How Online Forums Can Help Your Small Business Be Successful
October 23, 2020
October 23, 2020
Online small business forums can be a great place for business owners to read general discussions, ask questions, and gather timely information. Whether you need advice or want to network, you’re likely to find at least some useful information on online forums that can help you run a successful business. Small business communities online can also be great for networking – whether you run an established or new business, you can connect with other users in your industry, create a social network, and even attract potential customers!
If you run a business that sells a more niche product, you may find that regular media and established research donâ€™t contain all of the information you need. Word of mouth and content shared on online forums may be a helpful way to swap tips and gather relevant information for your industry. The internet abounds with communities centered around niche topics – there may be a community for professionals and business owners in your industry that you arenâ€™t even aware of. Search the web or ask others in your industry what forums they use to find the best platforms and communities to join. Filip Duz, Head of Client Services at Giraffe Window Cleaners, found great value in the niche forum on WindowCleaner.com â€śto learn about the best equipment to use, how to price our services, how to market our services, and which window cleaning techniques were best.â€ť It really helped Giraffe Window Cleaners succeed: â€śUsing the forum likely cut our learning curve by several months, and was absolutely critical to our success,â€ť explains Duz.
Online forums often operate at the same speed as the news media and sometimes are even more up-to-date! For nascent and evolving topics, you can lean on online forums for analysis and information that may be relevant to your business. For example, major media outlets and government websites will contain high level information about COVID-19 processes and policies for businesses, but you might turn to an online forum for some nitty-gritty tips to run your unique type of business. Zaheer Dodhia of LogoDesign.net, which creates business logos, greatly values online forums for timely information: “Even after 20+ years of entrepreneurship, I still rely on small business forums for nifty tips and suggestions such as American Express, Small Business Saturday [and] CNET Small Business Forum.”
Online forums can also be a helpful place to learn about ongoing business topics that impact your small business or industry. Almost every business with a website needs to evaluate compatibility with mobile devices and checkout plugins – online forums will have a wealth of information to help you choose the features you need. In addition, it is absolutely helpful to work with an accountant for your small business taxes, but you can also turn to online forums to get feedback on your business plan, clarify specific terms, and discuss nuanced situations. You may learn of additional resources on the forum as well, since participants may mention helpful articles or podcasts where you can learn more.
Some forums expressly forbid self promotion but others allow it overtly or in a certain form. Using online forums can become an important part of your internet marketing strategy. For example, there may be a day of the week when self promotion is permitted or you may be permitted to market your business in comments or replies (as opposed to a lead posting). There may be limitations to be aware of, such as limiting the size or type of businesses that can post or limiting posts to only small or freelancer businesses. Further still, some forums allow advertising such as banner ads or sponsored links that you can pay for to market your business. However, use tact and be sure to follow the group’s guidelines. Otherwise, promotional posts can be seen as irritating or even get you banned.
Take everything you read on a forum with a grain of salt. There is often little oversight or screening of posts and they may contain inaccuracies. Be sure to turn to professionals before making important decisions with information you have discovered on a forum. For example, if you are seeking tax advice, be sure to clarify with your accountant or CPA before taking any steps with information from a forum, since you donâ€™t really know who posted it. Andrew Roderick, CEO of Credit Repair Companies, has noticed that on online forums â€śThere are always individuals who like to play games with others and give an opinion that isn’t valid or disrupts the flow of the conversation, something you must be careful of, whether a business forum or anything else that comes to mind.â€ť James Major, the owner and founder of Insurance Panda, prefers forums with more moderation and finds a forum called Builder Society quite useful. He explains, â€śBuilder Society is highly moderated for quality, and therefore attracts higher quality forum members and content.â€ť
Some business leaders create forums and groups as a way to create community and network, but also to market their own business. If you are a thought leader and enjoy giving helpful advice, starting and hosting a forum or group can be a way to create that community and promote your own professional brand. For instance, you might start a new group on Facebook or LinkedIn Groups to discuss a topic and create community that is relevant to your business. Even if you donâ€™t create a forum or group, actively participating in one can be a great way to generate business and further your companyâ€™s brand. Brian Cairns, CEO of Prostrategix Consulting, finds great value in business forums, especially Reddit, and points out that, â€śForums are where your most motivated prospects live. Here, we engage not in sell-mode but teach mode. Itâ€™s more important to establish credibility than to push for a sale. A sale will come later once credibility is established, but it will come from the client asking vs. you pushing.â€ť Laurie Wilkins, Founder of Call Outdoors, a website with guides to enjoying the outdoors and links to recommended Amazon products for outdoor hobbyists, finds great value in Facebook Groups. She advises business owners to remember the community element of these groups and the value in catering to a niche: â€śBusinesses catering to a specific niche in a specific area can become the “go-to-guy” for queries relating to their industry – the community will remember who was there in their hour of need!â€ť
Itâ€™s essential to keep learning and stay up to date as a small business owner. If you arenâ€™t already using online forums to learn and share information, give it a try. You never know what relevant and useful information you might find that can catalyze your businessâ€™ success.