Tidewater Home Funding Highlighted for Social Media in USA TODAY

Tidewater Home Funding Highlighted for Social Media in USA TODAY

The following article was posted in USA TODAY on July 2, 2013 on USATODAY.com:

This story is part of the USA TODAY series SMALL BUSINESS TECH TALK

Natalie DiBlasio and Steph Solis, USA TODAY

July 2, 2013

Jen Evola, 33, a massage therapist and a registered dietitian, needed a boost after she left a corporate job to start her own practice in Chicago.

She got it from social media.

A little name in a big city, Evola has to do everything she can to compete. She says social media has made a big difference for her business.

"I have overhead and other utilities and bills. I didn't want to pay for advertising -- advertising is so expensive," she says. "I started with a Facebook page. Then I added Twitter, and then, Pinterest."

For a small company such as Evola's Mobile Health and Wellness, competing with large businesses can be difficult.

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Every day, she posts updates about her services, special offers, customer feedback and appointment openings.

"Nine out of 10 times when I post, I get a new client or someone refers a friend," Evola says. "If people share what I like, it reaches more and more people I don't know."

Entrepreneurs are getting a leg up from social media around the world.

Tom Byrnes, 49, an entrepreneur from Ireland, started Fun Packs, a company that makes travel entertainment toys for children. Byrnes says he's doubled his business since he started using social media.

"The biggest advantage for us in having a social-media strategy has been the ability to make the world smaller ... to reach out to potential customers across the world who do not know our product even exists."

The product is a box the size of a CD -- bright and colorful -- and stuffed with jokes and games, all themed to match seasons, holidays, weddings and even companies such as McDonald's, Byrnes says.

Byrnes uses social media every day to speak with businesses all over the world to create customized and branded Fun Packs to "save the kids from getting bored very quickly with adults and keep the adults from being embarrassed by wild kids."

A recent survey by HubSpot, a marketing software company, reports that 52% of marketers have found leads through Facebook so far in 2013, and 43% of marketers have found customers through LinkedIn and company blogs.

Social-media expert and consultant Trang Hamm says social media is a cost-effective marketing choice, but it takes work to manage.

"You don't have to pay to use Facebook or Instagram, but you do need a human resource," says Hamm. "It's a lot cheaper than spending $50,000 on a radio ad and not be able to see how people interact with it. You can gauge that on Facebook."

Hamm says the key is that business owners have to be genuine on social media and have personality.

If done right, she added, small businesses can manage their online presence for 15 to 20 minutes a day and reach broad audiences.

With a recent Pew Research Center survey reporting that 67% of online adults use social-networking sites, the reach of social networks continues to grow.

Tage Counts, who handles marketing and public relations for Tidewater Home Funding in Chesapeake, Va., says social media has got them in the ball game.

"I don't have the resources to go and try to compete with much larger companies, but social media allows us to play. It has allowed us to compete without having to spend the dollars big companies have.

"We have seen business come from social media that we wouldn't have otherwise," Counts says. "Return on investment for social media is incredible. It's a tool I definitely don't want to lose."