As digital demands and capabilities continue to grow, online resources are giving businesses and customers new venues to find each other and interact. A 2012 consumer review surveyshowed that 85% of people use the Internet to find local businesses. Connect Michigan’s 2013 Business Survey shows that 75% of all Michigan businesses are using broadband, yet less than half of small businesses are using the connectivity to advertise and reach new customers. Connect Michigan is working with local governments and commercial development groups to facilitate digital workshops for small businesses, organizations and franchises to best utilize this technology. The workshops aim to expand economic development through online activities and create jobs in Michigan’s business sector.
Diane Long is the executive director of Project Starburst, a food pantry in Big Rapids, and took advantage of one such workshop put on jointly by Connect Michigan, the Mecosta County Area Chamber of Commerce (MCACC), Michigan Works! and other local groups. The workshop discussed marketing for businesses through social sites, review boards, email and more. After attending, Long and Project Starburst changed their online interactions with local residents. “People started using Facebook to ask questions about donations, hours and requirements of the program,” said Long. Project Starburst’s food pantry requires no proof of income and welcomes any persons in need, which more residents are finding out online. Client numbers at Project Starburst have increased since regularly utilizing Facebook, editing their website and changing email providers to enable clear and accessible communications. Needs of the program, closings due to weather, information on other programs, ways to donate and more are all being conveyed over longer distances to larger audiences thanks to changes in their communicative strategy.
Local businesses already online are also benefitting from digital workshops. Tammy Weaver, co-owner of the Sears store in Big Rapids, also attended the MCACC workshop and used what she learned to extend the reach of her business’sFacebook page. Though Weaver’s Sears location had used Facebook for years previously, learning how to invite friends to the page and share with other businesses uncovered new value online. Weaver is currently investigating Google Adwords to grow her business and hopes to see more in-depth workshops in the area soon.
Northeast in Clare County, Connect Michigan joined Michigan Works!, The Small Business and Technology Development Center (SBTDC), Harrison District Library and others for the C3 Summit: Connect Clare County. Attendees learned how “broadband can improve business bottom line” through local case studies and talks by specialists in business media strategy. Dawn McDonald, sales manager atJB Electronics LLC in Harrison, attended the workshop and saw first-hand how an online presence can change business. “We get more customers now from the Internet than we do by advertising through local papers, radio and television,” said McDonald. McDonald started a Facebook page for JB Electronics the day following C3. “The Facebook account put our businesses out to more people who were not aware of who we were and what we did. It has been very effective for business.”
As more users log on, search, communicate and connect online, Michigan businesses will decide how they want to be a part of the conversation. As possibilities grow, communities will continue to educate the public in the hopes of filling the need. For more info on online workshops in your area, or to post yours, visit Connect Michigan on Facebook or Twitter.
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