KISSIMMEE – When small business owners look for ways to find and connect with potential customers, there are plenty of different options, Jackie Thorpe Ewing says.
“For most clients, the first thing I would suggest is a newsletter,” said Ewing, who runs Ewing Enterprises, a marketing service that helps customers learn how to get information to clients. “Doing it by email is the easiest thing. That one thing has benefitted all of my customers at some point.”
But another option, she added, is one that has the potential to reach people across the globe, to introduce a business to millions of new customers, and to build up a base of supporters who not only get to know your business, but the owner as well — sometimes quite well, and sometimes in situations where they never even meet face to face.
And it all comes down to one word, Ewing said: Facebook.
“If you have a business, you need to be on Facebook,” Ewing said.
Social media sites like Facebook, she added, have become a critical marketing tool for businesses that want to expand their customer base, because millions of people across the globe find it a fun way to connect with others — not only friends and family, but also new people with shared interests. Starting a friendship with the owner of a business, she said, can help interest those newcomers in learning more about your business as well.
“If nothing else, it’s a link back to your web site,” Ewing said. “It’s a part of your search engine optimization.”
It’s also, she said, a way for the business owner to create a personality that appeals to people.
“You as the representative of your business should have a Facebook page as well,” she said.
In addition to operating Ewing Enterprises, Ewing is a member of the Central Florida Vacation Rental Managers Association, the trade association that represents the region’s very fast-growing number of managers of vacation homes, or fully furnished houses that are rented on a short term basis to people coming to this region for a vacation or on a business trip. These are homes with multiple bedrooms, a kitchen, game room, and private pool, that appeal to families coming to this region who don’t want to spend their vacation in a hotel room.
The CFVRMA held its monthly meeting this morning at Fun Spot, the theme park on U.S. 192, where Ewing joined in a business panel discussion that looked at effective ways for small businesses to operate and expand – including those just venturing into the vacation home industry.
“I do a lot of marketing and social media with a lot of people in this room,” Ewing said. “I also do a lot of business for vacation homes. I’ve made contact with people who own vacation homes and don’t know how to find bookings. I look forward to helping anyone who needs help with marketing.”
And a great way to start, she said, is Facebook.
“I highly recommend it,” she said. “Don’t be afraid of it. It’s easy to do once you get started.”
Tim Justynski agreed. He works at Kissimmee Guest Services, which provides tickets to all the theme parks at a low-priced guarantee.
“My job is to promote things that are fun in Central Florida,” he said. “Kissimmee Guest Services works with the property managers to help them make sure their guests get into the parks, that the tickets are legitimate. We are the go-to people for the vacation home industry. It’s our niche market.”
And he agreed that social media sites have altered the way businesses reach out and find new customers.
“It’s about you being in front of them, whether they’re friends of friends, or past guests,” he said. “I would highly recommend it. Everywhere you go, it’s Facebook, Facebook, Facebook. The more people you can get in front of, the more people you can touch.”
In addition to having a page for Kissimmee Guest Services, Justynski said he also has his own page, which he uses to create a personality that appeals to people.
“If you look at my Facebook page, I joke a lot,” he said. “Even if it’s just one post a day, I try to do it.”
It’s also a great way to get to know your guests, he added.
“What I use Facebook a lot for is starting conversations,” he said. “It’s very, very good conversation starters, because you know what people are doing.”
Marilyn Pullen, who chairs the CFVRMA’s membership committee, said she also uses Facebook – reluctantly, and not with a great deal of enjoyment or pleasure. But she understands how widely used this social media site is.
“I don’t like it much, but I do agree, it’s important to do,” she said.
Jeff Chase, a member of the CFVRMA’s board of directors and the moderator of the panel discussion, said all small business owners need to find the time to do things like this, even if they feel like they’ve got a full plate without venturing onto Facebook.
“Anybody who says ‘I don’t have time for marketing, I don’t have time for Facebook,’ let me sit down with you for an hour and I guarantee we’ll find the time for you to do this,” he said.
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