The following is part three of a four-part series on calling "Focus On A Small Business". I'm profiling local small business owners Renee Johnson and Chris Roberts, owners of Barkwheats, an organic dog biscuit company. I took them out to lunch and picked their brains. Here's some of what I learned.
The reason I initially contacted Chris and Renee for this series is that I've seen them all over the place. A feature story in the Bangor Daily News last fall, then the start of their blog on the Ellsworth American website, after a mention on an eat local Maine blog followed by meeting them at the Full Circle Fair in Blue Hill…in short, everywhere. I couldn't believe Barkwheats is only two people; they have really seemed to get their message out!
Get the word out online in a way that works for you.
Renee was getting frustrated with some of Chris' short blog posts so she set up a Barkwheats Twitter account. "I just couldn't figure out at first what a I supposed to be telling all these people!" Chris said about the whole microblogging thing initially but it has proven a good medium for him.
If you don't want to commit to a blog for your business (at least initially), maybe a Facebook page would work for you or getting a local blogger/writer to do a writeup about your business could be a good way to start. It is pretty easy to get addicted to social networking but just because you do one thing doesn't mean you have to do it all. (For example, I find Myspace much more effective for musicians and artists then other businesses just because of the crowd it draws. So does your small accounting firm need a Myspace page? Um, no.)
The great thing about online is that the playing field is much more equitable for large and small businesses. You may not be able to afford a Superbowl commerical but you have equal chance of getting fans on YouTube as any of the ginourmous companies.
So get yourself out and online however you can, even if it's a small way to start. When people Google you, you want them to find something good!
Involve other people. (AKA It's not all about you.)
I have unsubscribed to several websites that give an "all about me" vibe. No one likes that. If you know a real life person like that, I'm guessing you make your best efforts to avoid them socially at all costs. The same rules go for communicating about your business. It's a fine line to walk (and talk) between selling yourself and being gracious.
Like Renee articulated "We have a good story to tell but we'd like to involve other people and have it not just be our story." When communicating about your business or ideas, people pick up on that genuine desire to put yourself out there, not as the knower of all but as sharer of what you know.
Take the time in telling your story to not only give the people who helped you lots of credit but people you admire lots of air time. It makes you come off as more genuine, and you want to be the kind of business that people would invite to a dinner party. Well, figuratively anyway.
Follow up with people you meet.
After meeting Chris and Renee, Renee sought me out on Twitter and Facebook and left several followup comments on this blog. In doing this, I felt Renee really cared about me and took our relationship beyond what I could do for her (more good press) and she made it clear she was interested in what I was doing too. How flattering but also exactly the kind of business I want to deal with. Because Renee reached out, the next time someone asks me what I give my dog for a snack, I am much more likely to say Barkwheats and give glowing reviews.
So if you chat someone up on a plane, send a quick email to follow up. If someone calls you about your product, respond in a timely way. It's common sense I know but you'd be surprised at what manners people exhibit in their commucations and how it effects how other people view their business.
The last article in this series (tomorrow) will be about growing a business smart. Barkwheats will not be a two person operation forever; they've got plans to expand their line and do a little hiring. So if your business wants to grow, check this out tomorrow! (Hey, that kind of rhymes…)