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.
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?