The sloth-like adoption rate of new technology by smaller business operators has been well documented and discussed in this blog.
Quite simply, the vast majority of smaller business operators do not have the knowledge or time to gain it, or often the spare cash to implement new technology — at least not in the shorter term.
Instead, they put it off until it becomes obvious that without it, there will be significant effects on the business.
No better illustration of this is with that digital mainstay — the website.
The glacial adoption of this wonderful promotional asset took even the most conservative of pundits by surprise.
I mean, what isn’t to love about a 24/7 virtual shopfront for your business that not only acts as a universal destination for action, but summons its own qualified leads (via search engines) too?
But even some 22 years after the world wide web attained critical mass, up to 40% of smaller business still don’t possess one.
And these days that’s a bit like trying to retail without a shopfront.
Social networking laggards
Similarly, that qualified favourite of this blog, the social network group or community, is also taking its time to be understood and embraced by the smaller business community.
These groups are literally communities of like minded people all discussing different aspects of their special interest — in this case, small business.
Like websites, these groups (if they well administered) provide so many benefits, it’s hard to understand why they wouldn’t be one of the very first business tools to be adopted by smaller business operators.
Yet even one administered by a state business body (Business Victoria) has only 11,300 members. While this is a reasonably healthy number for a small business group, it represents a tiny fraction of the 500,000-odd businesses in Victoria.
So in case you are new to them, here are at least some of the benefits of becoming part of these valuable communities.
1. Relationship building
Of all the reasons to engage in groups, this remains one of the most compelling. By engaging with other business operators in groups, you soon become known for what you provide, which gives you an outstanding opportunity to build relationships with people you may never otherwise have the chance to.
This means that you can become the go-to person for your area of expertise — and that means new business.
2. Calls for supplier recommendations
This is virtual money for jam. Every well administered group is peppered with calls for supplier recommendations of all shapes and sizes.
Few types of product and service are not called for advice in this way. And if you’re not present, there is a double edged loss.
First, you don’t get to respond directly to the call. Second, you aren’t able to be ‘tagged’ by others wanting to recommend you. This tagging can only occur if you are a member of the group in question, so if you are not there, you lose this invaluable notification of a free plug.
3. Free business advice
There is nothing better than having hundreds of often very experienced business operators literally at your fingertips to assist you with pretty much any aspect of business.
You name it, whatever your issue is, there are usually dozens of experienced business operators ready to assist you with your query. For the respondent, this has three key benefits:
- There is a chance the enquirer may value your response so much that they may well want to do business with you either immediately or in the future;
- It raises their profile with other members of the group; and
- It promotes business ‘karma’ — if they help another person there’s a good chance others will in turn assist them.
However, like most free tools, there is also some downside of social media groups.
The first, and this is a critical one, is good group governance. While most groups have guidelines for usage, it never ceases to amaze me how many maverick business operators abuse the goodwill that the group is intended to generate by openly trolling and self promoting, often without disclosing their conflict of interest.
In fact, there are very few group administrators that truly understand the depth of this issue and hence compromise the integrity of the group, often permanently.
Second is the spam farm. Some groups are just vehicles for cheap promotion and actually offer little value to their members. This is a massive waste of a great opportunity to operate a transparent and vibrant community, and there is little benefit in joining groups with this modus operandi.
But provided you are aware of these issues, there is nothing stopping you from joining in and reaping the benefits of a well administered and vibrant social media community.
To find them, simply search within the social network of your choice for special interest groups with keywords like ‘small business’ and ‘entrepreneurism’ and more.
In addition to being a leading eBusiness educator to the smaller business sector, Craig Reardon is the founder and director of independent web services firm The E Team, which was established to address the special website and web marketing needs of SMEs in Melbourne and beyond.