Women’s small business group will plunge into technology

          By Deborah M. Todd / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

          Pittsburgh Post-GazetteWhen the Women’s Small Business Association asked for input on the Pittsburgh organization’s upcoming annual conference, members — in droves — pushed for technology education.

          “A lot were talking about being confused about new smartphones and tablets, were wondering what is social marketing, what is SEO (search engine optimization) marketing,” said Susan Miller, founder of the association.

          So when the Pittsburgh Entrepreneur Conference and Honoring Extraordinary Women Awards Luncheon kicks off with a “Hands on Technology” theme today, members are expected to be ready with their laptops, their smartphones and their best questions for the tech-savvy guest speakers.

          Donna Baxter, CEO and founder of TheSoulPitt.com, a site highlighting the region’s African-American community, will present an “Online Marketing Toolkit” to help in building websites, learning search engine optimization, search engine and email marketing techniques, and using social media to strengthen relationships with customers.

          Cassandra Brown, owner of Downtown mobile marketing firm Jireh Mobile, will cover how using smartphones, tablets and other devices can improve business.

          Meanwhile, keynote speaker Summer Knight, a former executive with Bloomfield, Ct.,-based Cigna Healthcare and entrepreneur-in-residence at Washington, D.C.-based Springboard Enterprises, a venture catalyst organization for women-owned businesses, will discuss ways women can harness their talents to achieve success beyond their current aspirations.

          The number of woman-owned businesses nationally has doubled between 1997 and 2011, generating close to $1.3 trillion last year, according to last year’s American Express OPEN State of Women-Owned Businesses report. Still, that growth translated to only 4 percent of total 2011 business revenues.

          Growing pains are expected with any surge of new entrepreneurs, regardless of gender. But any chance of leveling the field between emerging women-owned businesses and their counterparts will require not only knowledge of long-standing business principles but mastery of constantly-evolving online marketing and new media techniques.

          In addition to the hands-on instruction, Ms. Baxter hopes to teach business owners to avoid trying every technology application introduced to the market and to concentrate on finding what works for them. She also said she plans to discuss how to capitalize on the social networking traffic that women-owned businesses are often great at generating.

          “Women are good with names, good in groups and good at engaging people and getting fans on board, but that’s when you’ve got to get them for the sale. Closing the deal seems to be the hardest part,” she said.

          Ms. Knight said some women may not have been exposed to qualities that make for a strong salesperson during their upbringing, but that is no excuse not to learn as an adult. Learning how to use technology can transform a business from a local startup to an international presence with the right strategy, she said.

          “Technology really springboards women, and any small business, into the national and international economy. When you increase the reach of any organization’s message, it encourages business owners to be more focused on that message so they can find the niche group they want to interact with from an economic perspective,” she said.

          Whether online or at a brick and mortar business, she said women need to identify and conquer obstacles, but also need to believe wholeheartedly in their missions and their goals.

          “So many people will try to gut your idea and try to talk you out of living a big dream, but to do it takes guts, tenacity, focus, and you have to make some big decisions,” she said.

          Winners of the 2012 Best Business Woman of Pittsburgh Business Award, the Community Service Award of Pittsburgh and the 2012 WSBA Business Woman of the Year award will be announced during the luncheon.

          The conference and luncheon will be held today at the Clarion Hotel in Green Tree. Call 412-208-0249 for registration information, or visit http://events.r20.constantcontact.com/register/event?oeidk=a07e5huhcze52555d7e&llr=lgoulfcab. On-site registrations can be made the day of the event.

          Deborah M. Todd: dtodd@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1652. First Published April 4, 2012 12:00 am

          Read the article on the Post-Gazette website.

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