Another site squarely in this category, this one focused like a laser beam at independent business, is Biznik.com. We just re-launched with a complete redesign, which includes a slick Web 2.0 interface, Google Maps, and action menus that allow all common networking actions to be taken immediately without leaving whatever page you are on. And since networking is something that ultimately comes down to face-to-face connections, we made it really easy for members to host events. Members select their city and see other members within a user-defined radius. It's pretty slick.
Online Business Networking Exchange: The Advisor Garage Community
Online business networking is an increasingly important way for investors, startups and expert advisers to meet up and make connections. A new service takes this a step further, giving you the tools to create your own focused micro-communities and make ideas become realities.
Photo credit: Vasyl Yakobchuk
The recent success of offline, face-to-face events such as OpenCoffee Clubs and their virtual equivalent in the form of the LinkedIn social network, have made it very easy for ideas and money to collide.
Great as it is, the problem with the OpenCoffee Club concept is that it relies on people making connections on a local level, based on where they are located geographically. And while LinkedIn offers a partial remedy to the issue online, its focus is significantly broader, and thus its uses limited for those looking to do business.
So what if you could combine the focus of OpenCoffee Clubs - introducing investors, experts and entrepreneurs in a relaxed environment - with the scope and reach of LinkedIn?
One possible solution is offered by the Advisor Garage Community, which gives you the opportunity to build your own personal network. This makes for an interesting addition to the earlier core features of Advisor Garage, by creating a far more user-defined environment for focused social networking.
Overview - Advisor Garage and Advisor Garage Community
Advisor Garage was founded by entrepreneurs with a vision of helping out other entrepreneurs. When you set out on the rocky road to creating a startup business, the one thing that is crucially important is getting sound advice - advice as to how to get the ball rolling, advice as to how to find funding for your venture, and advice as to how to market your product and see some returns before the money runs out.
The Advisor Garage website is essentially a starting point for budding entrepreneurs to pitch their ideas and hopefully secure either solid advice from experienced professionals, or else secure funding from venture capitalists and angel investors.
Advisers join for free and can decide their own terms, whether that means taking cash payments for their advice, or merely taking advantage of the opportunity to tap into fresh ideas and sound investments. Advice-seekers sign-up for an initial free trial, before moving to a one-day ($20) or premium ($29 per month) advice account. This seems a small price to pay for valuable advice on your business pitch.
Advisor Garage Community
Advisor Garage Community is a new service, which is open to both Advisor and Advice Seeker account holders, but also to those with neither account types. In fact, setting up with the discrete but interconnected new service requires a separate sign-in, keeping the personal information gathered in one service distinct from that created in the other.
If the focus of Advisor Garage is specifically on introducing entrepreneurs and their pitches to those in the know that can help them out, Advisor Garage Community is much more about building relationships with other entrepreneurs, investors and advisers via a set of useful social media tools such as polls, forums and blogs.
Essentially you are provided with an easy-to-use means of expressing your ideas, connecting with others, seeking advice and working out initial reactions to ideas from within a broader community. This could prove very useful for those setting up a startup, or seeking to share their expertise with up-and-coming business talent.
Advisor Garage Community draws on a familiar set of tools for quick online collaboration and communication, and if you have used an intranet or made use of web-based communication services, nothing here will confuse or challenge you.
Perhaps most important in the scheme of things is the ability to easily create focused micro-communities in the form of groups. Creating a group focused on a particular location, shared interests or an area of expertise can quickly lead to making new and useful connections as others apply to join and bring their expertise and ideas into the mix.
Among the benefits of creating these groups are the ability to create and work on private, group-specific content such as image galleries, internal email, video sharing, private forums, event planning, private messaging and blogs. While all of these functions are also available in the public area of Advisor Garage Community, the ability to micro-manage and control this shared output is of an obvious advantage.
As group creator and moderator, you have the ability to let anyone join, or to set up an application process and closely monitor and filter those that enter the group. You can also send out invitations by email to draw on your existing networks.
Other Key Features
Whether you decide to make use of the tools available within a private or semi-private group, or to make your information free-for-all in the public section of Advisor Garage Community, the features that you have at your disposal are quite varied, and include:
- User profiles - just as with any other social networking service, you can create your own profile, with details of location, affiliations, your photo and so on
- Buddy lists - Like many other such services you can easily add other users to your 'buddy list' by visiting their profile and befriending them. This often plays an integral role in the social networking arena, where no 'buddies' often amounts to no influence
- Personal pages - You can easily create your own personal page with a choice of layouts and looks
- Blogs - Advisor Garage Community gives you the ability to create your own blog to share your ideas with the broader community, or simply with your focused group
- Web links - Web links give you a quick way of putting together a micro-article with the express purpose of adding a URL to the directory of useful resources
- Forums - Forums let you contribute to existing threads or start your own from scratch to open up the discussion on a particular topic
- Polls - Polls give you the chance to ask your group or the broader community a multiple choice question, defining your own parameters
- Events - Events can be added, which will appear on the public calendar for others to see
- Images - You can import images to share with other users, perhaps in support of your ideas
This makes for a comprehensive set of tools that should prove useful in networking, seeking out and giving advice and forging communities of practice online. Couple this with a LinkedIn-style referral and points system that other users can make use of to highlight your good work, and you have an easy way of making tracks in the world of online business networking.
If there is one thing that lets things down with Avisor Garage Community for me, it is the general presentation and interface design. While this isn't quite enough to detract from the core functions that make the service desirable as a meeting place, there is a very real sense that things could be better presented, more up-to-date and a little less off-the-peg.
When compared to LinkedIn, as it inevitably will be, the bare bones installation of the open source CMS Drupal looks and feels considerably less slick. Drupal is a very useful free content management platform that serves a great many not-for-profit, educational and hobbyist communities well.
In the context of a professional enterprise like Advisor Garage Community, however, it does slightly lower the tone. Presentation is an important part of business, and in the world of clean Web 2.0 design, integrated web widgets and foolproof navigation, as in Facebook or LinkedIn, using a fairly standard Drupal installation doesn't quite cut it for me.
I'm pleased that this grassroots endeavor is putting its content and community features first, but in a cutthroat world where there is a lot of competition, presentation and navigation can make or break a service. As it stands, Advisor Garage Community is functional, but far from intuitive, good-looking or even free of glitches and formatting issues.
In spite being a relatively new addition to the Advisor Garage brand, Advisor Garage Community is already packing some useful content in terms of the blogs, forums and groups already available for fledgling networkers to get involved with.
Content, in this context even more than others, is of crucial importance to the success of a community. I can see the public information already available within the Advisor Garage Community as becoming a valuable resource for those looking to network themselves as an entrepreneur, adviser-consultant or even investor, and that is commendable for such a young website. This will only grow over time.
Of particular interest are the steadily growing forums, and the nice range of groups that include a women entrepreneurs group in addition to a variety of location-based and interest-focused micro-communities.
There are also some thoughtful blog entries that will be of interest especially to entrepreneurs, including advice on whether to go for VC funding or not and the best startup strategy to name but two. Over time, I expect this to grow into quite a repository of valuable resources for those just getting their feet wet in setting up a startup company and all that it entails.
Advisor Garage Community expands the Advisor Garage brand by focusing on the same core relationship between entrepreneurs, VCs, angels and experts, but extending a range of user-generated networking tools to its user-base.
While Advisor Garage places its emphasis on making pitches and introductions between those with ideas, those with experience and those with money, Advisor Garage Community lets users generate their own public and private groups, blogs, forums and polls. This facilitates quick and easy ideas sharing and a familiar social networking model based on groups and 'buddies'.
If Advisor Garage is more of an introduction service, then, its community counterpart is the next logical step. Essentially Advisor Garage Community allows individuals to expand their presence and enter into active dialogue with other users through the use of a familiar toolkit of social web-based media. This can be a very useful way of cementing existing relationships and sharing contacts and ideas within tightly focused micro-communities.
The importance of business networking can't be stressed enough, and for those looking to create an online startup company, it is an absolutely essential part of the process. Advisor Garage Community is a very good addition to the existing tools and services being used by those seeking investment backing, those looking to share their expertise, and those looking for the next big thing.
If the service sometimes seems somewhat rough around the edges, this doesn't detract greatly from the core functionality at the heart of Advisor Garage Community. Nevertheless, the use of a Drupal installation as the base of the community is quite evident, and might for some project a less polished and professional end-user experience than less-focused but better presented alternatives like LinkedIn. If I were an investor looking to further extend the appeal of this well-featured service, I would want to see some subtle but important changes made to its overall interface design.
Interface aside - and let it be said that there are no major navigation issues here - Advisor Garage Community is well worth checking out if you are looking to extend and build upon your existing professional relationships.
If you would like to learn more about Advisor Garage, you might want to check out the following links:
- Advisor Garage Community website
- Advisor Garage About page
- Building a network with Advisor Garage
- Advisor Garage FAQ
- Interview with the CEO of Advisor Garage by Kristen Nicole
[ Read more ]
Originally written by Michael Pick for Master New Media and originally published as: "Online Business Networking That You Control: Advisor Garage Community
Perhaps you would be interested in reviewing Marzar when we launch next month.
Like The Advisor Garage Community Marzar has also been described as a myspace or facebook for businesses.
Marzar is the platform to promote your business and ideas, gain expert advice,
meet business connections, manage your contacts, find resources, win your next deal, business partner and much more.
* Participate in or establish your own common interest business communities
* Create branded collaborative work spaces
* Store and share documents
* Coordinate actions of partners, contractors and work colleagues
* Source business partners and access vital resources
* Share expertise and offer advise to promote your own personal brand
* Build a network of trusted contacts share business referrals and introductions
* Syndicate press releases, white papers, cases studies and product information
* Advertise your products and services in our marketplace
* Publicise and promote business events
* Attend social meet ups
We are limiting numbers to 1000 founding members for our launch in August.
So to be amongst the first on Marzar please visit http://www.marzar.com to register now.
Thanks for the very insightful comments on our new community website. I agree with everything you wrote. Our community site has great functionality to help entrepreneurs and could look much better. As always we had a choice between refining and delaying or getting it out there, adding value to entrepreneurs and improving over time. Our goal is to help other entrepreneurs so no surprise in the decision we made.