You are invited to visit a beta site for the SCORE Chicago Community, www.scorechicago.ning.com. It’s a place where small business owners and entrepreneurs in the Chicago area gather to exchange ideas, network, ask questions and showcase their businesses. The community is soley for clients who have worked with a SCORE Chicago counselor or attended several of our workshops.
Learn Your Way Around
The tabs across the top are the main sections of the site. Let’s look at each in turn.
- Main — Start here to get the big picture. This is the first page the public sees when they click on the Community link from the http://www.scorechicago.org main navigation bar. It provides a good overview of the community and its features.
- Members — Click this tab to scan members of this community, their names and businesses. Click on one to learn more about a person and his or her business. Some SCORE Chicago counselors have also joined, and on their pages, you’ll find information about their backgrounds and interests.
- Events — See events created by SCORE Chicago, for example special workshops or expos and conferences where we will be represented.
- Forum — View questions posed by community members, and comments by others. Look in the upper right to see + Start a Discussion. Members can click that link and pose a question to the group or make a comment on someone else’s.
- Groups — Shows Featured Groups and all groups, with brief descriptions. Click the image to see the group’s page, with its resources, discussion forums, news, and list of group members. Look in the upper right for + Join [group name], where Members can click to join. If a member doesn’t see a relevant group, he or she can start one to find out if others share this interest. In the upper right on the Groups Tab, look for +Create a Group.
- Photos — See photos of others. Members can add business-related photos by clicking +Add a photo. Maybe a sample product pic? These show up on the Photos Tab, but also on the member’s page, the My Page tab.
- Videos — View videos of others. Members can add videos related to their businesses by clicking + Add a video.
Set Up a Business Profile
To join and set up a business profile, you click the Sign Up link in the upper right, just below the blue menu bar. After you do this, you will be asked these 7 questions. All but the first are optional. But the whole purpose of this is to showcase your business, so fill in the details.
- Name: I know it says “name”, but put in both your name and your business name, so both display. For example, “Jane Doe, Doe Catering.”
- Photo. You don’t have to upload a photo now. You can do it later. If you skip this question, you’ll see a place-holding smiley face by your name. Pictures have to be reviewed, so you won’t see yours until I OK it.
- Business Name: Give your full business name, with any tag line.
- Business Description: Here’s where you put a brief summary of your business niche, your “elevator pitch.”
- Business website URL: Make it easy for others to contact and buy from you by adding your website URL. And an outside link from this site to yours may help yours come up higher in internet searches.
- Featured Products and Services; This is the spot to pitch what you’ve got to the small business community. Pick a service or item to feature, or summarize your offerings.
- Discount: This box is a space to make a special offer. Maybe it’s “$10 off if you mention the SCORE website.” Or” Save 10% if you buy by July 31st.”
Since you must be a SCORE Chicago client to join, your profile will be reviewed and your relationship verified. Expect to see it on the site in a day or two. You’ll get an email saying you were approved.
Network with Others
The purpose of the SCORE Chicago community is to both help you showcase your business and to give you the opportunity to network and share ideas with others. You can do the latter by joining groups, posting questions in forums, making comments and contributing information on topics of interest. This is “client space”, where you take the lead.
Communities take time to form and grow. Give this one a chance to prove its value. Be passionate and proactive and see what happens.
Promote Your Business
Initially and most importantly, the SCORE Chicago Community enables you to make your business visible to others. Those browsing the SCORE Chicago website may click the Community link and discover your business page. Members may share your interest or see a smart comment you made in a forum and look you up. This is the low-key marketing that happens as you network and share.
Blatant promotional posts on community forums are inappropriate. They belong on your page only.
Here are some additional ways to market your products and services indirectly:
- Blog Posts. You can add an RSS Feed from your own blog on My Page. Or, in the lower right on My Page, you can create a Blog. These are short items or a paragraph or two on your products, business, or industry, listed in reverse chronological order. It’s simple. Just click +Add Blog Post, write something, and click save.
- Update. Revise your featured products and discount boxes monthly, to keep the information current and offers fresh.
So, have a fling with our new Ning-based network, SCORE Chicaogo Community. Check it out and tell us what we can do to make it a place you’d like to come back to. Leave us a comment, pretty please.
(Want to start a network like this for your clients? See a series of posts on How to Start A Social Networking Website, which covers the basics, revenue models and basics-free software platforms.)