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    0 Replies Latest reply on Apr 10, 2009 12:24 AM by CrdBrd

    Establishing a Web 2.0 Presence for Small Office/Home Office

    CrdBrd Newbie
      How a SOHO firm can extend its reach and become a global force

      What is a small business? To the operator of a Small Office/Home Office (SOHO) company, the official definition is meaningless. According to the Small Business Administration, a "small business", depending on category, may have up to 1,000 employees and in some cases, over $25 million a year in revenue. Companies operating in the SOHO space are the true frontier of small business; often operating on a small budget with two or three employees, sometimes out of kitchen table headquarters or the proprietor's garage. These innovative, entrepreneurial companies make up a significant percentage of American companies, and provide employment for millions of individuals.

      SOHO businesses today face several challenges, the greatest of which is how to present one's company in a global marketplace and get noticed, often with no marketing budget. In the past, the smallest entrepreneurial companies had to rely on word-of-mouth, costly advertising and marketing campaigns, and face-to-face networking. The latter category, while effective, was always time-consuming. A successful small businessperson, in the pre-Web 2.0 days, may have spent hours every week attending luncheons, joining social organizations, and participating in community functions, all towards the goal of getting noticed. The successful small entrepreneur has always been a social being out of necessity.

      At the heart of this networking, the ubiquitous business card has always remained a constant. A successful businessperson would never be caught without a handful of business cards ready to hand out at every opportunity. More than just a piece of card stock with contact information on it, the business card is a portable, inexpensive advertisement that can attract attention, deliver a message, and even put forth a call to action to the recipient: "Call me when you need what I have to offer." It is an entry point to a greater pitch. There may be sophisticated presentations, brochures, and spec sheets later on, but it all starts with a business card. It is the one tool that a businessperson cannot afford to do without.

      Today, though business networking has taken on an entirely different character with Web 2.0 innovations and global B2B virtual markets, the business card remains essential-although it is no longer merely a physical piece of card stock. It can now take a virtual form in the cyberworld that can be distributed to, and seen by, millions of people around the world.

      Social Networking and Business
      Web 2.0 technology has created a new type of networking, originally designed as a purely social online function. In many ways, what has come to be known as "social networking" has surpassed the functionality of old-style business networking to become a dominant force on the Internet.

      Over a third of all Internet users belong to social networks. Many of those users have hundreds, or even thousands of connections, which they use for no other reason than to communicate which club they are visiting that night or what they are watching on television. Social networking has become part of the very fabric of the Internet, and most importantly, part of American culture.

      More recently, the incredible power of social networking has found a new home in the business community, where success now hinges on getting noticed not just at your local lodge or community charity event, but in the online world as well. In fact, as younger people move into the workforce, social networking is taken for granted as part of the everyday business toolbox.

      Social networking sites, especially those that are business-specific, are really just building on the basic concept of the business card-taking it into a virtual world and adding on features that allow greater distribution and more information.

      SOHO businesses must take advantage of this online phenomena to succeed. A two- or three-person company may lack the multi-million dollar advertising budgets of larger companies, but it does have access to tools that can put them on a level playing field: viral marketing, social networking, and the Web.

      The entrance of social networking into the business community has taken the concept of the business card and expanded it. The old model required two steps: A potential contact had to look at a business card, and then they had to take the second step of initiating contact through a separate mechanism: picking up the phone, sending an email, or faxing off an RFP. Social networking allows the contact to be made immediately and from the same venue. You can, in essence, give somebody a "virtual" business card, with the ability to send you an email already built-in.

      A Web Presence for SOHO Businesses
      Business is less about brick-and-mortar than it is about a virtual presence. "Virtual companies" have become common; having no central office, and employees and partners that may live hundreds or thousands of miles apart. This virtual model extends beyond the organization of the company, and applies to how the company presents itself to the public.

      The virtual model allows a business to break out of its physical barriers. In a Web 2.0, business-enabled social networking world, you can't tell a two-person SOHO company from a company with a hundred employees and millions of dollars in revenue. And what's more important, you don't have to. So long as you are there, and you are searchable, you can still have a seat at the table alongside companies that are much larger and more established than you.

      The ability to create at least a basic Web presence that is visible and searchable makes it possible for a company, a professional, or a sales rep to establish a presence far beyond his or her own community. The addition of the business/social element of online networking-or the institution of the virtual equivalent of handing someone a business card-now makes it possible to say to a potential client a thousand miles away, "This is who I am."

      Small businesses can be successful without having a large marketing budget, but it means taking the business to the virtual community. There are several ways to do this:

      * The company website
      * Membership in B2B virtual marketplaces
      * Blogs
      * Search engine optimized content
      * Participation in subject-specific forums

      The Virtual World and the Personal Touch

      Throughout each of these methods however, a means of contact remains constant and necessary. Despite the proliferation of virtual venues, personal contact at some level-even if it is just over the phone or through a Web conference-remains part of the business and sales process. Some businesses make the mistake of ignoring the personal touch and customer service. The virtual marketplace and the Web make it too easy for a businessperson to remain anonymous; this is a critical mistake that spelled failure for many early adopters that saw Web 2.0 innovation as a way to shield themselves personally from the business process. There are virtual businesses, but they do not exist only in the virtual world.

      Some have attempted to address this lack of personal connection through a one-way mechanism in the form of Web forms, which do not offer a direct email address, but rather, a box for potential clients to send a request for information. This too, is impersonal and creates an impression of anonymity. It all comes back to the original model of the business card. Providing real contact information tells the potential client, "I trust you enough to give you my phone number. Call me any time." It transforms a random connection into a personal connection-and it gets results.

      Potential customers have come to accept the Web as a tool for commerce, but they still want to know that there is a person behind the transaction. That's why Web site designers always recommend the addition of an "About Us" page, which attempts to put a friendly face behind the shield of the Internet. Potential clients that are otherwise ready to buy tend to mistrust a Web-based company that is anonymous. When a potential client wants more information, they want and need your name, email address, or phone number.

      And what's more, they want easy access to it. This is one inherent limitation of existing business networking sites; a potential client looking on the Web for a solution has to take the extra step of joining and logging into those sites to conduct a search. Ultimately, it should not be necessary for a person to actively log into a Web site to conduct a search and find out that you exist.

      A SOHO Starting Point for Connecting to the World

      Building a Web presence is an essential part of even the smallest business. This Web presence is made up of multiple components: The company Web site, membership on B2B virtual marketplaces, blogs, search engine optimized content creation, and participation in relevant forums. But as it has always been for as long as printing presses have been able to create them, it all starts with the business card.

      The business card remains the most important component of a company's presence, both physical and virtual. In addition to the standard print card, it now must also exist in virtual form, and on a platform that allows for widespread distribution, easy access, and searchability.

      TheCardBoard presents a unique venue that preserves the format of the original, physical card, while adding the power of Web 2.0 distribution. It allows small businesses, sales reps, and others to post a scanned copy of a business card onto the site; creating instant visibility to thousands of potential clients and valuable business connections. Going a step beyond the mainstream business networking sites, TheCardBoard allows visitors to casually search for the small business provider they need, without having to take the extra step of getting a membership and logging in. This means greater visibility for the person whose name is on the business card.

      With TheCardBoard, small businesses can enjoy the same advantages of larger ones, compete in the global marketplace, and get the exposure that they need. TheCardBoard solves several problems at once, providing a valuable venue that will:

      * Easily share contact information with potential clients
      * Allow potential clients to easily find you
      * Provide an easy way for clients and potential clients to contact you immediately
      * Give clients an extended view of what you have to offer

      TheCardBoard goes beyond simply being a collection of business cards; members also have an opportunity to append longer descriptions of services and detailed contact information, links to Web sites, and an easy way to communicate instantly. It's a business card with a built-in communication mechanism: A potential client can conduct a search, find your card, and send you an email for more information, all in the same venue.

      Cards are easily searchable; so a visitor to the site can search cards by state or city, or by category-making it very straightforward to find exactly the right person for every situation.

      Visit our web site at to sign up for a free account and post your card today.