Greer merchants see big business in networking

Published on December 7, 2012

By Cheryl P. Allen, Greater Greer News

Mark King likens jump-starting a business to being thrown into the water. “You’re either going to sink or swim.” For King, face-to-face networking and word of mouth have kept him afloat.

“I have done very little cold calling,” said the long-term Greer resident who founded his own financial and computer software consulting company, King Consulting, nearly eight years ago.

No longer are after-hours cocktails and random business card distribution the main tricks of the trade.A creative mix of online social networking and face-to-face communication is very important for entrepreneurial success, said Jill Burroughs, Clemson regional director for the South Carolina Small Business Development Center.

That’s particularly important for small businesses today as they continue to play a vital role in downtown revitalization, complementing large corporations and industry and, overall, helping to build stronger communities, Burroughs said.

In honor of Small Business Saturday, which takes place Nov. 24, the South Carolina Small Business Chamber of Commerce is promoting its public service announcement encouraging people to shop locally, said president and CEO Frank Knapp.

The organization, headquartered in Columbia, boasts a statewide membership of more than 5,000. “Communities and towns need to recognize the importance of their small businesses to help them grow and thrive,” Knapp said.

The same type of effort that’s put into attracting big business should also be used to map out what type of small businesses are needed in the area, he said.

King said he would encourage any new business person to schedule time for the type of networking that’s going to take you to the next level, as opposed to simply engaging in the social aspect of things.

“The challenge is when you’re starting a business, you have to do everything and be all the different positions,” King said. “I tried to find people that were experts in the different areas I need to know and learned from them.”

The need for speed (networking)

While it has been around for some time, speed networking has become increasingly popular in many communities these days. The SCSBCC is hosting its second such event later this month, Knapp said.

It offers a relatively new twist that can be very effective in involving smaller business owners who may not want to attend a traditional meet and greet, Knapp said. “It’s highly structured, has a
degree of fun to it and is a little novel.

”The Greater Greer Chamber of Commerce is also hosting a speed networking event Dec. 5, which is free to members and $10 for non-members, said the chamber’s vice president, Mark Owens.

While the impact of online social media continues to grow, “we don’t want to lose the personal relationship building …so we do try to be creative and have reasons to come to an event,” Owens said.

“The goal is to be able to leave with some tangible leads or business options. Speed networking is sort of like speed dating for businesses,” Owens said.

“What we’re trying to do is match businesses up together. We sit people at a long table and we rotate every two minutes.”

Not everybody will match up, but in an hour’s time, you’re likely to find someone who may either be a potential customer or meet someone who can refer you to someone else, he said.

“We try to do one speed networking event every year,” Owens said.

King said he’s participated in two previous speed networking events hosted by the Greater Greer Chamber. As a result, he hooked up with a local Web developer who has referred clients to him and vice versa.

“The Greer area is looking to grow. I personally would rather do business locally,” King said. “We’re living and working together and building our families and businesses.”

Owens estimates that small businesses make up more than 80 percent of Greater Greer Chamber of Commerce’s membership.

Lisa Suber, owner of The Stomping Grounds, a coffee and wine bar in Downtown Greer, is a member and has been actively networking since she opened up shop nine months ago.

“There are a lot of opportunities,” said Suber, who cited events she’s participated in such as power breakfast sessions, leadership classes and what’s known as Handshakes and Hash Browns. She also plans to attend the upcoming speed networking event.

“It’s just fun to see people interacting … connecting with each other and discovering other people’s businesses,” said Suber, who has already partnered with Wanda Garcia, owner of The Shoppes at Grapevine, a gift shop located across the street from the Stomping Grounds.

The two are coordinating The Vintage Market at Poinsett West. The event is scheduled to take place Nov. 30 and Dec. 1 in a nearby garden venue on West Poinsett Street. Folks are invited to sample food and specialty coffee and check out vintage, handcrafted and repurposed jewelry,
clothing, furniture and other items.

Most of the vendors are local, Garcia said. “We’re getting a nice variety now of interesting people doing all kinds of things,” she said.

Such collaborations between small business owners are so important in building the local economy, Garcia said.

“It helps us have more of a voice. If it’s one or two of us, people may not
hear, but when we network together people notice us more,” she said.
“We have a pretty good, friendly community of merchants down here.”

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