Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Free Ways for Entrepreneurs to Network

In browsing through the internet today, I stumbled across a great resource for discovering groups of people with common interest who meet, yes, in the real world. While social networking is becoming more and more popular, meeting with someone face-to-face still ranks extremely high, if not appearing on the highest rung on the successful business ladder.

I've complied a short list of best resources for entrepreneurs to network (in no particular order):

  1. MEETUP.COM: Meetup Groups meet face-to-face to pursue hobbies, network, get support, make friends, find playgroups or even change the world. What's interesting here is that while you can still meet and chat in a virtual world, the true power here lies with the ability to meet with the people you connect with in a real-world setting. So chances are while you've plugged your services online, you're way ahead of the game when meeting with potential clients at a later date. There's already that sense of familiarity... And yes, very often these group meetings are free.
  2. LINKEDIN.COM: LinkedIn has been around for several years and has begun porting several features from the more common social community websites. The advantage of LinkedIn is that it's geared to drive more "professional" connections as opposed to social or friendship liaisons. LinkedIn also has a Q&A feature which lets you position yourself as an "expert" in your field depending on the number of questions you answer from the public and of course the quality of your answer. The trick is to always leave a link to your website as part of your signature. The disadvantage of LinkedIn is its lack of a portfolio feature, so if you're in a creative field, it difficult to directly expose your work.
  3. FACEBOOK.COM: The most popular kid in school, Facebook provides a means of uploading and displaying our portfolio within a dedicated company group to which many of our contacts have willingly joined. As a result of our continued perserverance and belief in social marketing (and quite frankly, one of the best "free" forms of networking available to us), we've managed to connect with people that helped us secure projects with clients we would not have normally had the opportunity to work for -- case in point, SoftImage and Bell Canada.
  4. BLOGGING: Red Dream Studios has a company blog, yes. It's used to expose what's going on at our company and showcase new designs as they are released, but to also educate about design and web practices, and how to use social media marketing to expose your company digitally throughout cyberspace. I think the real power of blogging isn't in the blog per se, but connecting it through various portals that index and scour blogs for relevant content such as Digg, Technorati, and StumbleUpon. By building communities who are "fans" of what you blog about, you inherently increase your relevance in the online world, and therefore that of your company's offerings.
  5. BEHANCE.NET: Behance is portfolio/networking site for creatives. While there are others out there, this is one of the more ingenious ones. Not only can you expose your creative portfolio here, but it's also a warehouse of tips, tricks, links, and lets you collaborate on projects with other creative gurus around the world.
  6. YOUR OWN WEBSITE: I hesitated about putting this one in because you typically have to pay a little for the server space to run a website, but it's of course a primary way to get your business known to the public. In short, if you're not on the web in this respect, there's very little hope that your business will succeed.
  7. CLASSIFIED ADS: I find this a last resort to soliciting business because it's a little altruistic in my opinion. The most obvious choice here is to post a free ad on Craigslist in trying to promote your service offering even though it's a more ommon practice to ask for something on Craigslist.

While this is by no means an exhaustive list, it's a few good ones to get you started. If you have any success stories you'd like to share, please feel free to comment.

Visit my Meetup Profile here.
Visit my LinkedIn Profile here.
Visit my Facebook Group here.
Visit my Profile here.

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