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At first glance, Pinterest seems like just yet another social media site. The neatly-designed grid allows users to “pin” and “like” visually-appealing images. They appear on virtual bulletin boards that users can rename and edit into categories such as “favorite places and spaces,” “products I love,” and “for the home.” Many people share recipes and organize wedding plans on Pinterest. They also showcase their inner tastmaker, hobbies and artist.

Essentially, the Pinterest platform is a collection of “best kept secrets” and beloved retail items. Conveniently for the loved brands, both big and small, Pinterest users have voluntarily agreed to promote products and services for free. The professional possibilities for a Pinterest profile are promising—especially for small business owners and entrepreneurs.

Graphic and interior designers, photographers and illustrators have already begun pinning their work to craft sample storyboards, palates and mood boards that display their products and services, while also exhibiting their personal style, aesthetic and personality.

When presented like a portfolio, Pinterest is a great tool for potential clients and referrals to check out a vendor prior to contacting them for work. “It’s a great way to show inspiration, and is also good for seeing what direction my tastes in style has taken,” says Web designer Manon Michel. “I use Pinterest for seeing what other people are interested in, what colors people are drawn to, and what products they love.” You don’t have to be an artist to benefit from the site, however. We spoke with a few small businesses owners about how they are using the new, rapidly-growing platform.

The fashion retailer: Boutiika Ruchika Kumar is the founder of Boutiika.com, an e-commerce site that provides online fashion retail research for better offline purchasing, who uses Pinterest as a “lookbook.” “Each week we pin all of the new items onto a ‘New this week’ board,” says Kumar. “We then separate those items into various categories: dresses, skirts, tops, vintage, locally made, etc. and curate them into outfits and other collections. Pinterest is [driving] traffic to the site, and is helping us keep our photos organized.”

While Pinterest is still too new to measure specifics over a period of time, Kumar found keeping track of the number of times her pins were repinned, rewarding. “We have been getting re-pinned hundreds of times,” says Kumar. “When Pinterest users click on them, it takes them directly to Boutiika.com, making it one of the most effective social media tools at converting traffic. Our very first curated outfit, a casual pair of brown jeans with a silk blouse, and a patterned sweater, all from local San Francisco boutiques, got 27 re-pins and 7 likes in a matter of minutes.”

The niche online specialty food spot: Biscuits by Lambchop Annette Frey has found a very specialized niche: she owns an online gluten-free dog biscuit shop, called Biscuits by Lambchop. “So far I’ve created a ‘canine confections’ and feeding board to illustrate what we do and what we are all about,” says Frey. “I’ve included things I use either for ingredients and equipment for baking dog biscuits and/or what I am generally feeding my dog to promote the healthy doggie lifestyle we are all about. [I plan to] illustrate more about individual ingredients, recipes, and some how-to’s on feeding. [For me Pinterest is] a visual blog, and like any business blog, you want to give, share or teach your viewers something of value.

Frey began using Pinterest a month ago and says it is the fifth referral source on her Google analytics with a 50 percent rate of new visitors and a “respectable” bounce rate, which is the average time spent on the website and pages viewed. “I would say I am ‘repinned’ or my pins are ‘liked’ anywhere between 5-20/day, says Frey.”

The Expert – Lyneka Little and Shira Levine As a freelance business, travel, luxury and popular culture writer, I’ve been using Pinterest to demonstrate my expertise by including fun, short informational anecdotes on the site. This offers readers and potential clients a quick glimpse of my expertise in these categories.

Lyneka Little, a freelance business and tech reporter, uses Pinterest to focus her career on emerging new media platforms. “I decided to showcase my ability to aggregate the hottest technology news using Pinterest,” says Little. “The hottest social media website has been mistakenly identified as just a tool for showing pretty pictures and shopping, when, in fact, it’s one of the easiest methods for show news.

Unlike news readers, Pinterest requires active engagement to share, and that makes it an appealing tool for me. I can choose what I like from across the Web and Pinterest users—not friends—can make a call on my judgment based on the category I choose.” For Little it is about demonstrating how she engages with news and media. When applying for a job recently, she including the link to her Pinterest account in her cover letter to also show her news judgement. “One board that I’m particularly proud of is my ‘Netflix Instant Movies to Watch.’ Let’s face it, we can’t rely on ratings and likes anymore, because they’re easily received. The ability to look at someone’s taste using one social tool is amazing.”

Shira Levine / Member since 2009

Shira Levine is a small business columnist and travel, luxury and popular culture writer. She contributes to New York, Whole Living, FoxNews.com, Endless Vacation, Accent and Forum magazines. She previously wrote, “The Real Estate Voyeur” column for Metro newspaper and was a regular contributor to AOL’s real estate, travel and luxury pages. She lives in New York City.