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Small Business 101 Seminar: A Recap

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Congresswoman Speier opening the Small Business 101 Seminar

By Melanie Yunk | May 22, 2016

On Friday, I spoke at Congresswoman Jackie Speier’s Small Business 101 seminar at the Oracle Conference Center in nearby Redwood City. I felt tremendously honored to be invited by the Congresswoman and thrilled to impart some wisdom I’ve gained as a small business owner and expertise I’ve honed in the field of digital marketing and business reputation management.

Believe it or not, 99% of all California companies are small businesses. Furthermore, these businesses employ just shy of 50% of the state’s workforce. Not an insignificant part of our population! The seminar provided an opportunity for both current small business owners and those considering small business ownership to learn how to grow a successful business and also to connect with local resources and experts. The seminar included remarks from Congresswoman Speier and Small Business Administration District Director Mark Quinn and presented strategies to help navigate some common business obstacles. Featured panelists discussed alternative sources of capital, building a business through networking and marketing and the ever-changing and always-important topic of cybersecurity and data protection.

The first panel, “Beyond Banks: Alternative Sources of Capital” featured experts on both conventional and non-traditional funding sources. Representatives from the San Mateo Small Business Development Center, the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco, Opportunity Fund, Nav and GoFundMe shared their expertise. Devin McAlpine, Director of Micro Funding at Opportunity Fund, explained that they do not use just a person or company’s credit score in funding decisions, and most Opportunity Fund funding occurs in just a few days. Tim Graczewski, Nav Vice President of Strategy and Business Development, spoke about the Nav credit bureau that provides credit scores for businesses using reports from DNB, Experian and more. Most business owners in the room didn’t know they had a separate credit score for their business. Finally, Kevin Madsen, Business Development at GoFundMe, explained how the GoFundMe platform expanded from mostly personal fundraising opportunities to small business opportunities - a very cool service.

I spoke on the second panel, “Building Your Network.” Participants engaged with me in a fantastic discussion on the topic of business reputation management. We started with a show of hands of who has googled themselves and their businesses; practically none of the attendees googled themselves, their products or their brands in the past three weeks – or ever. We then discussed the importance of knowing what’s written about your business online, including on forums and in Yelp and other reviews. No shortage of opportunities exist for customers, clients and prospects to voice opinions and read reviews - good, bad or ugly. I shared that, upon understanding the online reviews, I believe in two critical rules:

Melanie Yunk at Small Business 101 Seminar

Melanie Yunk at Small Business 101 Seminar

  1. Take responsibility for what’s written about your business. Monitor reviews and consider them all open-mindedly.
  2. Take action on reviews. Respond - carefully and thoughtfully - to reviews, ask for the removal of inappropriate comments and negotiate with customers for their reviews. Most importantly, ask happy customers to write reviews!

As the adage goes, perception is reality. When a customer posts a complaint, then their perception is real. Since online reviews are pervasive, a successful business critically considers all reviews and looks deep inside to fix the root of the public perception of the business; ignore the perception at one’s peril.

Wil Hart, of Smart Simple Marketing and a Constant Contact Authorized Local Expert and Trainer, also joined me on the Building Your Network panel. I found his statistic that a $1 investment in email drives a $44 return in revenue fascinating. Impressive, no?

The third and final panel of the day, “Cybersecurity and Data Protection”, featured Joel de la Garza, Box Security Officer, and Aaron Hanson, Symantec Product Marketing Lead. Their presentations proved amazing. They reminded us we all need to install security software on our computers AND mobiles TODAY. As well, they recommended the best three things you can do to protect yourself - and your small business - online, including:

  1. Do not share passwords
  2. Do not use the same username and password for multiple accounts
  3. Do not give data to those who don’t need it, and when you share data always use encryption

I look forward to delving more into the topic of business reputation management in a future blog post. For now, though, I hope you enjoyed this brief recap of the fantastic Small Business 101 Seminar. I sincerely thank Congresswoman Speier and her wonderful staff for the invitation, the warm reception, the thoughtful panelists and the opportunity to help other small businesses in this community grow, succeed and thrive.

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