Small Business Growth: Reach out, get connected, and get educated

If you're like me, you believe small businesses will continue to lead the economic climb out of this protracted recession. If your own line of work is as a consultant to small business — be it for marketing, advertising, or what have you — you want to be ready and able to tap this opportunity for growth. To do so, you need to reach out, get connected, and get educated.

Reach out to your local SCORE and SBA counselors to get to know them and, in turn, let them know about your offerings to customers. These counselors are helping small businesses head down the right path every day and could refer other small businesses to you as customers or clients. Establishing relationships with influencers is always a good thing; I can't recommend the SCORE folks enough.

Get connected to clients and prospects by leveraging the power of social media — in particular Facebook and LinkedIn. On Facebook, get current customers to "like" your page. This will build credibility by having them speak to your strengths. By first populating Facebook pages with raving fans, prospects visiting your page will be more likely to hit the "Like" button themselves.

LinkedIn can be used in a similar fashion. Connect with current customers on a personal level to build your network, making it easier to get referrals in the future. You can also build a company page on LinkedIn, which customers and prospects can now "Follow", much like a Facebook Fan Page or a Twitter feed.

Get educated by taking advantage of the many online learning resources available. Is there an area of marketing that you need to brush up on? Find a course online. For instance, we at Constant Contact offer a free Experts Program that teaches the soup to nuts best practices for email marketing, which you can then leverage when working with clients.

Looking for more general marketing courses? MIT — yes, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology — offers free online courses through its Open CourseWare initiative. Education-Portal.com also has a great list of free marketing courses here.

As a consultant, you want to be able to speak intelligently with clients about their needs. Get brushed up on the latest processes, tools, and trends so you're ready to tap into the small business locomotive as it pulls the economy out of the doldrums.

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