Are You Building Online Customer Communities?

The Small Business Answer Man™ Jim Blasingame answers your questions.
Magazine Contributor
3 min read

This story appears in the October 2009 issue of Start Up. Subscribe »

Q: What's the difference between social media and social networking, and how do I apply them in my new business?

A: The terms basically refer to the same thing, which is the practice of connecting with others within a community, usually online. But if you think about it, social media is a misnomer in that it's really the technology that makes online community building possible. And isn't "social networking" redundant?

For these reasons, and because the word "social" doesn't seem appropriate when trying to create a return on investment of time and resources, I think the business application for this activity should really be called "building online customer communities."

You should definitely be building online customer communities, not only on the public sites like Facebook and Twitter, but also on your own platforms, over which you will have more control. In the future, more customers will find and connect with you through these channels than through traditional marketing and advertising.

Q: Is it normal to be frightened of projected operating losses for my startup?

A: Yes. But frankly, there is something more frightening: not knowing about those losses because you didn't do the proper sales and expense projections. Virtually by definition, a startup should anticipate initial loses, because there are fixed expenses that aren't yet covered by incremental sales.

Startup losses are supposed to be frightening, otherwise everyone would be starting a business. Only those who can look those losses in the eye and work to overcome them with initial capital and future performance should ever start a business.

Planning for adequate initial capital is critical to the sustained success of any startup, and failing to do this is the primary reason 50 percent of all small businesses fail in the first four years.

Q: What's the best way to market my home-based business?

A: In some ways, marketing your home-based business is like marketing any business; in other ways, it's vastly different. Leveraging a home-based marketing plan isn't easy because traditional advertising isn't typically part of the budget.

Start by defining the perfect customer for your business and determining how you'll reach that prospect. Remember that not everyone is your prospect, so scrub your list so you only target your optimum customer profile.

Networking is still the most effective and efficient way to market a home-based business. Be sure to do the face-to-face kind, as well as the online social media activity. It takes time to cultivate networking relationships that turn into referrals, so successful networking is only for the patient.

For any startup, marketing is 10 percent financial and 90 percent shoe leather and elbow grease. And with regard to which method to use: It's not either/or, it's both/and.

Jim Blasingame is the award-winning host of The Small Business Advocate Show and creator of the small-business knowledge base Also find Jim at


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