The social networking business is definitely one of the most promising industries for any tech entrepreneur. Facebook and Twitter are connecting people in the social world, whereas LinkedIn is connecting people in the professional networks. All seems covered, right?
Wrong. There are a plethora of other social networks which are focusing on specific niches, where LinkedIn and Facebook are of no use. For instance, LinkedIn cannot help you hire an attorney, or an architect or an event manager. This is because LinkedIn is a generalist social network; which works for most of the business verticals, but not all. And this is where the real opportunity for any pragmatic entrepreneur lies.
That said, this is just one end of the story. The professional networking market is also getting crowded. There are many players like BranchOut, AngelList, Zerply, Meetup, VisualCV, PartnerUp, Opprtunity and Twylah.
The question that arises is, how do you create a profitable B2B networking site?
Here is your answer:
1. Research on a very specific niche
“A niche is a pie of the market, small enough for you to dominate, but big enough to bring profits.”
You simply need to research on a niche, which is ignored by LinkedIn and other professional networking sites. There are many business verticals, waiting to be tapped – Medicine, Event Management, Architects and Interior Designers, Legal and so on. Just ensure, you research the networking needs of these business verticals and then satisfy those needs with your B2B networking platform.
For instance, any B2B networking platform for Architects should have a feature for them to be able to showcase their work. Similarly, any B2B networking platform for Lawyers should show their legal history and how they have performed earlier. This way, you can identify the unique needs of your niche, and satiate them with your platform.
2. Use a clone script
This might be one of the most important points, which is ignored by most of the entrepreneurs. They spend hours and hours into coding or spend a ton of money in hiring developers. Why get into this fuss, when you can have your website up and running in hours? All you need to do is, look for a partner who can provide you with reliable social networking software at extremely low costs, such as the LinkedIn clone. Then, you can use these codes to build your platform or get it built by a team of experts. This way, you save ample of time and resources and still have a full-fledged professional networking platform running.
The simple methodology is, when your startup costs are less, your gestation period will be small and you will be profitable much before other players in the vertical.
3. Provide skill rating and training opportunities
When people network on your platform, they should be able to recognize the expertise of their fellow users. You can help them know this by having a rating system for the key competencies in your vertical. This should be, apart from the space for showcasing any previous work. This way, the users on your platform can identify their key skills and also get to know, where they lack. Then, to fill the skill gaps, you can tie up with Coursera, any other local institution or create your own paid courses, and market them on your platform.
LinkedIn has been doing this with the help of Lynda, and it has proved to be pretty successful. This helps your users focus on the trending skills, and then as they acquire those skills you get an additional revenue stream. In addition to all of this, it also attracts incremental traffic in the form of people who are yet to enter the industry (students and recent graduates) and increases the net time spent by a user on the website.
4. Provide upgradable features
Freemium has worked for most of the startup business models. Even LinkedIn provides freemium services in the form of LinkedIn Premium. In order to create a freemium model, provide a maximum of your platform’s features for free. Then differentiate the additional features into those, which can provide incremental returns like Increased Visibility, Refined Search Results, Privacy Settings and so on. Once differentiated, you can bundle these services into one and then charge for these additional features.
The general features maintain the traffic on your platform, and the premium features add a revenue channel. This way, the more traffic you have, the greater are your chances to increase revenue.
5. Have an affiliate sales program
This is the only feature, which does not involve the user directly. Now, there are many businesses which are willing to pay for leads generated. You can target these businesses and have a referral program designed for them, where you charge for every lead that your platform generates for their business. For a professional networking platform, the prospective businesses which can be partnered with are – educational institutions, training institutions and coaching centers, local networking chapters, organizations on a hiring spree, and so on. You can identify the businesses with highest marketing budgets by looking at the scale of their marketing and then approach them with your affiliate program.
Most of the people wonder if advertising is just an expense. How can it be a revenue stream? If you look carefully, it is a revenue stream. Advertising helps you bring users to your platform, and these users are your biggest asset. Now, you don’t have to advertise in the Super Bowl; running ads on Google, Facebook and LinkedIn can also do the trick. Before you start thinking why to spend your hard earned dollar in advertising, remember- you are acquiring customers. You are adding new user-base by reaching out to people. You are building credibility amongst your affiliate partners, and all of this will ultimately increase your revenue.
There is no need for you to think of LinkedIn or any other professional networking site as your competition; if the niche is untapped or not covered fully till you enter, you will have the first mover’s advantage.