July 17, 2012

Big ideas for small businesses

By: Alli Knothe

Source: Times Union

ALBANY — About 1,000 people, including small-business owners, workers and job seekers, attended the sixth-annual SmAlbany event Tuesday at the University at Albany's College of Nanoscale Science and Engineering.

The event, sponsored by the NanoCollege and the Times Union, attracted 45 vendors who crowded into the atrium and spilled out into the hallways and outside the building. Marketing firms, catering companies, banks and insurance companies set up tables.

Attendees had the choice of 25 hourlong seminars, panels and workshops on such topics as mobile-application development, social media practices, marketing, hiring and growing a business with limited resources.

Sue Rock, a self-employed social media consultant from Schenectady, attended three presentations on social media and said the program was well-organized and the topics interesting.

"This stuff changes all the time, so there's no way to be sure that you know everything," she said. Rock said she learned more about search engine optimization and some ways that businesses use social media on a larger scale.

"It's like, 'Why aren't you going to go?'" she said. "Especially when someone's going to put on something like that for free."

The most advertised speaker was Joe DeMike, Google's head of partnership development and small-business engagement and advocacy.

DeMike gave a presentation on how small businesses can use the Web to succeed, specifically how keywords and other methods can be used to pull in customers.

DeMike's second presentation was about advertising options for small businesses. That presentation focused on how and why businesses can use Google AdWords or AdWords Express to bring in loyal customers.

Larry Zimbler, a SmAlbany founder and president of Liberteks, an Albany company that provides IT support for businesses, said he was happy with the turnout.

"We want to help business owners make better decisions," he said. "The biggest thing we'll try to do next year is get them more engaged." For example, he wants attendees to be able to get slides or workbooks in advance of the seminars.

"I think this event was bigger, better" than the one in 2010, said Mark Menard, president and founder of Troy-based Enable Labs, which builds Web and mobile apps.

He gave a presentation on app development and mobile site platforms for the digital world, and also sat on a panel with DeMike.

"People were better engaged, asking intelligent questions," he said, adding that he is looking forward to attending the event again next year.

"People are realizing that Albany isn't so small," he said.