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Report #2: Entrepreneurs Craving Guidance and Support

Marketing help is top-of-mind for many BOTA attendees.

The official Back on Track America kickoff event lasted longer than I anticipated, and it was too late to file a report last Thursday. So I'm going to combine Thursday's New York City event with the one held Monday, November 19, in Newark, New Jersey.

For sheer anticipatory excitement, there's nothing like opening night. The NYC BOTA event was packed. From mid-afternoon through the evening, hundreds of New Yorkers flooded into the Millennium Hotel to listen, learn and speak out. If the attendance at the marketing seminar I moderated was any clue, that is the challenge all too many of you are facing these days. We experienced an overflow crowd--and although people lined the walls and sat on the floor, we had to add another marketing session immediately after the scheduled one.

Marketing guru Nancy Michaels was one of the speakers, and she shared her "rule of 4," which I think you can all benefit from. Michaels says to make sure your clients/customers hear from you at least four times a year. This can be in the form of newsletters, e-mails, postcard mailings or any other creative ways you can think of. She recommends you avoid Christmastime, since your piece can so easily get lost in the swamp of holiday mail. She actually talks to her customers six times yearly, adding Chinese New Year and July 4 to her communications, which packs the extra punch of arriving unexpected. Here at Entrepreneur, our sales reps mail out Halloween packages for the very same reason.

Dean Eaker, owner of ThinkDirectMarketing, also described a new tactic many marketers are using successfully: sending an e-mail to prospects announcing that they would soon receive a direct-mail package.

The Town Hall meeting following the seminars was a lively discussion, brightened considerably by the presence of Jim McCann, founder of 1-800-FLOWERS, who co-moderated the session with BOTA chair Jane Applegate. Jim boasts an interesting entrepreneurial saga of his own (see "Goodbye, Mom & Pop" to read about McCann's history) and certainly knows what it's like to be faced with adversity. To my eyes and ears, the audience was still slightly shell-shocked; the awful events of September 11 shrouded the room like a heavy fog. Adding the looming recession to the mix, the crowd seemed understandably eager to find a silver lining. Jim helped here by equating entrepreneurs to a favorite toy of his childhood: weebles. Remember the weebles? ( I do, perhaps showing my age.) Remember their slogan? "Weebles wobble, but they don't fall down." There's a lesson there for all entrepreneurs--for all Americans, actually. Sure, times are tough. And yes, you're likely feeling pretty wobbly right now. But entrepreneurs are tough. As shaky as it gets, no one is going to knock you over. Nothing can keep a good entrepreneur down.

Monday night in Newark was a bit more subdued. But the entrepreneurs were no less needy, reaching out for advice and information. At the Town Hall meeting here, one entrepreneur wondered about acquiring new clients. She was worried it would appear unseemly to try to sell her services now. I reminded her that now was the perfect time--people need help today more than most times and would likely welcome a low-key, tasteful pitch. This is good advice for all of you: Take the time to make sure your current marketing messages will not offend in these particularly sensitive times.

If you're a regular Entrepreneur reader, you know my affection for the New York Yankees, so I was especially excited to meet ex-Yankee catcher (and current entrepreneur) Rick Cerone (not to mention the autograph I got for my nephew, which will enshrine me in the Great Aunts Hall of Fame). Rick founded the Newark Bears, a minor league baseball team, about two years ago and, like most entrepreneurs, is not quite making his projected numbers this year. But in his enthusiastic remarks, Rick shared his optimistic outlook. And he reminded the crowd that if he can do it, they can, too. "Not everyone can hit a Nolan Ryan 100-mile-per-hour fastball," Cerone said, "but anyone can succeed in their own business."

It is not an easy time to be an entrepreneur. But as someone once said, "That which challenges us only makes us stronger." And I firmly believe that's so. Jane Applegate pulled BOTA together in about six weeks, an unbelievable feat. She succeeded because she and her staff know how important BOTA is; they understand how desperately the nation's entrepreneurs are craving information, inspiration and support. You can keep up with BOTA at www.backontrackamerica.com.

It is important for all of us to remember that a bit more than a decade ago, the United States was mired in a recession. It was you, the nation's entrepreneurs, who pulled us out of those tough times. And it will be you who do it again. Economic recoveries are not built from the top down; they are created from the bottom up. We need programs and plans to help entrepreneurs do what they do best: build businesses, create jobs and contribute to the overall financial well-being of our nation. After all, you are the engine that drives the economy, and please don't let anyone try to tell you differently.

I'll be back on the road with BOTA in January from California. Talk to you then.

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