When you’re tweeting for fun, you can follow anyone who sounds or looks interesting and it’s no big deal. But when you’re tweeting for business, you need to make sure you’re following the right people.

Imagine if you follow just anybody: You log into your Twitter client to see if anything important is being tweeted and all you can find are the latest escapades of some random celebrity. Not good for business.

On the other hand, by following the right people, you get yourself in front of those who can have a positive impact on your business and those who you can positively impact.

When you log into your Twitter account, you’ll see great posts by people whose tweets you area about, whether they’re the industry leader across the country or the potential customer on the other side of the world.

So, the question is: How do you find the right people?

1. Follow the people who are following you.

Chances are, if someone is following you, they’re interested in what you have to offer. So, you should be interested in finding out why and getting to know that person.

2. Find people by keywords in their profiles.

If you’re a virtual assistant, you may want to find people who run small or home-based businesses to follow. You can use a service like Twellow to find these people.

3. Include your profile in directories like Twellow and Mr. Tweet.

This will make it easier for people who are searching for your product or service to find you. And then you can follow them.

4. Read popular blogs in your industry.

They often contain lists of leaders that they recommend you follow. Follow those people. While you’re at it, follow the blog writer.

5. Follow the people your industry leaders follow.

People who are successful in your industry and in tweeting are probably going to be pretty selective with who they follow. Check out their profiles to see who they feel is important enough to keep up with.

6. Use lists to sort the people you follow.

Once you get a few hundred people on your follow list, it’s going to be next to impossible to keep up with everyone. So create lists of people, by category, who you’d like to keep a closer eye on. This is especially easy to do if you use TweetDeck or the list feature on Twitter.com.

Once you’ve created a following, getting more people on board will be easier. You’ll have a ton of people that you follow who are providing value to you, your business and the people you follow.

How does that work?

As you read through your timeline, or your list, you’ll see comments and links by people you follow that you know will be of interest or value to those who are following you. So you retweet (RT) that comment. It’s actually a pretty simple process. You’ve now given your followers something to retweet for you or just brought yourself to the top of their minds when they read the great post your retweeted. See how that works?

In the next post we will discuss using the right tools to maximize your twitter usage.

Keeping in touch with your colleagues and other industry professionals is important to your business, especially of you’re running a home-based business and are too busy to get out and network in person.

Keeping in touch with others who share your interests can lead to partnerships, more work, professional friendships, referrals and even jobs. Just like people prefer to buy from those they know, like and trust, people in your industry would rather work with you than with a total stranger.

While your blog can establish your level of knowledge and expertise, Twitter can enable you to converse directly with that industry leader you’d love to meet or that successful business owner who periodically looks for subcontractors via Twitter.

So, how do you get in front of the people in your network?

Post interesting content.

Not the same old stuff everyone else is posting. Talk about your own experiences, your own opinions. Your content needs to be relevant but unique to you. For example, if you have a marketing epiphany from something your kid says, and you post about it, you’ll capture attention better than just posting a link to the same boring article everyone else is tweeting.

Respond to tweets.

When someone you want to network with tweets, respond. If they tweet about winning an award or landing a new client, congratulate them. Commiserate if something bad happens, share your own stories that are related to theirs.

Tell them what you think about them. OK, make sure this is good first. So, let’s say you’ve known another virtual assistant online for 10 years. You know she’s awesome at what she does and she has been an inspiration to you. Tell her. Now, don’t make it creepy or stalkerish, but you can say, “Hey, you’ve inspired me to be a better VA” in a fairly sane manner.

Retweet their tweets.

If the people you want to network with post an interesting tweet, retweet it. Not only will you be doing your followers a favor (who may not be following the people you’re networking with), but you’re helping the original tweet. Oftentimes, when you retweet someone, they will publically thank you and sometimes even go ahead and follow you.

Ask questions.

What better way to engage someone in a conversation than to directly ask them a question. They’ll find your question if you use @theirname and most Twitter-savvy people will respond. Just make sure you pick a good question to ask that highlights their expertise. In other words, don’t ask the SEO expert if he wears boxers or briefs.

Tweet their content.

There is probably a really good reason that you want to network with people, and one of those reasons is probably that they have some great content. So tweet it for them. They’ll appreciate it and they’ll notice you. That said, don’t spam their stuff. And make sure you read it first.

Most importantly, you’ll want to make sure that your efforts are friendly and open-minded. Nothing will kill your efforts worse than spammy, unfriendly, annoying twittering.

In the next post we will discuss how to follow the right people on Twitter.

You’re probably groaning right now at the thought of having to create more content. Luckily, in Twitter land, content is only 140 characters long. And you don’t want to overdo it. Such as with blogging or website building, content is king on Twitter. If people like your content, they will follow you and tell others about you. If they don’t, you’ll be sitting on your own Twitter island all by yourself.

Fortunately, Twitter makes providing content really easy. You don’t even have to write all of it yourself. You can simply read through the content provided by the people you’re following and retweet to your followers the great content they have written. Or, as you’re reading through your RSS feed for the day, you can tweet about the news, interesting blog posts or controversies that are brewing in the blogging world. If you have an opinion, you have something to say.

So what kind of content should you be providing?

1. Information.

If you know something, share it. It might be a bit of trivia of interest to people in your industry or your customers. Or it might be a piece of relevant news.

2. Advice.

As a business owner, you should know what your customers struggle with. If you’re a WordPress designer, you may know that your customers don’t know the difference between a page, a post and a category. Provide insight into the differences for your customers and they’ll love you forever.

3. Answers.

Similar to advice, answers are a more direct way of helping people. Watch out for people asking questions about your field of expertise, product, or service. Provide the answers and they’ll remember you – particularly if you just saved them from hours of searching or paying someone hundreds of dollars for the 5 minute fix you provided.

4. Updates.

Again, I think it’s a good idea that you tweet updates from your blog. There are plugins like Twitter Tools that will allow you to automatically tweet the headline and a shortened link to your blog post. Of course, this assumes that your blog posts are original content and useful to others. If you’re tweeting spam, you’re followers are going to jump ship.

5. Contests.

Running a Twitter-only contest is a great idea. You can blend the contest with an effort to gather opinions from your followers. For example, if you need to know whether or not your customers will pay for a physical version of your digital products, send out a tweet and include an offer to give away a free copy of one of your products to those who reply.

6. Personal tidbits.

While it’s a good idea to give your profile some personality, you have to be careful with this one. Talking about a song you’re listening to, or something cool you learned today is fine. Telling us about your indigestion is not.

Now that you have some ideas for content, you can plan out some of the elements. For example, if you’re getting ready to launch a product, announce that you’re taking beta testers, run a contest to give away a copy or two, and give out a few bits of information about the product to whet your customers’ appetites. Throw in a sprinkling of personal fun (professionally speaking) and you’ll have a winning combination.

In the next post we will be discussing using Twitter to network.

The surest sign of a Twitter newbie is a default background, empty website and bio fields and little content. And the surest sign of someone who doesn’t know how to use Twitter for business is a vague or inappropriate bio field. That said there are specific things you need to do on your Twitter profile before you hit the road with it.

1. First and foremost, choose your Twitter username wisely.

Like your domain name, it should be easy to spell and remember. After all, you want people to find your business using the search feature, or even Google. The username should reflect positively on your business as well.

While it might seem like fun to make your username “ilovechocolate,” if you’re a virtual assistant whose work has nothing to do with chocolate, this is probably not a good idea.

For branding purposes, it’s best to choose either your business name or your name (depending on what you’re trying to brand), or a variation of it, as your username.

2. Write a good bio.

The bio doesn’t have to be a literary masterpiece, but it does need to succinctly describe who you are or what you offer. And the bio should contain your keywords.

Keep in mind when you’re writing your bio that people will be finding you using the information you put there. So if someone is looking for a virtual assistant, but your profile bio says “chocolate-eating work at home mom,” chances are no one is going to find you. Well, not anyone you’ll do business with.

3. Choose your profile picture wisely.

The best option for your profile picture is a photograph of you. That said, it should be a professional shot – you really do want to present a positive image for your business. Make sure the shot is clear, well lit and that you’ve put your best face forward.

You can be quirky or funny, but make sure it’s appropriate. So if you’re tweeting as the CEO of a major corporation, you don’t want your profile photo of you in a Hawaiian shirt sitting on a bar stool. However, if you’re a quirky, creative photographer, you might be able to get away with pink hair and a tongue piercing. The bottom line is to be YOU and let others see who you are, without damaging your own reputation in the process.

4. Use a custom background.

You can have a designer create a background for you or use a free background generator online. The background will not only show Twitter users that you mean business, it will also enable you to display more information about your business and additional means of making contact.

You can also place your logo on the background to further brand your Twitter profile. And if you’re branding yourself as a business – say if you’re a life coach, for example – you can even put a full body picture of yourself, perhaps holding your logo in your hands, or something memorable like that.

Remember, whatever you do, you want to set yourself apart from the others with your profile. Make it professional, but memorable. Include information so that people can contact you on other sites, by email and by phone. Make a statement about the value your business can provide to those who land on your profile.

In the next post we will be discussion all about the content.

When you go on vacation, you’ll often set overall goals like: Fly to Orlando, go to Disney World, and meet Mickey Mouse. While those are wonderful goals, they don’t contain the plan for how you’re going to achieve them. You need to know what airline you’ll buy tickets through, where you’re going to rent a car, what hotel you’ll be staying in and how much it all is going to cost.

Using Twitter to grow your business is like preparing for a trip in that you need to plan out all those small details as well. While you’ll have your own goals and will need to create your own plan to meet them, here are some basic stops that you’ll definitely need to include:

1. Follow the right people.

Following your uncle’s daughter’s third cousin is not going to help you get to know people needing a virtual assistant…unless the cousin needs a VA… Instead, you should use the search function in Twitter to find potential customers and find colleagues that you can interact with.

2. Plan one month ahead.

You’ll need to fit what you’ll tweet about into your overall marketing plan. Now, that’s not to say you can’t have an impromptu conversation or help a customer with a question. But you should have an overall roadmap for where you’re going and have some tweets planned out that will advance your marketing and networking goals.

3. Automate what you can.

OK, there are some people who say you should never automate and others tell you to automate everything. As a business though, you should take a middle road. Automating DMs or sending out thousands of irrelevant tweets a day are never a good idea. But sending 1 or 2 blog updates per day and perhaps automating a couple of inspirational or helpful comments is not a bad thing. You just need to make sure you balance that with real conversations and connections.

4. Use tools to maximize your effectiveness.

Twitter tools such as Seesmic and TweetDeck can be downloaded to your computer and used to help you manage your Twitter profile – or profiles if you have more than one. Hootsuite is an online tool that does the same thing. Or you can download the Tweetie app to your iPhone and keep in touch while you’re on the road… preferably not while you’re driving.

5. Track your results.

You can pour all kinds of time and effort into Twitter – and trust me, it’s easy to do – but if you don’t know how effective those efforts are, you’re wasting your time. You’ll need to keep track of how many people are following or unfollowing you. And you’ll need to track how many people do end up at your site. Tools like Google Analytics can help you track the traffic on your site. And you can keep track of your conversations and connections in Twitter using the search functions and hashtags.

In short, just knowing where you want to go with Twitter is not enough. You need to have a detailed plan of how you’re going to achieve your goals. Once you have the plan, the only thing left to do is implement it!

In the next post we will talk about how to set up your Twitter profile properly.

Now, let’s take a look at these goals more in depth:

1. Connecting with Customers

Before you started your business, you should have done a ton of market research. At this point, you should know who your target market is, what their needs are related to what you offer and how you can meet those needs.

For example, if you are a baby sling seller, your research may indicate that really short, petite women need a sling that will fit them without hurting their backs. So your business has created a solution to this problem.

When you’re on Twitter, you want to find those women who are having issues with slings that don’t fit right because of their size. Once you find them, you’ll want to offer advice that might help with their existing slings, or suggest tips for making sure they buy the right size in the future. Notice, I didn’t say “send them a link to your website.”

Twitter is not the place for a hard sell. Once your potential customer sees that you care about her problem, she’s going to want to know who you are and what you can do for her.

2. Networking with Industry Leaders

Twitter is a unique place where you can follow, and be followed by, people who are leaders in your industry around the globe. You can keep up with what they’re tweeting about and interact with them. For example, if you’re a virtual assistant, and you see a colleague has won an award, you can publicly congratulate her by using @herTwitterName in your tweet. She’ll see this – and you.

You can also offer advice to your colleagues, share information and discuss issues in your industry. By doing so, you will be seen as someone who is an expert in your field. In some cases, this has lead potential clients to hire you over others without the social proof, or may lead to your colleagues outsourcing work to you. In some situations, this could lead to you getting hired as a subcontractor for a project, because of your Twitter connection.

3. Driving Traffic to Your Website

Now, as I mentioned before, this should never be your primary goal on Twitter. Tweeting nothing but links to your website, or simply way too many tweets will make you look like a spammer.

So, put this goal in the backseat and focus your efforts on your first two goals, as we discussed above. Once you’ve taken care of those two goals and are consistently providing value to your customers and colleagues, the traffic will take care of itself.

Once you have a plan and you know where you’re going, getting there will be much easier, cost effective and measurable.

In the next post we will be talking about how to plan your Twitter journey.