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Using Strategic Networking to Build Your Online Business

by Alice Seba

Have you ever been to a message board or signed up for an email group, posted a bunch of messages solely to promote your business and waited to see what would happen? What did happen? Not much? I'm not surprised.

Some may call this networking, but I'm not to sure about that. One thing I do know is that this is not what I call Strategic Networking.

Strategic Networking is a fantastic way to build your online business and best of all, it's free. Sure, it takes a bit of time getting the ball rolling, but once you do, your efforts will pay off threefold.

What is Strategic Networking?
The foundations of this idea are truly partnering with other business people. It's about finding an opportunity to work together that will benefit not only you, but the person you're partnering with. If you are solely looking out for yourself, you will not form true partnerships and your results will be limited. However, when you work just as hard to promote someone else's business, while promoting your own, the results can be amazing.

Starting Strategic Networking
Sometimes it is difficult to find those strategic partnerships, but begin with a few simple steps that will help establish you as a supporter of home based businesses.

1. Join a few home based business groups or message boards and start to develop your relationships. Use this opportunity to help others, receive advice when you need it and to become a part of this community. Remember, many of the people in the community will already know each other. You need to give them a chance to get to know you too and not just your business.

2. When you need to purchase a gift, need help with your web design or are looking for a new web host ~ look to your community members first. This doesn't mean spend your life savings. If you were already going to make the purchase, you should support your community members. You will find that this support will come back to you. It may not be instant, but it will happen.

3. If you are going to join a business opportunity, sign up with your community member. If you're not sure if anyone in your group is part of the business opportunity ~ ask!

4. Check for messages in your area of expertise and take the time to answer those questions. Not only does this show you to be a supportive person, it also establishes you as the expert.

Beyond the Basics: Establishing Viable Partnerships
Once you get to know the members of your community, you are ready to start analyzing how you could mutually benefit from business partnerships. Partnerships can be something as simple as link exchanges, but you need to do more than that.

Here's a few ideas:

1. Find someone who sells products or services that are complementary to yours. Offer to sell one another's products on your websites. This could be a page dedicated to your partner's products or you could incorporate your partner's products right into your own catalog.

2. Swap services to help your businesses. Is a community member a whiz at the search engines, while you are the expert writer? Why not exchange search engine optimization for writing services?

3. Share advertising costs with like businesses. You sell bath products and a fellow message board member sells bathroom decor products. Set up a page on one of your websites that fully describes both your products.

You can also do this with someone who is offering the same business opportunity as you. Set up an email address to accept all the inquiries and then split your leads amongst your co-operative advertisers.

By combining funds, you might just be able to afford some high profile advertising that would otherwise be beyond your budget.

4. Share your expertise to write an ebook together. This could be a free publication or a publication for profit. Are you a crafter? Why not gather together a number of crafters, each with a different area of expertise, and have each crafter submit an article to be included in the ebook. Everyone receives a credit and a subtle plug for their business. Then the ebook is either given away or sold on all of your websites.

5. If you have a newsletter, give each other a "column" in the newsletter. For example, if you have a maternity wear shop and there is a breast-feeding expert or perhaps a doula in your community ~ ask her to write a column for your newsletter. You get interesting and appropriate content for your newsletter and she gets to promote her business.

These are just a few ideas and the possibilities are endless. Remember, we're all in business to achieve the same stay home with our children. Let's help each other as much as we can along the way.

Alice Seba is the editor & author of An Internet Based Mom's Guide to Marketing Your Website ~ an essential guide for any mom with a cyber business.

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