Author – Becky McCray, Small Business Survival
Small business people are helping each other succeed through online communities. Some communities are sponsored by corporations, others grew from grassroots. Four worth a look are Bank of America’s Small Business Online Community, Intuit’s JumpUp, Constant Contact’s Community, and Startup Nation’s Forums.
Bank of America launched a community site for small business. Entrepreneur Daily covered the launch, “Bank of America says it’s the first financial institution to develop an online community for small-business owners. And you don’t have to be a B of A customer to enjoy the perks of the free site. The community includes a forums section where entrepreneurs can receive feedback on any problems they’re experiencing.”
Though new, it is active. Most posts have under 10 replies. Oddly, participants are restricted to icons, not photos, as their avatar. The forum does allow readers to rate answers, addressing the continuing issue of finding quality information in open forums. Expert articles also invite comments and reviews. Community members can share success stories on the site, for a bit of bonus PR.
Intuit’s JumpUp keeps it simple with just four categories of forum topics. Activity level is kind of low, with only a few new topics per day. Some questions take a while to draw an answer, and some just don’t get any replies. Expert articles are now being grouped into Centers. Intuit commissioned one of my articles for their new Online Marketing Center. Links to free and paid resources support the articles. The “Six Steps to Start a Business” content is an excellent reference for the start up phase. Profiles on JumpUp can serve as a strong marketing presence. The data fields allow links to your home page and ask questions designed to draw out some interesting stories about your business. JumpUp goes a step further with Spotlights on member businesses, their challenges and solutions. Any member can submit their story to be considered for the Spotlight. Spotlight stories are further publicized in a widget that any website owner can pick up. Users can also bookmark favorite business related sites to share with the community.
Constant Contact, an email marketing firm, has a user community. It is focused mostly on Constant Contact product discussion, email marketing topics, with a little bit of networking by users. Resources include email marketing articles and a useful glossary of email marketing terms. Users can also share their story with the community.
Startup Nation seems to be the most active community with many forum topics and quick responses. Another strength is the number of articles on small business topics. The startup plan is a particular favorite of mine. It starts with designing the type of life you want, and then building the business that takes you there. What’s the point of building a business that makes you miserable?
Ramon Ray, Editor of Smallbiztechnology.com, says, “The nice thing about online forums is that, assuming the community is active, you can find answers to questions you have, from your peers. If you are a retailer of CDs and DVDs and are considering starting your own newsletter, it’s good to be able to get an idea of what other retailers in similar industries are doing.
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