Social Networking Sites Help Businesses And Franchises Gain Exposure, Says StartupJournal.com.

For start-ups on a shoestring budget, the opportunity to gain widespread exposure at no cost may seem too good to be true, says StartupJournal.com, The Wall Street Journal’s guide for entrepreneurs. But networking sites like MySpace allow groups — including businesses — to create online communities for free. As a result, new ventures eager to establish an initial customer base can benefit by creating a network on MySpace and inviting “friends.”

A page on MySpace usually includes a photo and description of what the group or business is about, as well as additional pictures or artwork, video, audio and links to Web sites, such as a company home page. Groups also can post news bulletins and launch user discussions. To get members to join, a group must make or receive membership requests. A group’s members are listed on its page and vice versa. Facebook.com is another networking site aimed at college and high school students.

“Software tools and online services can help generate sales leads without the usual legwork and the often-inefficient cold calling,” said David Patton, editorial director, StartupJournal.com. “Entrepreneurs can choose from a host of tools that help them address an old problem: how to sign up new customers when you have small or nonexistent sales resources — and must compete with corporations with deep pockets and big reputations.”

Some online networks, like LinkedIn, let you find sales leads through mutual acquaintances. Others are more like beefed-up phone directories, offering exhaustive lists of corporate personnel and their contact information. Still others offer comprehensive background information on prospective clients, culled from press releases, news reports and other sources. Some offer a combination of these features.

“Online networking can help small businesses generate sales leads without the usual legwork and the often-inefficient cold calling,” said Mr. Patton.

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