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.