If you have an established business, the Answers feature of LinkedIn can help with just about any question that crops up. For example, if you need a family in Sleepy Hollow, New York for a photo shoot, a good source for Errors and Omissions insurance, or advice on how a small business can get a business plan into the hands of potential partners (each example an actual recent post), your network on LinkedIn can help. You can pose any question to the network of users as long as its business-oriented or related to your profession, reports Canfield, noting that 93 percent of the questions asked on LinkedIn Answers get a response.
Best of all, those benefits are available with a free LinkedIn account. The company also offers premium Business ($19.95 per month) and Business Plus ($50 per month) accounts that let you send e-mail directly to other members, conduct reference searches and more. What you cant do with any LinkedIn account is blatant marketing or self-promotion to the wider network.
LinkedIn allows you to broadcast a note to your network of contacts, by way of a Profile Update blast, but use these sparingly, warned Canfield. If you dont, theres a good chance that youll find yourself un-connected by people who can't manage your constant mailings.
Ultimately, LinkedIn proves the adage that in business, its not just what you know, but who you know. For example, Brant Bukowsky, the founder of LakeRentals.com, a Web site for vacation rental listings in lake destinations worldwide, researched The Weather Channel via LinkedIn and made his initial introduction through the site. In less than three months, LakeRentals.com was acquired by The Weather Channel as a direct result of the professional relationship that was fostered online.
And Eric Marcoullier and Todd Sampson started a Web stats tool for bloggers called MyBlogLog. MyBlogLog found its CEO with LinkedIn and a year later, sold the company to Yahoo.
MyVenturePad might not have millions of users like LinkedIn, but this startup (the site went live in November 2007) still has a lot to offer entrepreneurs. Backed by software giant SAP, MyVenturePad is a moderated online business community for owners and managers of companies with fewer than 500 employees.
The focus here is finding answers and expertise. If you have specific issues to addressfinance, globalization, complianceMyVenturePad can help, explained Carey. MyVenturePads articles provide initial insight into a topic, and the community aspect lets you connect directly with the blogger who can provide expert help.
For example, one member used the site recently to learn more about how to set up a social media capability for his companys Web site. Using the built-in communications capability for members, he contacted one of MyVenturePads bloggers. The two had a conversation about how to create community, and the expert was able to give him some good tips that the business owner is incorporating into his site.
There are also links to all manner of small business resources, podcasts by member experts and Webinars. Members can even link their blogs to MyVenturePad. Current topic areas include managing people, technology, money and finance, marketing ideas and more. Carey noted that MyVenturePad started out with broad topics, and as the site grows the information is getting more specific. MyVenturePad can get the conversation rolling, and help businesses grow and change, she said.
Jamie Bsales is an award-winning technology writer and editor with nearly 14 years of experience covering the latest hardware, software and Internet products and services.
This article was first published on SmallBusinessComputing.com.