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Tuesday, 03 April 2012 09:52

Google lends small biz a hand

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GRAND RAPIDS — Joe Pohlen, 25, is a student at Grand Valley State University by day and an entrepreneur by night. What he lacked to help his second job — exporting surplus medical supplies to Nicaragua and importing cacao powder in those same bags back to the United States — was a website to help get the word out.

Thanks to an innovative program sponsored by Google, Intuit and the Michigan Small Business and Technology Development Center, he built a new website for his import-export business that didn’t cost him a dime.

For the first time in Michigan, Google offered its “Get Your Business Online” workshop at Grand Valley State University’s Pew campus in Grand Rapids in early March. Some 50 local business people attended the morning session, followed by a similar number of people in the afternoon. According to Google’s Baca Ginsberg, manager of communications and public relations, 97 percent of people surf online for products and services, but 59 percent of Michigan small businesses do not have a website or any online presence.

“If you’re going online and searching for a plumber in Grand Rapids, that’s bad for the users, bad for the plumber and bad for Google if the plumber doesn’t have a web presence,” Ginsberg said in a telephone interview from her New York office. “We want people to find local businesses when they search for them online. We want them to use Google for that search.”

Google is offering the training free of charge, as well as a year of free web hosting. Ginsberg wouldn’t comment on the program’s cost to the company.

“We don’t talk about costs, but we feel like it’s a good investment for Google and a good investment for the community, plus we like to work with local partners, like the MI-SBTDC,” she said.

Jennifer DeamudThe MI-SBTDC blends the Google training program with the state’s Pure Michigan Business Connect, said Jennifer Deamud, MI-SBTDC’s associate state director who is responsible for creating and developing communication strategies for the state headquarters in Grand Rapids and the 12-region network. She said MI-SBTDC will launch similar workshops later this year throughout Michigan, including in Lansing, Kalamazoo, Lapeer, Flint, Genesee County and at different cities in Southeast Michigan.

Deamud described the attendees as business owners, others who wanted to make their websites better, or set up their first business website. Some of the attendees also were entrepreneurs who wanted to create a second job on the side — entrepreneurs like Pohlen.

The GVSU student spent the morning session creating his new brochure website. He named it His self-designed website shows the benefits and ways to use cacao.

“My girlfriend imports cacao powder from Nicaragua,” Pohlen said. “The exports supplement her income so she can continue to run her medical supplies to Nicaragua. The beans are shipped back here in the same bags that we use to ship surplus medical supplies to Central America. The program represented a great way to jump start this opportunity. ”

For Pam Daugavietis, 69, the Google training program offered her a better way to sell her book, “In Through the Eyes of a Child: The Story of Helen DeVos Children’s Hospital.” All profits from the sale of this book will help support Spectrum Health’s Center for Child Protection at Helen DeVos Children’s Hospital. But the sales so far have been confined to bricks and mortar retailers, such as Schuler’s Books and Music.

“I’m here today and I’ll go home and in less than two hours later I’ll have a website,” she said.

Paige Brockmyre, 46, a media strategist, created her own consulting business in Spring Lake, called MadDog Social Media, after she landed her first corporate client in November 2011. She wanted to use the Internet to hang out her shingle to the world.

“This platform is fantastic and simpler to use than others,” Brockmyre said. “I wanted a brochure site with external links to help me generate SEO (Search Engine Optimization). Now I have a three-page website to do that, and it didn’t cost me a thing.”

Mike Brennan is senior technology writer for MiBiz. His day job is editor and publisher of

Read 1910 times Last modified on Sunday, 12 August 2012 09:58

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