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Logging in for profits
Sep 27, 2011
My friend Samantha sells fashion jewelry—eye-catching bracelets and necklaces made from glass, beads, and colored stones—that she strings together herself. Over the years, she has made decent money out of this small business, enough to pay for her weekly shopping and personal needs.
Last year, however, Samantha’s profits began paying for trips to exotic places like Bali and Ibiza. Amazed at her sudden prosperity and the fact that she now employed eight people, I asked her what her secret was.
With a conspiratorial look on her face, she whispered to me: “Online social networking.”
Well, getting income from one’s online social network isn’t really a big secret anymore, but neither is it a beaten path. You need to know certain facts about it to make the utmost use of it, like my friend Samantha does.
Here are the reasons why online social networking works: First, it makes globalization possible even for small businesses. Second, it is an inexpensive method of generating new sales because there are no advertising costs; if you’re selling quality products, for instance, your social network will spread the word even without being asked to do so. Third—and here is where online social networking departs from virtual marketplaces and auction sites like eBay—mutual trust is already in place because your social network consists of people you personally know.
In the last century, direct marketing through face-to-face social networking created industry giants out of businesses like Avon and Tupperware. It was easy and fun work; the sales reps simply called their friends and invited them to parties that conveniently became venues for showing and selling their products.
In the computer age, social networking has evolved and has become even easier. If you’re online everyday anyway, you might as well profit from it. It’s the easiest and most economical thing you can do to boost your sales. Just keep constantly in touch with your social contacts, and keep expanding your network. Let six degrees of separation work for you. A friend of a friend can also become your friend, and so on. If you keep adding contacts this way on a regular basis, the number of your prospective customers will become virtually limitless.
Internet sites for socializing like Friendster, MySpace, and Facebook are not just for posting blogs and photos; they can also be virtual marketplaces. However, you’d be navigating through tricky waters if you use these sites for commercial purposes, so you need to know exactly how to use them without getting in trouble with the law. I will show you how to do this, but first, check out online socializing sites that have the biggest memberships.
Sites like these typically contain small-print terms of service that prohibit commercial use by their members. If you violate these terms, the listed penalties range from civil (you pay damages) to criminal (you go to jail) and injunctive (you will be prohibited from doing certain acts)—not to mention removal of the content of your page or deletion of your entire profile altogether (if you have not saved your contacts database elsewhere, say goodbye to your customers).
Among the prohibited activities are spamming, solicitations of strangers to add you to their list of contacts, solicitation to buy or sell any product, and so on. However, a few of these sites do allow limited commercial activity (read the terms of service to find out which ones do), but first, you must secure an express written consent from the site’s management, after which you must follow the restrictions and refrain from selling disallowed products.
Sites that absolutely prohibit all kinds of commercial activity are naturally trickier. Since nobody ever complains or reports violations of terms of service, some members open online stores in them anyway. However, the fact that no one has reported you thus far as a violator doesn’t mean no one ever will.
Protect yourself by using these sites only for networking. Don’t do your actual selling there, although in your personal profile, you may show your e-mail address and list your business as one of your occupations; for example: “antique furniture dealer” or “fashion jewelry wholesaler.” As your online relationship with your new contacts gets more personal and comfortable, politely ask for their e-mail or phone number. If they give it to you, you may offer them your product using those contact details; but if they don’t, take the hint and don’t bug them anymore.
One last note: Traditional consumer protection laws apply to online and phone sales, so never sell defective products, do not overprice, do deliver on time, and do be courteous to everyone. If you follow these time-tested rules, you might just hit it big sooner than you expect and find yourself in glamorous Ibiza this summer—just like my intrepid friend Samantha.
For questions or comments, you may send e-mail to email@example.com .
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