Charles Alexander, director of the Tennessee Small Business Development Center (TSBDC) at Volunteer State Community College, was presented the Gallatin Chamber of Commerce 2012 Business Champion award during Monday’s Chamber luncheon at The Club at Fairvue.
Chamber Director Paige Brown knew Alexander would be present to accept the award since he was also the luncheon’s guest speaker.
Alexander’s work helping new and existing small businesses succeed through a variety of workshops and individual consulting sessions with businesses all over the county was detailed during the initial award presentation at the Chamber’s Gala last Friday night. Unfortunately, Alexander was unable to attend the Gala so the impromptu presentation preceded his presentation Monday.
Alexander graciously accepted the award and noted his appreciation, but wasted little time in sharing his message of five growing trends in the small business world today.
“What we have seen over the past four to five years is a real trend for small businesses to take off in a new, quicker direction,” Alexander said. “We are out of the industrial age and into the information age and that has really changed the way people operate and changed the way people think about running a small business.”
Alexander highlighted five trends of small business operation including the use of social media, using video to promote the business, keeping business mobile, outsourcing services and specialty based businesses.
“One of the fastest growing trends over the past three years is social media,” he said. “It allows the businesses to interact with their customers on a regular basis. They go where the customers are.”
Alexander noted that there are 800 million users of Facebook worldwide with the average user belonging to 80 community pages. He shared how Café Rakka in Hendersonville used Facebook to conduct a contest allowing people to post a comment about their favorite dish at the café. Over 100 people commented and a winner, drawn at random, was given an opportunity to meet Chef Rakka and watch him prepare their complimentary favorite dish.
“These 100 comments didn’t just go on the Café Rakka page, they went on the walls of everyone making a comment,” he explained “That comment was shared with all their Facebook connections who might then ask questions about this restaurant like, ‘where is it?’ This turns into free commercials for the business.”
Alexander shared statistics showing 48 percent of Facebook users ages 18-34 check their page as soon as they get up each morning, and 30 percent of those folks check it on their mobile device before they even get out of bed.
“I’m not telling you this is a healthy thing, but this is where we are headed,” he noted.
He shared an example of a mobile food truck effectively using Twitter to let their followers know where the truck would be located each day.
“Folks, You Tube is taking over,” he said to explain the importance of using video in marketing. “Small businesses are learning the power of video to engage their customers and get them to stay on their page longer and learn more about them. We don’t read as much as we used to but we do like sitting and watching things.”
His statistics show two billion videos are viewed on You Tube every day and two days worth of content (48 hours) are uploaded every single minute. You Tube is the second most searched site on the Internet.
Keeping your business mobile is another trend of small business with companies utilizing laptops, smart phones, free ware, video chat, internet and other applications to allow for constant interaction with customers from wherever they may be; home, in the car, or at the coffee shop.
“This isn’t just how young folks do business,” he said. “This is how the future of small business is going no matter the age of the owner.” He noted that 25 percent of internet searches are done on mobile devices and that company websites need to be designed for easy use on mobile devices.
Alexander explained that more small business owners are outsourcing many services from accounting to janitorial rather than hiring employees, which is forcing more people into operating their own business.
His last trend of note was the creation of specialty based businesses. “Having a niche for your business is nothing new,” he said. “But being specialty based all the way around is a trend we are going to see continue to grow.”
He referenced examples like using a restaurant maintenance person rather than a general handyman, operating a men’s big and tall consignment shop rather than a general clothing store, and specialty insurance providers rather than one that can provide every type of insurance available.
Since its beginning, the TSBDSC has served 925 clients, hosted 233 events with over 3,600 attendees, helped create 235 jobs, retain 102 jobs, and helped in the formation of almost $13 million in capital and 106 business starts. It is funded jointly by state funds and local economic development agencies and business contributions. There is no cost to the small business person to take advantage of the TSBDC services.
Alexander earned his Bachelor’s Degree in Management and his Masters of Business Administration from Middle Tennessee State University. For several years, he worked as Operations Training Specialist for the ServPro corporate office in Gallatin working with over 1,400 franchisees nationwide on all areas of owning and operating their business.
Alexander has been the director of TSBDC since it opened in March 2007. In 2009, he was recognized as the TSBDC State Star.
By Randy Cline