Pandemic pushes marketing and networking online


Heather Turner operates in many different arenas. A former chef, she now consults with small lodging operations and restaurants. The bulk of her business, Forfeng Designs and Media, involves educating small business owners on how best to use marketing and social media to grow their revenues.

The pandemic has shaken up her whole approach to business, which largely focused on presenting at conferences and to groups. With face-to-face business operations still not back to pre-pandemic levels, small business owners are scrambling to better understand digital marketing, and Turner is overrun with requests for one-on-one consultations.

“It’s definitely a big shock,” said Turner, who runs her business from her Sutton home. “In terms of hours a week, I’m working twice as many hours now.”

She’s also making more, and expects her revenue to be up over 2019.

“There’s so much more of a need now for the online training,” she said. “That was a small part of my business, and now it’s taken over my life.”

In some ways, the message of her consultations hasn’t changed. Business owners are always interested in leveraging social media and creating genuinely engaging content. Now more than ever they’re asking Turner about how to evaluate when paid ads are worth it, and when they should be skipped.

Especially during the height of the pandemic, lodging and restaurants asked Turner how to stay engaging, when they couldn’t advertise that they were open. Turner recommended that they use the slow time to focus on social media: really learning about the benefits and drawbacks of each platform and trying their hand at tasks like scheduling posts.

It’s something that Turner is still working on herself.

“I’m learning about TikTok, which I’m not that thrilled about,” she said. “I can’t give people thoughts about it if I don’t know about it myself.”

Now that Turner is spending more time online and no time at conferences, she’s recognized the value in using social media to network effectively.

“When I was building my business years ago, there was a lot of in-person networking,” she said. “I don’t think I really am going to do that anymore. I do a lot more networking online.”

At an in-person networking event, you might talk to 20 people over the evening and connect with 2 or 3 afterward. Online, you can be more selective about who you connect with, but you can also delve into more specific, in-depth conversations, especially with private messaging.

“When you’re networking in groups, you’re at the mercy of other people. You can only spend so long in a conversation before you have to move on and talk to someone else,” she said. “Online, it’s almost a bit more personal. There’s nobody that’s interrupting us, and no outside noise.”

Many small businesses are struggling, and Turner said she has had a few people reach out saying they need her services, but can’t afford them. She’s offered to work with the businesses and let them pay as they can, but everyone has ended up paying her whole fee.

Although Turner is glad that her business is thriving, she’s still adjusting to spending so much time online.

“The adjustment to move everything online has been a huge culture shock,” she said. “I’m on Zoom 12 times a day. When they start talking about Zoom fatigue, I’ll be the first one to raise my hand and say ‘I get that.’”

This story is part of the 50 Businesses, 50 Solutions series, shared by partners in The Granite State News Collaborative, that aims to highlight how business leaders across the state, from mom and pop shops, to large corporations have adapted to meet the challenges and disruptions caused by the novel coronavirus in the hopes others may be able to replicate these ideas and innovations. Tell us your story here. For more information visit collaborativenh.org.





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