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Updated: April 3, 2023 Shop Talk

Q&A: Marketer launches entrepreneur conference

A portrait Jennifer Hernandez Photo | courtesy of GEM Marketing Solutions Jennifer Hernandez is the owner of GEM Marketing Solutions in Worcester.

Jennifer Hernandez would drive to her job in Shrewsbury working for the University of Massachusetts as a marketer for the school’s online programs, and she’d see businesses opening and closing on Worcester’s Shrewsbury Street. She noticed how quickly a restaurant or store would open and shutter with little-to-no fanfare and, as a lifelong Worcester resident, she grew frustrated. She saw the opportunity the businesses had and all the unrealized potential they were leaving behind because they had no way to reach the outside world, beyond the signs they put on their buildings. For 10 years, Hernandez watched as the same pattern happened over and over again, and eventually she decided to strike out on her own to bring a local marketing angle to small businesses in the city she loves.

In 2016, Hernandez opened GEM Marketing Solutions and has solidified a stable roster of clients in and around the city. Her small business offers help with getting businesses an online presence, website design, and social media marketing. She helps clients work on their tone and their ability to reach people. Now, she’s trying to connect the city by hosting her first Self-Made Entrepreneur Conference 2023 in September at Worcester’s DCU Center.

Information about Jennifer Hernandez.
Jennifer Hernandez's bio box.

What were small businesses missing?

I didn't know what the problem was, but I knew I had a solution to help get more exposure, more eyes on these businesses. What I've learned is business owners know what they know: They know how to make cakes; they know how to build houses; they know how to landscape a yard beautifully; but they don't know how to market. My goal is to let business owners do what they do a really good job at and let my staff help them fill the gaps. That was the real driver: to bring more exposure to businesses, using my skillset, because that's probably what they’re lacking.

Sometimes, people expect when they're opening their doors that people are just going to come, and that's not the way it works.

How has marketing for local businesses changed since you started?

Local businesses within our city, they're definitely adopting an online presence more. They're understanding the value of how people are making decisions these days. People make decisions by going on Google, looking at reviews. Business owners are being more intentional and careful about trying to get reviews for their businesses. They're understanding the value of being on social media because that's a main way people make decisions.

Business owners are finding the value of being online and understanding word of mouth doesn't work these days. Word of mouth is great, and referrals are great; but you need to take control of your online presence. To fill your pipeline of customers, you need to tell your story. Take advantage of these online platforms to show people what you want them to know about your business. Make it easy for them.

Tell me about your conference.

In my journey of working with small business owners and entrepreneurs, I definitely noticed a gap within the journey of entrepreneurship. There's a gap of needing different education, needing different connections, needing different things to grow, and to get to the next level. I'm launching our first annual Self-Made Entrepreneur Conference at the DCU Center on Sept. 13th. Our goal is to provide inspiration, education, connection, and motivation to entrepreneurs to get them to the next level.

That's going to include multiple keynote speakers, more than 20 breakout sessions, and an entrepreneur resource center full of organizations supporting small businesses, like banks, consultants, bookkeepers.

What's next for GEM?

We're busy with clients. This conference is going to definitely be an annual legacy event for GEM. We're going to push, trying to grow it and make it have a bigger impact each year. That's going to be a big focus, while continually trying to be the go-to marketing agency in Worcester.

We understand Worcester. We are Worcester, and we want it to succeed.

This interview was conducted and edited for length and clarity by WBJ Staff Writer Kevin Koczwara.

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