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Find Your Niche Online, Part 3: Only Connect

June 23, 2010

This is part 3 of a 3-part series called Find Your Niche Online. Check out Part 1A to learn about the importance of influencers when looking for your niche, and Part 1B to check out the bunny trail of influence that helped me launch Abby Kerr Ink. Part 2 talks about the distinction between emulating and imitating your influencers.

Welcome to Part 3 of Find Your Niche Online.

You’ve identified your influencers in the blogosphere. You’ve traveled along on a bunny trail of influence, hopping from blog to blog and learning so much more than you ever realized you would. And you’ve thought carefully about what distinguishes you and your micro niche from your sistren and brethren in your general niche.

At some point, you’ve got to connect.

“Only connect.”

— E.M. Forster

Social media networks are a key tool for connecting online with prospective clients. If only you and all your new online connections could look this effortlessly cool, right?

And for some of us, this is the scariest part. Reaching out. Saying hello. Letting other people in and around your niche know you’re here. I just want to stay invisible, our fear whines. I just want to stand back in the shadows and watch. Or, I don’t have time for more networking. I’m trying to run a business here.

The fact is, unless you have a built-in audience who is A} already pretty web savvy and B} anticipating your content, you can’t run a business online without introducing yourself to your prospective right people — future clients and customers, potential partners and peers. There’s a breaking-in period that has to occur. You have to arrive on the scene.

Just as in offline life, it’s always best to show up online as yourself.

From experience, I can tell you that things will tend to go better for you if you put yourself out there as you instead of as a carefully edited image of you. I’ve talked before about my recent past as the Creator/Proprietor of a popular lifestyle boutique in my town. I was so into creating the brand identity of my store that I completely whitewashed {okay, chocolate polka dot-washed} some of my own personality under it. I only wanted customers to see the enchanted, dreamy Abby who believed in this experience she was perpetuating. I wanted to be seen as tireless, endlessly creative, and 100% accessible on the sales floor at all times — yet on the other hand, I inwardly bristled at questions about my personal life and tried to deflect customers’ inquiries about anything beyond the shop. The reason why? I hadn’t integrated all of me into my role as boutique owner. The strain of being visible and at people’s service 7+ hours a day, 6-7 days a week for four years got to me. {Yes, I know lots of people have customer service oriented jobs like this. Some people thrive on lots of social interaction. The point is, I didn’t. And to rail against how my self-created role at the shop made me feel, I began to withdraw emotionally, and that become a bummer in and of itself.}

So make sure you show up in a way that you can keep up.

What do I mean by ‘show up’? First, get a website that makes sense for your business. Make it look like you. And invest in it only what you can afford right now. Create the best content you possibly can and publish it on your blog. Depending on your type of business, you may or may not want a traditional, static “brochure” site; you may want a content-driven site that features your content {i.e. “blog posts”} on your Home page. {This way, you’re compelled to create and publish on the regular. It ups the stakes on you showing up.} Approach other bloggers in your niche over email about guest posting. {At the time I’m writing this post, I haven’t yet done this, but it’s definitely on my third quarter To Do list! Any takers?}

Next, find the places online where your right people hang out and be there.

What blogs do you enjoy reading? Who’s creating content that clicks with you because it feels like something you’d like to create? Who’s commenting on the blogs you like? What type of businesses do those people have? These questions are pretty obvious, but if you just take conscious notice of who’s around when you’re deriving great value somewhere, you’ll learn a lot.

Don’t stop there. Start talking!

Check out the sites of the people who are leaving thoughtful, interesting comments on the blogs you like. Subscribe to their blogs if you like what you’re seeing. Follow them on Twitter. Introduce yourself and let them know how you found them. Tony Teegarden invited me to connect on LinkedIn yesterday after he saw me comment on a recent post of Dave Navarro’s, then started following me on Twitter. And yesterday I found Catherine Somerlot on Twitter via someone else we both followed {I think it was the social media superstah Laura Roeder}. I became Catherine’s second follower {she’d only been on Twitter for like, a day} and immediately sent out a Tweet saying how much I liked her Twitter voice {it’s romantic and playful}. Then Tony Teegarden started following Catherine. {By the time you check her out, she’ll probably have way more than 3 followers, because, well, social media’s cool like that.}

And keep in mind, these are not unique transactions. These types of connections happen all day long, every day, in every niche on the social web.

Notice how my niche as a copywriter and coach for creative entrepreneurs, particularly those in the boutique industry, is complementary to the niches of some of the people I’m following. Tony is a coach/consultant in what he calls Self Exploration Optimization. Dave is a product launch coach. Laura is a social media and online marketing coach/consultant. I’m not entirely sure what Catherine does, but from her Twitter bio I gather she’s an artist and freelance designer. I started following her because as a writer, I’m a sucker for a great voice, which she has in 140 characters or less. Tony, Dave, Laura, Catherine, and I all probably share some of the same right people but none of us are offering quite the same thing. {It’s totally cool to follow people who are offering the same thing as you. Don’t think of them as competition. Think of them as peers.}

So if you haven’t already, create a Twitter account and learn how to grow a quality following. Start a Facebook page for your business and put good content there. {Check out the Facebook page for Abby Kerr Ink. This is where I share resources that I find valuable and inspiring in the hopes that you will, too.} Figure out how to use LinkedIn in a way that makes sense for your business.

Remember that just like in offline life, online networking is governed by norms and codes, too — some spoken, some unspoken. If you hang for a little while in any social media network, you’ll start to pick up on them. The biggest pitfalls are too much blustering and too much naked self-promotion.

Be cool. Be considerate. Listen way more than you contribute. Contribute when you have something thoughtful and well-considered to say. Give more than you get. Be witty, but don’t try to be a killer {humor can be easily misread online}.

Just relax, be yourself, and focus on connections: connections with other likeminded people {remember that behind our Twitter handles and avatars, we’re all just people!} and connecting your prospective right people with the content you can bring them that will help them advance their goals and dreams.

So that wraps up our series. Hope it’s helped you come a little closer to finding or refining your niche online.

In the comments, I’d love to hear your advice on connecting online with prospective right people. How actively are you searching for likeminded friends? Or do you just let it happen naturally? Any great strategies you’d like to share with those of us who haven’t dipped more than a toe into the social media waters yet?

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