A small business community is more than you think: it includes customers, suppliers, and stakeholders. A strong stakeholder model means belonging to the best online communities and business social networks.
A small business network or group is what you make of it.
In the right network, your business can prosper.
In the wrong network, you're wasting time. Develop a network or community with other people who want to connect, communicate and succeed in business.
As a small business owner, an online social network might be a good peer-to-peer networking opportunity.
Find the best online communities to belong to: Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, MySpace, and Google Plus are considered some of the top, and best, online community groups.
Best Online Communities
Presently there are an estimated 300 online social networks. While the most popular changes from time to time, right now the top social networks are those mentioned here (Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and more recently, Google Plus) but these networks will move up and down in popularity based on the support they receive from their users.
Make sure that you consider, and participate in, networks that are specific to your industry or business. And that you understand the importance of building your business community through social networking and social media. It's important to listen to what people are saying, and it's also important to have a voice in your industry.
Before you build your group, particularly if you want to build a network online, define your stakeholder model.
In other words, who has contact with your organization; how important are they to you and your business; and what points of contact do you wish to have with them?
For the best, and most productive, experience, make sure your network includes a number of the support and/or business groups listed below.
Online social networks: build your business social networks online by using a number of different online community groups (such as LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, and more). You can extend your reach, your profile and your business brand globally through these networks.
You need to make sure that you pick the best online communities for your business and target market and that you define social networks that best relate to the specific conversations you want to have and the connections you want to build.
And, consider the role that human resources plays in your business (your employees), along with your family, friends and associates.
Community can be built from an internal committee (for example, made up of employees and/or business stakeholders, such as suppliers, customers, neighbors, shareholders).
Or a small business network, which is a peer group either within your industry or outside of it or perhaps this could be a peer exchange group (where your organization exchanges information with a peer business in another part of the country or in a non-competing region).
Work with a business mentor: choose someone who's done it all before and is willing to share their knowledge and who communicates in a way that you can clearly understand and accept.
Use effective business resources, such as the right type of association (for example, industry and trade associations).
These sites are government-run, and simply examples of how state, provincial, regional and national governments provide support to small business entrepreneurs.
Join a small business advisory group (which can work like a board of directors).
A resource group, website, company and/or databank can be useful to developing and growing your business.
Your business 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, wanting to help you improve your business) through the support and connection with others.
A peer to peer group or peer exchange can also be built into a valuable business social network. And if these groups don't exist in your industry, build one. You will be amazed at how eager other business people are to connect.
A home-based business can have additional challenges. Working from home can be isolating and it can be hard to meet people, and make a connection. But smart home-based owners create connections with others and build their own successful network.
In other words, to build a strong business you need to build a strong community support structure and a successful network around your business; and it must include all stakeholders.
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Most urban centers will have at least several different business communities. In the United States and Canada, those might include Board of Trade chapters; Chamber of Commerce chapters; Business Networking International chapters; and smaller, local organizations such as Focused Networking Ltd.
There are only so many hours in the day for each small business owner (and the cost of joining these network groups can also add up) so you must be sure and carefully select which network you want to join.
Every networking group that I've belonged to allows a visit or trial attendance: otherwise how will you know if the fit is right for you.
Before you join a network make sure you have at least several specific goals; for example, you want to join a network to develop your ability to effectively interact with strangers; you want to polish your presentation skills and develop your introduction; you want to meet new prospective clients; you want to build your peer group and even get to know your competitors.
There are many reasons to join a network. Make sure that you identify what's important to you and then select your network based on what's important.
At least once a year, review your goals and check to see if you are getting what you wanted from the network.
When you operate a small business it's a challenge to go on vacation (who will handle your work while you're away) and to get enough time with your family (ironic isn't it; many people start their own business because they want more time for their families).
As a small business owner, you may find it's also a challenge to find the resources you need to land a new client or complete a project on time.
The most effective way to handle these issues is to develop your own small community of resources: your own business network.
The benefit of networking to small business owners is that you can find and develop strong peer group relationships: if your business needs to meet a tight deadline and you do not have the internal resources to finish on time, contact people in your network and see if you can sub-contract a portion of the job to them.
Because your business and personal reputation are on the line (in delivering the end product), make sure that you first develop a strong network of contacts and associates. Get to know those who are in your network really well. Then work together on smaller jobs or joint projects: for example, submit a joint request for proposal (RFP) bid.
You need to know the quality of the work your associate produces and to trust in the integrity of individual(s).
However, even with trust, it makes good business sense to have them sign a confidentialty agreement and no-compete clause related to work and clients that you have obtained.
Once you've developed a solid relationship, you can have them cover for you when you go on vacation or when you need a day off for the family. Obviously you need to be prepared to do the same for them.