September 1, 2014

Tips and trends: Advice for small businesses in Florida

From social media to hiring and cloud computing, some pointers for business owners.

Cynthia Barnett | 2/2/2012

Social Media
Generate Sales

Julie Garrett
[Photo: Aaron Daye]

"You want to use social media to build relationships, build loyalty, communicate to your customers that you care about them."

— Julie Garrett

If you think using Twitter, Facebook and the like to promote your small business is a waste of time, consider this story from Julie Garrett, who heads up social media at Santa Fe College in Gainesville: A local woman tweeted that she was dreading spending the day car shopping. A Gainesville dealer who monitors tweets relating to car shopping caught her remark. The two had never met, and he was not her Twitter follower. But he was able to send her a message via Twitter. The two communicated several times as she shopped. By the end of the day, she felt she owed him a stop. And that's where she bought her car. "True story," says Garrett. "The dealer must have been monitoring the key words ‘car shopping,' which was really savvy of him."

The value of social media, says Garrett, is the ability to engage in a two-way conversation with your customers or potential customers. "It's not the place solely to push out information about your new products or discounts," she says. "You want to use social media to build relationships, build loyalty, communicate to your customers that you care about them. In return, you can find out what your customers want. You do your own market research."

Garrett recommends that small businesses consider HootSuite.com as a social media dashboard to avoid spending too much time managing a Facebook page or Twitter account. HootSuite allows users to manage all social media profiles at once, making it easy to track conversations and brand mentions, as the car dealer did. A scheduling feature lets you write messages when it's convenient and schedule them to pop up at
specific times. An analytics feature generates reports so you can evaluate the effectiveness of your campaigns.

Garrett suggests reading "The Thank You Economy" by social-media guru Gary Vaynerchuk to learn what social media can do for your small business. Finally, she recommends checking out your local community college's continuing education department for inexpensive classes and seminars on social media.

Filing Patents
Act Fast

Bob White
New legislation is "the most fundamental change to the United States patent system in many years."

— Bob White

Last fall, President Obama signed sweeping patent legislation known as the Leahy-Smith America Invents Act. Bob White, a shareholder practicing in technology, corporate and securities law at Gunster in Fort Lauderdale, calls it "the most fundamental change to the United States patent system in many years."

One of the most significant changes, says White, revises the U.S. patent system from a "first to invent" standard to a "first to file" standard, effective March 2013. Some fear this will put small businesses and individual inventors at a disadvantage in the patent process, which is time-consuming and expensive, especially for highly technical inventions in fields such as biotech and pharmaceuticals.

White says while those concerns are valid, he believes small companies and individual inventors may be able to gain an advantage under the new law because they are more flexible and have less bureaucracy. Small firms and inventors "may be able to move more quickly with patent filings and thus get patents filed before larger companies can act," White says, "but speed and focus will be essential."

Tags: Florida Small Business

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