10 tips for online networking for SMEs

Small businesses tend to win business through referrals, and are recommended by people who already know the principals.  How can SMEs accelerate this natural process to win more business more quickly?  Here are my top 10 tips for using online networking tools to speed up the traditional methods of making personal contacts and building a reputation.  They are based on my own experience and other SME’s whom I admire or have worked with. There’s a presentation that goes into more detail on the Penmaen Media slideshare page.

1. You are the brand

You represent your company best; remember that people buy people, and it’s individuals that are remembered rather than products.  Work out what are your particular individual strengths, skills and expertise, and plan all your online activity around your specialist subject.

2. Know who is buying you

Be laser targeted about who your dream client is, what is important to them when buying your services, and understand where they spend time online.  Some people don’t go near facebook, twitter or linked-in and industry forums or discussion groups are a better place to find them.

3. What makes them contact you?

Next work out what their problem or question is, and why they might contact you to help them solve it.

4. Organise your online presence

Tidy up your online presence – get your website in order, create a good profile on Linked-in with recommendations and links to your site, start posting on twitter and consider a company page or group on facebook.  Get listed on professional directories, and keep all this up to date.

5. Create useful content

Use your unique expertise and match it to your dream clients’ problems to create useful, practical content, both on your own site, and published by reputable third-parties.  Talk about your new content on your social media pages.

6. Take part in discussions

Find out where your clients spend time online, and contribute to relevant discussions about their problems and your expertise.  Answer questions on linked-in and yahoo, and even review relevant books on Amazon.

7. Build your network

Invite all your business contacts, past colleagues and clients and suppliers to linked-in, ask for recommendations, and use online “friendfinder” tools to expand your network.  This takes time, but if you work within a defined industry you will soon cover a good selection of people.

8. Be helpful and connect people

Answer questions, put people in touch with each other, send them useful articles and tell them about your blogs and presentations.  Keep yourself top-of-mind but don’t be pushy or sell too hard.

9. Use events strategically

Real life events provide great opportunities to speak and show your expertise, or just to network.  If you can’t make them physically, check the twitter hashtag and strike up conversations with interesting people.

10. Repeat from the start

All this takes time, so be patient.  Referrals can come from third or fourth generation contacts, and people take time to make big buying decisions.  Enjoy the process and you’ll be pleasantly surprised when the phone rings!

If you have experiences to share or other tips to add please comment below.  Search “SME marketing on this blog for more articles – or try this link: http://www.penmaen.media/index.php/category/sme-digital-marketing/.  If you’d like to discuss how I might be able to help you win more business through online networking please contact me for an informal chat.

About the author: Carolyn Morgan runs Penmaen Media, a consultancy specialising in developing digital strategy for media businesses.  Carolyn also runs workshops for SMEs on digital marketing – read more about our SME workshops.