OXFORD — Some companies that are starting to incorporate social media as part of their business strategy might believe merely setting up a Facebook page will attract customers, say a pair of entrepreneurs who caution against such thinking.

“You cannot just build something and hope they will come,” says Erik Granato, who along with business partner Bill DeRosa officially launched Talking Finger as an LLC in October 2010. Their enterprise helps companies delve into social-medial marketing by developing a plan to attract potential customers to social media sites, effectively interact with them and, ultimately, add and keep them as loyal consumers.

“People do business with people they know. It allows them to connect,” says DeRosa about the marketing potential of Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, LinkedIn and other social media. “It’s building relationships, the engagement.”

Constant interaction is important, notes Granato. He says major elements of Talking Finger services include “understanding your audience, knowing what you’re going to say and the times you’re going to say it, learning how to respond to comments. We provide a day-to-day operational social plan so that you are effectively using this medium to its maximum.”

That doesn’t mean businesses should discard their traditional marketing techniques, says DeRosa.

“Too many people separate them,” he says. “But the traditional and the social can work together.”

“We really work with the interaction of social media marketing with other types of marketing,” Granato adds.

Granato and DeRosa have years of experience in online and traditional communication. DeRosa’s career in marketing and advertising spans more than 20 years. He’s helped companies emerge and expand through corporate branding campaigns, providing trade show graphics and displays, and utilizing other types of traditional media.

Granato has worked in marketing and advertising for about two decades as well. He has helped companies increase their exposure through online marketing as well as print and direct-mail promotions.

The two decided to start Talking Finger (the name refers to the human digit that drives communication on mobile devices) after realizing the tremendous impact of social media and its potential for marketing.

“Sixty-eight percent of the U.S. is on Facebook for at least one hour a day. It’s such a deep penetration of people,” says DeRosa, adding, “I have teenage children and I see the way they’re connecting to businesses. They’re using social platforms to even search for businesses. They want to see not only what the business says, but they want to see what other people say about the business as well, the word-of-mouth.”

The tech-based pair already had about a half-dozen computers between them, which helped keep start-up costs low. The owners completely funded the business themselves and own all of its assets, notes Granato. They have four employees: one full-time and one part-time, as well as two interns. Much of their revenue is reinvested into the business, says DeRosa.

 “Our initial start-up cost was about $1,200, and that was paid back just under 60 days,” through client fees, DeRosa says. Among Talking Fingers’ clients are both nonprofits and commercial businesses, including the Bridgeport Sound Tigers hockey club.

“Social media is the marketing tool that businesses can use when the end user is not looking at print, to stay in front of the end-user,” Granato says. “It’s a way for you to get your message out when folks are not seeing your traditional marketing efforts.”

The question is not whether businesses should invest in effective social media marketing campaigns, but how to develop a plan, they insist.

“If your competitors are doing it and you’re not, expect to lose market share,” says Granato.

“You need continual engagement,” adds DeRosa, “that personal relationship for continuity. [Social media marketing] helps provide the tools that allow you to do that.”

 

To learn more about Talking Finger, visit the company’s Facebook page at facebook.com/talkingfinger.

 

 Community banks fuel uptick, officials say

 

HARTFORD — U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) lending in Connecticut increased significantly in the fiscal year ending September 30. SBA-backed loan volume rose 28.3 percent to $281.9 million for the 2011 fiscal year. That sum was spread over 737 individual loans, comparing favorably with the 698 borrowers who received $202.1 million in 2010.

The average loan size also rose year over year, from $28,939 in fiscal 2010 to $38,263 for the year just ended.

SBA officials say the increase in the dollar and volume of loans indicates positive activity within Connecticut’s financial industry as banks begin to write more loans and small businesses are finding it easier to approach lenders. The increase in activity is not unique to Connecticut, as many other New England states are benefiting from the impact of SBA lending and the economic stimulus efforts.   

“Connecticut is a state comprised of many community-based banks, which are both large and small banks,” said Connecticut SBA District Director Bernard M. Sweeney. “Over the last year the Connecticut SBA office has strived to build partnerships between financial institutions, small businesses and state [government].

“Some banks have recently announced expanding small-business lending initiatives, which is a good sign for the Connecticut economy and we look forward to more banks announcing a strong commitment to lending to small businesses,” Sweeney added. “This is the right step in building on a trend of working together to make funds available to qualified borrowers.” 

Top SBA lenders for fiscal 2011 included Webster Bank, Farmington Bank, RBS Citizens and TD Bank. The Connecticut Community Investment Corp. (CTCIC) again ranked number one in SBA’s 504 real estate loan program.  Fairfield County Bank and Union Savings Bank were also among those SBA lenders who for the second consecutive year ranked among the top SBA lenders.

SBA and Connecticut’s Small Business Key to the Future will co-host the annual SBA lenders award ceremonies at the Trumbull Marriott Merritt Parkway Hotel on November 15. For more information on attending the event phone 860-240-4654 or e-mail mThis email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

For more information on SBA programs and services for small businesses in Connecticut, call 860-240-4700 or visit the SBA website at sba.gov/ct.


FAIRFIELD — John Tejada has been living his fantasies by wielding a sword for the past 25 years.

 

“I don’t care who you are. At some point in your life you saw a movie or a play and you wanted to become a pirate,” says Tejada about how (depending on one’s age) the inner Robin Hood, or Zorro, or Luke Skywalker, or Jack Sparrow or some other rakish adventurer emerges.

 

“For me, it’s sword fighting,” Tejada says. “You have to have a little swashbuckling, a little cowboys-and-Indians.”

 

Today Tejada shares the passion he discovered at age ten with up-and-coming swashbucklers. Three months ago he opened the Fairfield Fencing Academy. Located at 85 Mill Plain Road, it currently serves about 100 youth and adult students.

 

“I get to spend my day hitting people in the head with a sword. You want to hit someone in the chest and not get in trouble for it,” jokes Tejada, an all-around sportsman whose other sports include swimming and basketball. He’s also an experienced equestrian. But from the time he grabbed a broadsword for the first time while taking a fencing class as an elective in sixth grade, he’s favored the sport.

 

In addition to the bodily workout fencing provides, “it’s the mental aspect of it as well that’s so prominent. It’s physical chess,” says Tejada about the personal satisfaction he derives from fencing.

 

A communications major in college, Tejada, 34, has worked at places such as WABC-TV news in New York, WFSB-TV in Hartford and ESPN. He has continued fencing over the years, earning personal achievements and coaching school and community teams to unprecedented victories.

 

At New Jersey’s Ramapo High School, for  example, Tejada coached a previously losing team to four consecutive district championships. A Brooklyn native who relocated to Connecticut in 2005, Tejada also coached in Fairfield County before starting the academy. Under his guidance, for example, high school fencing teams in Fairfield have earned top state honors.

 

His teaching approach is a mix of discipline and infectious enthusiasm for the sport.

 

“If you’re not having fun, don’t to it,” Tejada advises students. “There are so many other things in this world we have to do that we don’t want to do.” 

 

The academy is Tejada’s first business venture. When he decided to start his own company he had little money and, he admits, even less business acumen. He was fortunate to have investors with both, along with a belief in the benefits of the sport he taught. Several he knew personally, which spared Tejada from what could have been an uphill battle of seeking start-up capital from recession-spooked financial institutions.

 

“I have a total of six investors. Five are parents of students — and three started taking lessons,” says Tejada, adding that he sent a letter to parents asking their opinions about the feasibility of opening an academy. When a planned deal in Wilton fell through, several parents jumped in to help. “My investors said, ‘We’ll do it ourselves,’” recalls Tejada.

 

“To be honest,” he says, “I know nothing about running a business. So I’ve been leaning on my investors. They’re really good investors who’ve been helping me out. I’m not a great businessman yet, but they’re going to turn me into one.”

 

At the same time, Tejada is turning dozens of clients who previously sat on the fence about the sport, so to speak, into active participants.

 

“Numerous people tell me ‘It’s on my bucket list’” before taking the leap and then, once lessons begin, slash the item off their wish list of adventuresome undertakings, says Tejada.

 

For more information about the Fairfield Fencing Academy, visit fairfieldfencingacademy.com.