21915 Cessna Ave.
Council Bluffs, Iowa
Name of director: Susan Pitts
No. of employees: One full-time director, one part-time counselor/trainer, and one part-time assistant.
No. of clients: 172
Hours spent with clients: 800
Capital infusion: $1.8 million in 2010
What's noteworthy: The center specializes in teaching local businesses about social media and search engine optimization.
When Susan Pitts moved from Sioux City, Iowa to Council Bluffs in 1996, she left her job as a senior media buyer with Gateway Computers where she was closely tied to many of their marketing initiatives. It was there that her interest in technology was piqued. After helping her husband to open four chiropractic businesses, she counseled multiple small businesses as a director of the Denison, Iowa, Chamber of Commerce. She then joined the Iowa Western Community College Entrepreneurial & Small Business Development Center. As the center's director, she has focused her efforts on helping small businesses excel at online marketing.
"The Internet and the social web are integral parts of business success today that I just can't stress enough," Pitts says. "But it's more than just having a website or a Facebook page. You need to use that outlet to actually engage with customers."
In their one-on-one consulting sessions, but also offers free workshops in conjunction with the Council Bluffs Chamber of Commerce, t he IWCC Entrepreneurial & SBDC Center helps entrepreneurs learn the finer points of digital strategy. Recent workshops were designed around themes such as blogging and social networking, local online marketing, and search engine optimization.
The best way to show clients how much social media and a web presence matters is through the case study of a successful business, and Pitts can point to a local posterchild. The Fountains Ballroom, owned and operated by former wedding photographers Erin and Marty Williams, is a full-service reception hall located in a rural area. The hall hosted 50 weddings at between $2,000 and $5,000 a pop in 2007, its first year of operation. Then, a fire destroyed the business, and sent the partners scrambling. They managed to rebuild the facility and, in 2009, hosted 80 events that brought in between $9,000 and $18,000 apiece.
The secret to their success? With Pitts's help, the entrepreneurs began to engage with customers on the web, on a blog, and on Facebook.
"At first we were really uncertain of how a website and Facebook presence would help a small-town ballroom business," Erin Williams notes. "But in many ways, it's humanized our brand with not just customers, but friends too. We have people referring us on Facebook, friending us, following our blog to keep in touch and more. The best part? Some of them aren't even getting married or utilizing the ballroom, they just enjoy the conversation. It's really been amazing for business."
Under Pitts's guidance, the business set up a blog. Posts are typically personal stories from customers, and drive pretty active conversations for a small-town ballroom (including this post, which was a tear jerker.)
For her dedication and focus on utilizing technology in small business, Pitts was asked to be a featured presenter at the national ASBDC conference in September 2010 on Search Engine Optimization.