Change Is Gonna Come

Sarah O’Connell

Wouldn’t it be nice if things always stayed the same and we old dogs didn’t have to keep learning new tricks?  But unfortunately, things don’t happen that way.  I think more often than not, changes, while hard to push through at first, end up making our lives more efficient. We’ve seen a lot of things changing the past couple of years with small businesses.  

Social Media

                Of course, we know that social media evolves almost daily.   Remember MySpace, then Facebook?  Now Instagram and Twitter are where it’s at, and although we seem to be slow adopters up here, businesses need to know how to use these platforms to keep up.  The same thing is true when developing a website.  We have to make sure it’s mobile-friendly.  I only look up a business once or twice on my phone, and if they haven’t gotten with it, I probably won’t go back.  Posted hours?  Check.  Menu if a restaurant?  Check.  Quick response to a message?  Check.

Cybersecurity   

                If you do business with the federal government, you already know that cybersecurity rules related to the Defense Acquisition Regulations System have been heavily tightened.  As for doing business with the government, just the process of registering as a federal contractor in the System for Awards Management has gotten more complex; new and existing businesses now have to send a notarized letter by snail mail(!) to the General Services Administration confirming the authorized Entity Administrator.   

Data Protection

                The new General Data Protection Regulation concerning data protection and privacy for all individuals within the European Union (EU) and the European Economic Area (EEA) is being implemented this year. It also addresses the export of personal data outside the EU and EEA areas. The GDPR aims primarily to give control to citizens and residents over their personal data and to simplify the regulatory environment for international business by unifying the regulation within the EU.  It is going to impact any U.S. company doing business with counterparts and customers in Europe.

Taxes 

                No one is exactly sure how the new Tax Cuts and Jobs Act that took effect in 2018 is going to affect individuals and small businesses, but we’re going to be finding out pretty soon.

                The main effect on small businesses, the mom and pops and DBAs, is the same one that’s going to benefit individuals in that the individual tax rates will be lower, leaving business owners presumably with more money in their pockets.  At the same time, some traditional deductions will be disallowed. 

                At the SBDC, we try to keep up with all these changes as best we can so we can give our clients the most up-to-date information as possible.  We’re currently revamping our Entrepreneurial Training courses to expand on some of these areas, particularly social media and taxes.    We rely on our guest presenters who are professionals in these fields to bring our participants timely information.  Of course, any individual business can also contact us to try to find out how they will be impacted because they may be getting conflicting answers from the internet, from friends, family and other business owners.  We can access our research network in Albany or our statewide network of advisors to assist.

                We like to say that our Entrepreneurial Training Courses help would-be and existing entrepreneurs learn the necessary steps to building and growing a stronger business. Both the seven weekly sessions of the class held on the Jefferson Community College campus or the online version are coming up in early October.  If you are interested in learning more about the courses for yourself or a family member, please give us a call or check out our website at http://watertown.nyssbdc.org.

                The New York Small Business Development Center at JCC offers free, individual, confidential counseling to new or existing business owners in Jefferson and Lewis counties.  For more information, contact 315-782-9262, sbdc@sunyjefferson.edu.   St. Lawrence County residents can contact their SBDC at SUNY Canton, 315-386-7312, sbdc@canton.edu.

Sarah O’Connell is a certified business advisor with the New York State Small Business Development Center at SUNY Jefferson Community College. She is a former small business owner and lifelong Northern New York resident. Contact her at soconnell@sunyjefferson.edu.

Small Business Success: Agriculture 2.0

Sarah O’Connell

In rural Northern New York, agriculture has been one of the major economic drivers of the region since it was first settled by European immigrants.  According to a 2015 article cited in Wikipedia, New York is “one of the top five states for agricultural products, including dairy, cattle, apples, cabbages, potatoes, beets, viniculture, onions, maple syrup and many others.”  But for a variety of reasons including declining milk prices, global competition, and so on, the iconic small family farms are disappearing.  Or are they?

                What we’ve been seeing in the past few years is a variety of new ways to keep young people on the farm.  They are discovering new opportunities, improved technology, and niche markets as ways to stay (or move here) and earn a living.  As I mentioned in my May column, there are several distinctive ag-related enterprises that make our own north country marketable, whether it’s locally sourced foods (meats, cheese, maple, honey) and beverages (wine, beer, cider, liquors) or ag-tourism (the American Maple Museum, farm tours, bed and breakfasts on operating farms, edible or flower garden tours, etc.).

                At the most recent Business Leaders’ Breakfast sponsored by Lewis County Economic Development, some local food producers were spotlighted.  Cedar Hedge Farm, owned by Jan Virkler and Jeff Van Arsdale, has been producing artisanal goat cheeses: feta, sharp feta and unsalted chèvre as well as a variety of jams, jellies and breads using their cheese products.  Two things that really stood out for me in their presentation.  One is that, although it’s a third-generation farm in the Virkler family, Jan decided to move back  here in 2012 with Jeff from professional jobs in New Jersey to embrace the ag life. The other thing I loved was its motto:  “If we don’t grow it, we don’t make it.”

                If you’ve been at any local events or craft fairs or farmers markets in the past couple of years, you’ve probably seen (and hopefully tasted) the caffeinated creations from Tug Hill Artisan Roasters.  Their various roast blends are also carried by and served in several area restaurants and shops. The company is the brainchild of brothers Ian and Scott Gilbert and friend Gregory Widrick and opened in April 2017.  It meets a couple of the marks of current trends – artisanal coffee represents a unique niche as well as a locally produced product, although of course, we haven’t yet figured out how to grow coffee beans in  Northern New York.  But who knows – no one thought we could grow grapes hardy enough for local wines a few years ago! Two transplants from the New York City area, Julian Mangano and Alice Waite, recently founded Of the Earth for the Soul company, which operates Della Terra as a small, bio-intensive farm in Castorland. In their “About” section on their Facebook page, the farmers note, “We are dedicated to providing food with integrity, engaging in organic, non-chemical, non-GMO practices.”  While not certified organic, they do not use herbicides or pesticides and grow an amazing quantity and quality of vegetables in a very small space called square foot gardening.

                It’s impossible to talk about Lewis County agriculture without mentioning maple syrup.  One of the newer local maple syrup businesses is Silver Sap Maple, owned by Cassandra Buell, who also happens to be the Lewis County planner, and her husband, Brian.  While still very new to the maple business, they are adding their taps by leaps and bounds each year and successfully selling their sweet wares.

                We’re now officially in the summer season.   Just as we encourage people to shop small and local in the winter holidays, we hope everyone will pledge to support our local food (and beverage) producers this summer and EAT local!

                The New York Small Business Development Center at JCC offers free, individual, confidential counseling to new or existing business owners in Jefferson and Lewis counties.  For more information, contact 315-782-9262, sbdc@sunyjefferson.edu.   St. Lawrence County residents can contact their SBDC at SUNY Canton, 315-386-7312, sbdc@canton.edu.

Branding for Success

Sarah O’Connell

In April, Jefferson Community College presented its annual Jefferson Business Symposium for high school and college students and members of the community.  This year’s theme was “Build Brand U” and featured a variety of presentations during the day about developing yourself a brand as a student, a job seeker, a leader or a businessperson.   Keynote speakers for the event were Jody and Doreen Garrett, founders of several successful local businesses.

    During the day, I gave a presentation called “Building a Winning Brand for Your North Country Business.”  I talked about what it means to be an entrepreneur as well as how to choose what kind of business you might want to start here in Northern New York.   Besides the usual “how to start a business” information, I also highlighted determining what local business opportunities exist in our area and then making sure it suits your passion, your personality and your pocketbook. 

    For example, are you the type of person who would be happy with someone else giving you a blueprint for your business model? In other words, would you be a better fit as a franchisee, or as an independent business that creates your own path?  

    Maybe you’re a fan of the emerging disruptor or collaborative/sharing economy.   Uber, Lyft and AirBnB are examples of this, and they are turning many traditional industries upside down (mass transportation and accommodations) and requiring municipal entities to figure out how to capture licensing and taxation revenues from these new models.

    Again, in a broader sense, there are opportunities in the technology fields as the need for new products and services changes rapidly – software, ecommerce, cybersecurity, digital marketing, games, apps and so on.    The retiring Baby Boomers need services in property maintenance, senior care, etc.  The mobile Fort Drum community and young professionals are markets looking for upcoming trends they would like to see here, such as niche clothing shops and different dining experiences. The resurgence of Watertown’s downtown also offers a refreshing assortment of shopping – fashion eyewear, yoga studios, juice bars, an art gallery, craft brewpubs, wine lounges, spas, thrift and vinyl record shops.  Some of these have been around for quite a while but are seeing an uptick because of increased foot traffic from the new businesses and events designed to bring people to downtown.

    Last but not least, take a look at the distinctive enterprises that make our own north country marketable, whether it’s locally sourced foods (meats, cheese, honey) and beverages (wine, beer, cider, liquors), crafts made by artisans (wood items, candles), tourism and agri-tourism venues and winter/summer sports.

    Still not sure what business to start?  Each year Jefferson Community College’s Center for Community Studies undertakes a Survey of the Community for Jefferson and Lewis counties (available on the JCC website).   Viewing the responses to the survey questions on what people feel is missing may just give you an idea of a need waiting to be filled.

    What’s the next step?   Do a target market analysis, come up with a business plan and then develop a sense of the startup costs.  This is where your purse or wallet comes into play, because it needs to be a concept that you can afford to invest in with or without the assistance of a commercial bank and/or a public lender. (Check out what funds might be available through jcida.com under “Financing Assistance Applications.”)  The SBDC can assist you in developing the business plan and creating financial forecasts for your loan package.  Building a strong business brand will point you on the way to success.

    Note: Planning is underway for our 14th annual Business of Women networking conference in June.  Watch facebook.com/BusinessofWomen/ for more information.

    The New York Small Business Development Center at JCC offers free, individual, confidential counseling to new or existing business owners in Jefferson and Lewis counties.  For more information, contact 315-782-9262, sbdc@sunyjefferson.edu.   St. Lawrence County residents can contact their SBDC at SUNY Canton, 315-386-7312, sbdc@canton.edu.

SARAH O’CONNELL is a certified business advisor with the New York State Small Business Development Center at Jefferson Community College. She is a former small business owner and lifelong Northern New York resident. Contact her at soconnell@sunyjefferson.edu.

How to Find the Best Location For Your Business

Jennifer McCluskey

At the Small Business Development Center, we work with a lot of business owners who are looking to move into a downtown space and trying to decide the best town or location for their business. What some business owners don’t know is that through our Research Network we have access to many different statistical databases. We can use these databases to get our clients much of the statistical information they would need to make an informed decision about where to start their new brick-and-mortar business, or which location would be right to move or expand their business. Some of the statistics that can be vital for making this decision are as follows:

    Traffic Counts:  The state Department of Transportation keeps a website which can map down to very precise detail how many cars travel down a specific street or through an intersection so that you, as the business owner, can know how many vehicles drive past your potential location. The DOT traffic website is free for anyone to use, so this is information you can get on your own, or the SBDC can compile it for you.

    Pedestrian Counts:  Sometimes just knowing how many cars drive past a location is not enough, you may need to know how much foot traffic there is. Some of the larger cities may have this information, but in the north country business owners may need to develop their own pedestrian count study. The SBDC can help you with strategies to design an accurate pedestrian count that won’t require you to sit out there all day, and will help get a more complete representation of where people go over time.

    Demographic Data:  The SBDC Research Network has paid for access to several databases that provide a wealth of knowledge about the people that live in a particular area. Knowing the ages, income ranges, ethnicity and buying patterns of a community is vital information for local business owners. We can create a customized geography around your business or potential location, looking at a radius of less than a mile to up to 150 miles away, or we can explore the population of a town, county or state. These databases take information from the U.S. Census Bureau and private sources to examine how many households there are in the area, what income ranges are, the daytime population of workers in an area versus the night time population of residents, and also demographic information like age, ethnic background and more. These numbers can help you see if your target population is active in the downtown area you are examining. We can also show this data in map form, so you can get an idea, say, of which areas of a city contain residents who earn higher incomes.

    These tools can also provide information about consumer spending and behavior patterns in an area. If, for example, you sell a healthy snack product, the database can tell you how many people in a local area are trying to eat healthy and lose weight, and how much the average household spends on snacks. There are a wide range of expenditures and behaviors covered, including restaurant, food and beverage, household items and services, recreation and medical services.

    As your SBDC business advisor, we can also get general industry trends, to give you an idea of what to look for in your industry and how technology, marketing, and other changes may lead to a shift in how you do business as you expand.

                When you don’t know what you don’t know about expanding your business, consulting us at the SBDC can be a great option for free business counseling and access to market research.  To set up an appointment for confidential business counseling and support, you can contact the SUNY Canton SBDC at (315) 386-7312 or the Watertown SBDC at JCC (315) 782-9262.

Jennifer McCluskey is a certified business advisor with the New York State Small Business Development Center at SUNY Canton. Contact her McCluskeyj@canton.edu.

New Business Advisor Advances Online Marketing Strategies

Jennifer McCluskey

Brick-and-mortar stores looking to revitalize our downtowns sometimes overlook the power of the internet in bringing in new customers. I have seen several stores in the north country that don’t have a solid website or engaging social media. If this is the case for your shop or business, it might be time to think about improving your online presence. Think about this: If a tourist drives by, will your pizza place pop up on their smartphone when they are looking for lunch? If not, your local Small Business Development Centers can help you bring in more tourists and more locals, too, by assisting you with your online marketing strategy.
     At the SUNY Canton SBDC, we have a new business advisor who is doing just that. Her name is Renee Goodnow and she is working with small businesses in St. Lawrence County to help them improve their online and social media presence. The position was funded through a grant from the Alcoa Foundation, which is looking to help small businesses in the region expand their services beyond brick-and-mortar stores into e-commerce, where they can reach a significantly larger customer base.
     Renee has a background in industrial design and has also helped run a local small business, so she comes to the SBDC with a wide range of skills that she will use to assist business owners in meeting their internet marketing goals. Renee can assist with website design, the revamping of an old website for a more modern look, and also help you learn how to market the site to reach more customers. For those of you who would like a website or a stronger social media presence, but don’t have the time to do it yourself, Renee can help you get connected with a local web developer who can be a long-term resource for your business.
     Renee can also connect your business with local resources in the community, such as photographers and videographers, who can improve the way your business communicates visually with the world. She can help you craft your message and your brand by helping you communicate what is unique about your business. She can also help with logo design, or hook your business up with a local company for logo and other branding designs. Just as with the rest of the services the Small Business Development Center provides, there is no charge for this assistance.
     Renee can meet with you one-on-one and can assess your needs. Some of the ways she is helping clients already include:

• Working with several business owners to help them develop their first websites.
• Talking with business owners about setting up and marketing their business Facebook pages.
• Helping business owners decide which social media outlets are right for them and how to maximize their presence on each.
• Logo development.
• Assistance with creating compelling photographs and videos for marketing.
• Teaching business owners how to rank higher on search engines through search engine optimization (SEO) techniques.

     Renee also will be setting up free training at different locations around the county to help business owners learn how to better market themselves online. The first training in January about social media marketing, presented by Molly Williams from Railroad Productions, was a great success drawing over 30 business owners who learned how to use Facebook, Instagram, and other social media outlets to better share their voice and their brand with customers. The second training in March, with co-presenters Nate Lashomb from the Massena Chamber of Commerce and Jason Hendricks from H3 Designs, also drew a wide variety of business customers and covered a lot of information about web design and search engine optimization.
     If you are interested in developing your social media presence, brand, or would like to have Renee assist your business in improving your online presence, you can contact her at the Small Business Development Center at SUNY Canton at (315) 386-7312 or via email goodnowr@canton.edu. Keep an eye on the SBDC’s Facebook page to find out about more upcoming trainings. The Watertown SBDC at Jefferson Community College also has many resources available to assist your business with your online presence, and can be reached at 315-782-9262.

 Jennifer mccluskey is a certified business advisor with the New York State Small Business Development Center at SUNY Canton. Contact her at McCluskeyj@canton.edu. 

Building the North Country Economy

Sarah O’Connell

The American economy has changed greatly over the last half century, and we’ve seen a lot of those changes right here in the north country.  Most of our paper manufacturers have closed down, national chains have changed the faces of our downtowns and our many small dairy farms have merged into just a handful of large agricultural enterprises.   Our largest employers now are the military, the hospitals, the various levels of government and educational facilities.

                So what happens when someone doesn’t fit into one of those types of businesses?  Maybe they decide to start their own business.   Every year we at the Watertown SBDC talk to around 700 would-be entrepreneurs.  Of those, many just want to kick around an idea or need some basic assistance with getting the business set up. Others decide to go forward and obtain a startup or expansion loan. 

                Many of the small businesses we work with are what the U.S. Small Business Administration calls “nonemployer” firms, meaning they are a one-person operation with no employees.  We could call them “starter businesses” – usually they are quicker and less costly to start, and also to close.  The median age of a nonemployer business is six years, about four years less than an employer business.

                Furthermore, startups are less likely than established businesses to create jobs, again because during those crucial first five years, the new business may be just struggling to find its place in the market, much less adding employees.  Less than half the jobs created by startups still exist after five years, while expanding, older businesses account for 60 percent of small business job creation.   The share of employment that microbusinesses (those with fewer than 10 employees upon start up) contribute has declined over the past 30 years – from 15% in 1978 to 11.6 per cent in 2011.  (SBA.gov).

                With all that being said, small businesses are very important to the local economy.  Besides providing employment for a local resident, new businesses may bring new ideas to the area.  They can provide support services or products that free up larger employers to do what they do best.    Small businesses also generate tax income through self-employment, payroll taxes and sales tax collection.  They can also be more reactive and flexible to market trends. Just look at the rise of the craft beverage industry in our area,  or ethnic restaurants and small niche shops; I think they make our community a more interesting and enjoyable place to live than large metropolitan areas that are just lines of chain store after chain store.  

                How about lawn care providers, plumbers, small contractors, or snow plow operators (shout out here to my guy Mike!)?    Small hardware stores, bakeries, crafters, web designers, our local news sources, and professionals like lawyers, insurance agents and accountants are here to provide us with their goods and services; they know their community and may even be our neighbors.

                So sure, you may find the Internet is quick and easy to search for something, order and pay for it electronically; it might even offer a cheaper deal than what you’d pay locally, and hey! – free shipping!    But at the end of the day, what is that doing to help your local economy?  If you want to support the north country economy, it starts with spending your money right here and creating growth and job creation, one local purchase at a time.

                For fiscal year 2015-16, the advisors at the Watertown SBDC serving Jefferson, Lewis and Oswego counties saw 735 clients, spent 5,174 hours counseling, helped them create 167 new jobs and retain 53 jobs and assisted 51 clients in obtaining financing for business startup or expansion in the amount of $15,166,933.

                The New York Small Business Development Center at JCC offers free, individual, confidential counseling to new or existing business owners in Jefferson and Lewis counties.  For more information, contact 315-782-9262, sbdc@sunyjefferson.edu.   St. Lawrence County residents can contact their SBDC at SUNY Canton, 315-386-7312, sbdc@canton.edu.

SARAH O’CONNELL is a certified business advisor with the New York State Small Business Development Center at Jefferson Community College. She is a former small business owner and lifelong Northern New York resident. Contact her at soconnell@sunyjefferson.edu. Her column appears bi-monthly in NNY Business.

Don’t forget Facebook in media mix

Jennifer McCluskey

Jennifer McCluskey

As you are planning out your business’s advertising budget for next year, you may want to consider adding targeted Facebook ads if you have not done so already.

Being able to be very specific in defining a target audience is one of the reasons many businesses are turning to Facebook for advertising in addition to their more traditional advertising methods. For example, you can set up an audience of men ages 18 to 22 who like snowmobiling and live within either a 10 mile radius of Gouverneur or a 20-mile radius of Watertown. You can be as specific or as broad as you like, depending on the certain type of customer you are trying to reach.

If you’ve never set up a targeted audience for your Facebook ads before, here’s how you do it. At the lower-left corner of your Facebook page, there should be a blue button that says “Promote.” Facebook likes to move stuff around regularly, so if it’s not there, it will be somewhere on the page. Click it, click “see all promotions,” go to the bottom of the screen and click “Go to Ads Manager.” The dropdown menu in the upper left hand corner of your Ads Manager should give you a link to set up an audience. If it does not, click “Create Ad,” and choose an objective to be able to see the audience creator.

There are several ways to develop an audience. One way is to upload information about customers, and Facebook will match that to other people who share the same demographics and interest. Alternatively, you can create an audience of people who have interacted with your Facebook page, mobile app, or visited your website. Beyond those criteria, you can target customers based on their age, gender, and location. You can also use the detailed targeting search bar to find people that match certain interests. This is where the fun part begins. Start typing a phrase and see what comes up. Some examples are parents of teenagers age 13 to 18, people who are interested in magnum ice cream, people who are interested in handmade jewelry, people whose home value is more than $200,000, and people who are credit card “high spenders.” Yes, it is pretty scary how much information Facebook has about us. The list goes on and on, so you can craft an audience that is detailed as much as you want.

You can also choose to include or exclude people who like your page, or send the ad to friends of people who like your page. You can choose to have your ad or boosted post come up within your audience’s newsfeed (it will say “sponsored” above the ad) or in the sidebar. Ads in the newsfeed are a little more subtle, but it might be worth trying both to see which is most effective. You can also choose to have your ads show up on Instagram as well.

Once you have created an audience you can save it for future use. It can be useful to test several different audiences to see which works best to meet your goal. Continue to add audiences for variety, so you won’t be showing the ad to the same people every time.

Finally, and most importantly, you want to make sure you have a measurable goal to know if your marketing is effective. Your goal may be to get more clicks through to your website, to get more emails or calls from customers, and of course to make more sales. You will want to track the results from your ad campaign. Facebook has some insights in the ads manager, but you can also use website analyzers like Google Analytics to track clicks to your website from Facebook. You can also include a coupon code with your ad so that you will know how many actual customers come in because of it. It is also good to test two different ads, audiences, etc. to find out what works the best to bring in more customers.

Feel free to get in touch with us at the SBDC if you want help designing your Facebook ads or if you want any other assistance for your business. We are always here to help. The Small Business Development Center has offices at SUNY Canton (315) 386-7312 and at JCC in Watertown (315) 782-9262.

Strengthen your brand with Instagram

Jennifer McCluskey

Jennifer McCluskey

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August 2016: Small Business Success

Understand options for crowdfunding

Jennifer McCluskey

Jennifer McCluskey

Crowdfunding, using various internet platforms like GoFundMe and Kickstarter to reach multiple investors, has been increasing by leaps and bounds over the last few years. So is crowdfunding a possibility for your business?

Certain types of products or businesses work better for crowdfunding than others. New and exciting businesses and products, nonprofits that can help people connect to a cause, or anything else that could get regular people excited to donate their hard-earned money may do well with crowdfunding. [Read more…]

July 2016: Small Business Success

In business, school is never on break

Sarah O'Connell

Sarah O’Connell

One of the basic tenets of good small business management is to keep learning as much as you can about the business you’re in, whether it’s watching the horizon for up-and-coming trends in other parts of the country, observing what innovations or new products are being introduced in your industry or scanning trade publications and websites to check out ways to make your business more successful. [Read more…]