LAKEWOOD RANCH -- They call themselves Interpreneurs.
Crammed inside a classroom at Everglades University Thursday, about 60 small business owners, entrepreneurs and web page designers listened intently to learn how to optimize their websites. The lesson is the latest topic being discussed by the Internet Marketing Mastermind Group of Sarasota, which meets every Thursday at the university and serves as a resource for Internet marketing.
"We're here to help each other learn about marketing on the Internet," says Andre Kasberger, the group's founder and organizer. "There are no sales pitches. The idea is to help each other."
Throughout the 90-minute session, attendees periodically chime in on the lesson led by Sarasota-based Internet consultant Andrew Metz. They ask about the benefit of blogging, how to expand their brand ethically and overall best management practices. At the conclusion of the lesson, they enthusiastically ask Metz to return for a workshop in the near future.
"There's such a demand for people to learn how to market their business wisely online," said Julie Larson, a former insurance saleswoman who started an online company after joining the group.
Kasberger, a Sarasota resident and Internet marketing consultant, created the group two years ago after witnessing the success of a similar group in Tampa. As a member of Tampa Bay Business Owners, Kasberger would travel to Tampa weekly to discuss online marketing ideas.
"After a year or so, I said, "Why not start something here," he said.
The original group, about eight people, met weekly at a restaurant. But through word of mouth and a listing on MeetUp.com, a site that allows users to organize gatherings, it tripled in size.
"I thought it was a business card exchange group," said Larson, one of the first to attend the weekly sessions. "Then I got really drawn into online marketing."
To accommodate the growing class, Kasberger moved the sessions to Everglades University last year. The university lends space to the group at no
charge. The sessions are free but there is a fee to attend workshops.
At meetings, attendees learn how to start an online business and how to bring and increase traffic to their site.
"We look at this as a community service," Kasberger said. "People have started new careers by attending this."
Information on the group can be found at www.myinternetsuccessgroup.com.
"A lot of them are pursuing their dreams," Kasberger said. "It's something they always wanted to do."
Nick Williams, East Manatee reporter, can be reached at 941-748-0411 ext. 7049. Twitter:@_1NickWilliams.