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
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
Other session topics during the two-day conference included:
Small Business 101
Social Media for Business Growth/
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
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
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
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
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