by Jess Brown

Let's say you're an electrician and you run a small electrical contracting company. There may be 1000's of other companies that offer the same services, at the same prices, in the same turn around time, with the same friendly smile as you do. The only difference? Only a few are geographically close enough to the customer to do the job.

A lot of small business benefit from a geographic advantage but most technology companies (large or small) don't enjoy this benefit. Take my consulting company Brown Web Design, for example. A local entrepreneur could just as easily hire someone in Ohio as they could me to develop software for their business. There's no real advantage to being close. Another example: A business could just as easily use software built and maintained in Australia as they could from people in their home state.

There are a few advantages, time zone and language. Time zone is not that hard to work around, especially with people's acceptance of asynchronous communication these days. Language is another topic.

So the questions is, if you own a small company, how do you compete? How do you market and network? How do you gain an advantage?

Well, first there are some geographic advantages to marketing and networking. A developer in Ohio isn't likely to come to Atlanta to attend the monthly Ruby meetup or Web Design group. So being visible at local gatherings is a big benefit. Speaking at these gatherings is even better.

Another idea I've been trying to wrap my head around (because I'm not very good at it, but I see others doing it well) is the concept of virtual communities. With the loss of some geographical advantage, there's opportunity to be heard and seen in virtual communities. What are some of those? They can be technology specific ("The Ruby Community"), or business topic specific (the startup community, enterprise, SMB's, etc) industry specific (accounting, manufacturing, real estate). I not a google plus fan, but I like their term of circles. If you're socially active, you have circles of friends and influence. You might have an audience of social followers, blog readers, or email subscribers. They're all potential areas of opportunity.

I'm not pointing out anything new. The crazy growth of marketing tools to help companies reach these virtual communities like Pardot, Google Adwords, Mailchimp, Hubspot reveal that others are doing online marketing with amazing success.

So what's my point? If I have one I guess I'd be this: Embrace the competition and take advantage of opportunities provided online.

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