Wednesday, May 30, 2007

You MUST Be Visible

By Jeanna Pool

Have you ever noticed how visible large corporations are? Take Coca-Cola®, Nike® and McDonalds®. They are everywhere. Just ask anyone what comes to mind when he/she hears the words soft drink, running shoes or quick burgers. More often than not, you'll hear these brand names immediately.
We've been exposed to these companies so much that it's natural to think of them immediately. We recognize them as experts in their specific industries.

What's the lesson here? Visibility.

As a small business owner, you MUST be visible. If your business isn’t visible to potential clients and customers, then you might as well close the doors.

Visibility is proactively marketing your business in order to effectively attract new customers. Sure, you may have a somewhat consistent client base, but resting on your laurels or just relying on your current client base as your only source of revenue carries an incredibly high risk, one that has been the detriment to countless small businesses.

Visibility is one of the MOST crucial determining factors in the success of your small business. People can't do business with you if they don't know you exist.

How can you proactively be visible?

First, remember you are the number one asset of your small business. More than just getting your name out there, you have to get your face out there in the marketplace. Prospects can turn up in some of the unlikeliest places and when they do, it's your face they need to see in order to consider doing business with you.

For example, take Donald Trump. Whether you admire him or despise him, he's everywhere. A few years ago, who would have thought that he would be hosting one of the most acclaimed network series on television? Who would have thought that he would have a brand new bestselling book? Even while experiencing financial uncertainty in his primary business enterprise, Trump is still going strong. Why? Visibility?
I hear you say, "But, I'm just a small business...I don't have the same endless budgets to be as visible as all those corporate types." As a small business owner, you don't have to have a big budget to be visible.

The secret to small business visibility lies in tapping into the solid gold value of networking. Networking is the high performance vehicle by which small business owners can drive their exposure towards a successful finish.
But the caveat is...it's up to you to take advantage of the opportunities that you do have for networking and to also create your own new opportunities.

Networking is all about people. It gives you the chance to meet new people, make new contacts, exchange ideas and interact with others. This can seem particularly challenging for small business owners who run their businesses from home. It can also seem challenging for those who don't live in larger cities, but rather in smaller towns.

But, there are several ways of navigating these challenges. Consider the valuable networking opportunities with each of these ideas.
One last thing about networking...its not net-sit, net-eat, net-drink or net-hide-in- the-corner-and-don't-talk-to-anyone. It is netWORK.

Chambers of Commerce:

Even the smallest of towns has a local chamber group. Membership fees are typically based upon the annual revenue or number of employees of a business.

If you are a brand new business with limited funds, consider opting for an individual membership at a minimal fee. This will still give you the opportunity to participate in chamber events and meet other people in the business community. It will also give you the opportunity to determine whether your area chamber offers the networking opportunities for which you are looking.

Professional/Industry-Related Associations:

Do you belong to a group or organization relevant to your area of expertise? If so, when was the last time you attended one of its meetings or functions? Do you even know what it's doing these days?

Sure, you may be a member of such a group, but are you an active member? Simply paying your annual dues and not participating is not only a waste of money, but also a waste of a valuable networking and visibility opportunity.
I hear you say, "I don't have time. That's like consorting with the enemy. They're my competition." Rest assured that the time you don't take to make the most of this opportunity to network is time that your competition is taking to maximize its networking opportunities.

Look at it this way. What potential value can you offer one of your competitors that might result in a mutually beneficial situation? How can you benefit from working together? One of your competitors may be able to provide you with a solution to a problem while you can offer a solution to one of his/her problems.

Unless you network, you'll never know. It would be a shame to miss such a valuable opportunity simply because you decide that you don't have time or don't want to face the competition.

The Internet:

Whether you run your business from a small town or even from home in an isolated rural area, the Internet has made networking a worldwide possibility. If you don't have a business web site, then you are missing your absolute best potential for visibility.

Maximize your marketing potential by investing in a business web site. The exposure it generates for you will produce a valuable return of your investment.

However, it is vital that your web site presents your business in a professional light.

If you design your web site yourself, but are not a professional designer...if you scrimp and try to develop a site on the cheap...and if your expertise is not in knowing what content to include in a web site to attract clients...you are presenting yourself to potential clients and customers as an amateur or fly-by-night operation.

This is the LAST thing that you want. Sure, you'd be visible—in a VERY bad way.

In addition to having your own web site, the Internet offers other opportunities for increasing your visibility through networking. Search for professional and/or industry-related web sites in your area of expertise. Post comments or suggestions on industry-related discussion groups or blogs.

Dig a little and you will find valuable resources such as industry-specific forums that offer countless networking opportunities.

Remember, if people don't know you exist, they can't consider doing business with you. Although this sounds like simple common sense, I regularly see small business owners who have no concept of the visibility factor.

You MUST be visible.

When it comes to being visible, they mistakenly think that they "don't have time", "can't make time", "can't afford the investment", "can just hide in their offices and expect the phone to ring" or any other flimsy excuses that gets them nowhere.

The time to drop that rock is now and increase your visibility.

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