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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!
Online communities are a great place to discuss and share information on niche businesses
If you run a business that sells a more niche product, you may find that regular media and established research don’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 aren’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 “to learn about the best equipment to use, how to price our services, how to market our services, and which window cleaning techniques were best.” It really helped Giraffe Window Cleaners succeed: “Using the forum likely cut our learning curve by several months, and was absolutely critical to our success,” explains Duz.
Small business forums often feature timely tips
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.”
Forums are a good place to learn about ubiquitous and year-round topics relevant to your small business
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.
Depending on the forum, you may be able to promote your business
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.
Remember that most posts on message boards aren’t vetted
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 don’t really know who posted it. Andrew Roderick, CEO of Credit Repair Companies, has noticed that on online forums “There 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.” 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, “Builder Society is highly moderated for quality, and therefore attracts higher quality forum members and content.”
Creating a forum or social media group can be a way to brand and market your business
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 don’t create a forum or group, actively participating in one can be a great way to generate business and further your company’s brand. Brian Cairns, CEO of Prostrategix Consulting, finds great value in business forums, especially Reddit, and points out that, “Forums are where your most motivated prospects live. Here, we engage not in sell-mode but teach mode. It’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.” 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: “Businesses 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!”
Use these techniques to get the most out of business advice forums
- Participate! “Pose your own questions and reciprocate by answering other people’s questions,” advises Nick Swekosky, CEO of Market Metrics, a marketing analytics company, who finds great value sharing business ideas within Slack Communities and even wrote a blog about his favorite ones.
- Read or search the threads and posts before posing a question. Brian Cairns of Prostrategix explains: “But, make sure you read the threads. Nothing annoys members more than someone asking the same question as many people have in the past. You’ll likely have a very negative experience if you do.” For instance, if you are looking for human resources or hiring tips, try searching the forum for “human resources” before posing a question to the group.
- Posts on forums can help a little bit with your site’s content marketing and search engine optimization (SEO). Quality links and mentions on forums can indicate to search engines that your business is active and relevant. For instance, many business leaders will work to provide helpful content in response to specific questions on Quora to establish expertise and potentially attract new customers. Interested users can also click the link to your online store or website – this can generate greater traffic and purchases on your site. However, it’s important not to use that as your only mechanism to boost SEO. If your site is linked only on forums, and if it is posted a way that isn’t helpful, it can seem like spam. In addition, some sites make user generated posts “no follow,” which means the post doesn’t get indexed by search engines like Google.
It’s essential to keep learning and stay up to date as a small business owner. If you aren’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 business’ success.