Entrepreneurs Finding Answers Online

Big companies can easily access a wealth of competitive and business information, but for small business owner’s it’s not that easy.

Aiming to level the playing field, Henrik Dillman founded Sweden-based Mancx.com, an online community where small businesses owners can pay to get answers to their most pressing business questions.

“I came from the corporate world where there are plenty of resources to get a hold of solid information for decision making,” says Dillman. “I started my own business and it was really difficult to find good information.”

For small business owners, finding leads or getting competitive information usually means paying a hefty fee to get market research either online or from a firm.  But according to Dillman, paying for information doesn’t guarantee it’s worthwhile. “You get 80% of the resources and it’s not enough to make decisions,” he says. “Our job is to connect small businesses with people that have the information.”

Business owners that have a question can log on to Mancx.com using their LinkedIn account and upload their query. It takes a couple minutes to post, and auto-generates tags so Mancx can match the question with members that have the expertise. The person posing the question assigns a rate he or she thinks the answer is worth. Those who can answer the question will email the business owner to make arrangements.

It’s then up to the business owner to decide if the person has the information he or she is looking for and for the two to negotiate a price.  Mancx offers a money back guarantee, in case the seller doesn’t provide what is expected, but Dillman says that rarely happens. Just like sellers on eBay get rated by their buyers, respondents are also assigned a rating. The better the rating, the more they can charge, so it behooves them to provide accurate information, says Dillman.

“We provide a lot of tools to verify the information,” says Dillman. “We’re trying to replicate the offline world where you meet someone, you ask for references and have a look at their prior work.”

Melissa Ulrich, president and owner of J&M Patent Designs, has used Mancx both to ask questions and to answer them, and has not been disappointed.

“There weren’t many good alternatives,” says Ulrich. “I don’t know that many small business owners and this reaches a broader scope of people.”

Mancx has about 40,000 registered users, 85% of which are answering questions. Business owners that pose questions can also answer ones in their area of expertise. The average rate to answer a question is $70, but there was one person who paid $260 for a list of Indian bloggers with contact details. According to Dillman, common questions include referrals for new distributors or agents, pricing information on competitors and online stats -- like the conversion rate on the landing pages of Websites.

Recent questions on the Website included where to find second hand machines for making and packaging chocolate and what’s the size of the investor community in the U.S.  Both were assigned a value of $10 for the answer. Dillman says that often asking a question is just the beginning of the formation of a new business relationship. For example, a person that discovers its conversion rate is bad compared to the industry average may ask for help in improving that rate.

“It’s a great way of connecting online with people that can help improve your business,” says Dillman. “Business owners like to help each other.”