next level. Feeling and finding that support when needed, can be the difference between folding or persevering at times in your business.

This is an opportune time for small business owners and aspirants to fully invest in the online networking portals open to them. From online small business communities to social media networks, you will find the online resources that perfectly fit your needs once you jump in, trust your business instincts, and explore the possible!