You've probably heard of Twitter, even if you aren't sure what it is. Twitter is a free social networking and micro-blogging service--think public instant messenger stream. From your mobile device or computer you send updates called tweets, which are text posts of up to 140 characters. Your tweets can be read by others, and you can sign up to follow the messages others write so that you can get short, quick updates from them.

As a homebased entrepreneur, Twitter gives you an open door to connect not only with other entrepreneurs but also other companies, marketing experts and more. As homebased entrepreneurs, these tips, connections and opportunities can spell great marketing options for you.

The bottom line is Twitter can help you grow your home business.

How Do Businesses Use Twitter?

  • A restaurant tweets daily specials.
  • A ticket agency tweets about-to-expire tickets.
  • A real estate agent tweets new homes on the market.
  • A chamber of commerce tweets local events and promotions.
  • A PR expert tweets publicity opportunities.
  • An entrepreneur tweets co-marketing opportunities.

Tina Hilton, owner of virtual assistance company Clerical Advantage, says Twitter can be a valuable use of time and energy. "I have never gotten a client directly from Twitter," Hilton says. "But have had several referrals from people I've connected with on Twitter."

Using Twitter, or other forms of social networking like Facebook or LinkedIn, takes the long view. Instead of providing instant sales, Twitter is another way to build relationships and develop credibility and trust.

"I think the key to using Twitter is to see it as a way to get to know other people, not necessarily as a way to get clients directly," Hilton says. "With the increase in social media marketing, cold, impersonal marketing concepts are getting stale. People want to find out who's behind the company--the real person. I have fun using Twitter; giving updates on everything from how many cups of coffee I've gone through in a day to web links to things I found especially useful or informative."

Twitter Builds Relationships
After using Twitter for a bit, you start to absorb clues about people's personalities. You learn about their priorities, events they attend and what makes them tick. That helps you better understand how to serve them as potential customers.

To do that, you must submit updates that are helpful, useful and educational. If the only tweets you send out are sale ads, don't bother. Hilton says, "As you build relationships with your Twitter followers, the chance of them passing your name along when someone needs services you provide gets higher. I am careful not to send too many updates, too often, as that can often come across as twitter spam."

Advice for Twitter Beginners
If you're new to Twitter, start by following people you find interesting--whether they're in your target market, in the same business as you or just pique your interest. Use your own photo rather than a company logo or other icon--people want to see who they're connecting with. Also, introduce yourself to those you follow and those who follow you. Think about how you'd react if you were meeting these individuals in person and act accordingly. If they follow you, they'd like to get to know something about you, so share more than just the latest sale you're holding, specials you're offering or blogs you've posted. And most of all, have fun with it! When you start tweeting, you can find me @lesleypyle.