There's a better (and cheaper) way to connect with potential clients.
If you're a small business owner struggling to make authentic, lasting connections through social media, Facebook is not your friend. True, it's easy enough to set up a Facebook business page. And you can get started with just a few simple posts. But if you want to really make some inroads, you're going to have to pay for advertising.
While there's only so much you can do to maximize your page engagment sans ads, you CAN still use Facebook to promote your business expertise through another channel and, this time, it's free. I'm talking about Groups.
I was fortunate to chat with Invest Ottawa's Digital Main Street program leaders about the incredible potential that Facebook Groups have for small business owners and solo entrepreneurs. I'm not talking about the kind of Groups that exist just for businesses to promote their content to one another. Nor am I suggesting a small business owner violate Group rules and start posting about their business 24/7 - you're definitely not going to make any friends and you'll probably get kicked out before long. I'm talking about Groups set up around your geographic interests (your neighbourhood, your school zone, your cottage) and your personal interests (the instrument you practice, the trips you're planning.)
Most of these groups have a weekly or monthly "say anything" thread where you can promote what you're offering or share something that's of interest to you. This is the perfect forum to introduce yourself and your business! However, take pains to avoid the common mistake I see all the time in my own Ottawa community based Facebook Group. Every month in our small business thread, there are always some people who post a photo of a business card - and nothing else! Sometimes the names don't even match. Are you promoting your spouse's dog walking business? Your kids'? Is it just a local service you like?
Without any context or personalized introduction, these business card photo dumps are the virtual equivalent of getting a pile of junk mail on your front door step. That's the worst way to interact with a Facebook Group! You can turn that awkwardness around by taking the time to say what it is you do and why you love doing it. Take the time to make a warm connection. THEN add a photo of your business card, if appropriate.
However, these sporadic sharing threads are just the tip of the iceberg. While they're permitted just once a week or month, Facebook Groups are flooded with daily questions and queries. Just last week, I saw my community Facebook Group field questions about finding a veterinarian. However, to my dismay, the dog walking business never weighed in with recommendations. If ever there was a time to showcase how well you know dogs, this would be it! In fact, not a single person giving recommendations took the chance to mention their identity as a small business owner.
Of course, not everyone is self employed. And not every question provides a good fit for mentioning your business. It would seem pretty silly and insincere if, for instance, I said "well, as a writer I know how important it is to have a good vet". That makes no sense! It just sounds like spam. But if I said "I really love Dr. Smith because they offer boarding services on top of their great medical care. As a travel writer, I often get last minute assignments to go out of town and they can always accommodate me".
In the past, I've seen lawyers weigh in on house buying questions, have observed craftspeople recommend massage therapists for strained shoulders, and have got great restaurant recommendations from tour guides. I've also gotten to know people just through regular, friendly, helpful interactions - and when I later found out that person was a financial coach, a travel agent, or a book editor, it felt like I knew them for ages and had no hesitation about recommending their services, based on nothing but their constant presence, generous sharing of expertise when called for, and sincere suggestions.
You gain customers on social media just like you do in the "real" world: one at a time. Being natural, generous, and sincere always resonates with people and Facebook Groups are the perfect place to show that you are exactly that.
Vanessa Chiasson is the founder and senior digital strategist of Sculpt Social.