If not smashing it completely, the digital world is certainly playing havoc with much of the business wisdom espoused over centuries.
The “tyranny of distance” has pretty much been put to rest, “no such thing as a free lunch” is being seriously tested, and, now, “There are no friends in business” is being given a very solid workout indeed.
That’s because your personal Facebook friends might just generate you more business than your business page.
I know that statement will sit uncomfortably with many readers, but any good salesperson will tell you that their personal network is a very important weapon in their sales armoury. So, if you are in any way responsible for generating new business, grit your teeth and read on.
Facebook is for real people
It’s one of the real oddities of the social networking world and something raised in these pages before: the biggest consumer social network, Facebook, was never designed to accommodate businesses.
Anyone who’s seen The Social Network (or read the book it’s based on, The Accidental Billionaires) can tell you Facebook was only ever meant for individual or consumer networking or – more cynically – hooking up with the opposite sex.
Businesses were only an afterthought in a belated attempt to finally make some money out of what was never meant to become the megalith it is today.
Even then, the presence for businesses was intended to be just those targeted ads you get on the side of Facebook pages.
Business pages an afterthought
Actual fully operational pages for business were, again, an afterthought in an attempt to create a different kind of Facebook page for organisations, artists and so on.
But, to your correspondent, these pages have never really sat comfortably in a world designed for individuals rather than organisations – the notion of an organisation having a discussion with you just seems plain weird.
Like many aspects of the digital world, we may have come to accept it but, to my way of thinking, it is still very much a round peg in a square hole.
(Much of) your business life is worth sharing
Where smaller businesses have an edge, however, is that their owner/operator can, with due care, create positive ‘word of mouse’ about their business simply by posting about the goings on in their world.
A growing number of my business clients can point straight to business generated from a post on their personal page. One client paid for their entire branding and website expenses with business generated from a single post (announcing the opening of her business).
Of course, it requires a completely different approach than you would take in your business page.
Your Friends aren’t really interested in the minutiae of your business operations or a blatant plug for a new product or service.
What they are interested in is supporting you in your career in the same way you do them – particularly if you’ve had the guts to leave the (relative) safety of employment to set up your own shop.
This appears to happen on three levels.
1. General awareness of what you do
By talking about interesting aspects of your business, it won’t take long for your friends to get an understanding of what you do. And when a contact of theirs asks them either online or off about potential providers of a product or service, there’s a good chance that you will be recommended.
2. Your business wins and challenges
Your genuine friends want to support you in your business. Posting your business wins and challenges on a regular basis gives them the opportunity to share with others, which is free word of mouse for you.
3. Spread the word
If you have a particularly good offer going, you can politely ask your friends to spread the word amongst their own connections. Some add incentives to do this, but most real friends will do it for you anyway.
A note of caution, though, if you are going to experiment with this approach: friendships can be lost if people feel offended that you have tried to sell them something. The multi-level marketing road is an industry littered with the corpses of former great friends. But, if done respectfully and with subtlety, posting news and experiences about your business can provide you with a steady stream of very worthwhile business leads.
And if a Friend does generate you some business, show your gratitude by sending them a nice bottle of wine or, better still, taking them out to their ‘free’ lunch.
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. www.theeteam.com.au