Finding customers for your budding small business often starts with finding your tribe – your online community of people who share similar interests, goals, and ambitions as you. You might start out reading someone’s blog because it inspires you, and then build a friendship that includes helping to promote each other’s work and brainstorm big ideas.
To start, look for people who are a few steps ahead of where you are with your own business goals. If you’re just starting to open up an online shop, then look for someone with a few years and an established customer base behind them. If you just launched your own coaching business, find an experienced coach with a popular blog.
Making connections often starts with something small: Leaving a blog comment, re-tweeting a Tweet, or even purchasing a product. Then, it can build over time, especially as your own business and audience grows and you have more to give.
The more specific you can be about who your tribe is, the better. While you might consider yourself an online entrepreneur, for example, try to break down your category even further. Are you a creative entrepreneur? A rising life coach that specializes in work-life balance? A master of knitting whimsical accessories? Find blogs and websites that are as close to your own niche as you can get.
3 Strategies to Build Your Tribe
1. Leverage your existing contacts.
Take a look at your current Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Instagram, and LinkedIn accounts. Do your bios accurately portray your current situation? Do they describe your new business, with relevant links? If you stumbled across any of your profiles, would you want to learn more? If not, rewrite them with the goal of enticing potential fans and customers.
Be sure to let your current friends and followers know what you are doing, too, with updates and, if applicable, photos. Even if your current friends aren’t your target audience, they might be able to offer some additional connections or even advice.
Also, make sure your website offers a newsletter sign up form with some kind of free giveaway to serve as an enticement. Direct email newsletters, managed through user-friendly programs such as AWeber, Mailchimp, Mailerlite, Get Response, are one of the easiest and most efficient ways to stay in touch with anyone interested in what you do.
2. Add some in-person strategies.
Connecting online is easy and convenient because you do work on it at any time of night or day (and in any stage of dress or undress), but layering on some in-person meetups can make your online strategy even stronger.
Check out Meetup.com to see if local entrepreneurs with a similar focus to your own are already getting together regularly. Attend your local alumni gatherings, especially if there’s an entrepreneurial subgroup. Local organizations, such as shared workspaces or local chambers of commerce, might also offer events for small business owners that are worth joining.
3. Cultivate virtual mentors.
When you find the stars in your own field online, don’t hesitate to virtually stalk them: Read their blog posts, watch their videos, follow their Tweets. Chances are you can learn a lot from them without even making contact. Then, if you eventually do reach out to them directly one day, they’ll probably be flattered that you already know so much about them and will be happy to share more ideas with you.
Then, as your own business grows, don’t forget to give back to the community by sharing what you’ve learned and reaching out to new entrants in your field. Creating a big, happy, generous virtual family helps everybody.
Kimberly Palmer is the author of the new book, “The Economy of You: Discover Your Inner Entrepreneur and Recession-Proof Your Life,” and senior money editor for U.S. News & World Report, where she writes the popular Alpha Consumer blog. In addition, she is the creator of Palmer’s Planners, her own line of digital financial guides and money organizers for major life events and goals. You can connect with her at bykimberlypalmer.com.
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