10 innovative ways to expand your SMB's reach

Smaller companies often have to get creative to gain a competitive edge. These tricks will help you connect with your customers and grow your business.

No matter the sector, business is more competitive than it has ever been. If you're selling a product, a service, or anything in between, you know that competition is fierce. Customers and clients have so many options, and so many ways to connect to business, it's a challenge for new or smaller companies to get noticed.

Believe it or not, the smaller company does have a bit of an advantage. While the larger companies aren't taking chances on certain technologies or using certain technologies in clever ways, the smaller companies don't have the fear of a board of directors breathing down their necks if a risk doesn't pay off. Smaller companies can live a more agile, impulsive, and freer business life. Because of that, you can take advantage of the host of social networking tools -- and do so with a bit of innovation -- to make your business stand out.

I have 10 ideas for you to consider for your business.

1: Twitter Chat

If you haven't already set up a Twitter account for your business, you should. Twitter Chat allows you use a hashtag on Twitter to chat in real time with your followers (or followers of your hashtag). This service allows you to focus a Twitter chat on a particular topic -- specifically, your business or product. You sign into your Twitter account, create a "room," and invite your Twitter followers to join the room. This is a great way to announce a new product/service or even offer support for your product. And it's an effective way to get followers focused on a specific product or service using an already outstanding method of social marketing...Twitter.

2: Facebook groups

Most people look at Facebook as nothing more than a means for the population to whine, vent, and brag about their daily lives. But there's another side to the Facebook coin: groups. If you have been out of the loop on this, you're missing out on a great opportunity. But don't think of Facebook groups as a means to an immediate end. You don't want to create a Facebook group for your product or service and then start spamming followers. Instead, use this service as a way to connect you to your followers. This can serve as a way for you to answer questions about your products or services, make announcements, and do general networking. If you do wind up using this for little more than spamming, you'll lose followers – and in the end, business. But if you use groups wisely, you may find your following growing quickly.

3: Connected connections

If you're smart, you have, at a minimum, Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and LinkedIn accounts for your business. The problem begins to arise when you try to manage all those accounts. Why not take advantage of tools like Hootsuite that allow you to manage all your social (and professional) sites in one location? Not only can you more quickly post to all your accounts, you can easily see what people are saying about you and your company. Some applications (such as Socialbro and Hootsuite) allow you to “listen” for trending topics and schedule posts, allowing you to better manage your various accounts and keep on track of what's gaining popularity.

4: Regular blogging

I know this might sound crazy, but regular blogging does more than enable you to connect to your clients and customers – it lets you deliver regular updates about your products/services better than you could do it with a standard web site. Blogging also allows you to open up comments for particular blog posts, creating interaction between you and your clients. One caveat to allowing comments: You must monitor them closely or risk having your blog fill up with spam. But allowing your clients/customers to interact with you and with one another can help your company grow and get a step ahead of your competition.

5: YouTube videos

YouTube videos are not just for egomaniacs or for bands and other forms of entertainment. There are tons of videos out there used to provide how-to information or promotional material. YouTube videos are especially helpful if you can't afford standard commercial  advertisement for your products. But you must take one thing into consideration: It's imperative that these videos look professional. Do not attempt to shoot a video with your smartphone and load it up on YouTube. Make sure you use professional (or at least prosumer) grade equipment for both video and sound. Skimp either way and you'll lose your audience. I film my promo material with a Canon T2i and a Zoom H2N audio recorder. Also, keep your videos short and sweet. If they go on too long, you will lose the viewer.

6: Email marketing

Email marketing offers a great way to announce new products and services. There are plenty of services that can help make this task much easier. Mailchimp and Zoho Campaigns are two of my favorite. Both have outstanding interfaces that allow you to manage your email marketing. The one thing they can't do, however, is build your mailing list for you. Having a focused mailing list is one of the most important things you can do for your marketing. With that list, you can send out emails to announce new products, services, or specials. But you have to be careful not to abuse your mailing list. If you send out too frequently, or send out off-topic emails, you'll find your registered customers start dropping off.  Send out emails monthly or quarterly -- and do so regularly. If you send out on the first of the month, make sure it happens at the same time every month.

7: Pinterest

The Pinterest service may seem like a place for people to fantasize about their wardrobe, cars, or instructables. But if you look closer, you'll find Pinterest is also a great place to promote your business. And now that Pinterest allows source links, you can link an image of your product directly to the product page. Here's a good tip: Every image you post needs to be incredibly engaging. If you post average images, you'll lose people. Users of Pinterest have grown accustomed to brilliant pictures that immediately draw them in. Given the flood of images that wash over the feeds, your company photos best be spot on.

8: Google+

I've been a bit lax in using Google+, but I'm finally coming around. Why is Google+ important? Simple. Google created a perfect marriage of functionality and flow. The interface is the best in breed for social feeds, and as more and more people join up, you'll want the face of your company to be front and center. And make sure to take advantage of Google Hangouts as well. Hangouts let you conduct video chats between members of your company and clients/customers.

9: Forums

This one gets overlooked a lot. Let's say you are an IT consultant. You should be on forums helping people out. What comes of that is the chance people will see in your forum signature that you are located in the same area and hire you for service. Or say you have a product for sale. Find forums that relate to your product and post on them. Just be careful not to spam the forums. Do not promote your services or products unless asked. You want to build your name and have fellow forum members pick up on what you do indirectly.

10: Surveys

Create surveys to help mine data. Surveys are a great way to gauge interest in products and/or services. With this data, you can dial in what you do to make sure it meets the needs of the target users. There are plenty of ways to create surveys. Depending upon your company web site platform, you can build them into that framework. Of you can use a larger scale tool, such as Survey Monkey, to create focused surveys. When you build your questions, make sure they're quite specific. The results will help guide you and your company. Do not create generic polls just to have something posted.

Reaching out

If you're looking for innovative ways to help extend the reach of your company, you have everything at your fingertips – you simply have to make use of it. Many companies may not believe social networking services are a means to a promotional end; those companies are short sighted. Take a look at using one of the above services or methods and see if you can't find new and exciting ways to reach clients and customers you might not have previously reached.

Also read

  1. IT Innovation for Small Businesses (ZDNet special report page)
  2. Executive’s guide to IT innovation in small businesses (free ebook)