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Growing Your Business Through Online Networking
By Valerie Gonyea, CPA
The development of social media has empowered businesses of all sizes to effectively build a brand, establish relationships and grow their bottom line. The trick is determining how to use these tools, because while each of them has its own look and feel, there is a common goal among them—establishing trusted relationships and sharing information through conversation. This could mean open and valuable conversations with peers, colleagues, potential employees/employers and even competitors.
Before you start using social media in your business, determine how you would like to market yourself. This is not the time to use boilerplate; rather it’s an opportunity to market yourself in a powerful way that is representative of you and your expertise and appeal to potential networking contacts.
Establishing and promoting your personal brand—your expertise—is perhaps the biggest role social media can play in growing your business. So a good first step—even before you sign up for these services—is to define yourself. When I work with clients I give them a personal brand assessment, which helps them determine their unique qualifications that can address clients’ business needs. The assessment forces the user to clarify who they are and to identify the audience they are trying to attract.
The personal brand assessment process goes like this:
• Identify your target audience(s).
• Study and clearly articulate your understanding of their needs.
• Brainstorm about your skills, expertise, affiliations and your unique experiences to develop a list of keywords that are meaningful to potential clients.
• Combine your keywords in ways that are especially meaningful to your target audience.
• Craft your compelling story, always with your target audience in mind.
Once you have developed your brand, the next step is to roll it out, in a consistent fashion, across multiple social media platforms. The platforms that are most popular include LinkedIn, Twitter and Facebook. But there are many other more focused choices as well.
All social media platforms begin with your personal profile. Think of your profile as an online résumé of sorts—a marketing tool. Because you have taken the time to define your brand in advance, you can use that work to design a consistent and compelling online presence across multiple platforms.
Each social media platform has its own environment, but there are some common elements to all of them, including:
Headline: It’s a short, compelling and descriptive sentence or idea that would cause your audience to click through to learn more about you. The headline, in conjunction with your photo, is the most important element of your profile. Make it good, interesting and enticing.
Photo: This should be a close up of your face, smiling. It doesn’t have to be a formal portrait, just a clear and pleasant photo of your face. You want it to show that you are smart, interesting and, most of all, approachable. Also, once you find a good profile photo, be sure to use the same one on every social media profile you create. This helps to reinforce your brand.
Summary: Use this section to answer the question, “Tell me about yourself.” Authenticity is the key here. Don’t use boiler plate and don’t use third person “résumé speak.” Tell them who you are and what you have to offer. Include your expertise, your style and your goals.
Affiliations: These help support and validate your brand. Of course we will all be affiliated with and connected to CalCPA, which is present on Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn. There are other affiliations that are relevant as well, such as the AICPA, your colleges and universities, even alumnae groups for larger companies and firms. Many social media platforms allow you to present your affiliations by joining“groups,” which then put the logo of the group on your profile page.
Contact information: Give the users a way to contact you directly; your e-mail address or a link to your website that has a “contact” form on it.
Now comes the fun part: meeting people! One of the benefits to social media is that it gives you the opportunity to meet people you wouldn’t have met any other way.
But this is the part people usually struggle with. You can’t do social media without being social. You must engage your target audience in a way that will be meaningful to them. Social networking, like traditional networking, is about building relationships overtime. If you wait until your client list has dwindled, you are out of a job or you absolutely need something, your requests will sound desperate and unappealing.
This stage in social media is a lot like dating: you want to put your best face forward so that your audience will actively and intentionally want to engage in conversations with you. These people may not need to find a new CPA today, but things change and clients move on. If you have built a relationship, you are like to get a phone call when that happens. As with all business relationships, this is a marathon game not a sprint.
Social media continues to allow you to reinforce your brand when you participate in conversations. Don’t be afraid to offer valuable and helpful information to others that will help reinforce your personal brand as someone who knows their stuff. It makes you more valuable in the eyes of your audience.
We no longer live in a brochure-based world. Social media and the powerful use of relationships and conversation is the new way to market and grow your business.