One of the best ways to drive business is to become an expert or thought leader in your field online. Of course, you need some expertise first. (That part is up to you.) But once you have it, you need to let the world know about it.
Since you likely don’t have a great deal of access to the press, the next best thing is to offer your expertise to a community of your target customers. There are many websites that facilitate these opportunities, but I’d like to highlight three: Yahoo Answers, Answers.com, and LinkedIn Groups.
Users on both Yahoo Answers and Answers.com actively solicit answers to business (and other) questions. Using the search feature on each, find people asking questions related to your particular expertise. On Yahoo Answers, you build up points each time you answer questions and get bonus points if your answer is selected as the “best.”
I tested this out by doing a search for Web design and came across a query asking the community about the best way to go about setting up a website for a new business. Bingo—questions like this one open the door for a Web designer to provide an intelligent, useful answer, and one that clearly demonstrates expertise. On top of that, it gives you the opportunity to provide a link back to your business’s website.
Answers.com provides very similar functionality. If you provide enough answers, you’ll earn the label of “top contributor,” thus enhancing your reputation in the community.
To find a more narrowly targeted audience, LinkedIn is your site. With over 130 million members and thousands of groups to join, LinkedIn provides tremendous opportunities to demonstrate your expertise.
Answering questions often leads to requests to connect and it can quickly get the ball rolling on a business relationship. Search the Groups function to find your desired niche audience.
If you provide services to small businesses, there are literally dozens of groups that target entrepreneurs and start-ups. Join them, look carefully for questions to which you are equipped to provide useful answers, and dive in.
Keep in mind that even a whiff of self-promotion can backfire terribly, so you need to strike a delicate balance between being helpful and blatantly selling your own services/products.
The best approach is to treat the person asking the question as you would a friend or acquaintance. Here are a few things to keep in mind:
- Be a clearinghouse for information. Put links in your answers that take readers to a great article or blog post. Most times, these links shouldn’t go back to ones you’ve written yourself. You’ll build trust with your audience if you act in a way that isn’t self-serving. If you do link back to your own material, be doubly sure the information is relevant to solving the problem.
- Give away free and useful advice. Offer specific and detailed answers as to how to solve the problem presented by the questioner. Give away some trade secrets that demonstrate your industry knowledge.
- Never give a partial answer or a “teaser” that requires the reader to get directly in touch with you. Writing something like, “We deal with that all the time—give us a call” doesn’t offer readers a compelling reason to trust you. If your answers are truly helpful, you won’t need to ask for business; it will come to you.