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Manta: An Online Forum For Small Businesses

Did you know that more than 33,000 new businesses are created in the United States every week? A more important question: How do you get yourself noticed in such a huge crowd?

Did you know that more than 33,000 new businesses are created in the United States every week? A more important question: How do you get yourself noticed in such a huge crowd?Well, having a great website (and the marketing dollars to drive people there) is one way. But the fact is, almost half of SMBs (45%) still don't have one, according to a recent survey by Zoomerang. Apparently, there must be other ways to market yourself.

Here's one thing you can do: Use the services of Manta, a Columbus, Ohio-based company that creates business profiles by collecting and compiling data. If you haven't heard the name, you probably will soon (and someplace other than in this blog). With about 30 million visits per month, Manta has grown into the third-largest business information site behind Yahoo Finance and Dow Jones.

With Manta, you can do one of two things: write your company profile from scratch or "claim" the profile that Manta has already created for your business. Most do the latter--an easy process of contacting Manta and proving you are who you say you are. Once the profile is yours, you can go ahead and tweak it by adding content. Want to include photos of your facility or employees? Go for it. What about offering coupons and providing info about upcoming sales and promotional events? You can do that too. The profile is yours. You can make it whatever you want it to be and keep it as fresh as you like.

"Manta is a de facto website for those who don't have one and a complementary resource for those who do," says Pam Springer, president and CEO. "It also functions as an online community for small businesses, and as a marketing platform that allows companies to connect with vendors, supplies, partners, and customers." Although Manta is available to any business of any size, the company targets very small players with 10 employees or fewer, says Springer, adding that 43% of Manta's registrants fall into that category.

Perhaps you're wondering how much it'll cost you to register with Manta and claim your profile. Zero dollars. Zilch. Nada. Nothing. Not a penny. That's good news--heck, great news--for small businesses, especially given that 55% of them, according to the same Zoomerang survey I cited earlier, are working with a marketing budget of $1,000 or less. Says a company spokesperson: "Manta levels the playing field for SMBs, allowing customers to find them easily--whether they have a website or not."

In addition, Manta doesn't profile just U.S. companies; the businesses listed there hail from around the world and span all seven continents. Need to find a supplier in China? A customer in Canada? A prospect in Venezuela? A competitor in Germany? A partner in Kenya? Chances are they all have profiles at Manta, whose database includes more than 64 million company profiles.

In the next six months to a year, the goal is to "add utility to Manta beyond the promotional component," says Springer. Claiming and managing profiles will still be free, but other services will be added on a subscription basis. Currently, businesses can pay an annual fee for a Premium Business Listing, which leverages Manta's SEO expertise, allowing registrants to choose keywords or phrases that describe their businesses and will bring up their profiles when entered in a search engine.

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