Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter are not the only social networks for small business owners. There are a range of others with fewer members that can be more focused and useful for growing your network and hopefully, your sales. In this post, I’ll explore two of them that level the playing field for entrepreneurs and business owners.
I can’t help but love Biznik’s tag line “Going it Alone, Together.” But I liked their old one better: “Business networking that doesn’t suck.” Many people were offended by it and were glad they changed it, but I felt it was accurate, or at least that the mission was worthwhile. Stop the junk networking. The new one is more politically-savvy...fair enough.
Here is how Biznik is different: It is for the solopreneur, the solo business owner, the indie professional. It is not LinkedIn. It is not for people looking for a job. It is, in their words, “for people who are building real businesses. It’s for sharing ideas.” But the real beauty is their merger of online and offline. The online social networks are great for connecting, but nothing can replace a face-to-face, in-real-life meeting. Biznik energetically encourages that you meet others in person. They take a local approach, so you join for a specific city or location and people find you that way first.
I like that the site opens with articles by other members and that local events are featured and prominent. The community is, for the most part, made up of other small business owners out on the field playing their hearts out. No, you don’t find that at other business networks. It is easier to meet people, online and in-person, on Biznik than some of their larger competitors.
Just like the name implies, Meetup is focused on helping you create and host live events. It is hyperlocal. As you start navigating the site, it asks you if you want to find a group near you. The site is not focused on business, not at all, but with a simple search you can find people with the same interests.
This is how I met Amy Wiebeck who founded Sip & Socialize on Meetup as a way to help grow her business in the Seattle area.
Weibeck shared her experience with me: “Meetup helps grow business because it allows you to grow a really large 'warm' market of people who know what you do. The trick to Meetup is to hold events with some consistency. Our Meetup has grown from zero to over 900 in 2.5 years, having moved here and only knowing one person [in the area] we used it to find new friends and grow several businesses.”
I found 124 groups when I searched for “Small Business” in the Seattle area alone. While many of the groups don’t have sponsors, it is one of the missions of the Meetup site and service. There’s a whole range of ways for a company to sponsor an area meet-up and drive new business—from a simple “perk” type coupon offer to a full-fledged branding effort that Meetup.com staff help you build out. There are thousands of groups available for sponsorship.
Despite the economy, as small business owners we live in an amazing time. Meetup is democracy in action; it is the great "social" leveler according to Wiebeck. Her comments were the perfect close to this post: “You can be totally unknown but build a large online community of new friends and professional connections, by simply showing up on a regular basis and trying to help others find the connections they are looking for.”
For more tips on how to help build and optimize your business connections, access our exclusive video series with MSNBC: Networking: Making Connections to Build a Better Business.
Image credit: Shashi Bellamkonda