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Sprouter Is Growing Start-up Business Connections

Marketing podcast with Sarah Prevette (Click to play or right click and “Save As” to download – Subscribe now via iTunes

Sarah PrevetteMy guest for this week’s episode of the Duct Tape Marketing Podcast is Sarah Prevette, the CEO and Founder of Sprouter and professional collaboration community for start-ups and entrepreneurs. Like so many successful ventures Sprouter was created to address a frustration that the founder had, in this case it was trying to create a community surrounding her existing business.

Sprouter got its start by being called “Twitter for business people,” but as Twitter has become much more business friendly, Sprouter has benefited more from Twitter and other social network integration than by replacement.

The primary vibe of Sprouter is the notion of helping each other. Entrepreneurs find and give advice and answer the question, in 140 characters or less, what are you working on. As the community grows Sprouter is taking a geographic in an attempt to build local community in strong entrepreneurial towns. Sprouter has started bringing local groups together in event called Sproutups and links them with other Sprouters.

Sprouter’s value proposition in one of connection and making it easy for entrepreneurs help each other and give visibility to start-ups. Check out the Sprouter Weekly newsletter and connect with a community manager to learn how to find people that make sense for you to connect your start-up with.

The Duct Tape Marketing Podcast is brought to you by Fairfield Inn & Suites Small Business Road-to-Success Challenge

Use Online to Drive Offline

trade showOne of the primary themes I discovered and then wrote about in The Referral Engine was the fact that widely referred businesses are very good at fusing online and offline in a high tech, high touch sort of way.

As I continue to watch this phenomenon, I’m more convinced than ever that it’s one of the primary strategies that every local business needs to adopt as an intentional overarching marketing strategy. It’s not a matter of looking at the Internet and social tools with an eye on sales. It’s a matter of tuning your entire marketing process in a way that fits how offline buyers now make their decisions and grabbing that piece of business.

See, Zappos or Dell or Amazon, can’t really create the engagement and experience that you can in your high touch, in person business. That’s your competitive advantage and now more than ever you need to use online tools to get your chance to use that advantage. Don’t think about making a sale online, think about getting a chance to make an impression. The primary way to do that is to become an online warrior for creating awareness for your products, services, brand, content and expertise when a local shopper or information gatherer turns to a search engine and drive that surfer offline for the total package.

Creating customers offline will, in my opinion, always (OK, for the next few years) be the most profitable way for a small business to build long term high profit revenue, but those revenues will never appear if you don’t master the online information space first.

I’ll be giving a presentation in Las Vegas at the MAGIC Marketplace Fashion and Apparel Show on behalf of AMEX and plan to share with those that attend this framework approach to using Online to Drive Offline engagement and sales.

The online to offline mindset involves a healthy dose of what many would refer to as SEO, but its success actually hinges on how you intend to engage online visitors once you’ve got them. There are three phases to the development of your fused approach.

Discovery – In this phase you lay the groundwork for understanding what your local prospects are looking for and how you can use this data to create awareness for the products and services you offer. As an offline business you have the distinct advantage of asking your customers, but you must also take clues from your successfully placed online competitors.

Content – Content is a very large and growing concept online, but here take it to mean educational content creation aimed squarely at answering the kinds of things your prospects want to know more about. It also encompasses the liberal use of outposts for your content in places like local directories, social networks, and bookmarking sites that lead paths back to your primary web hub.

Engagement – This term is tossed around a bunch in social media circles these days, but few things compare to engagement done face to face. Once you win eyeballs and prime real estate in local directories such as Google Maps, your strategy of engagement needs to kick in. This is your intentional tactical approach to driving those eyeballs into your stores, events, workshops, demonstrations, and information sessions – offline. This is where you get the opportunity to tangibly demonstrate your value, experience, trustworthiness and expertise in ways that no amount of online participation ever will. (Hint: That’s why video is so effective as online content.)

The Internet, a tool used by many to sell goods globally, is quickly becoming the power tool locally. Use this tool properly and you can drive an unstoppable flow of prospective business into your offline lead conversion machine.

Image credit: willbanks

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