Late last year I quoted a statistic that said that 80 percent of small businesses were one-man [cough. Or woman] shops and that 50 percent of SMB owners worked from their home. With that in mind, it’s easy to see why so many small business owners and entrepreneurs have taken to the Web to chat and commiserate with others “like them”. But the Web can be intimidating. If you are a small business owner looking to connect with other entrepreneurs, where should you go looking? Where can you hang with fellow SMB owners online?
Here are a few suggestions.
It seems fitting that as the Web continues to spur Internet entrepreneurs, it’s also spurred communities targeted toward helping them. Web communities like StartupNation, Young Entrepreneur, Brazen Careerist, and EntrepreneurConnect give solo entrepreneurs a place to talk about common problems, share resources and help one another out when possible. These communities often have associated knowledge hubs where people can tap into expert articles, download eBooks, create networking events, and have real discussions. And, of course, they also offer the ability to establish friendships, both professional and personal.
Related to these communities are social voting communities where small business owners can submit and promote their content. Doing so helps others find information that may help them and they can also use it to brand themselves in a particular area. BizSugar.com [disclosure: This site is owned by Anita Campbell] is one example of a site allows SMB owners to promote themselves and others through their content. There’s even an associated BizSugar Twitter account they can connect with.
Question & Answer Sites
Question and Answer communities are another place that entrepreneurs can gather to make connections and get answers to questions. There are tons of great communities that specialize in this, including LinkedIn Answers, Business Answers and the just-launched QuickSprout Answers (really excited for this one). All provide great avenues for entrepreneurs to explore when looking to bounce ideas off one another or make new connections.
I know, Twitter is the answer to everything these days, right? Obviously, Twitter’s a great networking tool, but thanks to Twitter Lists, it’s also a great way for entrepreneurs and small business owners to find one another. Listorious is a really useful site that lets you search for people and Twitter Lists based on keywords.
For example, you can search for Twitter Lists titled [entrepreneurs], lists titled [small business] or whatever keyword you’re interested in. You can also perform the same searches to target actual Twitter users instead of Twitter Lists. For example, you can find users who identify as being [New York florists], [Florida wedding planners] or [your town + keyword]. People “like you” are out there, you just have to search for them.[Twellow and Twitter Grader will also allow you to find people in your immediate area with common interests.]
Okay, so this may not help you actually “meet” other people, but it can help you learn what other people are doing and about the faces that you could possible reach out to. Podcasts like Ducttape Marketing, Mixergy, Six Pixels, This Week In Startups and Untitled Startup conduct interviews with entrepreneurs that you can learn from and seek out.
Reading blogs geared toward the entrepreneur lifestyle helps SMB owners to feel more connected to the work force. I know I sometimes have a difficult time working day after day in my home and never seeing another person. Reading blogs puts you back in the mix, reminds you that others are going through the same struggles, and it lets you become part of a community where you can exchange ideas with others.
For me, blogs have been my preferred way to form relationships with other people. Both in publishing content myself and in commenting on the stuff other people put out. Blogs like VentureHacks, Toilet Paper Entrepreneur, Bootstrap Business, Jonathan Fields, Penelope Trunk, and, of course, our own SmallBizTrends give entrepreneurs satellite communities that they can feel a part of.
Online Coworking/IM Groups
Once you start to make some connections, organize online chats where people can connect on a deeper level. I know lots of SMB owners who keep IM and Skype groups open all day so that they can chat with people when things come up, ask questions or just use it as a virtual office cooler. It’s a little bit of coworking activity without having to leave your house. [However, I suppose you could move your IM Group to a real coffee house, if local and so inspired.] Sometimes having someone right there that you can shoot a question to is both handy and comforting.
Just because you work at home or have limited coworkers in your small business, doesn’t mean you should live your life void of social contact and confidants. Use the Web as your ultimate networking ground. After all, I’m pretty sure that’s why it was invented, right?
Thank you Lisa..
I recently signed up for a Skype account (I’m kind of a late adopter, sometime) and I like it a lot.
Your idea of keeping it on all day to use it to ask other entrepreneurs questions that come up during the day, may be one that I’ll try.
The Franchise King
I’ve been informally creating a list like this one this past week but you’ve done it for me! I especially appreciate the other ‘answer sites.’ I had only known about LI’s version. Looking forward to exploring them!
I realize that this is more local, but we’ve got an online community for entrepreneurs at http://www.myentre.net. Our membership is comprised mainly of Iowa small business owners, but most of our content would be helpful for any entrepreneur in the mid-west or nation. Come take a look!
Hey Lisa, at http://SmallBusiness.com, we have had nearly 10,000 small business users register and over 18,000 entries with information for small business owners and managers. It’s not a place where many people “hang” in a conventional way, but it is where they collaborate on writing entries and answers to questions — some people may recall 10 years ago, when an earlier version of the site was “all” Q and As. It runs on the same platform as Wikipedia (Mediawiki) — so that means that every page can be a discussion (just click that tab). Would love to talk with you (Lisa) or anyone about what we’re doing. Just email me – firstname.lastname@example.org, or twitter: @smallbusiness.
Hey Rex, I’d be interested to talk with you about Smallbusiness.com. I was literally on your site within the last week seeing what was new there. I noticed some changes.
Joel, what’s your skype handle? DM it to me on Twitter or email.
Lisa, I like the list. I’m growing fond of OPEN Forum as I’ve met a few folks there and see more activity. After you get active in a few of these the question becomes — how to keep up with all of them. Know of any good aggregators that then let me respond directly via another platform to my FB, T, LI and others? Don’t say Buzz, okay?
I’m trying to mix in more of the in-person events with the online ones, like Tweetups in Seattle (which also happens from LinkedIn Groups). Haven’t seen any FB ones yet, but I’m not a heavy Facebooker…
You mentioned LinkedIn as a Q&A site, but they also have some great groups you can join as well. OnStartups & SmallBizTrends are a couple good ones to start with, but also look for local groups.
Great list, Lisa! A couple suggested adds: Intuit’s Small Business United Blog (http://smallbusinessunitedblog.com)and Community (http://community.intuit.com), where entrepreneurs can connect with each other and get advice from experts.
I haven’t met you Lisa (yet) thans for putting together this great list of resources and sites for entrepreneurs. I am launching the Collaborating Entrepreneur soon and I will compare these to my list and add those I don’t have. Thanks again!
Great list and analysis. I really enjoyed the podcast section, and have found a few more to regularly follow.
I do want to address a few of your selections though. IN your question and answer section you selected LinkedIn Answers, Business Answers, and QuickSprout answers. LinkedIn Answers is good, but seems to be focused more around careers and career specific business advice rather than entrepreneurial problems and solutions. Business.com answers is a bit more entrepreneurial in focus, however the site seems to be a bit antiquated. QuickSprout should prove to be a valuable resource, especially with the personal interaction with Niel Patel. Rather than choose LinkedIn and Business.com, perhaps you could hav elooked into Startups.com – a community site where entrepreneurial/business questions are answered. They have built a database of over 7,000 questions already, and continue to provide valuable answers to common and intricate questions. Also, answers.onstartups.com is a great resource, especially for tech entrepreneurs. Dharmesh Shah, of HubSpot, assembled the community and recruited a few of his friends and personal network to assist in giving their expertise to people who need answers.
One other minor discrepancy I had was with the inclusion of Brazen Careerist. While their certainly are those in the community who possess an entrepreneurial bent and focus, Brazen Careerist seems to be more of a LinkedIn type, career and personal brand management network.
I really do appreciate the inclusion of the podcasts though – I am looking forward to following This Week in Startups as well as Mixergy as well!
Excellent connection resources, thanks for this!
The Answers OnStartups site (http://answers.onstartups.com) also has an active, supportive community with interesting, quality conversations.
Thanks for the post Lisa.
One other thing that small business entrepreneurs are looking for are free resources and free online tools.
We have both of these available at http://www.onesherpa.com and also http://www.oneminutebusinesscheckup.com
Along with the chat and connection these resources and tools can assist small business to really get the most out of their businesses.
Thanks for a great list Lisa, I have visited several of those entrepreneur online communities, but see a few more now I need to visit soon.
I interview entrepreneurs on MO.com. If any entrepreneurs have a story to share, please stop by and drop me a note.
Thanks for this terrific list – Lisa! I love it. I’d also like to recommend a new Question and Answer site called Bizmore (www.bizmore.com) I think it’s LinkedIn on expert steroids. Again – thanks for this article because I’ll be checking them out!
Great post Lisa! Lots of valuable resources there.
I enjoy hanging out at http://www.Techcrunch.com – always lots of activity there. http://www.bizsugar.com is great, as is http://www.smallbusiness.com.
I recently stumbled across http://www.sprouter.com. They’re trying to be a Twitter for entrepreneurs. Seems to be pretty cool as well… 🙂
Oh yeah, and http://www.mixergy.com is a good one!
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A good list to socialize.
Awesome post! This is just what small businesses need – a place to meet and hang out with each other. All the entrepreneurs I’ve worked with love bouncing ideas for their business off one another, so they can leverage this post as online ways to do just that. Very nice!
Great post, Lisa. Terrific resources!
@Ivana – I also recently found http://www.bizmore.com and think it’s got a lot of potential.
Folks reading this may be interested in knowing that Bizmore just announced a small business contest that they are calling the Bizzies. They’re taking nominations for best blog, small business leader, iPhone app for business, etc…could be a good place to promote some businesses we love (ie smallbiztrends!)
Thanks Lisa! It’s really nice of you to take the pain and put all that down on one page…great work 🙂
Excellent blogpost Lisa..I will be absolutely utilizing many of the resources mentioned especially entrepreneur connect. Thanks Again.
Wow! Thank you for this post, Lisa.
There are so many communities on the web full of entrepreneurs “like me.” I had no clue. Think I’ve been living under a rock too long! This article is so resourceful if you were standing beside me, I’d give you a big bear hug. 🙂 Thank you so much!
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