Today's business and tech media often mention crowdsourcing, especially in stories about startups. Crowdsourcing refers to the practice of asking a large group of people for contributions in the form of information, materials or services. Campaigns are usually carried out through an online platform, for which the business may need to pay a fee, but this innovative problem-solving method isn't limited to Silicon Valley startups or nonprofit organizations. Any business owner can crowdsource. Here are four reasons to try it:

1. To Brainstorm New Services or Product Lines

Brainstorming new product lines or services to expand a business takes time, research and creativity — a heavy burden for already overworked small business owners. Crowdsourcing ideas is a great way to tap into existing and future target markets, and it lets business owners know what customers really want. It also saves small businesses the money and effort required to conduct focus groups, carry out tests or perform other activities related to research and development. Use online survey programs such as SurveyMonkey or SurveyGizmo to crowdsource new ideas.

2. To Find an Alternative Investment

Crowdfunding, perhaps the best-known version of crowdsourcing, takes the basic methods of microfinance and online contributions used by nonprofits and applies them to businesses to raise funds for launching or expanding through small contributions from many individuals. Use crowdfunding as an alternative to traditional funding methods like offering shares or taking a business loan. Popular crowdfunding sites include Kickstarter, Indiegogo and FundRazr.

3. To Obtain New Business

Look for online crowdsource opportunities to showcase your business. Graphic artists, video production companies or other artistic or creative businesses may participate in online contests and campaigns to create for other businesses, according to the Los Angeles Times. This also gives smaller businesses a chance to show what they can do for large companies to which they may not usually have access. Mattel Toys, Procter & Gamble and Bacardi are just a few of the big brands that have partnered with the creative platform Tongal to crowdsource ideas for new campaigns, AdAge reports.

4. To Improve Efficiency

Small businesses may use a crowdsource platform to streamline tasks such as designing logos or writing blog posts, producing faster and better professional results than tackling them on your own. Content creation, Web design, customer service activities and many other business tasks may be outsourced through platforms such as's Mechanical Turk or Fiverr. This frees up valuable time for business owners and staff to focus on their own responsibilities.

Crowdsourcing is an innovative practice that allows businesses of all sizes to tap into the creative and financial resources of a large group of individuals for a small price. It may also be a valuable marketing resource as word of campaigns spreads through social media, and for businesses answering the call of other businesses' crowdsourced projects.

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