Monday, October 3, 2011

Feeling Organic?

When the Tisbert family, owners of Valley Dream Organic Produce Farm, announced one sunny August afternoon that they'd always wanted to sponsor some sort of festival, I didn't allow them to think twice. I jumped in and said "I'll take care of it" and away we went. Not two months later the family and I stood in a vast hay-field in the rain ... shivering ... freezing our butts off ... and grinning ear to ear. Success. Rainy, freezy, fabulous success! Now I'm well aware that everyone in town isn't necessarily living the organic lifestyle. Actually, according to only 58% of consumers prefer organic foods, and only about half of that actually go so far as to purchase organic foods. (Sorry for the factoid - I was honestly curious) Anyone who attended the festival will tell you, this wasn't some crunchy granola sales pitch trying to push the organic lifestyle. No - this was a big fat fabulous party designed to celebrate something that is very important to the Tisbert family and incidentally has become very important to me: supporting local growers, local businesses, local artists.

Despite unconscionably low temperatures, constant drizzle and plenty of mud, nearly 20 local vendors showed up to make the best of what the festival had to offer. On a poor-weather day like this, vendor and entertainment no shows are usually an event's greatest downfall. Not in this case. I was thrilled and amazed to see 90% of our vendors turn out, and both entertainers - despite the misery of the situation. Every one of them put on a wide smile (and a pair of muck boots)and got to work setting out their wares, whether it be canned produce, steaming hot beverages or hand-made arts and crafts. TWO woodworkers arrived, both setting up shop with extensive furniture displays as well as workbenches and tools. I was amazed to see the lengths to which each of our event vendors went to make the best of the day and provide the best experience for those brave souls who arrived to partake in the festivities.

Speaking of brave souls - did you SEE the Potato Sack Fashion Show!? The rivalry was narrowed to only the most serious of competitors - an ice cold downpour will do that - and the competition was on. From hand-sewn purses and hairbands to a wedding gown with a train, each of our fashion show entrants gave it their all and had an absolute blast doing it. It was SO HARD choosing just one winner and one runner up - I wanted to award everyone for their hard work and dedication! Special thanks to everyone who struggled through cutting and stitching that miserable itchy burlap - even if you didn't make it to the show.

Peter "Professor Fairbanks" Miller strummed a wicked fiddle - he's my new favorite musician. Tammy Fletcher rocked the house. It was fabulous to see community members Deb Nevil and Stephen Morabito out there cuttin' the ... grass, and enjoying the music. Raffle prizes were awarded to ecstatic neighbors, contest winners jumped for joy - applesauce everywhere, by the way.

Despite the understandably low attendance - we saw roughly 80 people that day, everyone involved is raring to get involved again next year. Will there be a next year? Do you even need to ask?

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

The Top Ten Mistakes Most Businesses Make

I attended this fantastic marketing workshop today. It was sponsored by the Vermont SBDC and Lamoille Economic Development Corp., and the speaker was a woman named Amy Mattinat, who is the unlikely owner of Auto Craftsmen car repair in Montpelier. I have to say, I've sat through a multitude of marketing workshops, some better than others, and I found this one to be incredibly helpful and more than worth the $25 fee. Plus, duh, they offered free donuts and coffee.

I'd like to share a smidgen of what I learned today. Below are the top 10 mistakes most businesses make.

#10: Continuing to do something the same way but expecting different results. Consequently, this is also the definition of insanity.

#9: Trying to reinvent the wheel.

#8: Not spending time on marketing.

#7: Not understanding that marketing is math. Track your numbers!

#6: Not having a marketing plan and not keeping it flexible.

#5: Copying your competitors ... just because.

#4: Marketing too big or to the wrong target market. Also known as 'shotgun advertising.'

#3: Using the wrong media or choosing media advertising over your own current and prospective clients list.

#2: Image advertising versus call to action advertising.

#1: Not staying in touch with your current and past clients. (Your biggest fans)

Friday, May 6, 2011

Is Online Marketing Right for You?

How do you know whether your business needs online marketing? First and foremost, you need to answer some questions about your business.

1. What are you selling? Are you selling a product? A service? Or an upcoming event?

Flat out, services are hard to sell. You can be the best landscaper in New England but the fact will always remain that unless a consumer is already looking to hire a landscaper they won't have much use for your service - especially considering the current economy. In today's economic climate, even the most steadfast consumers are morphing into do-it-yourselfers. Of course, hiring a professional photographer for your daughter's wedding will yield you higher quality photos of her special day - but considering that all of us have access to a camera, perhaps even a really GOOD camera, why not save the $3500? I'm not saying it's the right thing ... but it is the reality of the situation.

If you do provide a service, not all hope is lost. Document your successes. Take a photograph of a service well-rendered. Contact past clients and ask them for a short testimonial describing the quality of your work. Consumers want to see something concrete, so even though you may be an auto mechanic, you still need to give them what they want.

Products are much easier to sell due to the fact that photographs can be posted and prices are usually concrete. Even though a consumer might have no need for yet another hand-woven scarf, they're going to see photographs with a wide variety of hand-woven scarf styles and get the pang. You know the pang. The pang is that thing that has you adding candy bars and magazines to your pile of groceries at the check out line. We're ALL susceptible to the pang.

Events are fun. Even if what you're selling is in actuality a service or product, why not make it into an event? Examples of events can be open houses, grand re-openings, welcome receptions ... it can even be as simple as a monthly or weekly promotion. "Place your order in the month of May and we'll throw in a honey-scented candle, on the house!" Consumers LOVE promotions.

2. Do you currently have an online presence?

I hate to say it kids, but it's the wave of right now - and considering all the do-it-yourself blog templates, the social networking sites, and the drag and drop web-building programs, you really have no excuse. Get online, and do it in a big way. It doesn't have to cost a lot. It doesn't have to be phony or pretentious. There are plenty of mom-and-pop or work-from-my-laptop-while-watching-the-Simpsons businesses out there who have polished, professional,full-service websites. The purpose of a website or other online presence is to give consumers an avenue for finding out about you. Unless you have a storefront on Church Street or are paying out daily/weekly/monthly for pricey print ads or radio commercials, people aren't going to know about you. If people don't know about you, people don't care about you. MAKE THEM CARE. An inexpensive, simple website and an hour spent online registering with google, yahoo, etc could make or break your business. And hey, it sure makes my job easier in terms of promoting you. I can post on PromoteVT all day long "Hey check out Joe, he makes pitchforks in a variety of pastel colors!" OR I can say "Joe's custom painted pitchforks are a must buy for Mother's Day. Check out Joe online at" See how I combined an EVENT and a WEBSITE?? Now if that doesn't make you want to buy a pastel pitchfork, I don't know what will.

Friday, February 4, 2011

Keep Those Ears Ringing

As a small business owner in Vermont I think it's so vital that I advertise my business, just a little, each and every day. Some days this can be as simple as meeting someone on the street and telling them about what I do. Some days I create ads and send them out via the Chamber of Commerce. I hold an account with a local radio station. They have two commercials for me on file, and at any time I can call up the producer and say "hey, please run commercial xyz three times this week." It doesn't cost me that much, and the option is always available. No one said you have to pay out consistently, every day or every week. The idea is to mix it up and constantly hit new demographics. Earlier this week I decided "what the hay" and put together a discount promo which I then emailed to a list of 200 potential clients. Maybe I'll get a call, maybe I won't, but it hardly puts me out to try. If business doesn't grow, then it sits stagnant. And lordy, we can't have that! I work in the service industry; aka: I don't sell a product, so for me to receive one phone call or email a week from a potential new client, even if I don't necessarily book them, I feel like I'm doing really well. Not all advertising works all the time, so the idea is to keep it constant. Keep my name out there. Keep people talking. Eventually ... at some point, a person who genuinely needs my help, and is willing to pursue it, will listen ...

which begs the question, have you advertised your business today?

Friday, January 7, 2011

Advertising 101 ... Networking

Something Cecile commented on yesterday's posting reminded me ... Chambers of Commerce, let's talk about these. I'm personally member of three different Vermont Chambers. Aside from that I'm also a member of the National Association of Professional Women. I've spent a LOT of would-be advertising dollars on getting here. Now I hate to admit it but some of these organizations are a waste of my time and hard-earned money. One such org, however, is WELL WORTH the Chamber dues and has brought me such copious advertising and networking opportunity that really I feel like I owe them more. This amazing Org is the Lamoille Valley Chamber of Commerce. Now I don't work for them so please see this as it is: a VERY satisfied customer giving a plug. LVCC publishes a weekly e-newsletter that circulates roughly 5000 readers. Advertising in that newsletter (for members) is FREE. Seeing as I do a lot of community events in the Lamoille Area this is a massive media outlet for me. On top of that we have the weekly mixers with area businesses, the Rte 15 Festival, the quarterly publications and other Chamber-run events. And by the way, their dues for a small business such as myself are only $200 annual. Like I said, I'm a member of two other chambers as well as the NAPW and when the time comes to renew ... well, LVCC is the only one who will be seeing MY advertising dollars.

As a promoter, I've come to lean most heavily on internet, Chamber, and word of mouth networking for my advertising. The newspaper and radio rooms like me, don't get me wrong, and they LOVE my money, but I've come to think of them both as last resorts. Internet is fabulous, cheap to maintain and available to the world ... IF you know how to direct the traffic. I have news for some of you who maybe aren't as tech savvy as others, just because you own a web-page doesn't mean anyone is seeing it. I've (sadly) seen businesses spend upwards of 12K on a fancy new webpage then be handed the controls by the developer and just watch it sit there. Websites, like anything, need advertising. There are google and yahoo listings, key word queries, social networking and block ads. A webpage is only as good as the potential consumers who browse to it, and if they didn't already know about Jim's Crab Emporium before the page was up, they certainly aren't going to be typing in any time soon. Now a properly handled webpage can be a gold mine. Once that baby is built, you're looking at usually $150 annual to keep it live and advertised, and for some of us, it may be all the advertising you need. (This totally depends on your business)

Which brings me to the wonders of social networking. Facebook, Twitter, Blogs, Reddit, Digg, Foursquare ... there are more but come on people, I'm not THAT much of a geek! These free networking options are AWESOME and so easy to start and maintain. If your business doesn't already have a Facebook page and/or Twitter then you need to get on that, pronto. I find both Facebook and Twitter to be fantastic segways for getting online consumers over to your regular website. With suggestions pushing you up in consumers faces all the time, at some point most people are going to get curious and click the link. If the page is catchy and interesting and the first thing they see is a link to your website, they're there. Voila, free advertising!

I'm curious how other Vermont businesses feel about all this. Do you agree, or are there other advertising options you've found to be more useful. I welcome debate. :)

Lamoille Valley Chamber of Commerce:

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Finding Your Niche

I'd like to start out by saying THANK YOU to everyone who took the time to read my posting and comment. It's so important that we all work together to grow our small businesses and find success, and you have the right attitude! now for more ...

You know this reminds me of a funny coincidence. When I started my events planning business, working out of my home in Jeffersonville, I thought "this is great, no one does this." Within the first year of working I was blown away. Not only do other people actually do this, there are two of them, both young mothers like myself, both working from their homes, both within 15 minutes drive of my house! Absolute insanity! The first time I was faced with this I found myself at a crossroads. I had received a phone message from one such woman asking me to call her back so we could discuss the situation. This could have gone either way. I put a smile on my face though and picked up the phone, and ... amazingly, was met with the same positive attitude. I want to thank Mauranda Dalziel (former owner of PromoteVT), for that kind introduction into reality. This is a SMALL state, and we're ALL trying to make it. We can either fight eachother for the market or we can work together for the market. Mauranda and I chose to work together. A couple months later when I met Jackie, another events planner just up the road from me, I decided to extend the same hand that Mauranda had extended me, and now Jackie and I are working together.

Over the years I've come across a handful of businesses "at war" with other like-businesses. This attitude is beyond me, and really very sad. Though there may not be an infinite number of consumers for all of us to share, there are infinite approaches. How about, instead of fighting eachother, we, each and every one of us, get creative in our approach; find a niche market that isn't already being satisfied?

I've been introduced to a number of small-business groups. Many of you have probably heard of these: SCORE, BMI, Success Teams. These groups all share something in common: they are Vermont business owners sitting around a table and discussing how they can work together to be more successful. Though I haven't been able to join any of these groups yet I find it refreshing that I alone can carry this attitude with me into my business practices. You can too.

Please share your thoughts. More tomorrow.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

The Vermont "Rat Race"

Good morning Vermont businesses! I'm writing this note because, as you may have noticed, PromoteVT, though wildly popular with the online community, hasn't been doing much promoting lately. I'd like to have a conversation with you, a Vermont small business owner, about this fact. This conversation is long and multi-faceted, so today I will begin with an introduction. I appreciate you taking the time to read my note/blog and engaging in this conversation with me. I feel it can be hugely beneficial to both of us, and by extension, all of us. Cheers.

Background: My name is Nichole Gilbert. I own and operate a small business from my home in Jefferonsville, VT. Though I originally hail from San Diego, I've lived in VT almost 12 years now and whole-heartedly call Vermont my home. I have acknowledged to myself and my family that I will ALWAYS live here. I have no plans whatsoever to go back 'out west' or anywhere else for that matter. Why? Not because I feel stuck or apathetic about where I am like so many people do. No, not at all. I will never leave Vermont because Vermont is home. Vermont is amazing to me. Seriously. Stunning. The core values of Vermonters rest in what I find important: environment, recreation, community and a healthy, happy lifestyle. Not only that, Vermonters have an overwhelming sense of entrepreneurship that you don't find anywhere else. (In the world!) I feel so incredibly fortunate to be a part of the Vermont community.

My business is called Cambridge Event and Design. I've been working for myself officially for about 1.5 years but honestly (like most of us) I've been dabbling in working for myself on the side since I was only a kid. I went to a couple of colleges, eventually finished with one, got married and had babies. I held a handful of mid-level office positions and then, in 2009, it occurred to me that I may never be satisfied with my life if I kept on that same path of always going after someone else's dream. I know you know what I'm talking about. If you are a small business owner, or have ever dreamed about working for yourself, you have felt the very same way at some point. It's like one day you say to yourself, why am I doing this? Though this is Vermont, and not New York or Los Angeles, we DO honest to god have our own Vermont-form of the rat race. This rat race has become ever so much more prevalent in the last two-three years as unemployment has climbed and larger employers have dropped the ball on working on employee retention and employee happiness. If you do work for someone else, or have in the last several years, have you noticed this?

More later ... Please share your comments.