ST. PAULS — The Internet is not black or white, but it is read all over.
The Internet can be green too, a business coach told a crowd of Robeson County entrepreneurs on Thursday.
Martin Brossman, who specializes in new media marketing, conducted a three-hour seminar on how merchants can increase their presence on the Web. A St. Andrews University graduate, Brossman said that too few small businesses are using social media sites like Youtube or the even more popular Facebook that has more than 1 billion users.
“The Internet gives your business access to users around the world because anyone with an Internet connection on their computer, laptop, tablet or mobile device such as the iPhone can find your business,” he said.
He said Google Plus is a great tool to help small business attract potential customers. The free site has more than 100 million members and allows customers to find detailed information on local restaurants, shops and other services.
“How much does it cost? Only time,” Brossman said.
Brossman visited a hardware store and a restaurant in St. Pauls before the seminar. During the workshop, he showed how both businesses were listed on Google Plus, but neither had claimed their business’ name on the site, uploaded photographs of the businesses or urged customers to post positive reviews.
“I went to Tarpackers for a salad,” Brossman said. “That restaurant has a wonderful back story and that is the kind of stuff that should be online. The over-40 crowd in America has the highest concentration of revenue to spend and they love nostalgia even if it not their own nostalgia. But if you don’t get on the Web, they won’t find you.”
Brossman added that businesses should consider the Internet as a tool for better customer service. By developing a friendly relationship through the use of a social network, merchants can dramatically improve their profile with local customers and visitors, according to Brossman.
If done right, using the Internet can also make small businesses competitive with larger retailers like the Walmart that hopes to build a store in St. Pauls, said Brossman, whose clients have included IBM, SAS, GlaxoSmithKline and the North Carolina Association of Certified Public Accountants.
“You need to use the Web to get to know your customers and for them to know you,” he said. “That is something the big box stores can’t or won’t do. It is also something we can’t do by paying an outsider. No one will save us … but isn’t that exciting that a town is willing to roll up its sleeves and work together to be competitive?”
The free seminar, which filled St. Pauls’ Town Hall with more than 40 people, was sponsored by the Small Business Center of Robeson Community College. The workshop is the first in a series of seminars planned by the Small Towns Economic Prosperity Committee to help St. Pauls businesses market themselves.
“We’re extremely pleased with the turnout,” said Bob Moore, director of RCC’s Small Business Center. “We brought this to St. Pauls to try to assist with the STEP program and help build awareness for what St. Pauls is trying to do to get some life back into this great community.”
Ann LaRue, a STEP committee member, said she hopes businesses will take advantage of the tips offered during the seminar.
“The idea is to take what we have and what we love and make it better and bring more people into town,” LaRue said.
Essie McCallum said she attended to learn how the Internet could benefit the 25-year-old business she works for.
“I came out here willing to learn, wanting to learn because I know that this is the new way,” said McCallum, the office manager for Williams Trucking Unlimited of Fairmont. “The old way is good and word-of-mouth is excellent, but this is faster and this is where everyone is — on the Web.”
McCallum, who took lots of notes and asked several questions, said she will push for her freight business to have a presence on the Internet within a month.
“We’re going to do it,” she said. “The transportation business is constantly changing and we need to be able to change with it.”