TIPS FOR BUSINESS OWNERS: Marc Willson met with local business owners during a series of workshops at the Old Market on Main on Tuesday. Willson offers seminars on how small business owners can boost sales. (Staff photo by Steve Dickerson/sdickerson@madisoncourier.com)
TIPS FOR BUSINESS OWNERS: Marc Willson met with local business owners during a series of workshops at the Old Market on Main on Tuesday. Willson offers seminars on how small business owners can boost sales. (Staff photo by Steve Dickerson/sdickerson@madisoncourier.com)
A group of local merchants Tuesday listened closely - some even taking notes - while longtime entrepreneur Marc Willson discussed tactics for sustaining successful small businesses.

Willson gave two seminars at the Old Market on Main building, one on window dressing and signage and another on holiday sales. The event, part of the Madison Main Street business workshop series, continues today, with discussions on restaurants and then how towns, events and merchants can partner.

"This is my wheelhouse," Willson said referring to towns the size of Madison. "Small towns; Main Streets with mom and pop shops."

Willson worked in retail and restaurants for about 40 years. He's been giving seminars as a consultant with the Virginia Small Business Development Corporation for the past six years.

He starts nearly every seminar with five steps on how small business owners can expose their businesses. One of his favorite tactics is using Tripadvisor, an online forum and mobile app on which visitors can discover - and review - restaurants, shops, hotels, etc.

Willson visited Madison in February and gave a similar talk. Since then, he said local businesses have expanded their online presence, especially with Tripadvisor and social media.

Libby Mann, owner of Broadway Hotel and Livery Stable, attended Tuesday's session. She said the workshop allows her to network with other local businesses, as well as find ways to increase her own business presence.

Mann said she uses an online presence to attract new visitors. In recent years, she has seen more families from regional cities such as Indianapolis, Cincinnati and even Chicago on extended weekend trips.

"It's surprising how much the social media has put us on the map," she said.

Today's seminars will be at 8 a.m. and again at 11:30 a.m. at the Old Market on Main.