Research via networking for #MAent

I’m discovering a wealth of networking opportunities for small businesses in Milton Keynes, both online and offline. There are networking breakfasts hosted by Grapevine, a weekly Twitter meet and greet and chat via #MKHour, get-togethers a for self-employed mums and plenty of informal chats over coffee and biscuits. And I do love coffee and biscuits!

I went along to Build your Business MK on a Monday morning to catch up with some local businesses – it’s a child friendly networking group (thank God). Like many other small businesses and freelancers, I’m juggling work with childcare and had two noisy toddlers in tow.

Talking to this group of six-strong business owners, one male, five female, (the size of the group varies each week) gave me a useful insight into their concerns. And how supportive they are of each other as fellow local business owners, they were all keen to share their contacts and email addresses. What it also highlighted, as I listened to them talk about video as a popular media, SEO, web copy and social media, is just how much I’d be able to help them if I gave them each half an hour of my time. I think my enterprise idea definitely has legs, but I’m not sure how much these small businesses know they need someone like me to help them.

Networking for #MAent from Robyn Bateman on Vimeo.

Here’s a summary of what I discovered over coffee and cookies:

1) Lack of time

They all said it’s hard to find time to market themselves when their main focus is to do the work and bring the money in. Not all of them had a website and/or Facebook page to showcase their work and their services and only a couple used Twitter. They all agreed they needed them, but struggled to find time to find help or do it themselves.

2) Business cards versus Twitter handles

They all had business cards (except for me) and just a few had Twitter handles (which weren’t on their business cards). Printed promotion was referred to such as flyers, a boards etc and less about online promotion although they all talked about being online, websites and personal Facebook profiles so it’s not that they’re technophobes, just not up to date with how much different channels can help them.

3) Lack of awareness about content marketing and its benefits

Small businesses have no money for content marketing, they said, but went on to talk about creating flyers, advertising on Facebook and employing copywriters to help them creating case studies, web content etc (all of which cost money). There was a lack of awareness about the benefits of content marketing and how easily and cheaply it can be done, and the impact in terms of ROI compared to more traditional advertising methods (they admitted a lot got no response). There was talk of creating videos but no mention of why, what their ‘story’ is or what I’d refer to as content strategy or how to make videos that are shareable for extra exposure. This is definitely a place I think I can help the but there needs be a programme of education, networking and leading by example to show, firsthand, how small businesses can benefit and give them confidence in me as a local supplier. I also think a collaboration model may work, working with agencies who will outsource training as part of their web development packages.

4) Personal versus professional

Most of them as admitted to using their personal social media profiles to work their businesses, rather than creating professional ones. I think this is risky. While it’s important to sell yourself as a business owner and get people to buy into you, mixing business with personal profiles can come across as unprofessional and gives the business owner no separation between work and home life. One mentioned linking Facebook and Twitter profiles and auto-tweeting each status rather than tweaking content for different channels. Helping them start and develop their  professional online profile is something I could help with.

5) Face to face is best

They agreed that face to face is best for making connections and advertising their services, which makes me think there will have to be some face-to-face work and networking pre- business launch to sell myself, my skills and my service as part of my own marketing strategy. I think it will be key to sell myself as a business owner by the strength of my own content (leading by example) so that my online training blog posts, videos etc aren’t seen as completely faceless and that I’m very responsive to comments and questions in the online, learning portal. I need to tell my story in an engaging way so that people have confidence that I can help them tell theirs.

No one  mentioned training in a formal sense but one did refer to video tutorials on YouTube to discover new ways of doing things, including how to download contacts off LinkedIn. One said it’s important to find what works for your business first and then to find another business to help you.

Food for thought.

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