Crowdsourcing for Small Business and Start-Ups

The following is a blog post that I originally wrote for www.365daysofstartups.com

 

Crowdsourcing is a practice through which organizations can tap into the collective intelligence and skills of their crowds – employees, customers, or the public –  for product or service innovation, problem solving and performing specific tasks and achieving specific goals, leveraging online communities. Crowdsourcing is becoming widespread as companies, both large and small, non-profits and government become more familiar with the practice and how it can enhance their own internal resources and knowledge base.

How does crowdsourcing work?  First, it should always start with a sound business strategy and objectives. Typically, an organization either recruits its own online community of participants (the crowd), or gains access to a community that already exists. The organization then invites the crowd to contribute ideas and solutions related to the tasks it needs accomplished. The crowd is encouraged to collaborate and provide constructive comments on ideas that are posted, and vote on their favorites – enabling crowd-preferred ideas to be identified for the organization. Often times, incentives and rewards are provided to the crowd to entice participation.

Large corporations, such as Dell, Starbucks and Pepsi have been using crowdsourcing for a number of years, however it is now entering a place of maturity – related companies and services geared towards small business and start-ups are arising. Although small businesses may not have the following required to recruit their own crowds, they now have access to a wide range of opportunities to leverage crowds created by crowdsourcing service providers.

Efforts that a small business might consider crowdsourcing include:

  • Graphic and logo design
  • Product innovation and development
  • Marketing and communications
  • Computer programming

Small businesses and start-ups can benefit from crowdsourcing in several ways. Crowdsourcing enables companies to gain access to a large talent pool and resources that complement and build on their own internal expertise.  For time-starved business owners and entrepreneurs, crowdsourcing can help ease the burden of a heavy workload. Also, depending on the task at hand, crowdsourcing can be a very cost-effective solution.

Despite the name, a “crowd” doesn’t have to be that large.  Crowdsourcing projects can result in excellent output with as little as a few hundred participants, so small businesses and startups shouldn’t be turned away from considering crowdsourcing for fear of having to recruit thousands of participants.

For an example of crowdsourcing in action, check out Genius Crowds – www.geniuscrowds.com.  Genius Crowds is a new crowdsourcing initiative through which participants have an opportunity to submit ideas for new products, as well as vote or comment on ideas that others have submitted. Ideas that turn out to be Genius Products, as selected by the crowd and reviewed by a panel of experts, could actually be brought to market  – with the participants who submitted the ideas earning royalties.  Not only that, but their logo happens to be crowdsourced too!

Marketing Ideas for Small Businesses

Often times, small business owners underestimate the value of marketing in growing sales and generating revenue. As such, they don’t devote nearly enough resources – in terms of talent and money – to the marketing function. To be fair, many small business owners juggle a multitude of tasks, making it easy for marketing to get lost in the mix. However, even small investments in marketing can make a large difference.

Here are some ways in which small businesses can build awareness about their products and services.

1. Build a presence on social networking websites. Create a group for your business on Facebook. Invite all of your friends and contacts to join,and send periodic updates about your business (for example, new products or services offered) through the group. It’s entirely free, and fairly easy to manage.

2. Think out of the box, and be creative with your marketing strategies and tactics. Maybe you’ve always ran an ad for your business in the local paper. Instead, perhaps consider investing an incentive program that will entice your current customers to invite others to sample your products or services. Remember, the most powerful form of advertising is word-of-mouth!

3. Sponsor a community event that is relevant to your business and your target market. Show your customers, or potential customers, that you care about your community, and you will help bond them to your brand.