Build Your Business Community to Include Best Online Communities
Your business can be stronger and more successful if you build a strong community around, and for, it. Successful business owners know that developing a business community or network will help their business prosper. As a business owner or manager, you need to recognize that you need to be part of the right network of people, otherwise you are wasting time. Develop business social networks with people who want to connect, share, and who have specific business goals.
In today’s business environment, building a network has never been easier because it is enabled by a growing number of online community groups; and by some of the best online communities (such as LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook, Ning, Open Forum, MySpace, and Flickr). These online social networks have great value in building your business relationships – if you clearly understand how to do so.
The power of business networking comes from building relationships and from gaining access to hard-to-find information, contacts or resources. The best online communities also allow you to build your brand and communicate your messages; usually at no direct cost to you.
For face-to-face (in person) or voice-to-voice (by phone) networking, consider industry or trade associations. Attending meetings is the first step, but to get the biggest return on your investment of time you need to participate in association meetings. Ensure that you participate in associations that your customers belong to; you’ll be able to connect with them in a much more meaningful way if you work with them on a committee or attend a training session or program and spend time discussing the program with them.
Before you build your business group or business social networks, you need to define your stakeholder model: specify who has contact with your business (customers, suppliers, employees, shareholders, bankers, your business neighbours, etc.), rank their importance to your business, and define the points of contact you want to have with them (e.g. within their organizations do you want to make contact with the customer service group, the accounting department, the purchasing group, the warehouse/inventory department, and so on).
Once you’ve developed your stakeholder model, assess both the offline and online community groups (in this case, we’re talking about business communities that are also known as business social networks). Many business owners still feel that networking is a ‘soft’ activity and they don’t want to invest their time in building a network. That’s simply wrong thinking that leads to lost opportunities and to higher costs for marketing and sales efforts.
You do need to be real and authentic in your relationship building. It cannot be only to make a sale. You need to invest in your network to give to others in the group, as well as to receive. This sounds somewhat trite but the reality is that building a business community is like building any long-term relationship; you need to put time and sincerity into it and it cannot be all about you.
Participate in at least three or four networks or communities. Some of them are listed here:
- Your industry trade association and your customers’ trade or industry association (e.g. the insurance industry associations).
- Business owners sometimes forget to include employees in their network building. An internal committee formed to address specific tasks or solve specific problems can be a powerful internal network.
- Build or join a small business advisory group – this is a non-competing group of small business owners who meet regularly to discuss business issues and concerns and look to the group for input (much like an adhoc board of directors).
- Build or join a small business peer-to-peer network. This works best if the participants in the group come from non-competing geographical regions.
- Build a network of two – you and your business mentor. Work with a business mentor or a business coach that is highly skilled and successful in your industry.
- Participate in online business social networks. Today’s top 3 best online communities: LinkedIn has a good reputation for professional networking. Others such as Twitter and Facebook are gaining credibility as online community groups for business, on top of the high profile reputations they both have as purely social groups.
To get the most of networking, define social networks and their target audiences first and then closely align to your business objectives and stakeholder model. The network you build for you business needs to have common goals that can be obtained through the building of relationships with others.
Your business social networks will be most effective if you relate your business strategy and objectives to your stakeholder model. These associates and groups work together as a community for a common purpose: each wanting to improve their own business (or in the case of family and friends, helping you improve your business) through the support and connection with others.