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In days of yore, businesses relied on paid advertising (print, broadcast, outdoor), direct mail, trade shows, websites, etc., to promote their brand and generate sales. These tactics, however, were costly, labor intensive, time-consuming and, most notably, risky. A liberal budget and a hefty marketing staff didn’t guarantee success; in fact, companies could expend considerable resources on campaigns that yielded lackluster results.

Fast forward to the 21st century and a dramatically altered marketing landscape appears. Today, the province of marketing is expansive and significantly more accessible. Underpinning this transformation: Web 2.0, social media, video platforms, blogs, online listings, digital text-based tools (e.g., chat and SMS), apps, etc.–and the list continues to grow at a break-neck pace. This technological evolution, however, has leveled the playing field, placing any business–regardless of size, pedigree or Fortune ranking–on equal footing.

With the aim of steering small business owners in the right direction, the SC SBDC conducts a variety of educational events–often in partnership with community organizations–led by SBDC business consultants or highly-qualified guest speakers eager to share their expertise.

According to Rock Hill Area SBDC business consultant Carol Daly, “The events we conduct are about growth. Whether it’s moving the needle forward on consumer engagement, investing in data and analytics or boosting the bottom line, success for small businesses means employing social media to build momentum and attract customers.”

Feedback from seminar participants indicates the SC SBDC has hit the mark. “I attended the SBDC workshop Which Media Best Fits My Business at the Orangeburg Chamber,” said Edgar McGee, business development director for O’Cain Construction. “I was very pleased with Gary Robinson’s presentation. It was concise, packed with valuable information and easy for even a novice like me to understand.”

In addition to hosting group training sessions, the SC SBDC promotes the advantages of social media one client at a time. In the case of Kut Kreator, Winthrop Region director Larry Stevens’ perseverance prevailed when he finally convinced these reluctant business owners to build a website. Larry’s strategy was to start small and let the influx of new customers entice the client to adopt other platforms. His approach worked. As Kut Kreator co-owner JoVon Bradley attests: “Due to the continuous and dynamic assistance provided by Larry Stevens and the Winthrop Area SBDC staff, Kut Kreator has grown beyond our wildest expectations. We never fathomed how much business a website, FaceBook page and Instagram account could drive. We now wish we had engaged these social media platforms years earlier.”

The SC SBDC also serves as an Official City Partner of Google’s Let’s Put Our Cities on the Map program. In this capacity the SC SBDC shows business owners how to get on the map by taking full advantage of web- and location-based marketing opportunities. The SC SBDC also hosts workshops using materials provided by Google.

Spearheading the SC SBDC’s involvement is Nancy Williamson, certified business advisor for the Newberry Area. To date, Nancy has hosted a total of 14 workshops across the state. “With 4 out of 5 people using search engines to find information on local businesses, being on the map matters,” said Williamson. “For small business owners in particular, it’s critical to establish an online presence so customers can find them quickly and easily. Even small, home-based businesses can have a free online presence to reach consumers in their service area.”

Taking the social media plunge can be a boon for small businesses. Nonetheless, it is only the first step in a long journey, a trek more akin to a marathon than a sprint. “I am constantly urging clients to stay the course,” said Earl Gregorich, senior business counselor with the Columbia Area SBDC. “It takes time and commitment to master social media. It’s my job to ensure clients set realistic expectations and assure them that while an increase in customer engagement may not happen immediately, it will happen.”

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