Small-business advertising has often amounted to something like this: how much bang can you get for your buck?
Billboards, ad spots, commercials, whatever the format, you want to see your marketing dollars amount to returns, sales, conversions.
But while a billboard-heavy marketing campaign by the big guys can lead to increased business, it’s often difficult to understand just how much money they eventually bring in. Just as often, ad experts tell us, it’s about expanding the reach of your brand and it’s about recognition.
But the smaller shop doesn’t always have the luxury of dropping crucial marketing dollars on what can amount to only a concept play. So, for small businesses, how can you showcase your expertise and build your reputation, but still keep the budget and return-on-investment at the center of the game?
One way is the online forum.
Let’s look at small-business owners who’ve used forum posting to develop new clients. We’re helped by Manta Connect, an online community-builder for small businesses to connect to the communities of customers they want to find.
Forum Posting: It’s About Time, Not Money
“Small business owners who actively share their knowledge and experience in the forum on Manta Connect not only establish themselves as industry experts in the community,” said Pamela Springer, chief executive at Manta, “but they gain a competitive advantage in expanding their customer reach.”
Take Stephen Lewis, for example. He’s the owner of Worthwhile Things in Orlando, Florida. While his team is working to coach small businesses, he turns to forums to find new clients — and he does this by answering the questions they’ve asked.
“Most of the questions and posts I respond to involve a business owner asking how to do something online, or how to do it better,” he said. “By giving clear answers which contain relevant and thoughtful tips, comments and feedback, I can establish myself as an authority on a given subject.”
The outlay for what amounts to a new, real, and concrete customer lead? A little bit of time.
“I find that by giving 5-10 minutes of my time and offering a short bullet list of free advice, I receive great reviews and feedback, and give myself an opportunity to make a new business contact or customer,” Lewis said. “I always include anchor text links back to my various online properties, but always to specific pieces of content that will augment my answer to the question posed.”
Expertise Online: Look to Learn, then Show Don’t Tell
For small-business owners as well, two other major elements of online forums come into play:
— A Lab for Best Practices: By watching your colleagues who also post and interact, as a small-business owner you’ve got a free way to learn at your disposal. From the best moves to mistakes, participating in online forums allows small-business owners to listen in on a vital conversation about best practices.
— A Place to Demonstrate What You Do: When a small-business owner rents a booth at a trade conference, they’re really spending money to demonstrate something about what it is they do. Forums can provide that, in a different way, without the expense. ”By using my experience and providing any help that I can,” said Patrick Tuure, web designer and owner of O.T. Web Designs in Columbus, Ohio. “I demonstrate to other forum followers that I know what I’m doing and, as a result, it opens them up to doing business with me. Since the posts are always there, they serve as a great icebreaker when someone contacts me. I don’t have to spend the time to convince them of my level of knowledge, they can clearly see it.”