[intro]One of the often overlooked aspects of managing an online shop is networking. This is essential both online and in-person as it's both an excellent way to advertise your brand and generate sales and exposure from other individuals and online shops. [/intro]
Business Networking in person
Business networking events are available up and down the country. You’ll often see these advertised on social media - more often than not on the likes of LinkedIn and occasionally, Facebook. If you can and they’re applicable to you and your online shop, you should attend some of these events. This will help you quickly get known locally, even more so if you have business cards ready to hand out with your online shop domain name and social media profiles listed on them.
When attending these events, be sure to dress smartly, get involved with conversations where you can and approach new people. This can be easier said than done, but at these events, there are always plenty of people approaching strangers and ‘working the room’ as it were, so you should have no problem meeting new people and other business owners within your locality. If you can, offer business cards, and if not, follow individuals on social media with your online shop’s social media. This allows you to network online together at a later date and can also encourage likes and followers.
Your main mission during these events is to raise the profile of your online shop and get to know others within your locality. This can be useful for future promotions, discounts and events and is an excellent way of garnering feedback from other businesses. Regardless of the size of your company, it’s important to remember that you represent your own brand at all times. This is especially important in the online world, where you can be quickly traced and linked to your business using social media - the same platforms that you need to utilise to promote yourself. Remember your ‘Ps and Q’s’, thank folk for spending time talking to you, and if you take any photos for your own social media - such as Instagram or LinkedIn - be sure to tag the relevant company profiles too (this is also a fantastic way to increase awareness of your brand and your follower count too!).
Business Networking online
Not all networking has to be in person - after all, running your own business, especially if you’re working a full-time job as well is time-consuming enough as it is! Therefore, you can still network with other companies and individuals, but be cleverer about it. Without meeting you in person, other local companies won’t have formed the same kind of relationship with you, so you will need to encourage that using direct messages.
Do some research on Facebook, and as your Page, like and where possible, comment or review other local companies in your area. Keep it positive of course, but often a kind review or comment can go a long way and encourage the Facebook Page owner to come and view your Facebook Page out of sheer curiosity. If you purchase a sandwich or a cup of coffee at the same place each day, show your support on their Facebook Page as your own shop’s Facebook Page. If the company is also on Instagram, tag them into a story (‘another delicious lunch from the folks @sandwichshop’). Where possible, visit local companies and use the hashtag #buylocal on your posts, whilst also creating content that supports their business.
You don’t have to follow and support competitors of course (although it doesn’t hurt to review their social media from time to time to see what they’re getting up to!) but try and follow the companies within your locality on as many social media platforms as possible, and with a few positive comments and well-worded posts, they should follow you in no time at all.
Depending on the products or services that you offer on your EKM online shop, you may find it useful to join the UK Business Forums. This platform offers both free and premium accounts, but you can use this resource to gain feedback, speak to other small business owners and network across the country, not just within your locality.
Local Notoriety & Community Involvement
Whether you have a physical shop or you only trade online, the local notoriety of your business is certainly something that you need to consider, especially if your budget to market yourself is limited to begin with. If you’ve actually attended a networking event by now, you’ll find that local charities and good causes regularly approach local businesses for resources and financial support. Where possible you should donate to these causes in return for some coverage for your online shop. This can be in the form of physical banners displayed at the event, or being tagged in regular social media updates from the organisers instead.
Alternatively, if there’s a local event, such as a gala, fayre, fun-run or similar, this is a great opportunity to raise your profile. Get involved if you can by taking part, booking a stall or simply volunteering. Make sure you take some branding with you - a branded t-shirt is very affordable these days and is a great way to publicise your brand and domain name - and make sure your phone is fully charged so you can take lots of photos for your social media content.
Essentially, you have to speculate to accumulate as the old saying goes, but where you can’t speculate with money as your budget is too small, you should instead speculate with time and get involved with your local community to raise awareness of your products, increase your social media following and encourage sales from brand new customers too. Plus, you never know - you might really enjoy the experience!
At this point, you should have defined:
- Found some business networking events in your local area;
- Done some online business networking in your locality;
- Researched upcoming events that you and your brand can get involved with to raise awareness whilst supporting a good cause.
[contact] If you need our help with your EKM online shop, contact your Ecommerce Expert or the Customer Support Team, who will be able to point you in the right direction. We're open from 8am-6pm weekdays and 9am-5.30pm weekends. If you'd like to suggest a feature or an upgrade on any of the EKM platforms, please let us know on the EKM Suggestions Board. If you have a non-account specific question to ask the EKM Team, join us in EKM Community. If you need some inspiration for your EKM online shop, listen to our podcast on iTunes and Spotify.[/contact]