Feeding the Small Business Ecosystem

Forgive what may seem like a bit of a theoretical argument today. Sometimes you have to step back and get a sense of the biggest picture in order to understand how all the simple, practical parts relate.

Small business is often held together with sweat, creativity and a heavy use of duct tape. (In case you ever wondered where I came up with the term Duct Tape Marketing.) That’s the outer reality of small business. The inner reality, the part that most don’t see and even the owner of the business might not understand, is more like a living breathing ecosystem.

I didn’t really excel in science in school, but to me the parallel is obvious. In an ecosystem, the many parts are dependent upon each other for success. In a small business, this is equally true and just as hard to measure and control.

There are lots of small businesses out there that appear healthy and happy on the outside but are being held back by some component of the overall system. The very first thing you must do is acknowledge this idea of dependent parts. If one isn’t thriving, isn’t even noticed, others will suffer.

It’s very hard to have a healthy business if the employees don’t feel appreciated. It’s very hard to have a healthy business if clients don’t know how your business is unique. It’s very hard to have a healthy business if your referral partners don’t know who makes an ideal client for your business.

There are countless examples of growing businesses that ignore what I’m suggesting, but I wonder if they are fun places to work and do business with?

Thinking strategically about your own small business ecosystem requires understanding who all the players are, the experience you want them to have with your business, and the tools you need to employ to make this integration happen.

First let’s take a look at the major players in the small business ecosystem.

You may have some combination of:

Suspects – folks you’ve identified that might need what you do

Prospects – those who have responded to your lead activities

Clients- someone who has purchased something

Advocates – purchases lots and tells others

Associates – your staff

Vendors – companies you might purchase from

Partners – companies that might help you produce a product or co-create services and clients

You can define what each of these is in your small business intranet, but the strongest businesses understand that they need to embrace, feed and sell each – sometimes in order for one to thrive. For instance, your clients will become stronger advocates or referral sources the more they feel connected to your community of clients, associates and partners.

One of the ways to create these connections among all of the members of your ecosystem is to have and communicate in no uncertain terms your firm’s unique core message. That message should contain a clear statement about your brand and how it’s unique and who should care. The goal then becomes finding ways for your clients, advocates, partners, and associates to connect to this brand in a way that feeds them.

Technology and a host of new media tools have made the important task of feeding and integrating all of the parties in a small business world much easier.

Let’s cover a few examples:

Blogs allow you to produce frequently changing content and interact with clients and prospects

Websites allow you to give access to a great deal of educational content

Web apps like Basecamp allow you to collaborate with clients and partners in real time

Online meeting tools like WebEx give you the ability to hold instant virtual sales presentations and peer-to-peer client conversations

Podcasting can open up doors to new media and give a true voice to the people in your firm

RSS technology allows you to create dynamic content that can be personalized to the individual

CRM systems give you the ability to track a prospect’s education process and know when they need more

Social software can give your clients the ability to generate marketing content for you and about you in an environment of trust

Autoresponders can provide education and training whenever it’s requested

Intranet styled offerings and even chat platforms make remote and virtual communication with your suppliers and associates simple and seamless

Content management systems can give your firm’s employees and clients access to your entire searchable library of documented knowledge

Streaming video and video screen capture makes providing simple help and training a snap

I suspect you get the point from the list above, but, of course, technology itself isn’t the answer. It is the beautiful way in which you tap the power it possesses to help meet and exceed your client’s expectations, build a thriving community of partners, associates, and advocates around your business, and generate and close more deals, more profitably.

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