Using Forums To Network Successfully

According to one of the entries found at dictionary.com the definition of the word network is as follows: Something resembling an openwork fabric or structure in form or concept, especially: An extended group of people with similar interests or concerns who interact and remain in informal contact for mutual assistance or support.

The Merriam Webster Online Dictionary at http://www.m-w.com/cgi-bin/dictionary gives the following definition for networking: the exchange of information or services among individuals, groups, or institutions.

Successful networking occurs when the exchange of information or services is amongst people with similar interests or concerns. Maintaining the network of connections provides a networking opportunity when one has new information to exchange with others in this group of individuals.

Recently I decided to put a theory to the test that one of the best ways to develop networking relationships was through the use of online forums. My target audience of response was forums aimed at people involved in affiliate programs, network marketing, or internet marketing of some type. I mostly wanted to see who would respond if anyone and see how much of a response I would get.

I used a piece of software that has both a browser and a way to watch one’s forum posts for responses. In addition to seeing how many people would answer my questions another goal is to get my self-known among forum communities. No one wants to do business with a stranger.

Here is something that I discovered. The small forums that are part of groups such as Delphi Forums and Ezboards have very few posts and when someone does post, the posts are mainly advertising in nature. I would suggest that you are wasting your time if you post to these forums. Is all forum posting a waste of time? Definitely not, as there is much value in it, as you will see by what I write next.

I decided to go to some of the forums of well-known websites or well-known internet marketers and posting there. In creating an account I set up a signature file so that in every post that I made my URL would be shown. I was very careful for the most part to ask questions or give answers. Never once did I post what could be seen as an ad. And guess what the result was.

In the settings of the forums where it was allowed I set the choice so that I would be emailed when I had a response. I was very happy to get emails announcing that people had responded to my various posts in not one but several of these professional forums.

The forums I posted to all had to do with a subject that I am interested in namely affiliate and network marketing on the Internet. The people who responded were very knowledgeable and helpful and I hope that in situations where I answered someone’s question(s) that my answer(s) were of help to them.

What did my experience in the forums prove? By the fact that I shared information with people interested in the same topics as myself and that they shared their information with me it proved that forums are a very important part of networking on the Internet.

In researching to write this article I have also discovered an incredible online tool, basically a website that keeps track of posts to e-commerce websites. It is found at http://www.mikes-ecommerce-software.com/ecommerce-forum/ Mike also has a page for watching posts to marketing forums discussing internet marketing and search engines. The link for this is at http://www.mikes-marketing-tools.com/marketing-forum/ Although this tool doesn’t watch for replies to your post it can keep you aware of what discussions are going on in these forums. Then if you have questions about the particular subject or answers to someone’s question you can jump into that forum and network with the people in that forum.

Top 10 Ways to Scupper Your Ecommerce Business

1. Don’t plan, Just dive right in!

If you don’t plan for success you’re planning for failure.

An incredibly common mistake made by rookie ecommerce webmasters is to dive straight in and launch a site with an expensive URL long before they’ve actually taken the time plan out what their business proposition actually is!

Without a clearly defined business model and a well-formatted business plan you are inviting problems at every step of the way. Without having your company ethos, your funding details, your policies and procedures recorded clearly in black and white you really will have nothing to go on. After all, you can’t exactly show your expectations and optimism to investors or, worse, the dreaded bank manager.

Do your homework, plan your attack, refine your plan and then refine it some more. Seek help from a business professional with the formatting of your business plan and make several back-up copies!

2. The internet is huge! There’s an audience for everything, right?

Well, yes and no. The internet is huge and is, of course, bigger every day. No matter how unusual the site you can bet there’ll be at least a small number of people interested in it somewhere.

But will they be willing to pay for whatever it is that you’re selling? Or if you’re not strictly in the ecommerce game, can you be sure that your pride and joy will get enough visitors to stay afloat on advertising revenue alone?

Domains cost money, server space costs money, EVERYTHING costs money.

If you don’t take the time to get to know who your prospective audience is well in advance of launching your site you may as well dig a hole at the side of the information superhighway and pour all of your money in to it.

Study the market, learn from your competitors, find your online niche and make sure that your site really stands out from the crowd. Find a good, reputable web marketing firm who can advise you and listen to what they say!

3. Flashy borders, big pictures, lots of frames, job done, yes? No!

Have you heard the story ‘the emperor’s new clothes?’ To make a short story shorter it is the tale of an emperor who relies so much on style over substance that he doesn’t even notice when some mean-spirited (but enterprising) tailors sell him a whole heap of nothing, describing it as a stylish and trend-setting new outfit that only the wisest men can see.

Is that how you want your online presence to be viewed? If it is, you may as well stop reading now.

On the modern internet, content is king! End of story. The big winners of the last decade of web evolution have been those sites that populate their sites with interesting, unique content and keep adding more and more interesting, unique content.

Think about it!

How successful would Facebook be if it was never updated by anyone?

What if the Internet Movie Database decided to stop writing about new films?

Flashy graphics, a cool URL and all the whistles and bells you can muster will draw some traffic to your site, but top quality content is what is going to keep those visitors coming back for more and, crucially, telling their friends about your amazing site.

Be interesting. Be unique. Be prolific!

And if you can’t write good copy yourself, employ someone who can!

4. No SEO, No Problem?

Imagine a clothes shop. One unlike any you have ever visited. The staff is friendly and funny and make you feel really welcome from the second you walk through the door. They have the latest fashions at unbelievably low prices, much lower than any of their competitors and they have exclusive designs from some of the biggest names in fashion.

Now imagine if that clothes shop isn’t situated in the heart of a busy city centre shopping street but is actually located at the back of a dark field, in the middle of an impenetrable forest, in the middle of nowhere with no sign pointing towards it.

How long is that shop going to stay in business?

Exactly.

A sad fact of modern internet business is that in 99.9999% of cases whatever it is that you’re doing has been done before by people with more experience and more financial backing than you. People who are more established and who know how to get people to visit their online business and who strive everyday to do so. These are the businesses that succeed, the ones that know how to play the game with the big 3 search engines and how to climb up those rankings!

Launching a site with no understanding of SEO is a guaranteed way to fail, and fail quickly.

Search Engine Optimisation is not witchcraft, but to people who don’t understand it, it can often seem like it is. Do your homework, seek advice, do some more homework, get more advice and then integrate SEO principles into the design of your site from day one, and on every day that follows!

5. There’s no such thing as bad advertising.

Want to bet? Just ask some of the many, many famous politicians who are no longer politicians but remain very, very (in)famous.

Yes, there are many ways to advertise, but some really are worth their (virtual) weight in (real) gold!

Good PPC campaigns (pay-per-click, like AdWords, those four-line adverts you see at the right hand side of Google’s results pages) are used by all the big companies and used to tremendous effect.

When Google AdWords campaigns are run well they work really, really well. And when they are run badly they are an excellent way to burn through your whole advertising budget in no time at all, and with no benefit to your business to show for it.

With AdWords, as with everything else in the online world it is vital that you don’t just jump right in with the best of intentions and nothing in the way of planning.

Do MORE homework, understand your product, know your place in the market and seek advice from a reliable source with experience of running successful PPC campaigns.

6. Small companies don’t need to worry about branding.

Hang on, I’ll stop you there!

Every business needs to think about branding. Why? Because it is your brand that communicates everything about you to everyone out there!

Google’s online dictionary says that “The branding of a product is the presentation of it to the public in a way that makes it easy for people to recognize or identify.”

Easy to recognise. Easy to identify.

Is it a coincidence that the logo for Microsoft Windows looks like – hello! – a window?

No, it was carefully considered, probably by a team of highly skilled designers and marketers. It was then, no doubt, refined, experimented with and finally locked down as the design that we all know and see everywhere. Since then it has been used in a consistent manner to reinforce the brand. And let’s face it; there aren’t many brands that are more recognisable in the computer software business than Windows.

So take this away with you: your branding communicates everything about you to everyone out there, right? Well that door swings both ways. It’s just as easy to repel internet users as it is to attract them; in fact, it’s probably a whole lot easier.

Think about your brand from day one. Carefully design and refine it and then make sure that it is used in a consistent manner to reinforce your brand in the minds of your visitors. Research other brands and how they came about and remember that brands need to evolve. You don’t get anywhere by standing still!

7. Lights, Camera, Call to ACTION!

You’ve designed a beautiful, elegant site.

You’ve populated it with unique, interesting content that you toil over long and hard, and update regularly.

You’ve tempted a multitude of visitors to your site and in return you’re getting…

Nothing?

That can’t be right.

And it isn’t!

One of the easiest mistakes to avoid is to not let these visitors take what they want and then leave without giving you something in return.

If you’re in ecommerce, you want sales! If you’re promoting a hotel, you want bookings! If you’re trying to promote your beloved rock band you want people to pay to come to your gigs, right?

Without a clear ‘call to action’ on EVERY PAGE of your site, you can’t blame any of those visitors for taking what they want from your site and then just leaving.

Now think how many times you’ve seen examples like the following on websites:

– Click here to sign up for our free newsletter!

– Item out of stock? Click here to be notified when it’s back in stock!

– Register now for updates!

– Click here to download our latest brochure!

This seems so simple when you see it in black-and-white but you’d be amazed how many webmasters make the mistake of forgetting to call their visitors to action.

Now make sure you’re not one of them!

8. Customer Relationship Mismanagement.

So your visitors are now all obediently leaving their details so you can contact them (soon!) with the exciting news of how your site is surging ahead into the glittering future of internet superstardom?

And how are you keeping track of all those names, email addresses and the like?

In an old, dog-eared notepad?

Scrawled on napkins and thrown into a drawer?

Good luck with staying in business!

A good Customer Relationship Management (CRM) System will help you to keep track of all of your contacts. It will let you collect relevant data about them and help you to better streamline your marketing programme.

In short, a good CRM package will help you to better serve your customers and to keep attracting new ones.

And if you can’t be bothered with all of that, think about this old cliche:

Look After Your Customers Or Someone Else Will!

Still don’t think it matters?

9. “Our operators are not standing by!”

Yes, more and more business is conducted online every day.

Yes, ideally a great website (SEO optimised & marketed well!) will be all you need to become the next Donald Trump.

BUT!

As far as your customers are concerned, the best website in the world is very often no match for a friendly and well-informed voice on the phone.

Everybody expects it to take hours if not days for a corporate site to respond to an email enquiry, and THAT can be a very big turn-off when they’re choosing who they’re going to spend their money with.

That’s why even the most dyed-in-the-wool internet businesses have telemarketers, customer service advisors and other telephone operators working for them!

People will always use the phone, and there are many millions of people out there that will always prefer to pick up the phone than to send an email or fill out an online contact form.

I’m not saying that you should open a huge call centre, employing thousands of advisors in a state-of-the-art modern facility, but you should make it easy to have your customers contact you by phone, if not 24 hours a day then at least during the traditional business hours of 9 to 5, Monday to Friday.

And how would you feel if you had to repeatedly call a business whose operators don’t:

– Answer the phone in a polite and consistent manner?

– Mention the name of their business so you know you’re through to the right people?

– Speak politely?

– Listen attentively?

– Try to be helpful?

– And, most importantly, have all necessary information to hand there and then?

Exactly!

Distinguish yourself and your company by being approachable on the telephone; by being polite and helpful and by getting help and advice from a company that can oversee all this for you if it is just not practical for you to do it yourself.

Just as well you took my advice about getting a good CRM system, eh?

10. Just sit back and hope for the best!

Are you mad??

You will get NOWHERE by sitting back and simply expecting things to go your way, all the time.

You need to know who is visiting your site!

You need to know how they found you!

You need to know which pages they looked at!

You need to know to this so you can streamline your business and MAKE MORE MONEY!

But that’s all impossible, isn’t it? How could you possible know those things?

Simply, by employing a Web Analytics tool (or company) to do all that for you!

By analysing all aspects of your site’s performance you can make it perform better. Just like a coach scrutinises every pass and every tackle made by the members of his football team.

You monitor, you analyse and then you plan a way to improve.

This last point is something that you really will need help with so find yourself a good authority on web analytics and let them take the strain for you.

Only THEN will I let you sit back and hope for the best!

Plan Your Blog For Your Future

I have been using Blogger as my blogging platform for 1 year already, and I must say that this has been a mistake all along. Blogger is not as flexible as any other self-hosted blogs or has as many useful widgets like WordPress, and Blogger is not so SEO friendly too. Why am I telling you this? Its because I have failed to do one thing before everything else started:

I failed to plan

Planning is an important factor of blogging if you are seriously going to make it earn for you. You have to do your research thoroughly beforehand, and ask yourself questions like ‘What kind of blog will I be making so that I can earn optimally?’ ‘What security measures must I adopt to protect my blog from hackers or malicious softwares?’ or ‘Which niche will I choose?’ Lets go through step-by-step to what I am trying to say here.

‘What kind of blog will I be making so that I can earn optimally?’

I will mention 2 types of blog today, and those are:

1. the normal blog with Google AdSense installed
You can make a normal blog with Google AdSense installed without spending any money at all, and setup is really easy. You can earn from this kind of blog by writing content interesting enough to make readers feel compelled to click on the ads on your blog, earning us a few cents per click. There are many resources on the web which tells you how to earn more from just blogging, but at the end of the day your earnings won’t be as much as an eCommerce blog.

2. an eCommerce blog.
An eCommerce blog is a blog that buy and sell goods online, be it business-to-business (B2B), business-to-consumer (B2C) or consumer-to-consumer (C2C). Often this kind of blog is harder to make because as consumers may use credit card to purchase our goods online, we must be able to gain their trust because credit card fraud is rampant on the internet. There are many eCommerce consulting agencies on the net and you can always get help from leading ones, for example such as ECommercePartners. These interactive agencies provide eCommerce solutions to a wide variety of fields including fashion web design and many others. An eCommerce blog can earn you large sums of money at times but its earnings may not be as frequent as normal blogs with Google AdSense installed.

‘What security measures must I adopt to protect my blog from hackers or malicious softwares?’

Hackers can hack our blogs through advance methods like XML injection and such, but if your blogging platforms already provide you with the basic security measures then you won’t have to worry about it so much. What you should worry about is how hackers can still use the primitive method of hacking and ruining your blog for good:

1. Weak passwords
Your admin password must be strong; it must contain a mixture of small letters, capital letters and numbers. It is also not advisable to use your name, your birthday or even words from the dictionary as your password. Hackers today have advance programs which will expose your passwords to them in no time if you have these common passwords.

2. Weak anti-virus / internet security softwares
Even though your blogging platforms have some of the security measures already adopted to fend off hackers, it is still suggested that you have internet security programs installed too. Hackers can use spywares to retrieve sensitive information while you are typing your password out on your keyboard so today, I will be introducing to you the antivirus program called ZSecurity. It can provide extensive internet security and anti-spyware capabilities so do get your own copy.

‘Which niche will I choose?’

You should choose a niche with a large target audience and one which you can update about everyday. By doing so, a large amount of traffic will come to your blog. You will also be able to update everyday, so these visitors will come back frequently for more information.

That’s it for my post. Do plan your blog carefully. That’s all, c u