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Winter Park / Maitland Observer Wednesday, Nov. 7, 2012 7 years ago

Mara Shorr: Growing a business in a down economy

Networking is key
by: Mara Shorr

When I started The Leone Company a year and a half ago, I had a handful of prospects and a dream to start my own marketing, community relations and fundraising consulting business.

Without a budget for paid promotions. In a down economy.

Was I nuts? That depends on which family members you ask, as some had their doubts, while others cheered me on with gusto. One family member earlier this year (and six months into my business’ success story) told me — the small business owner and entrepreneur — that I looked rested, and that unemployment looks good on me. But that’s beside the point.

Why was I sure I would succeed when so many others had not… in a time when companies were slashing their marketing budgets?

Companies may be cutting full-time staff, but that doesn’t mean they have less work to fulfill. Contracting a portion of that work out means they don’t have to pay someone a full-time salary or benefits, but still get a high level of expertise to add to their business. Once I made the decision to go out on my own, my contacts immediately asked to set up meetings, wanting to grab my skills at a fraction of what they would pay me to work for them full-time.

But how do you spread the word?

Networking is key. Dedicating your skills to a cause you believe in is an excellent way to do so; I’ve been sitting on committees and collaborative efforts my entire professional career. So when paid projects with those same colleagues came about, they instantly thought of me. Those colleagues already know my work ethic, my contacts and my follow through.

Public speaking is a way to broadcast your company’s skill set (and obtain new clients), either for free or as a revenue source. Speaking at conferences and in front of community organizations positions you as an expert to potential new clients, a tactic I use with my current clients as well. Not only do you know the attendees already have an interest in the topic, but they see your knowledge and want to find out more. And the opportunity doesn’t cost you a thing. (My first client came through just that technique. She loved what I had to say so much she hired me within a week.)

Learn to do as much as possible yourself, but realize when it’s time to grow. For the first year and a half of The Leone Company’s life, I was the company. But then I realized I couldn’t do everything. However, knowing how to invoice, hook up my printer’s network, update my website, purchase cheap office supplies, take advantage of rewards programs and create a custom email address came in handy when it came time to hire help. In the meantime, I had kept costs down until I was ready.

Network like your business depends on it. Because it does. When I was little, my father used to talk to strangers in the supermarket. A lousy way to please a hungry 9-year-old, shivering in the frozen foods section, but a great learned skill for the future, showing that business leads come from the most unexpected places. At any given moment, more than half of my business leads (or leads for my clients) are people I’ve met through volunteer efforts, at dinners or through mutual friends. Always carry business cards and be ready to tell people what you do, since your business may be the skill or service they’re missing.

Mara Shorr brings nearly a decade of experience as the president of The Leone Company, a marketing, fundraising and community relations business focusing on helping small businesses and non-profits utilize big strategies. In addition, Mara is a proud board member of several Central Florida non-profits, including the Enzian and the Association of Fundraising Professional’s Central Florida’s National Philanthropy Day event. Contact her at or [email protected]

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