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Seasonal Businesses And Social Media

closed-signAbout half our clients are seasonal businesses. This isn’t surprising when you think of the town we are in swelling from its year round population of 5,000 to at least double that for the months of May-October. A coastal town with the second most visited national park in the United States, there are cute shops, ocean views, and as much beautiful nature as you can stand. And most people prefer this in the warmer or foliage changing months.

But after Columbus Day (mid October in the US), about 70-80% of businesses close or open for very limited hours until Memorial Day (in May). Many storefronts are literally boarded up as the seasonal workers leave and the seasonal business owners move south to work another seasonal business or relax post-summer craziness.

Since I am online and local, year round, I do notice a dip in people keeping business social media accounts up-to-date. Most people will post they are closed for the season and not touch their Facebook page, Twitter account or website until they, in April or May the following year, come back and try to get everything ready for the upcoming season.

In general, I have lived here long enough to know not to counter this approach. I have tried doing the ‘let’s get your website ready early’ pitch or holding workshops in February when seasonal business owners are least busy but it seems people aren’t interested.

What I will say though is there is merit if you are a seasonal business to updating your social media profiles year round, even if you do so less often in the winter. Here’s why:

Maintain momentum.

When you update a Facebook page daily (for example) you get a lot more engagement (see 5.95% and 5.26% on the daily one) versus 2.78 and 2.36 percent on the several times a week page, even though the lower engagement one has more then double the fans:

facebookupdatesversusengagement

 

If your page is growing like crazy in the summer, updating it through the winter will sustain growth and keep those fans engaged. (As you can see the more often you do it, the more people see/react to it.)

Let locals know when you’re open.

I got engaged in January. The part of the story I didn’t mention? Driving to FIVE restaurants looking for a place to celebrate and only finding Geddy’s, a dive bar turned tourist trap, open. I am still annoyed at the two restaurants whose Facebook pages I checked (their hours on Facebook said open but hadn’t been posted to in about a month. We had figured one of the two would actually be open!)

If you want more locals to come in (and recommend your place to their friends who visit in the summer), seem like you’re open on social media, especially in the offseason. There are plenty of times I would have cleaned off my car of snow and drove into town if I knew that more than Geddy’s was open, not just that particular evening.

Promote your online store or virtual events.

While your storefront might be closed, winter is the perfect time to sell some stuff online. Whether you are selling on your website with an online shopping cart or using something like Craigslist, post what you’re up to on social media to a group of customers who already like you. You might be surprised to make more money off your merchandise in the slow months… or how holding a virtual event can get some new prospects to try you out. Keeping it online means locals don’t have to drive anywhere and your far flung fans can support you year round.

Tempt people ahead of time.

Especially if you are in the lodging or transportation business, there is nothing like teasing someone with a beautiful Maine photo mid March and urge them to book their vacation. We had a rental client do this via an email blast to a couple hundred customers and he got four weeks booked before April 1st.

So consider working your online presence year round… you might get more out of it then anyone is expecting.

Your Guide To Bar Harbor Barter and Swap (And Websites Like It)

To some people in our area, there is an epic Facebook group called ‘Bar Harbor Barter and Swap’. It’s a closed and small group, mainly of people getting rid of random stuff (SCUBA fins!) or looking for random stuff (universal car seat stroller). Two examples from the past hour.

Whether unloading a cactus or buying a trailer, Facebook groups and other online spaces let you get in front of people who can join in your transaction.

Whether unloading a cactus or buying a trailer, Facebook groups and other online spaces let you get in front of people who can join in your transaction.

I’ve learned a few things from buying and selling items on Bar Harbor Barter and Swap… and I think this knowledge may help you on your own local swap/sell group on Facebook, Craigslist, or other online locations where you are wheeling and dealing.


Using the term ‘reasonable offer’ will leave you hanging.

If you post something you are selling and ask for a ‘reasonable’ offer, beware for the sound of crickets. Here’s why.

Clearly you have some notion of what your item is worth (or what you think it’s worth) yet you want the negotiating power that comes from letting someone else say a figure first. You can not have it both ways, my friend. Also from the point of view of the people seeing this, they are afraid their offer isn’t reasonable…so they aren’t going to say anything. So either let people make an offer or communicate your desired price. This ‘reasonable offer’ business helps none of us.

Sellers: Include information like dimensions

Those five pairs of shorts do look cute but I have no idea if I can cram my body into them. Tell me they are a Gap size 4 and people like me can pass and you can spend your time chatting with people who could theoretically fit into them.

We just gave away Derrick’s cactus and included approximate circumference (3 feet) and height of cactus (6 feet) so people would know what they were getting into if they wanted to come pick it up. Don’t make people ask, give them all the information.


Seekers: Include information like what you are willing to pay

I see lots of people seeking objects that no one responds to… but the difference between ‘I am looking for a dishwasher’ and ‘I am looking for a dishwasher that hooks up to my sink for $50 or less’ is significant. If I know you are willing to pay me some money, I might go in my basement and see if my dishwasher would work for you. Also more details makes you more memorable so people can seek items out on your behalf.

Include a link to specs if possible

Including a link to the same product you are selling on Amazon.com or another website. These websites have full product specs and this will save you a lot of duplicate question answering. Especially if you have a technical product (tablet computer, motor, laser printer), include a link to the related product. Bonus: people see how much it would be to buy the thing new… and are much more likely to pay your lower price.

Give me some assurance I am not buying something bad.

So with the cactus post, we put that we were getting rid of it because it is “getting too big for our space”. In truth, it is beginning to take over our small kitchen near the kitchen table and we have no where else to put it. (I know, nothing like having to argue over who has to sit next to the cactus at dinner!)

If you are posting a picture of a printer and you say you’re getting rid of it because you’ve gotten a newer fancier one, that let’s me know I am not buying a hunk of garbage. (Getting rid of kid’s stuff is usually kind of self explanatory that maybe your kids have grown.) ‘Printer works’ is good ‘Printed something last week from my Dell laptop’ is even better. See what specifics can do to give people confidence?


Get second (or third or fourth) in line. 

I’ve been looking for a filing cabinet for months but the idea of buying a new one that I was going to paint bright orange anyway seemed silly. I saw a perfect filing cabinet go by… and someone else had bid on it. I commented ‘Second in line if this doesn’t work out.’ And I got the filing cabinet in the end.

If you see something you like that someone else has dibs on, let the seller know you’d like to be considered if the deal falls through. I think this happens way more often than any of us know.

Know your audience.

There is someone trying to sell a really nice convertible for $8000ish. Problem is we live in a place where there are a ton of dirt roads and snow 8 months of the year (slight exaggeration but you get the idea). If this guy would put this thing on eBay motors or Craigslist, I bet he’d get his asking price.

It’s best to get a feel of the culture of your buying/selling/swapping site first before you post… and if you are in the wrong place, find another where you can get the best price for your efforts. This particular Facebook group seems to do best with transactions at or less than $100 with an occasional exception. Just because a certain website is convenient for you doesn’t mean that’s where your customers are.

I do hope you have some kind of fun distraction in your life like Bar Harbor Barter and Swap. It can help you get rid of the extra crap in your life and occasionally you can buy something you actually need from someone you actually know. I have met some fun people through the site who live near me… a bonus real life benefit in this online world.

And to those of you with some experience in this, is there any tips I might be forgetting?

Two Kickstarter Projects: Ideas On How One Succeeded and One Did Not

Whether you are a business or non-profit, asking for money can be awkward. Non-profit organizations are used to relying on donors but for a long time, this world was not open to businesses.

Since websites like Kickstarter have been in existence, businesses and individuals (in addition to non-profits) have the ability to ask for money related to a specific project. But it can still be awkward.

Here are two campaigns from Kickstarter, one that raised its goal amount (and well past it) and one that did not. Let’s see if we can spot some differences:

Successful campaign: Get Speculative Fiction Book Published
Objective: Create an anthology of stories from people typically marginalized by traditional publishing.

Things I noticed:

  • Both people on the project were in the video talking about why it was important… and had some fun with it. 
  • They had goals and ‘reach’ goals. In other words, in terms of what would happen if they raised more than expected, it was pretty clear at each step what else would happen.
  • The incentives were pretty cool and included different formats of the publication. In other words, I could be near or far and support the cause… and get cool stuff.
  • Progress was regularly posted to the Kickstarter site so everyone knew what was going on.
  • They let people give anywhere from $1 to $1000. The majority of gifts were in the $25 range.
  • They have given to 25 other Kickstarter causes. In other words, they were in the community.
  • They were willing to let contributors participate with their campaign.
Hey look, I can see who they are and why they want to do this!

Hey look, I can see who they are and why they want to do this!

Unsuccessful campaign: Move Colonial Pizza Back To Spring Street
Objective: “Our project is simple in concept: We are hoping to return our pizzeria to Spring Street in Williamstown, MA. This has been a dream of ours for the last 15 years and would be considered a homecoming.We were part of the heart and soul of the town for over 25 years until a fire displaced us to a location on the outskirts of town. ”

Things I noticed:

  • The two minute video had no talking in it. Really? Not one person in the whole place could have gone on camera and talked about why this was important? Since I have three devices just on this desk capable to taking video, whenever I see someone not appear in a video I always think it’s not a lack of technology. If you’re asking for $27,000 the least you can do is ask in person I think.
  • In the slideshow, there is a photo of an employee with a blurred out middle finger. Classy.
  • The incentives for giving are kind of crappy. For example, the $120 level ensures I get $180 worth of pizza later. That’s not an excellent return. It’s not even a cool or novel return.
  • This isn’t really a ‘cool’ thing. It’s not like they are trying an innovative project or serving a new population. They are just moving. Kind of yawn.
  • The idea is kind of presented in a negative way. Like they are on the ‘outskirts’ of town (wonder how nearby businesses feel about that characterization) and just want to go home. I feel sorry for them but feeling sorry for someone doesn’t make me want to help them raise close to $30,000.
  • Aren’t they going to move anyway? Moving seems to be a big enough decision that financially, they are probably ready to do it. It’s like they just want to get free money from Kickstarter.
  • They have backed one cause: their own. Not a part of the Kickstarter community.
  • One update during the campaign. Backers need more than that.
Hey look it's a slideshow already saying what it says in the narrative of the site.

Hey look it’s a slideshow already saying what it says in the narrative of the site.



So from this admittedly very random and small sample, what can we say about how to make your project successful?

  • Transparency– Show who you are and why you want what you want.
  • Timely– Keep stakeholders up to date.
  • Cool– Offer to do something cool. Like the pizza people could have launched a community program (and used the extra generated money to move location)… or they could have just given away cooler prizes to backers.
  • Involved– Like any community, being involved with Kickstarter beyond your own interest helps. It also helps letting donors get involved.

So if you are planning a Kickstarter campaign, hopefully this is helpful!

Where Are My Customers Online: Three Places To Start

Whether your target customer is a kid using their parents’ iPad or a senior citizen using their smartphone, there are significant numbers of the exact kind of person you want to find online. So how do you find them?

If you are here, where are your customers?

If you are here, where are your customers?

To make this easier to think about, let’s think of your customer going through a sales process.

Stage One: Investigation
Your potential customer is interested in what you have to offer. They are at the stage of visiting websites and getting information.

Stage Two: Interrogation
This is where you start seeing posts on Facebook like “We’re considering blah-blah-blah, who’s good?” or you get someone who fills out the contact form of your website. They’ve looked and are interested, and they have some questions.

Stage Three: Enthusiasm
Whether they end up buying from you or not, these people like you. They follow you online, comment on your stuff, share with their friends and, directly or indirectly, you’ll probably get a customer.

Clearly we’ve got people at different levels looking at our businesses all the time. So let’s look at some questions here:

Where is your target audience spending time online? (Investigation)
Source: www.alexa.com (You’ll need to install the toolbar to get some of the data you want but trust me, it’s worth it)

It’s important to know where your customer is hanging out online. To paraphrase from Gary V’s book ‘Crush It’, money follows eyeballs.

Here’s an example. About three years ago, I looked at an office space above one very steep flight of stairs but I didn’t take it was that I thought my growing business would involve older people that couldn’t want to walk up stairs.

It turns out my best customers are business owners in their 30s, 40s, and 50s. In other words, looking at the data, the people spending money with Breaking Even are skewing younger than I was expecting. So I went ahead and got an even better deal on an office… and didn’t even hesitate when I saw it was up two flights of stairs.

Age demographics for social networks on Alexa. Among seeing whether a website skews to one age group or another, you can check out whether visitors will typically have kids, aveage household income, and more.

Age demographics for social networks on Alexa.com. Among seeing whether a website skews to one age group or another, you can check out whether visitors will typically have kids, average household income, and more.

At first, you will guess who your customers are but after you have some data, you’ll actually know who they are. Where your ideal customer is, be there online. So if we look at the comparison above and see that Facebook and Twitter are skewing younger, Pinterest is in my target and LinkedIn is in my target and skewing older. If we look at other kinds of data (and more websites) where to be becomes more and more clear.

Take this idea beyond social media websites. Look at blogs, news websites, anything. Knowing where your customer spends time is knowing where you should spend time, and potentially buy ad space if it comes down to that.

Who is talking about my business online and what are they saying? (Investigation)
Source: Socialmention.com

SocialMention, like Google Alerts but on steroids, allows you to see what keywords are being associated with a phrase, who the content creators are, and what blogs, Twitter status updates and more.

Hint: You might need to tweak results using the ‘Advanced Search’ function (see green circle upper right). Otherwise you may get a lot of extraneous results. I also recommend making a Google Alert for your business name and possibly your name, just to keep tabs on what’s going on.

Knowing who is talking about you means you can talk to them back… and potentially get even more ideas of what your customers are doing online.

Who is actively engaged in your brand/business?
Source: Facebook Insights (linked on your business’ Facebook page) or other metrics like Twitter retweeters, etc.

This statistic is a bit less straight forward. You can often collect names and sometimes contact information but this process is manual and involves individual followup if you are serious. But if someone is taking the time to repin twenty items of mine on Pinterest or retweet half my blog posts, the least I can do is make a personal connection by messaging them.

As social media stats get more robust, this will not be so manual as it is now but at the very least, it’s worth taking some time to pay attention. You may be surprised just who your enthusiastic advocates are!

So if you find your potential customers at the investigation, interrogation, and enthusiasm stages and keep in touch with your current customers, soon you should have a good idea of where places you can maximize your online time. Then do more of what works, and less of what doesn’t.

What about you: Where are your customers online?  And more importantly, how do you know?

This Month In Business: Needing Help Edition

So the good news is, while I used to write this business update every week, I now seem to be writing it every month. I’ve been doing this because I’ve actually had a lot of work to do. (I know, *gasp!)

But it really does help to have some kind of check in with myself, since I don’t have a weekly meeting with my boss, a quarterly report, or other sort of evaluation. You, as my blog readers, help hold me to some accountability. For that, I am very grateful. Because I totally need some!

Here’s what I’ve been up to besides actual paid work:

1. I enrolled in an online business course.

You may have heard of Earn1K which is a business course aimed at freelancers. I’ve been on the email list for awhile and finally decide to take the plunge after a couple of months of realizing I’ve been not as focused as I should be on the overall direction of this business. In terms of business course experience, I took an eight week seminar from Women, Work, and Community two years ago, read a couple business books, wrote a business plan, and called it good. Plus it’s been about 6 years since I’ve taken a full on course and I figured it was time for some much needed personal development.

So far it’s been going really well and already the time and effort I’m putting in to develop my ideas is paying off.

2. I got a cash infusion from Mom.

I realize there are a few things I’ve considered doing for money that are unrelated to my business but was considering because I needed some cash. A combination of a few projects running longer than expected and a couple bills paid at the beginning of the year meant I had less cash on hand than I was expecting at this point.

My debt to income ratio is around 1 (breaking even!) but a bank will pretty much only talk to you if you’ve got a ratio of about 1.5.

Over Christmas, my mom had told me to ask for help if I needed it so I decided to take her up on her offer and borrow some money. She was kind enough to present a zero percent interest rate and put the check in an ‘I’m proud of you’ card. Thanks Mom! I’m already sleeping better and plan to pay her back in full by the end of the year if not sooner.

3. I’ll be having two upcoming seminars which one of my more connected friends is helping me organize.
Anyone who has ever eaten dinner with me knows how much I like food. My friend Paul is a food distributor who sells to many local restaurants. When he came to me and suggested we do a couple workshops geared at the hospitality industry, I jumped at the chance.

So if you are in Downeast Maine and run a food-related business check out the two workshops: www.socialmediafood101.eventbrite.com and www.socialmediafood201.eventbrite.com

4. I finished a really big project, with much needed help.
A couple months ago, a friend of a friend wanted some help developing a real estate website. I looked at the online landscape at other real estate companies and saw that what she wanted was possible, even if the websites themselves weren’t the prettiest or most functional websites I’d ever seen. So I gave her a quote for her real estate website and she accepted.

What followed were many unexpected complications: database access issues, formatting issues, code for site design interfering with search function. You name it and it happened. It became clear very early on that I could not handle this on my own so I pulled in a friend to help. Then another. Then another. Through coding, coffee, and sheer determination, we finished the site, exhausted from late nights and early mornings.

I learned three things from this experience:

1) Don’t be cocky in your abilities to do something you’ve never done before. Take the time you think it’ll take and double it. Worse case scenario you give money back.
2) If you are pulling people in, outline the project tasks and responsibilites clearly. Chances are the work will be difficult enough and there’s no need to add communication issues to the mix.
3) You don’t have to know everything but you have to know people who can help so you can collectively know everything you need to.

So the website is launched and I thank Nicholas Peterson, Matthew Baya, and Jeremy Mason for their help with it. And that said, if you know someone who needs a real estate website, I’m now your gal.

Anything you needed help with (and got help with) this month?

(Come on, make me feel there are a couple of you out there who needed the help of other people this month!)

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