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updated: 3/7/2012 2:26 PM

Want new business? People, relationships still matter

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With the economy apparently improving, small business owners are thinking business development again.

Websites are essential. Tweets might work, but Twitter really isn't about new business development. And there are hints that Facebook users are beginning to "unlike" company pages that either post too frequently or whose wall has too many marketing posts.

So how does a small business get in front of its marketplace? Two thoughts: Go with your strengths, and remember that traditional networking still works.

"It's still about people and relationships," says Alison Hall, a wordsmith and owner of AlisonInk Creative Communications in Arlington Heights. She advises businesses on marketing strategies and writes copy.

"I initially didn't want to bother people," Hall says of her own new business efforts, "but recently I've been like the doctor who has to take his own medicine.

"The problem is that nobody understands what I do, so now I talk to people."

It helps, suggests Arlington Heights consultant Larry Hayes, when business-seeking entrepreneurs "decide what your business is, who it serves and what customers get from it." Using the Internet as "a real equalizer, small businesses can be as effective as Proctor & Gamble," Hayes says.

Hall is of typical of many entrepreneurs who are good at what they do but uncomfortable marketing their capabilities to potential clients. Still, Hall talks to "friends of friends," and is less shy about telling people what she does at social gatherings. She'll also bring her iPad so she can show samples.

Today, Hall says, "I'll ask, 'Do you know anyone in marketing at your company?' and people will say, 'Oh, I know her.'"

Being visible so your business is top of mind when potential customers need what you do matters, too. "You have to put yourself out there," says Kathy Miller, president of Total Event Resources Inc., a Schaumburg company that produces corporate meetings and events for Fortune 1000 companies. "We volunteer a lot," which, Miller says, "gets us paying jobs."

Miller, for example, is president elect of the International Special Events Society. With 7,200 members in 38 countries, ISES is a connection point for everyone from show producers to convention center managers and special effects technicians.

For Miller, however, volunteering also includes in-kind contributions for not-for-profits that may have a fundraising gala.

"We build relationships with associations and organizations" as part of Total Event's business development process, Miller says. It helps that "People know who you are."

She seeks referrals, as well. "We ask now," Miller says. "We get business through people who are happy with our services."

Miller also isn't shy about telling prospects that Total Event Resources is a Certified Women's Business Enterprise. Suppliers, Miller says, "want diversity. They want women- and other minority-owned businesses for the tax breaks."

• Jim Kendall welcomes comments at 2012 121 Marketing Resources Inc.

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