LAST WEEK was recognized as "National Small Business Week" by The U.S. Small Business Administration. "More than half of all Americans either work for or own a small business," said SBA Administrator Linda McMahon in a recent letter on the administration’s website.
But McMahon didn’t tell us the bad news, which is that despite all the Shark Tank hype, integrated marketing tools, and praise from politicians, new business creation is at a 40-year low.
Big online companies are increasingly accountable to advertisers and shareholders, leaving less incentive to build reciprocal partnerships with small businesses and end users.
For example, Facebook recently saw their stock price rebound, even after 1 in 10 Americans deleted their accounts over the Cambridge Analytica controversy.
So why would a tech giant such as Google, whose revenue depends mostly on advertising, bother to reach down and plant seeds in little old Savannah?
According to the event website, “Grow with Google” chose to stop in Savannah on April 25th because we are “on the move” and we have an “incredible ecosystem of organizations.”
Stephen Brokaw, Community Engagement Manager at Google, said, “We felt Grow with Google could be helpful in Savannah because small businesses and skill seekers can benefit from our programming and the organizations can ensure the lessons continue after the event.”
I have a healthy skepticism of free corporate seminars that often end up feeling like a timeshare presentation with less perks.
But I could tell right away that this event was providing real hands-on training by professionals who care about the products they represent and the communities they visit.
(Disclosure: I do not work for Google, but I do use many of their products including the search engine, Email, Drive, Docs, web browser, news feed, Chromebook laptop, and Pixel phone.)
Every small business and organization faces a different set of questions when it comes to online marketing: Where should a roving food truck be placed on Google Maps? What is the right number of keywords to include in my meta tags? How do I prevent random strangers from showing up at my home office?
Google provided a step-by-step presentation, easy to read handouts, and plenty of time for dozens of “Googlers” in white shirts to walk around and answer each burning question.
Liz Kaiser of Madlaw Media said, “they showed me how to get deeper into the advanced settings so I could manually move the pin for my business to where it should be. It was so nice to have their help getting it solved quickly in person.”
New features were highlighted like allowing customers to book appointments, receive text messages through a listing and manage updates from the mobile app.
Schenelle Johnson, CEO at J Entrepreneur Rise, provides consultation and training to local businesses, start-ups and kids interested in entrepreneurship. “I plan to pass on this knowledge,” she said. “They’ve provided a great opportunity for businesses to optimize their potential for growth and visibility.”
Service Brewing Company hosted the event, with adequate seating for over 100 attendees. Google even produced a beautiful short video about Kevin Ryan and Meredith Sutton’s journey of starting their own brewery.
Google stressed the importance of local partnerships, and wherever possible, they used local goods and services including even valet, pastries and coffee.
Over a dozen local non-profit organizations and government agencies came together for the event.
“It was a collaboration between many people,” said Kate LeGrand, Community Projects Coordinator at the Office of Business Opportunity in Savannah.
If you missed the event, don’t worry. LeGrand has been deputized as a Certified Google Partner, which means Savannah business owners and potential entrepreneurs are welcome to contact her for free consultation and correspondence with Google.
A week after the main event, I attended a follow-up live-stream webinar hosted by LeGrand at the Savannah Entrepreneurial Center. Ten people were there representing a variety of businesses like property maintenance, cigar shop, yacht broker, accountant, and marketing consultant.
Each person gained information valuable to their specific business. One woman texted a question to the webinar experts and her question was answered live from Google Headquarters!
Grow with Google serves as a vital example for big corporations looking to work with local organizations and governments to provide education and create opportunities for potential partners.
It’s a hands-on outreach that anticipates long-term return on investment, as opposed to the more immediate charity tax write-offs and corporate social responsibility campaigns motivated by public relations.
In her letter, Linda MacMahon went on to say that entrepreneurs “are making their neighborhoods vibrant places to live and work and contributing to our nation’s economic strength.”
She did not mention, however, that these entrepreneurs, and their neighborhoods, face rising income inequality, an under-educated labor pool, ever-merging oligopolies, and technology designed to control lives rather than improve them.
In order to grow new and small businesses, especially in low-income areas, we could use a lot more giants, planting and watering a lot more seeds. The ground here in Savannah is fertile with government employees and community organizers already actively helping entrepreneurs.
Coco Papy is Community Organizer at The Creative Coast, a non-profit organization that also partnered with Google for the event.
“We’d love to see more events like this for our community,” she said. “We want to expand the presence and widen the net to include as many people as possible.”