Sites where you can share ideas and challenges can build your business
“Small business owners should devote a few hours a month to browsing a good online forum,” says Gene Marks CPA, president of The Marks Group, a business consulting firm based near Philadelphia.
While Marks and others—like Charles Gaudet II, founder of Predictable Profits in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, and Charlene Kingston, owner of the Phoenix-based Social Media DIY Workshop—feel that way for a number of reasons, they are most enthusiastic about the opportunities to network, brainstorm, and bounce ideas off of their peers.
Marks even says that the best online forums—whether they’re aimed specifically at entrepreneurs, like the Business Advice Forum, the Small Business Forum, or NFIB’s MemberConnect, or they’re aimed at a more general audience— “can serve as an outside board of directors” for owners of modestly sized companies.
Still not convinced? Maybe the following trio of reasons will do the trick:
1. They keep you from having to reinvent the wheel.
Although many small business owners like to talk about problems that are specific to their industry, “for the most part, they endure the same challenges: cash flow, people, marketing, and legal,” says Marks. “So, why recreate the wheel? Forums are a great place to get insights from others who've gone through [the same] issues.”
2. They can introduce you to future business partners.
“The saying ‘givers get’ definitely rings true among online forums,” according to Gaudet, who adds that “many thought partners and joint ventures” have been formed by businesspeople presenting themselves as valued members of these communities.
3. They can help you get inside the minds of your customers.
Whether you decide to do so on an entrepreneurial forum or a more consumer-focused site, “getting input from your target audience can help you improve your products and services so they become irresistible in the marketplace,” offers Kingston. “This kind of fine-tuning can make the difference between great and mediocre sales, and between a successful product launch and a flop.”
Gaudet, Kingston, and Marks also shared these words of wisdom related to how small business owners can best make use of online forums:
- Provide enough details so your fellow forum dwellers fully understand your question or situation. It's easy to omit vital information when you’re in the thick of a particular problem or issue, Kingston says. She suggests that those who turn to online forums for assistance “take the time to start from the beginning and write down every detail that might be important.”’
- Don’t waste your time. Gaudet considers online forums to be “a fantastic way to gather and share information.” He also considers them to be a fantastic way to “waste time conversing instead of taking action.” Schedule your forum time “so you know when and how long you're allowed to engage in this activity.”
- Keep your head on straight. Or, as Marks puts it, “remember to take whatever information you get from a community with a grain of salt.” It is the Internet, after all. His main pieces of advice: Get lots of input and do an ample amount of research before making any decisions or coming to any conclusions.
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