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Digital marketing for everyone: Upcoming conference aims to educate nonprofits, start-ups, and longtime businesses

10/13/17 Update: The Karcher Group is offering a special early-bird seminar promo code (TKGSC) that takes 50% off the $99 registration until Friday, 10/20/17.

In less than five weeks, The Karcher Group (TKG) and 52inc will co-host Digital Marketing for Everyone, a day-long event designed to help local businesses understand how to get better results online.

According to TKG president Geoff Karcher, in 2017, digital marketing is a form of strategic communication for any business owner; anyone with a laptop can attempt to market his or her business online.  “Our hope is to educate business owners who are figuring out how to do it on their own,” Karcher explained.  “Everyone wants to grow as a business, and digital marketing is a great way to do it.  But we want to make sure they’re armed with good facts so they can make the right decisions and protect their business.”

TKG recently celebrated its twentieth birthday, a remarkable feat for a digitally based company.  With humble beginnings in 1997 as a one-man website design broker in Canton, Ohio, TKG has now expanded into a team of 35 diverse and highly skilled individuals, including experts on web development, search engine optimization, video development and distribution, and varied content marketing.  

Within the last year, TKG added Blake Turner to their team.  Turner serves as the relationships manager with the Columbia, SC region and is currently working with the University of South Carolina’s Darla Moore School of Business, as well as journalism and public relations students, to build more internships and training opportunities for students interested in digital marketing.  Turner is also organizing free monthly lunch and learn sessions in the region about specific digital marketing tactics.

TKG decided to expand its outreach to Columbia, because they felt the market here is so similar to their own hometown.  “We have the exact same thing going on here in Columbia: an enormous number of nonprofits all competing with, and almost beating up, each other, all fighting for the same people and same dollars,” explained Karcher.  “You also have people who have been successful for many years owning a business but are now losing traction, not knowing how to keep up with digital marketing.”  Karcher notes that in both Canton and Columbia there is a “huge dichotomy between start-ups and 50-year businesses.”

With websites and social media platforms readily available for nonprofits, start-up ventures, and long-lasting companies, digital marketing is an open door for many small businesses.  However, there are a few key mistakes that are frequently made by business owners.

1. Some businesses and organizations attempt to promote themselves online without having a strategic plan. “This is the biggest mistake we see a lot of businesses make,” said Chellsea Mastroine, who works as a digital marketing strategist for TKG.  According to Mastroine, in today’s technology driven society, most for-profit businesses and nonprofit organizations sense a need for an online presence, but when they do get online, it is seldom well planned.  

“We see a lot of times that there’s no cohesiveness, or what they’re putting online doesn’t align with their business goals,” explained Mastroine.  “Maybe they’ve got a Twitter profile, but their audience is not on Twitter.  We teach people: don’t just have a Facebook page, have it with a purpose; everything you post should have a purpose.  So the first thing we do is establish their goals, then make an outline of what we need to accomplish.  Then we can come up with a strategy where everything that goes online ties together.  From their e-mail marketing to their social media, it will all have a common goal and common themes.”

Some businesses are simply not equipped with the staff needed to execute effective digital marketing.  “More often than not, small business owners wear a lot of hats, and sometimes, some of those hats have to take a backseat to others,” added Karcher.  “That’s why companies like us exist; we close the knowledge gap.  For some business owners, they just don’t have the time to do this.  Writing, publishing, and curating online content ends up taking a lot more time than they thought it would.”

It is not uncommon for a business to hire a sole marketing and public relations employee, who is then responsible for all digital marketing, even if they lack certain skill sets such as web program development or search engine optimization.  For other companies, they may find a company member who has one skill set, and depend on that employee too much for digital marketing.  “Sometimes, a business may say, ‘Well, Bob’s really good with computers, so let’s have him do the website.’ But now, you have Bob driving the major marketing strategy,” explained Karcher.  “Web design requires someone who can understand and architect information to lay out a 200 or 300 page website with prioritized content, a user-friendly graphic design, and the programming to make it actually function.  Then you need front end development to bring the program logic and the design together.”

2.  Some businesses do not understand when they need (or do not need) an app.  For this conference, TKG is partnering with 52Inc, a design and development studio that builds apps for iOS, Android, and the web.  Based locally in Columbia, the brains behind this operation have been developing apps for other businesses since 2009.  According to co-founder Chris Thibault, many small businesses mistakenly believe they need to spend money and energy developing apps, when in reality they just need to design more mobile-friendly websites.

“Usually, the biggest reason people want an app is to better serve existing customers, but we do have people who try to expand their customer base with an app,” said Thibault.  “So a lot of times we start with, do you really need a mobile application?  We find a lot of businesses are trying to build mobile apps when they don’t really need them.”

According to Thibault, a stellar app will utilize native functions of a mobile device, such as GPS, bluetooth, or the camera.  When he realizes a client doesn’t actually need to use these functions in their app, he doesn’t mind pointing out to them that perhaps his services are not needed.  “For most businesses, a mobile responsive website is the most cost-effective option,” he acknowledged.

For Thibault, he hopes the conference is an opportunity to educate and inform small businesses about app development.  He also plans to host an extensive question and answer session so he can specifically tailor his presentations to the needs of the conference attendees.  He also hopes to connect with small businesses who want to develop creative apps to increase their customer reach.  “There are infinitely many possibilities on what you can do with apps,” he said.

3. Non-profit organizations do not think like for-profit organizations.  According to Karcher, the ideal audience for the conference are “businesses and organizations that are growth-oriented of any size,” including charitable organizations.

“It’s a great opportunity for very small businesses to come and learn.  They’re likely going to have to do most of this themselves, because they’re not going to have the cash to hire an agency to do it.  So our goal is to provide good, usable tactics,” Karcher explained.  “But absolutely nonprofits can benefit from learning more about digital marketing.  They have to get a lot done online, and they also have to make sure, even more so than for-profit businesses, that the activities and energy they’re spending are spent well.  With digital marketing, many nonprofits are completely on their own….They have much more complex needs than most businesses, but also a much lower budget.”

“I think almost every single person who works here is on the board of one nonprofit, if not multiple nonprofits,” added Mastroine.  “Internally, we are all very familiar with the concepts related to promoting a nonprofit, including the littlest details.”  Mastroine highlighted examples of tactics the conference will emphasize for nonprofits, such as utilizing Google Ad Grants, which can supply up to $1,000 per month of free Google AdWords for charitable organizations.   

Geoff Karcher

Karcher stated that in-home service providers such as plumbers, remodelers, landscapers, and home-building businesses often find it extremely easy to learn how to leverage the Internet effectively to market themselves.  But for small businesses and nonprofits, learning to master an entire field like digital marketing can pose many unforeseen challenges.

“Obviously, we’re a marketing agency and we want to get clients, but we don’t use these seminars to sell our services.  The goal is to actually educate people who attend,” Karcher said.  “They’re not going to sign up to attend a conference and then get a sales pitch; they’re going to get tangible, actionable education while they’re there.  People will actually leave with tactics they can employ. We can and will work to help people who will never be a client to TKG.”

According to Karcher, the longevity and success of his business in a relatively new market has instilled a sense of responsibility in the company to educate and inform up-and-coming businesses.  The digital agency regularly hosts free learning seminars, boot camps, and lunch and learns to offer their insight on sound online marketing practices. This is the second event held in Columbia since The Karcher Group opened an office downtown last year.  “We know that some of these very small businesses and nonprofits are never going to be our customers.  But we still want them to get actionable insights and honest answers,” said Karcher.  “It’s the same reason we do internships.  We want to educate both the business and nonprofit communities and give them access to the smart people who are working here.”

Mastroine explained that one of the biggest benefits of attending the TKG conference is that the presenters will adapt the information provided based on the needs of the audience.  In addition to having networking opportunities and question-and-answer panels, the conference also features an array of speakers who will be available for one-on-one talks.  “When people come to this conference, they know at the end they can bend the ear of somebody whose skillset is directly relevant to their own business,” she said.

TKG sales strategist Patrick French plans to bring his background as a stand-up comedian to the conference’s audience, hoping to build a “laid back, relaxed setting” that is comfortable to guests.  “This is going to be interactive, engaging, and fun–not just some stuffy presentations,” French explained.  In what he calls a “hybrid sales and marketing role,” French will also bring his expertise in event management to the table.

The seminar will take place on Wednesday, Nov. 8, 2017 at The Venue on Main, 1620 Main Street. Attendees receive free breakfast, lunch and snacks throughout the day, as well as an opportunity to network with other business owners and ask questions of The Karcher Group team.

The seminar will cover all elements of digital marketing, including content, email marketing, social media, search engine optimization and analytics – as well as explain how each of them ties in to a results-driven strategy for businesses. Cost is $99 per person. All seminar proceeds will be donated to The First Tee of Columbia, a youth development organization dedicated to introducing the game of golf and its inherent values to young people. For more information or to register, visit tkg.com/seminar.

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