Business Online Forum

Online forums are amazing sources of knowledge about almost anything you can think of. I myself used forums recently to find real estate in Costa Rica, to set up some new software, and to research some gnarly tax issues. But I never really thought of forums as a way to promote myself as a professional and businessman until hearing some of the big names in internet business talk about how they tapped into the power of online forums to lay the foundations for some breathtaking business success.

Why the Forum?
If you’re not familiar with Yaro Starak’s blog, Entrepreneur’s Journey, then it is definitely worth checking out. For me, the best part of about the blog are the interviews with successful online entrepreneurs, usually in the form of podcasts. They have titles like “How So-and-So made $X Doing Y” and are both inspirational and are really meaty in terms of delivering information relevant to most of us and our businesses right now.

How Pat Flynn Lost His Job Then Made $203,219.04 In His First Year Online is the story of, well, I guess the title says it all. Pat’s first business was a study guide for a professional certification and the story of how he almost stumbled into it and then was smart and aggressive enough to turn it into a source of income is powerful enough, but what really gripped me was how he earned the credibility and promoted his product in the early days through participating in online forums. Pat says “I have a brand that people know about because I because I go to forums and I go to different blogs and I help people out and people know me as that guy that gave that great information… One tactic is to go into forums and just help people… you don’t even mention your project just by having your signature at the bottom with the link “for more information go here.” Pat has since branched out into many different businesses, which you can read all about in maybe the best online business blog on the web,

James Schramko started out as an affiliate marker for a social networking software product. After getting his infrastructure set up, web sites, blogs with links back to the sales page to drive traffic, a demo project and a bonus product, James “rolled up the sleeves, sweated it out and went into the forums and started posting lots of valuable posts with signature links back to myself… and I started building up brand equity.” In other words, James utilized the forums to meet with influential people who were already very interested in the product. By genuinely helping people out James developed a reputation for being an expert and, even more importantly, a helpful and good person. People followed his signature link back to the blog and the blog back to his product. He has since branched out into many online businesses and, per Yaro, is making seven figures per year and absolutely crushing it. In addition, James blogs at InternetMarketingSpeed.

How Does It Work?
The effectiveness of forums lies in their ability to target active, decision making people in that are community (Malcolm Gladwell’s “three agents of change”) and to promote through the establishment of an honest, mutually beneficial relationship. The entrepreneur provides useful, honest information and in return gets access to and the chance to earn credibility with influential decision-makers. In addition, the entrepreneur gets free publicity and some search engine optimization as well, as forums are freely searched by Google and other search engines. Your forum comments remain in the public domain, as well as your online signature and, usually, a link to your own site. Post Release has an excellent white paper, an excerpt of which is below, on who users of forums are and why the average forum user is a much more important viewer than your average eyeball on the internet.

Most forums will offer the benefits above, but in addition some offer you the chance to submit articles or write reviews or other informative materials. Many will also offer a “coffee shop” or an area where members can go to discuss off topic items, tell jokes and socialize. This brings us to an additional benefit of forums, networking and becoming part of a community. Many entrepreneurs have met future partners, investors, collaborators and friends through the power of online forums.

How to Harness the Power of Online Forums
Any decent online forum will have strict rules against spamming and will move quickly to stamp out any overt advertising, especially if it adds nothing to the conversation of the forum. This is absolutely to your advantage, because if you are trying to make a one-off, heavy-handed, used car salesman type sale then you are in the wrong place. The average forum user is pretty sophisticated online and very wary of spams. Instead, think of this as your opportunity to network, make alliances, and build up credibility in your personal brand. As Pat says in his interview, “I got to be known as that guy who helps people” on the forum that he targeted.

Many forums will rate community members, usually by their activity and the quality of the information that they give, and will post this information prominently. This is the forums method of rewarding its top participants and, should you become one of them, your way of getting some additional notoriety and credibility. Again, the absolute key is providing quality, sincere feedback. Avoid overt advertising at any cost. It normally is acceptable, however, to answer a question or provide feedback and then provide a link back to your own site for more information. Another online legend and genius, Robin Good, provides an exceptional guide to using online forums and the strategy, technique, and etiquette that you will need to follow to capture the magic of the forum for yourself.

But Do I Have to Do Any Work?
Yes! The biggest knock on participation in forums is that they will consume your time and effort. You will want to find a forum that you can participate in daily, almost the more the merrier, to establish your expertise and your reliability. Really, forums are almost entry-level online marketing because of their huge time commitment. However, you’ve got to start somewhere and don’t overlook the usefulness of the forum for your own information. It’s a great way to keep track of what resources people are using, what concerns or problems they run into and what information they are looking for.

As the WebCPA and the author of [http://WebBizFina

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