How Small Businesses Can Leverage Online Communities for Help and Support

We’ve included a list of online communities for small business owners to take advantage of at the bottom of the article — please check them out!

Communities are a crucial part of small business ownership. Whether you’re looking for software suggestions or tax advice, it’s important to have a dependable group of people who can help you navigate the many challenges of entrepreneurship.

But what happens when you can no longer connect with your community in-person, or when your business is entirely online? Where can you find ideas and support from people you trust?

That’s where online communities can help. Here’s a look at why online communities are more important than ever, and what to look for when joining one.

What Small Business Professionals Should Look for in Online Communities

There’s no shortage of social media groups aimed at entrepreneurs. The key is to find an active, trustworthy community that can help you with your business questions and goals.

Active, Engaged Members

A group is only useful when its members are actively engaged in conversations. Online communities are the most beneficial when people answer questions, comment on member posts and share relevant resources.

Gauge whether or not a group is active by scrolling through recent posts. Evaluate the group by asking:

  • When was the last time someone asked a relevant question?
  • Did that person receive thorough responses promptly?
  • Do members support and uplift one another on a daily basis?

Lastly, take note of how many posts are being shared per day. If it’s over 100, there might be too much noise for you to get targeted help. If it’s under 10, there might not be enough activity to get the help you need.

Find Something Relevant to Your Business

Small businesses are at an advantage when it comes to finding niche online communities. Whether you’re a coffee shop, an apparel brand or a design firm, there’s a group for nearly every niche. Some business owners may prefer to join an industry-specific group, as it can strengthen ties with other entrepreneurs in the same category.

For example, if you type in “coffee shop owners” on the Facebook search bar and click the “groups” filter, you’ll find groups like Coffee Business Owner Group and Mobile Coffee Business Owner Group.

You might also search for small business groups in your city or state to create local camaraderie. Others may prefer to get advice from small businesses across a range of industries.

Ask yourself what you’re looking for before joining such a group:

  • Is it important to you to connect to other business owners in your field?
  • Do you value working with businesses who are local?
  • Are you looking for more high-level advice across business marketing and ownership?

Getting clear on these questions can guide you to a group that best serves your needs.

Trustworthy Moderators

Online communities are a great place for people to connect and lift one another up; however, they’re also a great place for people to market and sell their products. When seeking an online community for your small business, be sure to differentiate between groups that serve only to support—and those that have an underlying agenda.

To understand the true motives of the group, visit the group page, the group rules, and the administrators. Many groups explicitly state that promotion and advertising aren’t allowed. This is usually a good sign that the group is moderated often by well-intentioned people.

Then, scroll down through past posts and consider the following questions:

  • What information is presented here?
  • Have products been pushed before?
  • Does the administrator ask and answer questions mindfully and thoughtfully?
  • Do they consistently link to their website?

It is possible to find groups that were initially set up as a marketing strategy, but also to serve members in a helpful and honest way. Be aware of the group and its potential motives to make sure you’re putting time and energy into something with good intentions.

Open and Honest Communication

While business groups can be used to ask simple questions about product marketing or social media, one of their greatest benefits is connecting people through vulnerability. When people feel comfortable to share their personal stories, such as those regarding challenging financial situations or balancing work with spending time with family, users are more likely to respond with their own honest and vulnerable stories.

The right group will foster a safe space where everyone feels comfortable opening up about their biggest small business struggles. If the group doesn’t have much activity happening or people are only posting basic questions, it might not be the best group for cultivating an engaging and intimate community.

Why are Online Communities Important?

There’s no question that humans are designed to share life together—and the same is true for business owners. Being an entrepreneur can be isolating and overwhelming in many ways, yet having a trusted friend or mentor to turn to is often the most helpful way to overcome common struggles.

Online communities for small business are first and foremost a place for entrepreneurs to connect and share ideas. Yet they’re also a place for people to ask questions they may not be able to ask anyone else.

They also provide a platform for small business owners to share stories and seek out advice in a place they feel safe being vulnerable. Online communities help amplify the voices of small businesses owners so that they feel seen and heard by people who share the same experiences.

According to Christina Keohane, who leads small business community-building efforts at Salesforce Essentials, now is a time when small businesses need support and resources. That’s the goal of Small Business Strong, which she calls, “a public facing group for all small businesses to network and gather resources they need to navigate through the current COVID-19 situation and beyond.”

This group is a place where small business owners can explain where they’ve found success and what they’ve done to persevere through hardship. Small Business Strong is also intended to be a haven for small business resources, where entrepreneurs can go anytime they have a question.

Where Small Businesses Can Find Online Communities

The most popular places to find online communities for your small business include Facebook, Linkedin and Reddit, though a Google search can also lead you to helpful groups and pages designed to bring small business owners together.

On Google, search “online groups for small business owners” or “online groups for [insert niche here] business owners.” When searching on a specific social media site, use the search bars to type in “small business,” “small business network,” or “[insert niche here] business group.”

These are some of the most popular small business groups online, but thousands more exist depending on your niche and location.

Linkedin

Facebook

Reddit

Find Your Online Community

Social media platforms and discussion websites are full of groups and pages dedicated to helping small businesses share resources and lift one another up. When you know what your intentions are for joining a group (and what to watch out for) it’ll be easier to find a community that supports your small business goals.

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