Before the Internet, small business owners like yourself were usually limited to a local market—resorting to expensive advertising and brochures, direct mail, cold-calling, networking at the local Chamber of Commerce or Rotary. You hoped customers found you through word-of-mouth or a Yellow Pages ad.
Today, you can work with a consultant, a financial planner, or a business coach across the country as easily as someone across town. In the Internet age, prospects often find you (instead of the other way around).
This is the age of the virtual customer. Yet, although the Internet has made it perfectly reasonable to land a major client you've never met in-person, it has also created new expectations among consumers.
Prospects now "Google" around to find someone with your skills. They expect you to make a good virtual "case" for yourself. If you don't pass the test, or make a bad impression, or appear lackluster compared to your competitors, you will lose the potential client.
The only way to be truly successful in business is by establishing a good reputation. And understanding the way business has shifted in the Internet age can help you bring the potential of marketing your business into the virtual world.
The Virtual First Impression
The Internet has increased the expectation among consumers that businesses will have a credible online presence.
Many of us now form "first impressions" of people and companies via our Internet browsers. From the moment your name and business appear in a Web browser to the moment your Web site loads, your first impression often means the difference between a shot at your prospect's business, or being shut out.
Think about it. You have probably used the Internet to research a company or a person you're considering doing business with. Certainly potential clients and customers are checking you out online, too.
Prospects you've never met are forming opinions about your business at the click of a mouse. Internet first impressions are not just influenced by how your Web site looks, but also by how often your business appears or how high it ranks in a web browser.
Become an Online Center of Influence
We all know people who command rapt attention whenever they speak. Others want to listen to, learn from, and emulate them. They are centers of influence, a distinction you can pursue online by developing the following qualities:
* Share inside knowledge with your target market;
* Participate, listen, contemplate, and offer thoughtful responses;
* Be willing to voice an opinion;
* Assume leadership positions in your industry
Certainly, experience counts. But this is not the only prerequisite to becoming an online center of influence that will earn you the distinction of 'trusted advisor' within your target market.
Start by making your Web site a resource for your industry. Feature lots of useful information, including articles, links, downloadable files, customer resources, and anything else of use to your target market. Be generous and give, give, give!
Create a Virtual Podium with Teleclasses
Teleclasses are a great way for businesses to develop a virtual reputation. They can be promoted easily by email, and provide information to prospects, clients, and customers all over the world, with minimal cost and effort.
Business coach and teleclass leader Michael Losier set up a teleclass about exhibiting at trade shows: 'I had 60 students in my first class, which was very profitable, and many later hired me as a consultant."
Also, it may be just as effective and less effort to participate as a guest lecturer in another professional's class rather than producing your own teleclass.
Placing Articles Online
Online articles draw upon your expertise by providing useful information that Web site visitors are actively seeking out. Online articles position you as an expert in your field and convey a level of authority that establishes trust and sets the stage for sales.
When high-traffic, high-credibility Web sites and newsletters publish your articles, you ride on the coattails of their loyal relationships with readers. Your articles are seen by visitors as referrals from trusted friends.
Some of the most prime "real estate" in the world these days is at the top of the search engine listings. The most widely used search engines rank Web sites by the quantity of other Web sites that link to them. This means that every article you publish that links to your Web site can improve your search engine rankings.
To find out about a new program that can help you quickly publish articles about your business on web sites that reach your target market, please visit: http://www.getslightlyfamous.com/services/article-placement.html
Build Online Relationships
Most business networking used to happen when we recommended an associate, swapped business cards, or connected with colleagues over lunch. But increasingly, social networking is migrating to the Internet.
Through social networking Web sites and online discussion lists, entrepreneurs can access virtual communities of prospects and associates while developing virtual "platforms" to generate leads and sales and establish themselves as recognized experts.
Marketing consultant Max Blumberg credits his involvement in Ecademy.com, a business networking Web site, with elevating his business profile and generating new clients. "When I first encountered Ecademy I'd never heard of online networking, but the benefits of a large community where I could share ideas and cultivate new relationships was very appealing."
Blumberg started by posting a profile about his business, then started sharing his knowledge with other Ecademists. "I set up a club where members could get help with common marketing challenges. Many of these people became clients and friends with whom I socialize. We reciprocally use each other's services," says Blumberg, whose Ecademy presence has even been noticed by large companies who are starting to contact him.
The key to building a niche community is identifying your ideal customers and the communities they belong to. By targeting the best, most favorably inclined prospects within a niche, you can become your target market's vendor of choice, and sell more with far less effort.
Steven Van Yoder is the author of Get Slightly Famous: Become a Celebrity in Your Field and Attract More Business with Less Effort. Visit http://www.getslightlyfamous.com/ to read the book and learn about 'slightly' famous teleclasses, workshops, and marketing materials to help small businesses and solo professionals attract more business.
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