March is recognized nationwide as Women's History Month, and the Walton County Chamber of Commerce did its part this week in saluting area women who make a difference in the community.



Wednesday morning, the Chamber hosted a Women in Business Symposium at the Hilton Sandestin with a variety of speakers who encouraged others in their journey.



A panel moderated by Myra Williams and comprised of Nicole Scott, owner of Scott Social PR; Lori Smith, marketing and public relations director at Seaside; Susan Benton, owner of 30A Eats; and Cynthia Kennedy, representing 30A.com, came to the table first to speak on the current trends in social media and marketing, and shared some of their insights gleaned through personal experience.



Benton opened by speaking of the importance of branding.



"Consider your strengths, think about the audience you want to reach, and deliver well to that audience," she said. "Create a legacy."



Scott said to consider what you want to portray about your business when choosing colors, whether cool or warm, develop a logo, and keep it the same.



"Your brand is your promise to your customers," she said, advising those gathered to keep it simple and be consistent. "You can't be disoriented. Being consistent helps maintain your edge. It helps you say who you are in simple, concise terms."



Kennedy added, "Make sure you know who you are. A brand or logo is an extension of you."



Smith said when interacting through social media, "It's not what you know, but how you share it."



Smith also highlighted some of the pitfalls of social media.



 "Not doing your research on your target customer, and putting out too much info on sites such as Facebook so that it becomes like spam instead of valuable information,” she said. “When you do that, trust goes down."



Scott agreed that it's important to be relevant.



In getting their message out, tools of the trade are Facebook, Twitter, Linkedin, Instagram, and blogging.



Benton also works with other bloggers like herself. 



Smith warned it's important to have value when you blog and that it be an extension of something you already are.



Scott agreed: "Have quality over quantity."



In closing, Benton reiterated: "Set the tone and stay true to yourself and your brand and message."



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These four women were followed by a Women in Business Leadership Panel comprised of Nina Jeffords, COO of Sacred Heart Hospital; Sharon Triplett of the University of West Florida Small Business Development Center; and Pat Blackshear, owner of Blackshear Planning, who spoke to women who are trying to find their way in the world of business.



"Be passionate about what you do, take time to rest your mind, and find balance through faith," advised Jeffords.



Triplett agreed. "Take time for yourself each morning. And if you find yourself at a place you don't want to be, make a plan, and make some changes or you'll never find your balance."



Jeffords attributes her success to having excellent mentors, coaches, and people who believed in her.



"Know yourself, grow spiritually and mentally, and be willing to take risks," she said. "Take failure as an opportunity to grow. Network; talk to people you admire, and live your values in the work place with integrity."



Blackshear also credited her mentors with her success — mentors who lent their support, pushed her to be the best she could be, and to do the right thing.



For her success, Triplett credits her education.



"Never stop learning, and don't be a 'yes' person. Stand up for what you believe and stand firm. People will respect you for it. Be an independent thinker, take a stand, but be gracious," she said.



The trio also offered advice to other women pursuing leadership roles in the business world.



"Look at your strengths and weaknesses, and attack your weaknesses so that others can see you're determined to succeed," advised Triplett. "You can't just rely on your strengths, because your weaknesses will come out. Sit down with a mentor and outline a plan, then chip away at it. Don't say it's too late. Find out where you are in the seasons of life, and love what you do."



One resource that helped her find clarity was reading the book "Hope For The Flowers."



Speaking from her experience, Blackshear said, "Don't be afraid to start your own business. Make up your mind, be educated, network, apply yourself, and don't be afraid."



And two things they all agreed on in closing: find a mentor and be passionate.