Seek Online Reviews…the best thing you can do for your business this season

Brooke Rouse

Many businesses are cautious to encourage customers to leave reviews. Our hope is that every business is doing their very best to serve the customer, so that the potential of negative reviews won’t be an issue. There are always people who will find a reason to complain; however, a majority of people who go online to place a review do so because they are pleased with the experience.

    Online reviews can help increase your exposure on the internet, for no cost. There are several sites that are used nationwide when people travel, move to a new place or seek out a new product or service.  If you do not exist online, the customer may never find you. Some of the most popular review and search sites are Google, Facebook, Tripadvisor and Yelp.

    The first step is to type your business into your computer browser. See what comes up. There may be several places where your business is listed and may already have reviews that you did not know about. Take the time to click the link. Nearly every site soliciting reviews for businesses will have a tab to ‘claim your business’ or a place where it asks ‘is this your business?’. Click there and proceed with the steps. You will verify your business information and be able to provide additional information: keywords, website, hours, photos, descriptions, etc. Take the time to make a folder on your desktop with all of this information so that you can quickly upload it and copy and paste it to several sites. They all ask for the same information.

    Claiming your listing and enhancing it with information and photos will help more people find you and be attracted to your business. It will also encourage your customers to post a review because they know you have taken the time to present the business in a professional way. Note that all of these sites will offer you the opportunity to upgrade, for a fee. This is always optional and you can consider the benefits as part of your marketing plan.

    Review sites are applicable to every type of business. Tripadvisor is extremely popular with travelers or people in a new place and includes restaurants, attractions, tours, community features, transportation, museums, etc. All of the other sites are comprehensive and host review pages for all categories of business: hardware, landscaping, home repair, child care, mechanics, hair dressers and on and on.  Start with the popular sites mentioned above. Be aware that they also each have a verification process to ensure the listing is connected to a physical address. These are all map-based websites and mobile applications; therefore, the physical address is the most important. Pay attention to that process and be sure to complete all steps.

                Once your listings are updated, you can encourage customers to post reviews…throw a little card in your bag or with the receipt when you know you have a satisfied customer. Provide them with the sites and thank them for their business. People love being a part of small business success! And if there are businesses you love, be sure to get online and give them a 5-star rating.

BROOKE ROUSE is executive director of the St. Lawrence County Chamber of Commerce and Tourism Promotion Agent. She is a business owner, holds a master’s degree in tourism and is a former SUNY Canton Small Business Development Center Advisor. Contact her at brouse@stlawrencecountychamber.org or 315-386-4000.

Your PTAC Counselor and Their Services

Amber Stevens

Before taking you on a journey through a typical day as a PTAC counselor, I’d like to preface this with a brief explanation of what “PTAC” stands for, and why, if you’re a business owner, you may want to consider giving your local PTAC office a call.  PTAC, the first of many acronyms you’ll find throughout this article, stands for Procurement Technical Assistance Center.  It is a designation given to over 3oo offices nationwide that provide cost-free assistance to U.S. businesses who participate, or have the potential to participate in the government marketplace.

    Something that is crucial to keep in mind here is that the government buys just about everything!  Are you a small business selling a product or service?  If so, chances are high that some form of government, whether on the federal, state or local level, could potentially have a need to buy what you’re selling some day. They just don’t know it yet.  According to USASpending.gov, a Department of Treasury website that tracks federal spending and contracts, more than $9 billion in federal contracts were awarded to New York state companies or organizations throughout fiscal year 2016 alone.  An additional $1.4 billion were awarded to subcontractors in the same year.  These are significant dollar figures representing a market that simply should not be ignored due to the perceived complexity of doing business with the government.

    With the continual expansion of Fort Drum’s infrastructure over nine years ago, came the apparent need for a regional PTAC in the north country, and with the help of organizations such as New York Business Development Corporation (NYBDC) and Fort Drum Regional Liaison Organization (FDRLO), a PTAC program was established at the Greater Watertown-North Country (GWNC) Chamber of Commerce in Watertown.  North Country PTAC is now one of eight regional centers located in the state, and assists close to 600 clients across 11 of the most northern counties in the state.  Federal funds awarded to firms located within this 11-county territory have reached just over $3 billion year-to-date in  fiscal year 2017 making up for just 3 percent of the $99 billion in federal funds awarded across New York state so far this year.

    All PTAC programs are unique in their own way and ours is no exception, as it is one of few in the country whose host organization is a Chamber of Commerce.  Not only is the GWNC Chamber the largest business association in the north country, but its close proximity to a military installation makes it an ideal host for the North Country PTAC program and a one-stop shop for all your business needs.  It Is important to note that although there are many benefits to becoming a member of your local Chamber of Commerce, there is no membership requirement to receive the free and confidential services provided by the North Country PTAC program.

    A PTAC counselor’s job is to act as a resource to businesses in pursuit of government contracts at federal, state and local government levels.  On any given day, this could mean conducting one-on-one counseling sessions where they are assisting clients with registrations and certifications, determining their company’s readiness to sell to the government, or advising businesses how to go about finding, pursuing and managing government contracts. Clients are also encouraged to sign up for the PTAC’s Bid-Match service, an electronic tool available to all businesses that will help them identify bid opportunities by sending email notifications when the client’s products and/or services match requests for proposals (RFP’s) posted on online bid board sites.

    In addition to one-on-one sessions, North Country PTAC coordinates and provides classes, training seminars and online webinars to provide the critical training and in-depth assistance our local businesses need to compete and succeed in defense and other government contracting.  Throughout 2016 the program sponsored 35 networking and educational events with a focus on a variety of contracting topics including, but not limited to Veteran Owned Business Certifications, MWBE Certifications, new acquisition procedures, specialized solicitations, federal contracting and many more.

    Although assistance is targeted toward small businesses, especially veteran-owned, and woman- and minority-owned enterprises, large businesses can benefit from PTAC services as well by participating in trainings, and with help identifying qualified subcontractors and suppliers.

    Your local PTAC Counselor is not only meeting new people and learning new things every day, but is required to be an expert on all things related to government procurement.  Although it is a challenging role that requires a solid understanding of stringent government standards and complex contract requirements, it’s fulfilling to know that the efforts put forth by the North Country PTAC program do, and will continue to, boost economic activity in the north country by helping local businesses navigate contracting processes.

    North Country PTAC helps create jobs and drive economic benefits in our community.  In 2016 alone, North Country PTAC increased its broad base of capable suppliers and enhanced competition by providing over 500 hours of counseling time, created or retained over 9,000 jobs, and added 92 new clients to its database.  The overall database stands at 591 active clients.

    If you own and operate an established business located in the north country, you are eligible to become a client of North Country PTAC.  To do this, you can go to www.northcountryptac.com, click PTAC SINGUP at the bottom of the page, then complete and submit the online application form. 

                Feel free stop by or call the PTAC office located within the GWNC Chamber of Commerce between 8a.m. and 4:30p.m. Monday through Friday at 1241 Coffeen St., Watertown, NY 13601 or 315-788-4400.

Chamber Gears up for 2017 Farmers Market

Kylie Peck

Mark your calendar on May 24 as the Greater Watertown Farm & Craft Market prepares for its 40th consecutive year. As we are busy securing vendors for this year’s market, it is important to recognize the history and benefits surrounding this annual event.

    Farmer’s markets have been a part of the national landscape since the mid-1700s and have since become woven into our culture, increasing in number and popularity. Year after year these markets continue to be a welcomed event, encouraging healthy shopping selections, social opportunities and increased business visibility.

    A farmer’s market acts as a source of fresh, nutritious foods from local producers. With farm- fresh options, the farmers are adept at providing an abundance of items at reasonable pricing to local consumers. Partnering with nutrition programs can increase the health and wellness of these area residents by offering the Farmers Market Nutrition Program, Farmers Market Wireless EBT Program and Nutrition Education, resulting in fresh options available to everyone.

    There is a growing trend among consumers to support local farmers and local economies. A farmer’s market is a perfect venue for this trend. Bringing these options to the center of our downtown creates a direct connection with the growers of the foods and creates the opportunity for consumers to ask questions, learn about how their food is produced and get to know the people who are providing the food they feed their families. This centers conversation on healthy cooking options and interest in fresh foods.

    Each week the Farm & Craft Market draws thousands of local shoppers and community members to downtown Watertown with a broad mix of diverse cultural backgrounds, a variety of ages and all levels of economic scale.  Throughout the season, local organizations use the market as a venue to educate the public about their mission, publicize their services and highlight opportunities to become involved.

    Hosting a farmers market also helps build the local economy. Not only does this provide an opportunity for farmers, crafters and food vendors to highlight their offerings and skills, it is also a benefit for local businesses. Customers spill into the surrounding area, bringing foot traffic and sales to downtown shops and eateries. Business owners are encouraged to create incentives to draw customers in to generate commerce in the local community.

    Creating an atmosphere with local entertainment, educational opportunities and local food and product sources transforms our downtown into a vibrant public space, which nurtures the sense of community among residents and visitors alike. Adding local shops to the mix creates the ideal opportunity for downtown visitors to make the most of their outing and truly get a sense of what the city of Watertown has to offer.

    With the opening of the market comes excitement and anticipation that summer is truly on its way and we are able to celebrate the offerings of our local farmers and crafters. Year after year we bring 50 to 60 local producers, crafters and food vendors to the community, creating a unique opportunity in Watertown that is met with much anticipation. If you are a farm or craft vendor, please contact our office to learn more about getting involved in our market. We encourage downtown business owners to get in contact with our team to learn more about getting the most out of our downtown market days.

    The Watertown Farm & Craft Market is held every Wednesday between May 24 and October 4 on Washington Street in downtown Watertown. For more information on the market or to learn about the GWNC Chamber of Commerce, please visit our website, watertownny.com or call us at (315) 788-4400.

Kylie peck is the president and CEO of the Greater Watertown-North Country Chamber of Commerce. She lives in Clayton with her husband and two young boys. Contact her at kpeck@watertownny.com or 315-788-4400.

The Power of Mentorship

Brooke Rouse

Mentorship in professional development is especially beneficial to women leaders, whether those mentors are male or female.  Some women are hesitant to ask for help, others crave constant feedback;  finding a balanced support system of mentors and mentees allows you to continue learning from other perspectives.

                A circle of mentors should include some diversity in experience, age, gender and other defining characteristics. It should include people within your industry and outside your industry, people you know well, and people who are just acquaintances. In some cases a mentor may be a paid coach, lawyer or advisor of another sort. The key to establishing a truly productive mentorship balance is engaging people who will tell you what you need to hear, and what you want to hear…not always at the same time. Personal, emotional, and professional feedback can come in many forms and it is good to have someone on speed-dial for the variety of scenarios you face as a businesswoman and leader.

                The power of mentorship between women of different ages and experience levels has been gaining momentum in the Canton-Potsdam college towns of St. Lawrence County. In 2014 the Young Women’s Leadership Institute of the North Country (YWLI) formed as a partnership between the four colleges and the local chapter of the American Association for University Women (AAUW) and has quickly recruited a number of active and diverse professionals from the county. According to their website (http://ncywli.weebly.com ), the group notes their vision as being “… a membership institute providing opportunities for women to come together from the area colleges and engage with each other, with mentors and other resources in the community, enhancing the leadership development options for young women”.  Professional women in the area mentor college students and the college students have teamed up with middle and high school women. An annual conference and special speaker and networking events throughout the year have helped the board realize that there is a critical role to be played in developing young women leaders.

                Listening and learning, that is what mentorship is; age does not define a mentor. As many professionals in the YWLI have found, they are learning so much from college students, as well as connecting with each other as mentors. Likewise, college students are finding great value in their conversations with older and younger women. A study by LinkedIn in 2014 found that only one in five women have mentors, yet business success, poverty reduction, fair pay and higher GDP have all been identified as impacts of female mentorship.

                Finding the time to be a mentor or seek out mentors often takes a back seat to being a mom, a business leader, a wife, sister or daughter. Making a goal of one hour per month is a great start. It does not always have to be in person, as Google hangouts, Skype and a variety of online networks allow you to connect at any time of day or night. Mentorship does not have to be formal; it can happen over a cup of coffee or a walk (good self-care!) In addition to making a difference in someone else’s life, leaving a legacy, and helping to shape the next generation, you too will benefit from a growing network, a reduced feeling of isolation, fresh ideas, and the opportunity to further your own leadership skills.

BROOKE ROUSE is executive director of the St. Lawrence County Chamber of Commerce and Tourism Promotion Agent. She is a business owner, holds a master’s degree in tourism and is a former SUNY Canton Small Business Development Center Advisor. Contact her at brouse@stlawrencecountychamber.org or 315-386-4000.

Take steps to retain young leaders

Brooke Rouse

Brooke Rouse

Some say leadership is learned, others say leadership is an inherent trait. Either way, if a young leader is identified in your hiring process or in your company, you certainly want to keep them around.

Young leaders have a desire to continue growing and learning, are looking for new opportunities and a feeling of value, and want to enjoy their work environment. Paying attention to and fulfilling these professional desires will help you to keep the best and brightest working for you.

Goals & vision

Keep your young leaders informed of the goals and vision of the company and how their work contributes to moving the company forward. Providing the individual with the guidance to work productively, without micromanaging their work, will ensure they stay motivated. Recognize their efforts in terms of the overall success of the organization, welcome their opinions and allow them to be a part of understanding the risks associated with business.

Face time

I’m not talking about the video function on an iPhone … provide your leaders with the opportunity to represent the company on committees, in presentations, at public charity events — in any way that they know you trust them to be the face of the company in the public eye.

Culture

Young leaders enjoy being on a team, having responsibility to lead people and be led. The people and culture of the workplace are important to keeping them coming back and looking forward to work every day. Hiring people for personality that fits with the team can make or break the long-term possibility of employment. Instilling a culture of hard work balanced with a lighthearted and social atmosphere are important, too.

Community connection

Finally, young leaders who are new to the area will also be seeking a connection to the community. Beyond work life, social life and civic engagement are a big part of what will connect a person to a community. Meeting people, expanding social networks and contributing to a cause or the community at large adds value to a young leader and fulfills other needs outside of the office.

Developing leaders is not an individual event. It must be an ongoing process, which may include casual mentorship, participation on a team and a company culture that is aware and responsive to the role of young leaders.

LinkedIn is a professional nerowrking site that many businesses employ as a means to connect with customers and market services. Later this month, the Potsdam Public Library will offer a free class designed to introduce users to the business networking platform. Here’s some more information:

                Sunday, Dec. 11, LinkedIn, 12:30 p.m., Potsdam Public Library, 2 Parks St. #1, Potsdam. This class will provide information on how to create and effectively use a LinkedIn account. LinkedIn is a business-0oriented social networking tool to find useful for anyone seeking work or those looking for employees. The event covers how to connect with people, how to input your information and create a profile. Bring a laptop and a professional photo of yourself saved on the computer. New users welcome. Cost: Free. Information/registration: Potsdam Public Library, (315) 265-7230.

 

Brooke Rouse is executive director of the St. Lawrence County Chamber of Commerce and Tourism Promotion Agent. She is a business owner, holds a master’s degree in tourism and is a former SUNY Canton Small Business Development Center Advisor. Contact her at brouse@stlawrencecountychamber.org or 386-4000.

Subtle, effective holiday season prep

Brooke Rouse

Brooke Rouse

Temperatures are dropping, days are getting shorter and before we know it people will be shopping for the holidays. As much as some of us don’t like the early launch of holiday decorations and products, there are some more subtle ways that your business can be prepared to make the most of the season.

Be top of mind

People may start their gift shopping this month or they may wait until the last minute. Now is the time to be sure potential customers know you exist so that when they’re ready or motivated, they think of YOU, not the Internet or the big box store.

Plan to increase your marketing now; don’t wait until the week of Thanksgiving or put it off to December. Be active on social media to feed photos of new products or services (or gift certificates) frequently and at least once a week. You may consider doing sponsored posts to new markets beyond your existing fans so that they will “like your page” and receive your posts over the next couple of months. Informing people of what you have to offer is the first best step.

Get them in the door

Now is the time to schedule an event at your shop. A “do-it yourself” workshop, a tasting of some sort, a ladies night, a book signing, a demonstration — anything you can come up with to get your business on community calendars and in the news. In addition to publicity, you also get people to come to your location, see what you have available and begin a relationship with you and your staff. It is all in the name of fun as well as getting people through the doors and into your shop, browsing and buying.

Entice them

Photos are the best way to share what you have to offer, whether it’s a unique product, a delicious meal or a perfectly detailed car — again, think gift certificates. Now is the time to take high quality photos of your products and services, or invest in a photographer to do an even better job. You will use those photos multiple times over the next few months, in print ads, on social media — Facebook and Instagram — and on your website.

Make shopping easy

Think about the many ways you can get your product to market MORE during the next few months. Perhaps extending your hours or opening an extra day will allow more people to shop after work or in their free time. If you have a website that allows for Internet sales, e-commerce, get your items updated, use those professional photos and make sure your online store is functioning, attractive and easy to use. Link the web address to your email signature and your Facebook page. Did you know you can install a “SHOP” button on your business Facebook page? Promote your online store in your brick and mortar store, too.

Reward your loyal customers

Be proactive about getting your existing customers to shop with you this holiday season. You can create a coupon or postcard to hand to them with their receipt. You can plan a customer appreciation holiday party and pop the VIP invitation into their bag as they check out. Your existing customers provide your best word of mouth advertising and if you continue to treat them well, they will shop with you this holiday season.

If you take these and other simple steps NOW to plan for the holidays, the busy season will be less stressful and more profitable. Good luck and happy holiday planning.


Brooke Rouse is executive director of the St. Lawrence County Chamber of Commerce and Tourism Promotion Agent. She is a business owner, holds a master’s degree in tourism and is a former SUNY Canton Small Business Development Center Advisor. Contact her at brouse@stlawrencecountychamber.org or 386-4000.

August 2016: Commerce Corner

Workplace wellness: It really can be fun

Brooke Rouse

Brooke Rouse

Many of us spend a long day sitting in front of a computer, eating lunch at our desks, and eventually feeling the negative impacts of this routine on our health and wellness. When you think about it, this daily practice is not normal. Even on your biggest “couch potato” day at home, it is unlikely that you will sit in a chair in front of a screen for eight hours straight, unless of course, there is a great series marathon on Netflix. [Read more…]

April 2016: Commerce Corner

Six ways colleges impact local economies

Brooke Rouse

Brooke Rouse

The north country is fortunate to be home to many institutions of higher education. Many businesses in college towns feel the ebbs and flows of a “semester-based business cycle” and periods of particular peaks during move in, move out, graduations, family weekends, reunions and sporting events. The influx of students and their families, as well as a constantly revolving pool of faculty and staff, presents challenges and tremendous opportunity for the local economy. Here are six ways that colleges help to drive the local economy: [Read more…]

March 2016: Commerce Corner

North country women ahead of the curve

Kylie Peck

Kylie Peck

Women have been a part of the working class for decades. Today they represent almost 47 percent of the labor force in the United States, according the U.S. Department of Labor. Historically, women have served as secretaries, administrative assistants and receptionists, as well as nurses and teachers, but there has been a radical change in how women in the workplace are perceived. [Read more…]

December 2015: Commerce Corner

Give the gifts of local this season

Brooke Rouse

Brooke Rouse

Gift-giving is a traditional part of the holiday season for many. Some are overwhelmed by the shopping experience; others plan throughout the year and carefully select each and every item. In many parts of our rural north country, retail is limited and travel to larger areas or online shopping becomes a necessity. [Read more…]