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.

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.

The Key to Downtown Revitalization?

Brooke Rouse

A vibrant downtown is on the top of nearly every community’s wish list; how to get there is the question. Livability is a word used in planning that refers to the aspects of a community that improve quality of life. If livability is high, people will want to live, work and play in the community and are invested and committed to its future. Factors include both built and natural elements, “economic prosperity, social stability and equality, educational opportunity and cultural, entertainment and recreation possibilities” as defined by the Partners for Livable Communities.

     A review of several “top rated downtowns” reveal some common threads, often referencing locations that have experienced the common theme of peripheral development draining downtowns, and a new surge of interest in bringing people and business back to the historic commercial centers. Of greatest importance is that a community has a vision statement. Ideally the vision statement is then translated into a comprehensive plan that includes action items and key stakeholders and partners. That vision will direct the priority, investment and character of some of the other elements noted here as “keys to livability.”

     Land Use and Zoning: Communities are diligently reviewing their zoning and land use laws to ensure they are updated and in line with the current vision for the community. Often the comprehensive plan may identify what the “downtown” is, which may be a certain area or street other than the Main Street. Many municipalities are operating off of old and sometimes irrelevant or counterproductive laws.

     Pedestrian Friendly: Access and safety for cyclists and walkers is a top priority in increasing downtown vitality. Widening streets, widening and connecting sidewalks and paths, installation and strategic placement of light posts and bike racks, along with beautification features such as landscaping and public art all entice more people, and families, to come and spend time in the downtown. Reduced noise and pollution, combined with increased public spaces for outdoor dining and music are defining “hip” downtowns.

     Private – Public Partnerships: Successful communities have mechanisms in place for residents to contribute financially to the success of the community, whether it is for a civic or commercial project. These financial “holdings” may be in the form of a crowd sourcing campaign, partnership with a bank or foundation, or as a part of the municipal government. Public funds are necessary (or encouraged) to leverage almost any grant opportunity through state and private foundations and are critical to move projects forward.

     Arts, Entertainment and the Creative Class: Top downtowns always include a number of things to entertain people…a key to quality of life. Identifying, supporting and leveraging art and culture; museums, venues, and events will ensure residents and visitors are enjoying their community. Additionally, what has been referred to as the creative class (by Livability.com and others) includes engaging and finding a meaningful place for artists, innovators, researchers and technology experts to work and share their work.

     These are some of the key Livability Factors. What do you see in your community? What are you missing? Why do live there and why do you consider leaving? These are all good questions for conversation in your community. In 2017, get engaged, join a committee, run for public office, start a private enterprise! Communities will thrive when populations are steady (growing), healthy and happy!

BROOKE ROUSE is president and CEO of the St. Lawrence County Chamber of Commerce. Contact her at brooke@slcchamber.org.

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…]

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…]

October 2015: Commerce Corner

Growth opportunities and cautions

Brooke Rouse

Brooke Rouse

At some point in the life of your business you will approach the question: Should we expand? Should we grow our business? The many economic development agencies in the region hope you do get to this point, and hope you will seek us out for assistance. If, or when, that question pops up for you, here are a few things to consider in the way you grow and the strategy and approach to how, when, where and what you end up doing. [Read more…]

September 2015: Commerce Corner

Make a successful seasonal transition

Columnist Brooke James

Columnist Brooke Rouse

Fall brings beautiful colors, holiday preparations and harvest season. It also brings shorter, cooler days that signal it is time to prepare for hibernation. In the north country, we know that hibernation, given our long winters, is not a productive option. Business trends and cycles, as well as time and weather-dependent projects, may help direct fall planning for a successful seasonal transition. Being aware and strategic now may lead to your most successful year yet, whether you are a new entrepreneur or a veteran business owner. [Read more…]