Time was, if a business wanted to increase its visibility, that meant plunking down cash for paid promotions. But as social media continues to evolve, small business owners are finding new ways to spread their messages.
In the Charlotte region and nationwide, a growing number of Facebook “groups” have sprung up to offer local business owners free access to new consumers.
With names like Ballantyne Connection, Black Business Owners of Charlotte and Cash Mob Charlotte, these groups aren’t so much replacing old methods of advertising as they are providing a free supplement. These networks give entrepreneurs a direct way to reach potential customers, and allow consumers interested in shopping local a way to do just that.
Bill Clark, owner of Bill Clark Landscapes in Waxhaw, promotes his business through several Facebook groups, including Ballantyne Connection. With a degree in landscape gardening, he said, he’s looking to elevate his company above the horde of competitors who, as he puts it, simply “mow and blow.”
“I have had one or two call, but I expect that to grow,” he said. “I think it’s a good thing. I just need to work it a little more. I need to get it to pay off for me.”
Sheena Pickett, who owns Alpha Male Nail Care Services for Men, said she, too, posts to a number of Facebook groups.
Pickett started her business nearly three years ago to provide private manicures and pedicures for men unwilling to enter a salon. She calls it “Charlotte’s man cave for nail care.”
“You never know who’s going to come across your ad or at what time,” she said. Everything is a seed, so I don’t ever discredit any exposure.”
Jody Pino, who founded Ballantyne Connection, said she started the group last December to connect people in the community where she lives. It now has more than 4,400 members.
A recent scan of her page found Ballantyne-area residents looking for a host of products and services, and it also displayed ads posted by local businesses.
“I have a tendency to like to connect people to resources,” Pino said. “I just felt like, if I could help people find a good dentist, or help somebody find a good contractor, there are so many positive things that could come from the site.”
Pino said she spends about two hours per day approving new members and policing the site, which prohibits the listing of personal items for sale.
Supporting local businesses
For Cathay Dawkins, the decision to start Black Business Owners of Charlotte (BBOC) was born of more troubled circumstances – the civil unrest that erupted after the fatal police shooting of an unarmed black man in Ferguson, Mo.
“I felt it was a time when the African American community needed to be lifted up,” he said. “This was my way of doing something positive.”
Dawkins, a local artist who graduated from Clemson University with a degree in landscape architecture, said he also noticed that too many black-owned businesses were foundering because their owners lacked the resources and connections to make them grow. So people who visit his Facebook groups are invited each month to attend a networking event.
About 1,700 people have joined the BBOC group, which launched about a year ago, and new members are joining at a rate of about 50 per week, Dawkins said.
“I had no idea that many people wanted to support African American businesses or that there were that many African American businesses here in Charlotte,” he said. “They just need resources to get them to the next level.”
Trina Boyd, owner of Babysitters of Charlotte, said she posts her business on at least 20 Facebook groups, including BBOC. In one of her recent postings, she was advertising a nanny who was looking for work in a Charlotte home.
“It’s actually been working out pretty well,” she said, adding that she spends about an hour per week posting to the various groups.
Business owner who use the groups say they haven’t abandoned traditional methods of advertising, such as newspapers, radio and Internet search engines. Instead, they said, the Facebook groups simply give them free alternatives for targeting specific communities.
But just how long the Facebook pages will remain free is anyone’s guess.
At BBOC, Dawkins said he and a board of advisors are working to establish levels of paid membership. And eventually, he said, only paid members will be allowed to promote their businesses on the page. He said he also has hired a local developer to build a mobile app that will list member businesses.
Pino declined to discuss specifics about the future of Ballantyne Connection, but she said she expect the group to evolve.
“I would say there is no plan to monetize it at this time,” she said, “but the possibility to grow this into something different is definitely there.”