By Valerie Baldowski
Eighteen new graduates received certificates Friday, but they weren't high school or college students.
The alumni, all representing area small businesses, finished the last class of the Maximum Contact program, a series of classes sponsored by the Henry County Chamber of Commerce Small Business Council and the Henry County Development Authority.
The program began April 17, and classes met weekly at the chamber's offices in McDonough.
The instructors were Kyle Hensel, area director of the Small Business Development Center at Clayton State University, and Susan Barnett, center director for the Small Business Development Center at Valdosta State University.
The classes focused on teaching students how to use technology to drive sales, and covered topics like using online marketing tools to reach customers, utilizing web sites to generate sales, using search engines to market businesses, and using e-mail, blogging, and social networking sites to communicate.
Laura Turner, owner of Eleste Marketing in Locust Grove, said knowing how to utilize cyberspace can give a business owner an edge over the competition.
"It's very important," said Turner. "No matter what type of business you operate, you can implement some form of social media into your marketing plan."
She said the idea that social media is only for young people is a misconception, and that people in all age groups and demographics are now using some form of social media.
"Most social media is inexpensive, and some of it is free," Turner said. For example, she explained, setting up a Twitter or Facebook account costs nothing.
Any business not using technology to promote itself will be at a disadvantage, Turner said, and runs the risk of missing opportunities to connect with existing and potential customers.
The program kept students up to speed with the latest technologies, said Christine Bremnor, an administrative assistant for Home Helpers in Stockbridge. "It helps to broaden how you do your marketing," she said.
Old-fashioned, word-of-mouth advertising is good, Bremnor said, but using the Internet complements word-of-mouth advertising. "They work hand in hand," she said.
Bremnor said the most useful information of the course, for her, was how to use Facebook, Twitter and blogging web sites.
The advantage those high-tech tools offer, she said, is that users need not be face to face to communicate with each other.
Henry County is one of the first communities in Georgia to host the Maximum Contact series of classes, said Kristen Miller, manager of business retention and expansion for the Henry County Development Authority.
"Henry County strives to cultivate an entrepreneurial environment, and feels the [classes] teach small business owners how to embrace and integrate these innovative and cost-effective technologies into their business sales and marketing strategies," said Miller.