By Erika Webb
Who doesn't want to own their own business?
No punching a clock or being chained to a desk in a beige office all day long, and no one micromanaging or bellowing orders.
The fruits of your labor all belong to you, right?
Well, maybe in theory, but there is always another side to the coin.
Small business owners, even in an exploding-in-popularity shopping and dining district like downtown DeLand, face challenges.
The inaugural meeting of the Build Your Own Business Group Aug. 7 drew several business owners and employees to discuss obstacles and concerns and to exchange ideas.
Ian Ellison, a retired corporate CEO with experience in economic development and who ran two chambers of commerce in Northern Phoenix, Ariz., led the meeting.
He moved to DeLand in 2013.
"He approached us and said he wants to work with Mainstreet," said Mainstreet DeLand Association Board Member and 2014 Economic Restructuring Committee Chair Geof Felton. "We talked to him and he sounded like a good guy that would do good things for our city."
Chambers of commerce and merchants' associations tend to lack business development programs, Mr. Ellison said in a phone interview.
"Really, Mainstreet had nothing in the way of business development to help merchants' businesses," he said. "This was something I'd done for many years so we talked about it and set up a program."
With around 15 people showing up at the first meeting, Mr. Ellison said the group is off to a "very good start."
The business owner meetings are at 8:30 a.m. the first Thursday of each month in the Mainstreet conference room.
Mr. Felton, a Realtor with Gordin and Gordin Real Estate in DeLand, said a fairly small core group will come together to discuss common and personal issues and goals.
"From there we'll see if we can grow as a community," he said.
On the third Thursday of each month an educational presentation featuring various experts will be offered.
On Aug. 21 at Cook's Café Restaurant, Vickie Pleus, president of VP Communications, explained how small businesses can best engage in strategic social media marketing, and how they can avoid common pitfalls and misuses.
She shared how business owners can identify social media goals; how to build an audience on social media without paying for it; the best uses of Facebook advertising dollars and identifying the most effective kinds of posts.
The educational programs are designed to inform any member of a business, not just the owner, Mr. Felton explained.
"Anybody's welcome," he said.
Social media and merchant services were two main topics brought up at the BYBG inaugural meeting, according to Mr. Felton.
"So we'll be working on those over the next few weeks," he said.
Nearly 20 people showed up to hear what Mrs. Pleus had to say.
Lisa Yetter, of Lisa Yetter Photography in DeLand, already knew what to expect. Several years ago she took Mrs. Pleus' advice and her business has prospered as a result.
"I was photographing children and families," Ms. Yetter said. "She advised me to add commercial and it made a big difference. She also suggested a name change."
Ms. Yetter widely utilizes the Internet to get that name out there and it's working, she said.
Following the presentation, the air was charged with enthusiasm and several businesspeople lingered to converse before leaving to get down to business.
Less than an hour later DeLand Realtor, photographer, Mainstreet executive board member -- and good direction follower -- Arnette Sherman posted on her Facebook page:
"Thanks Vickie for a great program! Just had a good meeting with Vickie Pleus about social media for our business -- at MainStreet DeLand Association."
"I felt this was interesting and I did learn how to broaden our audience on our Facebook page," she explained in an email. "It was as I thought, that photos help get more exposure and of course I like taking photos."
"I already got a boost on our page by posting a selfie with Vickie after the meeting." Mrs. Sherman added.
The first-Thursday small group gathering in an intimate setting fosters an environment of trust in which business owners feel comfortable expressing ideas and concerns they might not want made public, Mr. Felton explained.
"I felt like everybody felt comfortable and will be coming back," he said.