Help 101 event offers more than just job advice

NASHUA – Finding help when times are tough isn’t easy.

Whether it’s attracting customers to a struggling business or finding work when you are unemployed – sometimes being in the right place at the right time is all that matters.

For some, Sky Meadow Country Club in Nashua on Tuesday was the right place and the right time.

The Help 101 career fair brought together employers, but also a slew of business and marketing experts that were available to give advice and ideas to both job seekers and small business owners. It also offered about a half-dozen seminars for those business people on things such as marketing, 401(k) and other retirement plans and a financial question-and-answer period.

Marie Schulmann, a Nashua resident, was laid off from Hewlett-Packard two years ago. So far, things aren’t going too well. Pickings are slim in her area of expertise, high technology and service delivery systems.

“There’s a lot of consolidation in that area so it’s very slow,” she said.

Hard Times

She had been tinkering with the idea of starting her own business, which may be an even more difficult challenge.

“I couldn’t find anything, and in this economy I’m glad I didn’t,” she said.

Now, she’s on the hunt for a new position and came to Help 101 to attend some of the seminars and hone her skills.

The event was held as part of the newspaper’s yearlong economy project, Hard times: Reasons & remedies. As many as 500 people were expected to attend throughout the day.

Remedies were exactly what Gail Perkins, of New Hampshire Safes and Locks, was looking for. After operating in Nashua for more than three decades, the current economic collapse has Perkins looking for new ways to get customers in the door, so seminars like Web Marketing 101 and Guerilla Marketing were right up her alley.

“It’s something we’re very interested in getting into,” Perkins said. “Our customers have slowed down, so it’s time to learn some new marketing ideas.”

Sy Mahfuz, the owner of Persian Rug Galleries in Nashua, conducted a seminar on how to attract and keep customers. About five years ago he, and a partner, Steve Boodakian, formed MERA Consulting Group to help businesses find unique and effective ways to market themselves.

Mahfuz said businesses, especially smaller ones, are more interested in hearing what he and Boodakian have to say, as the business climate gets tougher.

“Small businesses and big are saying they need someone like us,” Mahfuz said. “I’ve been surprised at the number of small businesses that are investing in people like us.”

Wes Labelle, a trainer and broker at Banker’s Life, said interest in job and career fairs like Help 101 has skyrocketed since the economy nosedived. Previously, he would receive five to 10 resumes at events like Help 101, Labelle said, but these days he often gets as many as 40.

“It’s definitely grown significantly over years past,” he said.

Several business people, including Labelle, were prepared to just share their expertise. Shelly Gillis, an Edward Jones financial adviser, said she typically meets many people at similar fairs with questions and concerns about what they should be doing with their money.

“There are a lot more people that need help,” Gillis said. “A lot of people have tried to go it alone and they’re questioning their decisions. People are really seeking assistance more so than they were before.”

Thousands of layoffs in recent months have left many with a heightened interest in being their own boss.

Maureen Wholey, a market sales leader at AllState insurance, was looking for people interested in opening an AllState office or buying an existing one. She said, while the insurance industry is somewhat recession-proof, interest has been high from people recently laid off and craving more independence.

“There are a lot of people interested in getting into the business,” Wholey said.

Paul McGaunn is a counselor at SCORE, a nonprofit that offers free counseling services to small business owners. He said the agency’s caseload has roughly doubled in the last year, and many of those clients are people looking to start their own businesses.

“It’s a great time to plan, to make sure you’re putting together a comprehensive business plan,” McGaunn said.

Other SCORE employees were conducting counseling sessions at the fair.

John Armenio, The Telegraph’s director of retail sales and events, said Help 101 was conceived to replace the paper’s annual spring career fair. Even more than jobs search help, people need help developing skills to market themselves and business owners need help finding and keep customers.

“We thought we’d tie it into the hard times remedies,” Armenio said. “We wanted to get the point across that it’s not just a career fair but a help expo for people and businesses. We’re here to help. It’s something we can offer to the businesses in our community.