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Effective marketing can help small businesses thrive

Ask SCORE

August 15, 2010|By BOB POOR

Q: I have been trying to talk my small-business partner into attending some networking events with me. We are wondering if they are really worth the time and the effort. Can you help us?

A: The most effective form of marketing is word of mouth. But people can't spread the word about you and your small business if they don't know you.

On Thursday from noon to 1:30 p.m. at the Landing Restaurant and Pub at 710 Dual Highway in Hagerstown, a number of area business owners will gather to get to know each other and share some new ideas. The SCORE networking event is free and lunch will be available for purchase.

However, successful networking is more than simply exchanging ideas, introductions and business cards, then waiting for someone to call you. In fact, professional marketing coach Charlie Cook (http://www.charliecook.net) said most people waste the few precious moments they spend with new and existing contacts by focusing on themselves.

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"It's better to spend most of that time asking questions and collecting information," he said. "Then, you can make quick assessments as to whether they would have any interest in the solutions you provide."

Cook recommends that every entrepreneur should have a succinct "elevator speech"- a 30-second description of the problems his or her business solves. After that, the focus of the networking conversations should be entirely on other people, their primary business concerns, problems they want solved and unmet business needs. As the conversations unfold, you might find areas that overlap with the solutions you and your small business can provide.

"If not, you can still make an impression by referring them to other contacts in your network who can help," Cook said. "They'll see you as a problem solver and be more likely to provide you with referrals in return."

Networking also doesn't end with the conversation. Cook recommends maintaining a data file of networking information and updating as soon as possible after every contact. Several software programs are available to track networking contacts.

To register for the Aug. 19 SCORE networking event, call 301-766-2043 and leave your name and e-mail address or phone number. Free SCORE business counseling also is available at the same phone number.

For more information on SCORE Hagerstown, go to http://www.scorehagerstown.org.

Robert A. "Bob" Poor is a local small-business owner/operator. He is a small-business counselor and a regular contributor to the Ask SCORE column. Questions may be e-mailed to him at r.poor@myactv.net">r.poor@myactv.net or sent by mail in care of The Herald-Mail, P.O. Box 439, Hagerstown, MD 21741, ATTN: Ask SCORE column.

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