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

[Read more…]

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…]

June 2016: Small Business Success

Selling a business takes many steps

Jennifer McCluskey

Jennifer McCluskey

At the Small Business Development Center, we work with many clients who are trying to buy a business. However, business owners who plan to sell their business can also benefit from a solid plan. If you are thinking of selling your business now, or at some time in the future, there are specific actions you can take and documents you can begin to prepare that will make this transition go smoothly. [Read more…]

May 2016: Small Business Success

Are you ready to open for business?

Sarah O'Connell

Sarah O’Connell

It’s very challenging to operate a seasonal business that’s open only part of the year, but it’s a financial necessity when your business depends on the weather and tourism. At the Small Business Development Center, our new clients often state that they are going to operate their weather- or visitor-dependent business year-round, but after the first year they often realize that it’s not financially viable to maintain payroll, utility and other expenses when the sales are just not there. [Read more…]

April 2016: Small Business Success

Resources for small business funding

Jennifer McCluskey

Jennifer McCluskey

In our local area, there are several different avenues a business owner can use to fund a start-up or growing small business. I touched on a few resources in a previous column, but there are several others you might want to be aware of. Depending on the needs of the business, the type of business and the size of the project, one funding resource might be better than another. At the Small Business Development Center, we can help direct business owners to the best fit for a project. [Read more…]

March 2016: Small Business Success

Maine-ly business with some extra salt

Sarah O'Connell

Sarah O’Connell

This is part two of my 1,500-mile solo road trip through New England to visit a small entrepreneurial venture way up in Down East Maine. The story begins when it seemed that everyone I knew started touting “Pink Himalayan Sea Salt.” I don’t exactly possess the palate of a gourmet, so I’m thinking, “Isn’t salt just salt?” Because basically, all salt was originally sea salt, whether it’s mined from deep beneath the earth or extracted from the ocean. But connoisseurs of salt believe that there are big differences in taste, mineral content and processing, and they are willing to pay the big bucks to have their condiment transported 7000-plus miles. [Read more…]