Positioning Your Company For The Next Big Boom - Social Media, Business Plan, Network Strategies

Through my work as a business plan writer and venture consultant, I have recently seen several tentative, early indicators that the startup economy is picking up. Yet at present the market remains tepid, as evidenced by the paltry levels of venture capital funding and the paucity of venture backed exits in the technology space. Nonetheless, business is cyclical-things will bounce back. Knowing this, what can you do today to position your company for the next boom? A few ideas:

Get your social media strategy in place

Social networking platforms like LinkedIn and Facebook offer free and easy ways to extend your brand and gain additional visibility. For example, my firm (VentureArchetypes) recently created a Company Profile on LinkedIn and on CrunchBase, both of which are relevant to our target market of technology startups. We also created a Fan Page on Facebook and have been diligently blogging (SeedStageCapital.com) and posting on Twitter (@Startupventures). As with any new undertaking, traffic can take awhile to build, but at least we have now hung out the shingles.

Creating this ‘ecosystem of visibility' makes it easier for customers to find you, and it may help boost your organic search results on Google, Bing or Yahoo! Tip: look for ways to streamline the process of communicating, lest it devolve into an all-consuming distraction. For example, when we author a new article on our blog, we create a short feed on our Facebook fan page, which automatically updates our profile on Twitter. Blog posts also automatically show up on our LinkedIn profile page. In this way, we can get a lot of mileage from writing one article.

See and be seen

Along with building out your online presence, it pays to stay physically visible in your market or community by being present at and participating in events. Being a speaker or presenter is ideal, of course, but even simply attending conferences and mixers is worth the effort.

Tip: find yourself a good wingman-- someone who also recognizes the value of networking, and who will go with you to events. For example, my colleague Diana and I have pledged to go together to at least one networking event per week. We send each other links to potential activities, and most importantly, we encourage each other to go (thus overcoming the powerful effects of inertia). At events, we split up to work the room separately, but when we meet someone interesting, we make sure to introduce that person to on another. This is ‘leveraged networking,' and it is more powerful and efficient than doing it alone. It's also more fun.

Update your business plan

Even if you never intend to use it to raise capital, your business plan is a great framework to: i) assess your market and target customers, and identify new opportunities; ii) map out near- and long-term goals, including new product directions; iii) analyze the competition-- including both weaknesses you can exploit, as well as strengths you can replicate; and, iv) synch up your team and hiring plan around all of the above.

Writing (or revising) your business plan is also a good way to take a step back and reflect on your business-where you've been, and where you want to go next. It can be meditative and contemplative, but can also feel like giving birth. To remedy this, just keep it simple, and use the business plan as a forum to collect, organize, and prioritize your ideas and goals. Treat it as a living, guiding document-not your great American novel.

Pay it forward with your personal network

Downturns are a great time to bolster your business relationships and extend you network of contacts-namely, since during a recession, people need help. How many contacts do you have who are out of work, or who fear losing their jobs?

You can build up future goodwill and "pay it forward" through simple actions like connecting two people who may have a shared business interest, or by asking a contact if they would be willing to do an informational interview with a friend looking for a job. Such tasks are non-intrusive, and take very little time-- a quick email, introducing the two parties and telling why they might want to connect will suffice. And although your focus should be on helping others, it has a useful side benefit for you as well-- it positions you as a "connector" in the space.

In sum, consider the current economic slowdown as an opportunity to get your house in order and to lay the foundation for the next boom.

Author:. Nathan Beckord, MBA/CFA is a startup junkie. He has been helping startups launch, raise capital, and execute on business development deals for over ten years. He has worked on numerous deals, ranging from small seed and venture capital rounds on up to initial public offerings and complex transactions with Fortune 500 companies.

Nathan is Principal of VentureArchetypes, LLC (www.VentureArchetypes.com), a consult...

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