networking

I Left My Business for a Month and Nothing Bad Happened (Part 2)

We have a series of great ‘and nothing bad happened’ articles. Check out ‘I Bought Facebook Fans And Nothing Bad Happened‘ and ‘I Doubled Our Social Media Posts And Nothing Bad Happened

Last week, in “I Left My Business for A Month and Nothing Bad Happened Part 1” I talked about keeping the businesses running while I was physically in another place. This week, I’ll talk about the other side of the coin- getting involved in a new market. Ten years in the same location, especially in a small town, is almost the definition of “comfort zone.” Sure, we’ve grown and challenged ourselves so that our business isn’t frozen in time, but the time to innovate is always now, and travelling to upstate New York was part of that process.

While I was in a new location, I needed to set myself up to meet people. Something most people find surprising about me is that I’m an extroverted introvert, which means talking to people requires energy from me and I almost never want to do it. Once I AM doing it, I’m fine, but afterwards I definitely need to spend some time alone to regroup.
So what’s the best way to get into a new community, besides finding one that theoretically needs your products/services? Here are a few things I did in my new community of Potsdam, New York:

  • Met with Chamber of Commerce director to talk options about integrating into the community (Note when you meet someone who has NEVER heard of you, it’s best to be ready to give something value added for their time, whether you’re buying them breakfast or just going to send them some really great free resources about what you talked about.)
  • Meet with the local SBDC with your theoretical new additional location business plan and some questions ready to go.
  • Connect with any local business incubators and be in their space if at all possible. Set up a short meeting with people who work there to let them know what you’re doing and how you could help.
  • Connect with the local library and offer a workshop. We did a free workshop and gave a donation to the local SPCA, which meant that the library promoted it because the workshop was in their space, and the SPCA promoted it, too.
  • Check out local meetups and attend to meet new people. I attended a local artist group and we got to tour this cool museum and people shared their work.
  • Find a local business that will let you host an ‘open house’ of sorts and promote it to the local media via a press release, your new local contacts, and a Meetup announcement.¬†(Aside: because I did this, I ended up on a panel of entrepreneurs for North Country Public Radio!)
  • Go to the local happy hour spot by yourself and sit near some nice people.
  • Join local Facebook groups. (My LOL moment was when I joined the ‘Potsdam Rocks’ Facebook group, thinking it was going to be about community development but then upon acceptance, found out it was about… painted rocks.) Ask local friends recommendations for good groups to join.
  • Ask every person you meet who else you should meet. Use Facebook or LinkedIn to find contact information and name drop your mutual connection, offer beer/coffee, or otherwise see if you can meet these people in real life.
  • Meet with local economic development directors or city planners and ask them questions about the community and how you can best provide business services.
  • Go to a local Rotary club meeting (and any other civic groups you can find).
  • Attended a meeting for volunteers at the local dog park (which my dog loved).
  • Visit the local food co-op and learn about getting involved with local food movement (Aside I found the best cheese scones I’ve ever had.)

(Wow, when I see it all listed out, and remembering I did normal work too, no wonder every time someone asks me about my ‘vacation’ I sigh.)



Within each of these community outreach moments, I tried to do the following:

  1. taking the opportunity each interaction to start other interactions. ‘Who should I talk to about that?’ or ‘Who else should I meet?’ are great questions, and
  2. trying to bring value to any interaction I had. I figured if I didn’t know someone and they were taking their time to help me, the least I could do was give them some free consulting and/or food.

Because I made the leap, I am now in talks for two good size proposals I would not be having the chance to do otherwise. I also had time/mental space to finish some big projects (like adding a learning management system to Anchorspace’s website and creating an online store of the cool designs we commissioned from graphic designer Jill Lee on Society 6.) I even brainstormed an idea for an e-course about running a business while depressed. I am not sure if I would have gotten some of this stuff done, or had some creative ideas, if I didn’t do a reset outside my workspace.

So the results of my experiment are seeing that not only could I run a multi-location company in the short term, but I could use the new location as an advantage not just for myself personally but for business as well. I’ve seen many of my successful business role models run businesses in multiple locations and I don’t see why I can’t be one of them in my next decade. I will also say as a total plug, upstate New York has some of the nicest most welcoming people I’ve ever met. I was surprised to make some real friends during my month long stay. And I hope as I broaden my scope, my two hometowns will support the work we are trying to do and grow.

And, if you’re new to the area (or ANY area, really), the steps I took in New York to start meeting new people and connecting with the community are worth trying for yourself. They’re great for making both business and social connections that will last for years (at least 10 ūüôā ).



Networking for Small Businesses

Our theme for July is “Independence Doesn’t Have to Mean Alone,” and in our last post, we shared a few ways business owners can delegate their work rather than spread themselves too thin.¬†This post is about making connections as a small business owner, or, as some like to call it, networking.

For introverts like myself, networking can be a bit of a challenge. But I know the benefits far outweigh the risks.

Networking has a few different purposes. First, it’s a tool for expanding your business and gaining potential customers. Second, it’s a way to meet and share experiences with other entrepreneurs. When networking, I find it helpful to think,¬†“I’m about to meet some people who are in a similar boat as me. I bet some of them have cool stories and I could come away from this with interesting, new connections.”



Here are four helpful guidelines for successful networking:

Set a Goal.¬†Plan to attend a certain number of events per month and talk to X number of people at each event. Or, reach out to a specific number of new people every week via email. These goals can make the whole networking experience a bit more fun, too. Remember to follow up with your connections — that’s just as important as meeting them in the first place.

Remember to follow up with your connections — that’s just as important as meeting them in the first place.

Have Something Ready. One of my greatest weaknesses in networking — and meeting people in general¬†— is that I can become easily flustered. Something as simple as “So what do you do?” will result in me doing a lot of mumbling and rambling — “ramumbling,” if you will.

Know that at any networking event, at least one person is going to ask you what you do. Be prepared with an answer. This may also be a good reason to work on your elevator speech.¬†You don’t need to sound like a robot, but you should sound prepared.

Also, keep your business cards at the ready for anyone who may ask for one.



Participate in Groups. Online groups can be found via social networks such as LinkedIn, Facebook, or even Twitter. Participation can occur in a few different ways. You can create your own post within a group in which you share a cool resource, ask a question about something you need help with, or seek opinions on a challenge you face. Also, read posts made by others and respond with comments that are helpful and/or pertinent.

Stepping away from the internet, you can join the local chamber of commerce, Rotary, or any other business-oriented or volunteer organization. It’s a great way to meet local people who do business within your community.

A warning: Don’t approach these groups with a sales pitch. Growing your business is a good goal, but networking is more about fostering relationships.

Stay in Touch. Congrats, you’ve met a ton of new people through your networking! But, how are you staying in touch with them?

Nicole has a favorite app for staying in touch, which lets her know when it’s been a while since she has reached out to someone. Or, you may create a system (spreadsheet, flowchart, sticky notes) just to reach out to people, follow up about something from your conversation, maybe invite them to grab a coffee.

As a shy introvert, I find that following up with others can be just as difficult as making the first contact. But I try to keep in mind that comfort zones equal stagnation. It’s like the advice on water sources found in the wilderness: Drinking running water is usually okay, but standing/stagnant water … you gotta watch out for that stuff. (Sorry for the digression — I’m ramumbling again.)

For those who need help with networking (like me), check out this video I made last fall about networking for the shy introvert:



Google+ Communities

gettingingoodwithgoogle-buttonIn an effort to make Google+ a more “social” network, Communities¬†were formed in 2013.

Communities are similar to Facebook or LinkedIn Groups: they are organized by topics or general interests. From a marketing perspective, Google+ Communities are an underutilized tool for starting and participating in conversations that matter.

What are the benefits of being an active community member on Google?

One thing I’ve noticed about Communities is the global exposure. When you look at any given page, it’s unusual¬†not¬†to see at least one post in a foreign language that isn’t spam). It’s an interesting reminder that social media is far-reaching and that we really do have a unique opportunity in front of us.



Wait a second, my business doesn’t need to market globally.¬†True, but the point of a community isn’t to sell- it’s to exchange information. ¬†This article from Social Media Examiner suggests “As you discover communities where your target market is located, join them and listen in on what they are saying.” In doing so, you discover what your target market has to say about your industry.¬†There may be trends in questions or concerns, which makes great blog post or newsletter material. In other words, it’s a chance for you to research potential customers, and even help them out from time to time.

By contributing to conversations that are related to your industry, you show others that you’re knowledgeable and ideally trustworthy/helpful. Occasionally this does translate into sharing your own material if it’s relevant and can help solve a problem. For instance, if someone posts a question asking about finding the right hashtag for a Twitter post, I could respond with a link to this blog post on that very subject.

googlecommunitiesexample

A screenshot of Communities that Google thinks I would enjoy. This is just a small slice of the topics available- you can even join one of several communities about Grumpy Cat.



What if the community you want/need doesn’t exist?

If you want to start your own community, the steps are pretty straightforward. You get to set up the rules and facilitate conversations among community members, but aside from that, it’s relatively hands-off.

Below is an example from The Marketing+ Community Page is full of people sharing articles and other helpful information about social media marketing (new features, tips they have found to be helpful, etc).

When you set up a community, you have a few decisions to make. Will it be public or private? If it’s private, will it still appear in searches? What are the rules for participating in this community? The description and rules will be displayed on the left sidebar of the community page.

exampleabout

You can post in your own community from time to time to start a conversation (if you have some questions for followers, this is a great way to get them answered), but the ultimate goal is to create a community built around user-generated content. Below is an example post from the Marketing+ Community from KeyMedia Solutions. You may notice that this is an article from their own website, but a) it’s relevant to other community members and b) isn’t overtly selling anything.

examplepost

Communities are another one of those online resources that may inspire new ideas or ways to connect with your businesses. You may also forge some new connections with people you would never have met without this tool. Whether you decide to use communities for business or for fun, they’re unique educational and networking opportunities.

grumpycatcommunity

And, just for fun…here’s Grumpy Cat.

If reading this has made you realize you need help with Google+, click below to learn about a service we think may be a great way for you and your business to start on Google+:

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Wordcamp Boston 2013

wordcamp2013It’s not often I get to see my friend Matt in real life. We work together virtually on almost a daily basis and I consider him one of my best friends… ¬†he just happens to live over six hours away.

So when he told me about Wordcamp and that it was 1) in Boston and pretty close for all of us and 2) that he was going, Alice and I went down to check it out.

There were around 400 people at the conference from all over the place so I didn’t expect to know anyone. Of course I am in line for sandwiches behind a guy I haven’t seen since college who now is working on a cool Wordpress plugin¬†and¬†I run into Tracy who I’ve only seen online yet lives in Maine.

In other words, I actually knew people! I mean, we were in Boston (very closeby) not Istanbul but still, small world.

The biggest takeaway for me? The need for fast websites.¬†My favorite talk of the conference was by Chris Ferdinandi called ‘Wicked Fast Wordpress’ on this very topic.

As we try to make websites more interactive, interesting, and responsive to design, us website designers/developers have invariably slowed down how fast they load. If 70% of people will not wait more than 3 seconds for a website to load before moving on, that’s something we need to pay attention to. (I’ll do a whole blog post on this sometime soon I am sure.)

Year after year, website security is always a concern. No matter what the software, there is no such thing as a 100% safe website. But Sam Hotchkiss’ presentation about security was complete and a favorite of Matt and Alice (I was in another room watching a different presentation… the good news is that link goes to a video where you can watch his talk!)

And finally, there was more talk about responsive design: how to do it well, deal with issues unique to that process. If you want to know a bit more about it, click on this post we have about dealing with mobile users on your website. 

All and all, it was a great weekend where we not only got to learn new things from some very smart people but have lots of bonding time, mainly over food. We’ll be back next year I’m sure but hopefully be getting to see Matt before then.

Early to rise makes you technically wise

7:30 am, Wednesday April 25. You were probably still in your PJs enjoying your morning coffee while 30 MDI business owners were filling their bellies with eggs and their heads with knowledge at the mini-tech boot camp sponsored by the Bar Harbor Chamber of Commerce. David Charron of Comp-u-sult and Nicole Ouellette of Breaking Even Communications were on hand to give a lively and informative discussion on what you need to know to keep your business current with computer applications and online marketing presence.
David started with key points on how to manage your data and your computer. Wondering what the Cloud is? David explained that the Cloud is just the internet – and it is actually safer and more economical to have your data backed up online with a third party company such as Mozy or Carbonite. The sites are encrypted for protection, and your data is safely stored offsite.

Also discussed was the importance of strong passwords. “Everyone knows about using 3s instead of Es, you need to be more stealthy now.” David recommend using pneumonic that only you will know. “my dog barnaby jones like ice cream cones” ¬†would translate to MDBJLICC.

David talked briefly about how all those pesky software update reminders you get, are actually software companies trying to protect you from malware. Software manufacturers and hackers are constantly leap frogging each other with updates, and if you have the latest software, you computer is the most secure. As well as updating your software, David talked about the importance of maintaining a clean computer – defragging, emptying the garbage, and scanning for viruses will make your computer happier and faster.

Both Nicole and David then discussed ways to manage your files and information in a way that you and your co-workers have easy access to information. Google Apps is an easy, free, software bundle – available on any web browser, that you can share and co-author documents, spreadsheets, calendars, and more. Google Drive is now combining the features of Google Apps and File Share servers like dropbox: for more details, this is an excellent article: http://www.mercurynews.com/larry-magid/ci_20488331/magid-taking-google-drive-spin

After this discussion of computer and data sources, Nicole stepped up to talk about how to reach customers who are savvy to the internet, and interest them in your business. Traditionally business spend big dollars advertising on television and print media, but with the internet you can reach more of your target audience, and for less money.

Nicole talked about the importance of having a mobile section of your website. People over 50 are the highest growing market for smartphones, and 50% of American adults have already have one. In an area like Mount Desert Island – which largely depends on tourist dollars – making your website accessible to potential customers who are traveling and depending on their smartphones, is certainly going to help your business.

Facebook as a marketing tool was discussed at length. As Nicole pointed out – your website is a static location that depends on people taking the initiative to visit it. A Facebook page allows your business to interact with people on a daily or weekly basis, depending on how often you post updates. Nicole recommends no more than 3 posts a week for business since more information could overwhelm fans.

She also explained the difference between a personal Facebook profile and a business page. Facebook business pages offer a great opportunity for you to access data about your customers  such as age, location, and common interests. A Facebook page also offers your business another opportunity to show up in a google search. Win win win.

Nicole then talked about the new Facebook Timeline, and gave a quick tour of what it has to offer including designing the cover image (the large scale photo on the top); customizing the display of applications installed on the Facebook page; creating milestones that illustrate the history of your company, and being able to ‚Äėpin‚Äô important news to the top of your page and have it remain for up to a week.

She then spoke about some new social media kids on the block, Fiverr, Pinterest, Kickstarter, and Google+. She pointed out that right now Google and Facebook are the A game, but things change very quickly and it’s important to keep up with the ever-changing world of online networking.

To close the meeting, a brand new Kindle Fire was raffled off, and awarded to Sheila Ward from the Inn at Bay Ledge.

By 9 am everyone was happily sipping coffee and congratulating themselves on how smart they were for learning how to use technology more effectively in their business and personal lives.

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