Monday, December 29, 2008

Getting New Business from New Digital Media

With the advent of new digital forms of communication, there are new means for businesses, consultants, specialists, or freelancers, to generate new business. Some sources mention the importance of a website, but then offer tips amounting to little more than creating brochureware. Therefore, I felt it would be useful to examine how new digital media can be used to help grow a business and find clients by 1) demonstrating expertise and building credibility, 2) harnessing contacts, 3) maintaining relationships with clients.

Build credibility
For most businesses, it is important to promote their name, services, and unique value offering to existing and prospective clients. As advanced knowledge of a specific area may also be crucial, many must also strive to demonstrate expertise in their given subject. Publishing can be a leading mean to build credibility, whether it is commercial publishing or self-publishing. Commercial publishing allows the author to benefit from the reputation of the publisher, while self-publishing offers more freedom to write about one’s own topic and use this material for marketing and promotional uses. Self-publishing online content can be done through building and expanding a website, writing an eBook or online whitepaper,blogging, microblogging (e.g. Twitter posts), or podcasting. Of all these, blogging, I believe, offers the greatest technical ease of publishing and flexibility of topics, format, and timing.

Podcasting, for example, continues to grow in popularity, but while the software to capture and edit digital audio or video is becoming more affordable, the entire process does require greater technical knowledge than many be comfortable with or have time for. Microblogging has been found to offer an opportunity to showcase expertise and recruit new business but its length restrictions (with Twitter it's 140 characters) can be limiting.

Due to the ease and zero cost of blogging software (e.g. Blogger, WordPress), self-publishing through blogging is affordable and convenient. As a primarily text-based medium, blogs interfaces are similar to familiar word processing software so they are relatively easy for to use. Blogs are entirely directed by the author in that the length, topic, and style are user-chosen, thus a consultant can publish a blog as often as they like on the topic they feel are beneficial to building their reputation and business. To gain credibility and readers, bloggers can partner with other websites or blog aggregator sites (e.g. b5media, Backbone Magazine) and have their blog included in these popular sites.

Blogging can also be a highly effective way to increase your presence as they offer the ability to craft positive, relevant messages rich with keywords associated with your name or business. Blog postings with relevant targetted keywords tend to be well ranked by the major search engines. In addition, if you sprinkle your name or your business in posts you'll create applicable content that will probably rank higher than other online content with your name. As Ted Demopoulos says in his eBook, Effective Internet Presence, “Certainly people are googling you, and if they find favorable results it’s much better than if they find unfavorable results or nothing at all”.

Online publishing, such as blogs or podcasts, can also be used to extend one’s reputation beyond the geographic confines of where one lives. Depending on the degree of specialization of one's business,it is likely that those who are interested in this content will seek it out. Therefore, it is important to not focus on the audience numbers, but rather how online efforts can increase one’s sphere of influence within their niche and attract desirable clients.

Harness contacts
Online efforts can help build a consultant’s credibility, but referrals and networking tend to bring in the bulk of business. Contacts are useful not only as a direct source of new business but also for referrals, insider information about prospective business, and testimonials. Social networking sites (SNS), particularly those geared towards professional networking, such as LinkedIn and Xing, offer unique benefits. For one, there is tremendous value for consultants in maintaining a large contact base. Yet studies have shown that the number of contacts one can maintain offline is quite limited whereas online users have been found to be able to maintain a significantly larger numbers of contacts. This may be due to the ability of SNS to facilitate the ongoing sharing of information, whether blog posts, pictures, links, status updates, or threaded discussions.

SNS also allow one to showcase their past clients and prominently display testimonials. Another benefit of SNS is that a user’s contacts are by default available for other contacts to see, thus if one is looking for an in with a company, whether for a cold call or for refining a proposal, an existing relationship with the company may be easily revealed. SNS allow consultants present credentials and testimonials, share information, and harness the power of direct and indirect contacts.

Maintain relationships with clients
Personal contacts are a primary source of business, yet these relationships must be maintained. Most successful business strive to have a large percentage of repeat business, but it can be a challenge to remain top of mind with former clients when new work arises. Offline ways to stay in touch such as sending articles and telephoning are traditional, online efforts can be perceived as less intrusive and scale more effectively. Blogs, microblogs, podcasts, and email newsletters enable an active and direct relationship between businesses and clients. They are less intrusive for clients than a telephone call or a surprise in-person visit as clients decide for themselves when they will view the content. They are also more direct than conventional websites, as the subscription features engenders a more active relationship than merely posting content and hoping users will come. Through the use of RSS and free feed reader applications (such as iGoogle, myYahoo, Netvibes, etc.) and similar applications for podcasts users can opt to receive content on their customized homepage.

Providing one posts content regularly, these media offer businesses the ability to continuously keep their names and current expertise front and center with clients. In addition, both blogging and microblogging allow the client, if they chose, to engage in the content by sharing or bookmarking it, or by commenting upon a posting, thus facilitating the ability to engage clients in ongoing conversations that builds and maintains relationships.

New forms of digital media whether blogging, microblogging, podcasting, or social networking sites offer new options for businesses to consider. This is not to say that these methods are appropriate for all businesses in all circumstances or that traditional techniques should be abandoned, as there are certainly additional factors to consider in determining the suitability of these methods. However, new digital media has already been proven to allow businesses to tap into new clients and grow business.

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