How To Sell Through Forums

Forums, groups and online communities are great places to grow your business.

I’ve personally found spending time in forums to be a great way to build relationships, generate enquiries and to find new clients.

Here are just some of the reasons why forums are so useful:

  • People: So much marketing is about attracting people to hear what you have to say, but forums are already filled with people discussing topics.  You just need to be talking about something relevant.
  • Questions: Most forums are built around questions.  Whether it’s how to change a fuse in your car, how to grow your business or how to cook your Christmas turkey.  If you can answer some of these questions, you already have a waiting audience.
  • Become Likeable: Before anyone is going to buy from you they need to know, like and trust you.  Being part of the same forum, getting to know each other and gaining respect for sharing your knowledge is a fantastic way to help this process.

So, you see that using forums as part of your marketing is a great idea.  But how can you use forums to grow your business?

Be Useful

Forums, groups and communities are full of questions, and therefore full of people researching and looking for answers.

What better way to reach out to these people than by being useful?

For example, let’s imagine for a moment that you’re an accountant and you are looking to gain more small business clients.  You could join a relevant forum where small business owners are asking questions and look out for any questions that relate to finance, accounting and tax.  When these types of questions get asked you could join the discussion and provide the best answers that you can.  If your answers are useful, people will notice you and appreciate your knowledge.

Once forums members have noticed you they can come directly to you with questions.  If you’re answering questions within a LinkedIn group or Google+ community you can also connect or circle those asking questions and try to build the relationship.

When other members look at your profile they will be able to click through to your website to learn more about you.

Be Consistent

I mentioned earlier that forums give people a great opportunity to get to know, like and trust you.  However this takes time.

You can’t just join a forum, show up once a month and expect to generate a constant stream of enquiries.  It takes time, you need to be consistent.

For example, put aside an amount of time each day to look at the discussions in each forum.  Pick out those where you can really add value and contribute.  You’re much better answering one or two posts each day but giving really good, useful answers than answering ten one day with short answers that don’t help you look like an expert and then not having time to answer any the next day.

Being consistent helps you to be seen as part of the community of the forum, not just as someone who jumps in when there is a discussion.  Even if you don’t have something of value that you can add to a discussion, in most forums, groups and communities you can “like”, “+1” or “thumbs up” what someone else has said, which still shows that you are active and involved.

Be Relevant

There are two important aspects to being relevant.  Firstly, pick relevant groups and forums.  Don’t make the mistake of thinking that you can join any online group and start blasting it with messages about your products and services, or links to your website – it simply won’t work.  The other members will get annoyed with you (which is definitely no way to help them get to know, like and trust you) and you’ll likely end up being banned from the group.

Secondly, pick relevant topics.  Only comment on discussions where you can add value and help those asking questions.  If you have a good amount of time each day to be useful in forums you’re better trying to answer relevant questions in more than one forum rather than irrelevant discussions just in one.  Just don’t spread yourself too thin, success in this form of marketing is about building valuable relationships and being seen as the likeable expert.

If you are a member of a relevant group, but there are few discussions about topics that you have lots of knowledge about, try starting some of your own.  Pick an area of your subject that is good for discussion and try to get more people talking about it.  For instance, going back to the accountants example, you could ask “what bookkeeping software do you use and what is it’s most useful feature?”.  You could reply anyone who responds and explain what you suggest and the benefits.  It’s worth noting down any good points in discussions that you can expand on in blog posts on your own website as this helps keep your content relevant and also gives you posts that you can share in relevant discussions in your forums.

Don’t Try to Sell

I know that might sound strange given the title of the post.  But what I mean is don’t try to sell.  Instead try to be helpful – if you are as useful as you can be, you’ll see results.

Forums users that only post discussions as a way to promote themselves are often ignored.  Instead, try to be as useful as you can be and simply invite people to get in touch if they have more questions and would like more help – it’s a great way to start discussions in a non-sales, non threatening way that can develop into new clients.

Summary

Using forums, groups and communities as part of your marketing mix is a great way to build your micro business.  It’s also very useful for developing relationships with potential business partners and peers.

It can be a time consuming, but very rewarding process, that you can fit around others tasks and can fit into as much or as little time as you have.

Do you have tips to share on how your business has benefited from forums?  Please share them in the comments.

micro business actionToday’s Micro Action

If you’re already a member of a forum, group or community find one discussion today where you can add value and share your knowledge.  Get involved in the discussion and try to be as useful as you can and watch the conversation develop.  If you’re not, find one forum, group or community that you can join, that is relevant to your knowledge and experience – ensure your profile is filled out to show your website link and start getting involved.

Robert Peters

Robert Peters is a small business advisor, coach and consultant. Through his Fresh Eyes Consultancy he helps micro business owners grow sustainable and profitable businesses. Sign up for a free copy of his guide on how to avoid the feast and famine cycle and take the stress out of micro business sales.

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Comments

  1. Hi Robert, this is a great post. I totally agree with the emphasis on trying to be helpful and build your reputation as an expert in your field. In fact, there are quite a lot of links to content marketing – I think some of the principles are the same.

    It seems there are so many ways that micro businesses could “sell” themselves, so if you have limited time, what do you think are the most valuable avenues for businesses to focus on and would forums be one of those?
    Georgina El Morshdy recently posted..In Conversation With Tiny & Mighty’s Russ HenneberryMy Profile

    • Hi Georgina

      Yes, I agree, it’s a very similar emphasis to content marketing – I think this type of forum marketing is really an extension of your content marketing. Building your reputation in forums is great for attracting interest, but you have to have somewhere to take interested readers who want to hear more from you, and this is the link to your content marketing. Having a blog on your website that goes much deeper into your knowledge is great for this, and building an email list will help you develop your own community and build relationships with your readers and convert some to become customers.

      That’s a great question 🙂 You’re absolutely right and I think it’s much better to do a small number of things well than dabbling in every type of marketing there is and not making a success out of any. I suggest that clients have no more than five aspects of their marketing that they are focusing on, that’s plenty enough if you spend time on each, monitor the results and then if you find one of your five things isn’t working you can swap it for something else – it’s all about focus, focusing your time and your resources.

      For most Micro Businesses I would say that content marketing should be one element of your marketing mix, and building your email list and using email marketing properly can be another. I’d make knowledge sharing through forums, groups and communities another part of your mix, as most businesses should be able to find some form of online group where they can be helpful. You could see social media as another element, it depends on which networks you use – for instance if you mainly use LinkedIn then most of your social media time will be spent in groups so it’s really part of the previous element, but if you develop a strategy for Pinterest for instance, that needs to be seen as a separate element, so that’s four out of five. There are numerous other things that could fill the fifth slot, guest blogging, offline networking, craft fairs, public speaking – pick something that not only brings results but you enjoy because all of these elements take time to do well, and you need to enjoy spending that time else you’ll soon get fed up and stop doing it.

      I’m not suggesting it should be as prescriptive as that for everyone, some business owners might do four things, some might do six, but the principal is build your marketing mix on only enough things that you have time to do well.

      Hope that helps 🙂
      Robert Peters recently posted..3 Reasons Google Doesn’t Love Your WebsiteMy Profile

  2. I contribute a lot to forums and having a well thought through strategy is crucial or you can waste a lot of time.

    My main tip is to set a timer, and stick to it. Once the timer goes off, stop. You can contribute until the cows come home and it’s easy to keep typing and spend a lot more time than you intended.
    Rosie Slosek recently posted..Do you want 1:1 help to stop your accounts being a procrastinating stress zone?My Profile

  3. Great post Robert and I totally agree with Rosie – a timer is one of the best tools here.

    The other thing I’ve found can be useful is to make the titles slightly provocative. Some titles are more likely to get read, that’s why we choose them for blogs – but some titles are more likely to get comments.
    Jon recently posted..Father Christmas meets modern marketing.My Profile

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