CHARLESTOWN — Twenty-five small business owners attended a free seminar at the Town Hall Thursday on marketing in the digital landscape. The event was hosted by the Charlestown Economic Improvement Commission, the Charlestown Chamber of Commerce and the Rhode Island Small Business Development Center at the University of Rhode Island.
Edward Huttenhower, the center’s executive director, said it has held workshops throughout the state. “A lot of what we do is workshops geared for people who are thinking about getting into business, but in this case, it’s targeting existing businesses, which are an important part of everything too,” he said. “Anything that can help the business community here in Charlestown or anywhere in the state, we want to help with that.”
Breachway Grill owner Craig Marr, who chairs the local commission, said, “It’s all about reaching out to your customers, communicating with them, getting them in the door, making sure they’re happy.”
“And the ways in which you communicate and reach customers and prospects have changed dramatically with the advent of social media,” Marr said. “Most small business owners don’t have the time or knowledge base to do that, so they either don’t do it at all or get somebody else to do it, but it’s an important aspect of business today, whether we like it or not.”
Joshua Daly, of the Rhode Island SBDC, noted that marketing had change with the rise of the internet and social media. “The question is, what things still work and what things don’t .… With your limited budget, with what you’ve got, yourself and your staff, how can you thrive in this new landscape?”
Some basics, he said, never change: “Understanding who your customers are and what they want and what you’re giving to them that’s valuable. And then, what are your channels? How do you reach them? How do you market to them and how do you sell to them?”
The newest digital marketing strategies, Daly said, complement traditional customer service and advertising. Having a user-friendly, professional website is important, as is search engine optimization. “Are you found on Google,” he said. “If I search on Google, do you come up? If you don’t come up among the first things on a Google search, people don’t go to the second page, usually.”
Daly urged his audience to be on at least one social media site and to maintain an active presence.
“You don’t need to be on every single platform, but you need to be where your customers are, so it comes back to that question of understanding of who your customers are and where they look. Are they on Facebook? Are they on Instagram?”
Sue Clark, owner of the Clark Farms garden center in nearby Matunuck, said she had found Daly’s information and advice helpful.
“I probably have to do a little bit of digesting and I’m not that involved in the marketing, but I’m interested in becoming more involved in the marketing aspects and what draws people in and what kind of advertising is successful,” she said.