Island in the Net

A personal blog by Khürt Williams, full of inchoate writing on photography, coffee, and geekery.

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Coffee and Small Business

Most people in the area probably think of Mrs G’s at the building off Route 1 where you can get a good deal on quality refrigerators, high-end ovens and stoves, and large screen TVs. But inside that nondescript building something else is going on. Mrs G’s is actually a sort of community — a “hub” — for local and women owned businesses to gather and collaborate.

Earlier this week, I had an opportunity to attend a small gathering of business owners at the Mrs. G’s in Lawrenceville hosted by Debbie Shafer in collaboration with Hillary Morris. Hillary had invited me to attend the Mercer Area Small Biz Coffee Talk; an opportunity for small business owners to talk about how business was going and perhaps find ways to help each other.

I’m not a business owner. For a few years (2000 – 2003), I was the principal for web development and systems integration consulting firm, but for the last eight years, I have worked in the information security department of one of the areas biopharma companies. It was interesting to learn about how small business was leveraging the Web primarily social media.

Maybe this is how Debbie Shafer meant it to be. Perhaps this is her way of maintaining tradition — her grandmother’s founding principles — by bringing people physically to her showroom but also using social media to form relationships as well.

I met, Krystal Knapp the writer behind the excellent local blog Planet Princeton.

[Planet Princeton] was created out of awareness that the Princeton community needs a central place on the Internet where we can share news, events, and community concerns.

I also met Travis, the writer for the Genius Country blog. Genius Country wants to highlight the incredible talent of the Princeton area’s residents — past and present. The site features large beautiful images with short descriptive text.

Georgianne Vinicombe, an owner of Monday Morning Flowers, talked about how she used social media marketing tools to promote her business and get intelligence to improve sales. She also gave me a great tip for Valentines Day. Guys, women prefer orange roses.

We had social media expert and wedding photographer, Jay Bryant, in the room offering some tips on the use of Facebook Edgerank. Jay is the Vice President of Sales at LiveWorld.

We heard from Joanne White, a writer for the Princeton Patch. The Princeton Patch offers hyper-local news about the area and encourages user content submission.

I met an etiquette consultant and event planner, Mary Harris, who reminded us to be on p’s and q’ when hanging out online.

Nirit Yadin manages the online present of the Terra Momo Restaurant Group but is also a writer for Princeton Eats, and it was because of her that I had the opportunity last November to attend a charity bread making event at Eno Terra in Kingston. My kids got to experience the joy of making bread while listening to Nadezhda Savova tell us stories of how this simple act has united communities around the world.

My friend and fellow foodie Deboleena Dutta told us the story of why she started her business, HerbNZest, LLC, to sell high-quality gourmet condiments.

Cristina Fowler, a marketing manager for non-profits and writer for the Jersey Moms blog. The blog is a great resource for professional moms.

We heard from Sally Jones, an Empowerment & Life Coach, and owner of See…Believe…Achieve. What a wonderful name for business!

Also in attendance was Robin Broome, Advertising Director for Princeton Magazine/Town Topics. Robin talked with the group about the changing world of print and how online news has affected that industry.

Despite the constant stream of depressing news, I read about the economy, surprisingly no one in the room talked about that. Instead, there was an air of enthusiasm in the room. Perhaps that is why these businesses are successful.

So gathered around this table were local small business entrepreneurs who have a love of the region and hope that they can work together for mutual benefit and prosperity. The general theme appeared to be how to use online tools like Facebook, Google+, Twitter — even Pinterest — to engage with their customers. How is Facebook different from Google+? Can Pinterest be used to reach a broader audience for products and services? How? How can I get more people to like my Facebook fan page?

If you have answers to those questions or if you have one of your own, please let me know in the comments section below.