Michael Brock and Nancy Ruffner had never met before Friday, but by the end of the day, they were exchanging business cards, hugging each other like old friends and promising to keep in touch.
Brock and Ruffner, owner of Navigate NC, which provides services to seniors, were among the more than 50 small-business owners and others looking for guidance at last week’s Shop Talk Money, Marketing & Media Bootcamp at the Hunt Library at N.C. State University.
The six-hour forum included panels on financing a small business and working with the media, along with smaller sessions on social media, integrated, targeted and online marketing.
Brock, founder of nonprofit recording studio Cedars Production Studios in Clayton, said he wants to run his nonprofit more like a business, and Friday he learned that relationships are a key tool for starting, raising funds for and developing a firm.
Social media, he learned, will help him develop effective audience engagement techniques and allow him to build relationships with customers.
Relationships forged before launching a company can help a new business owner succeed, according to boot camp speakers and panelists.
Keynote speaker Terrence Holt, who co-owns the Holt Brothers family of Raleigh-based companies with his brother Torry, said relationships and team building are key to financial success.
“It’s best to pursue relationships and not revenue,” he said. “Relationships last a lifetime and bring revenue along with them.”
He said he gained the respect he needed to launch the company from the relationships he built in the construction industry.
“You build credibility by going and talking to your peers in the marketplace,” he said during his keynote address. “To flourish, you build a team that knows the market and the construction business.”
Holt also said that the lessons he learned during his football career helped lead to the construction company he and his brother started in 2007.
The Holts were football stars at N.C. State University. Terrence went on to play six seasons in the NFL and Torry played 12 and won the Super Bowl as a rookie with the St. Louis Rams.
“Based on our prior careers in sports, we thought we could build a great team,” he said during the boot camp’s keynote address.
Before opening downtown Durham coffee shop Cocoa Cinnamon in 2013, Leon Grodski de Barrera and his wife, Areli, spent time seeking advice from and building relationships with other business owners.
“When my wife and I started the business, we had 75 dollars in the bank and zero credit,” said Grodski de Barrera, who sat on the panel focused on raising capital.
The couple started selling coffee from a bicycle in 2010 and created a grassroots following. A successful Kickstarter campaign brought in money from donors, and a helpful landlord leased them a building on Geer Street that became the home of Cocoa Cinnamon.
“Put yourself out there, and if people believe, and your ideas are strong, and people see you working hard, it all starts culminating and they start helping,” he said of his financial supporters.
Representatives of Bank of America and Wells Fargo said businesses have to have a proven two- to three-year track record and hit certain revenue levels before some banks will consider lending to them. But Ed Timberlake, small-business lending manager at The Support Center, said the Raleigh-based nonprofit will lend money to startups with a good plan.
Social media is about connecting with people and sharing information and contacts, said Jeremy Sisk, owner of Durham marketing firm Xperience4Higher.
“In 2015, Internet advertising overtook print, and today 39.5 percent of all advertising is on the Internet,” he said.
Facebook is the dominant medium for marketing directly to consumers, Sisk said, while LinkedIn is the go-to site for business-to-business marketing.
He advises connecting with others, including potential clients, through Facebook, and using your personal page to build up to at least 200 likes before starting a marketing campaign.
“Eighty-five percent of all residents 13 and older in Wake, Durham and Orange counties are on Facebook,” he said.
The vast, seemingly impersonal online media world can also lend itself to creating connections and building relationships.
“Through social media, you can build a personal network by providing value to others, including making introductions, offering information and offering your help,” Sisk said.
Online engagement goes further than building social media numbers, said Mallory Pickard, social media account executive at Capstrat, a Raleigh communications firm.
“When gaining new fans, it is important to remember quality over quantity,” she said. “It’s better to have high engagement with fewer fans than lots of fans and no engagement.”
In today’s media-rich climate, small-business owners should steer their promotional efforts directly at the customers they are trying to reach.
Mary Ann Baldwin, vice president of marketing for the Holt Brothers and a member of the Raleigh City Council, said owners should establish an integrated marketing plan that includes the company’s mission and values along with its visual identity, marketing and public relations activity and community involvement.
Just as owners need to build relationships with people, integrated marketing helps companies create a consistent, representative brand to engage consumers.
“It’s like you are building relationships visually and with your messaging,” Baldwin said. “That is what people see and feel and it actually will evoke emotions.”
When reaching out to the media, small-business owners need to have a good story, one that can boost the company’s profile in the marketplace.
A story needs to catch the attention of reporters and editors, and owners need to understand what the media is looking for in that story.
“Media is not free advertising,” said Sharon Delaney McCloud, a panelist and former television reporter who is now managing partner of Greenroom Communications, a video production and digital marketing firm in Raleigh. “Before pitching a story, determine if it is newsworthy, and write it so it reads like a news story. Consider your audience and examine what’s in it for them.”
Owners should take the time to identify reporters who cover a relevant beat and seek to build relationships beyond just sending a press release.
“Develop an understanding of the reporters and their interests, and start building rapport,” said Mike Williams, managing editor of Triangle.com, The News & Observer’s online event and entertainment platform. “When you pitch a story, think about who you know personally. Remember you are a partner with the media.”
Teri Saylor can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Tweet her @terisaylor.