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Small business conference hailed as a success
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Entrepreneurs looking to boost their business attended the third annual Mayor’s Small Business Conference May 17, at the Liberty County Performing Arts Center.

City of Hinesville Mayor Allen Brown welcome the attendees saying the city recognizes the importance of small business. He said the city is working to streamline the process and help small businesses get established. He noted the recent addition of the new Oglethorpe Square Shopping Center was a big boost but added, “We want our small businesses to grow with us as well.”

“I hope this conference will give you the tools to grow your own business,” he continued.

Justin Frazier, Vice Chairman of the Hinesville Development Authority echoed the Mayor’s remarks about the successful partnerships that helped bring Oglethorpe Square to fruition. He said he would like to see that networking platform flourish to bring smaller entrepreneurs into downtown Hinesville.

“Small business has always been the fabric of this great country,” he said.

Experts spoke about the importance of reaching out to readily available resources such as the Small Business Administration, Service Corps of Retired Executives and the local Small Business Development Center, currently run by appointments through Area Director Flint Brent.

Delisa Espada, of Strategic Business Solutions in Hinesville outlined the importance of having minority and women owned businesses certified. She said the certifications unlock a potential wealth of resources that help with funding capital and the tools needed to grow small businesses.

Coastal Area District Development Authority Chief Executive Officer Andrew Standard outlined the loans available through the SBA that are delivered through their office.

The theme of this year’s conference was Back to Basics: Re-energize Your Business. 

City of Hinesville Public Relations Manager Brittany Denney focused on the theme by explaining how to engage the Millennials using social media and the internet to market companies.

“The internet completely revolutionized how we market our business,” Denney said. “The people that you are trying to market your business to are incredibly intuitive and smart…and there is google so if they’re not smart they can find the answer in a heartbeat.”

Denney said marketing, these days, is much more than a well-designed ad. To be successful business owners must invest the time to establish a relationship with their customers through social media.

“It’s really about a conversation and oftentimes it’s a conversation you can’t even control mainly because of social media and it’s scary,” she said

Denney said that social media makes it hard for business owners to maintain the integrity of their  business and brand, due to the customer’s ability to immediately express their views by commenting on the companies Facebook Page.

Denney addressed the issue by saying the way a company responds is what will either drive business away or bring in customers in high volume.

Denney said if someone posts a complaint on Facebook or other review sites the correct way to respond is to reach out to the customer and try and work with them to right the wrong publicly.

“Make people see you work to help that customer and keep that relationship,” she said, noting that the wrong way to handle this situation is to try and block comments or delete posts.

She compared social media marketing to dating.

“It used to be just money in exchange for goods and services,” she said. “Now it’s money in exchange for goods and services and converting that person into your greatest marketing asset…Date your customer. Before they become a customer and spend money with you, you have to court them…woo them…bring them on to your page, your web-site and get them into your business. Once they give you money in exchange for your goods and services…now you are dating. It doesn’t end there…you want a second date and a third date and maybe you want to marry them one day…you have to keep the relationship going. Facebook seems to be like an afterthought for some businesses but really it should be an integral part of your marketing plan.”

Social media postings should be well thought out, planned and at times purposely scheduled, tell a story and guide customers who view your company as a community resource.

Hinesville Downtown Development Authority Director Michelle Ricketson moderated a panel that talked about their trial and tribulations in running businesses in the community. One topic the panel addressed was finding the right location to meet your needs.

Liberty County Chamber of Commerce Director Leah Poole said finding a permanent and suitable location for the chamber and Visitors and Convention Bureau is going to benefit how they deliver networking and business resources back to the community. Armstrong University Liberty Center Director Deborah Kempson echoed the importance of finding the perfect location. She said the previous location didn’t give them the visibility they needed to be more accessible to growing their student base. She said the new campus stands on its own and new enrollment has exponentially increased as a result.

Styles by Monique Chante’l Salon and Services Owner Monique Burnett said when she moved to Hinesville from Atlanta her first priority was finding a spot for her salon that had a good amount of foot print to draw in customers.

After the conference attendees mingled and had a light catered meal.

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