Running a business can be lonely, especially if you are running it as a sole trader, freelancer, or such like. It is, after all, just you at the helm. If you have a burning query or issue, there might not be anyone else you can turn to for help. And let’s face it, time is money. When you need an answer, you need one fast.
As someone who has over ten years’ experience of running businesses, I feel very strongly that business mentoring and support is not best provided by government-led quangos, but by other business owners, by people who have had the same problems and issues with their business as you have. It’s only from other business owners that you’ll get practical, no nonsense advice that you’ll need to avoid potentially costly mistakes.
This is where I feel online communities come into their own. They are a quick and convenient way to obtain advice, support and foster business relationships with other like-minded individuals. The best part is that you don’t have to leave your desk in order to do so.
Of course not all communities are made equal, so here are some of my tips for getting the most out of the best out there:
Choose your community wisely
Some communities or groups are nothing other than billboards for users to simply post links back to their website. Joining groups like these are, frankly a waste of time. It is obvious that few of the people there take the time to read anybody else’s posts, and are only interested in blatant self-promotion. A quick way to test this is to make a couple of (genuinely) complimentary comments on a post or two. If no-one bothers to respond, you know the type of community you’re in.
Most communities or groups have a guest facility which allows you to browse topics before joining, so take your time to see the type of questions that are posted there and whether it is a community that you really want to become a part of. Does this community look as if it is regularly used? Is it carefully moderated or does it contain abusive posts from so-called ‘trolls’?
This is closely linked to the above. While we all know that online communities partly exist to help us promote our businesses, social etiquette dictates that we don’t constantly update everyone with our latest product or service, insisting everyone buys now. At best you will be ignored, not to mention annoy everyone else within the group, and at worst you will be removed or banned.
Size doesn’t matter
In my personal opinion, size does not matter. I would much rather belong to a small, welcoming and friendly community where people are serious about supporting each other and doing business with each other, than a large group such as the type I referred to above.
It is good to give as well as it is to receive, so be willing to offer advice in your own area of expertise and become known as an authority in your field, or as someone people can readily turn to for a spot of advice. The added benefit of giving your expertise in this way is that community members may well buy your products or services too.
Of course there are many other ways to get the most out of online communities, so tell us below your tips below.