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NACCE - Sam's Club Shared Vision

Posted By Tiffany B. Scott, Tuesday, June 03, 2014

Lessons Learned from Selling to the World

Existing and aspiring small business owners operating in today’s economy have a distinct advantage over their predecessors, namely the ability to utilize the Internet to inexpensively and effectively market their products and services to a global audience. Where only a few years ago small business owners were restricted to local sales, the advent of e-commerce has unlocked doors that not long ago would have been impossible to open.

 

Southeast Kentucky Community and Technical College (SKCTC), utilizing funding from a Sam’s Club Shared Vision Grant, recently teamed up with NACCE and other economic development partners to host the first ever Selling to the World Expo in Middlesboro, Ky.

The expo was held over two days on May 15-16 and served as a training session to help small business owners learn how to harness the power of the Web to sell their products to statewide, national, or even global customers.

 

Nearly 100 people from several counties in Kentucky and Tennessee attended sessions covering a variety of topics, from Web design for small businesses and basic bookkeeping, to learning how to ship products across the globe.

 

Other session topics during the two-day conference included:

  • Small Business 101

  • Social Media for Business Growth/ E-Commerce

  • Doing Business with the Government

  • Creating a Winning Business Plan

  • Tapping Into Export Marketing

  • How to Patent Your Product or Idea

  • Fulfillment by Amazon

  • Capital Business Loans

  • USDA Food Sale Guidelines 

  • From Hobby to Profit 

  • QuickBooks

 

The Selling to the World Expo benefited not only small businesses that may be struggling to build an online presence, but also crafters and artisans who spend their weekends selling items locally. The event taught these sellers how to compete online and use various Internet tools and strategies to build their businesses, expand their markets, and boost profits.

 

Planning the expo took many hours in the months leading up to the event. Once the grant application was approved, the college first had to identify and sell the concept to key partner agencies that remain prepared to assist small businesses in all phases of their operation. Partners included the Eastern Kentucky Concentrated Employment Program, Kentucky Highlands Investment Corporation, and Kentucky Small Business Development Corporation.

 

Our partnership with NACCE also paid dividends as we gained valuable knowledge through monthly conference calls and learned how other colleges were utilizing their own grant funds. The SmartSheet feature served as a great place to post examples of event documents for sharing among each participating colleges.

 

NACCE fellows helped develop ideas throughout the planning process, while NACCE branding guidelines, along with those provided by Sam’s Club Giving, proved helpful during the marketing phase.

 

Once the partnerships were in place, we worked to identify our target audience – who in our local communities would be interested in learning the things we hoped to teach. And just as importantly, we decided precisely the information we wanted to present and obtained commitments from presenters who would be volunteering their time over these two days.

 

Because we had the support of the college, along with our partners and industry leaders, we were able to market and host the expo rather inexpensively. In addition to a limited television ad buy, we engaged media throughout the region, which in turn resulted in published press releases and an appearance on WYMT-TV’s weekly “Issues & Answers” program, which is broadcast across Eastern Kentucky as well as parts of West Virginia and Tennessee.

 

We are currently looking to make the Selling to the World Expo an annual event, and there were several lessons we can take from this inaugural experience. First, any subsequent events should likely be held on the weekend. It was difficult for small business owners to give up two full weekdays to attend sessions.

 

Additionally, our target audience should not necessarily be the traditional small business owner with a storefront in downtown, but should include artisans and crafters who sell at roadside markets and regional festivals – essentially anyone with something to sell. This was something we learned early on and were able to incorporate into this year’s expo.

 

Marketing will remain an important factor in making future events a success, and establishing a marketing team is something that should happen on the first day of planning. Future strategies must include face-to-face interaction with small business owners, in addition to securing speaking engagements with area chambers of commerce and community service organizations such as Rotary.

 

Finally, we should locate and reserve keynote speakers early, and offer every session twice if doing concurrent session so that everyone has an opportunity to attend those sessions.

 

 

Throughout the process of planning and hosting Selling to the World, we learned of a surprising number of small businesses in our region that do not have an online presence simply because the idea of it overwhelms the owners. People sometimes need motivation, encouragement, and professional development. We hope we were able to provide that during these two days of instruction, and we hope to continue to foster that development in the years to come.

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