Invest In Your Businesses Online Presence

Jessica Piatt

Here in Northern New York, the idea of not having enough time or resources to invest in your business’ online presence is widely accepted as a fixed fact by many businesses and organizations.  It can be difficult to see the value in planning ahead in a digital environment where content is comprised of click bate, feedback is instantaneous, and comment trolls come by the dozen.  When you challenge the idea that you do not have the time, the resources, or the savvy to plan, you will find that this strategy is an investment in your brand, it will make your life easier, and it will prove to be effective.

It’s an Investment

                When you take the time to plan your social media content, you’re making an investment in your brand’s online awareness and therefore you’re making an investment in the growth of your business.  Planning your content ahead of time can be as basic as setting aside time in the beginning of the week, evaluating your business’ needs, offers, or values, and selecting content to reflect those priorities.  Craft a message with your followers, costumers, or clients, in mind, then schedule a time to post.

It Will Lighten Your Load

                Once you’ve taken the plunge and commit to investing in your brand’s digital presence, aim for consistency.  In being consistent, you will make this investment routine.  Once it’s become common practice, this routine will help transform your tendency to be reactive in the digital arena, reclaim control of your brand’s narrative, and be proactive with your online presence. This mega metamorphosis, you will likely free up valuable time at the office and reduce the paralyzing stress surrounding the use of social media as a tool.

It Will Yield Results

                When you commit the time, and maintain consistency, your efforts will yield results.  I’m talking real, quantifiable results here.  When you plan your content keeping your brand and consumers in mind, schedule your posts using measurable data to maximize your impact, and maintain consistency in your diligent efforts, your business will reap the benefits.  Not only will this strategy reduce the time you squander thinking of clever captions at the last minute or reduce the stress you associate with pressures of social media, it will benefit your brand’s overall awareness.  Being present, intentional, and consistent, on social media, makeup the cornerstone of building trust with your audience. 

Resources are your Friends

                Choose platforms which augment your brand.  Once you get started, use the platform analytics available to enhance your objectives.  LinkedIn, Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter, all offer free engagement analytics for business accounts.  This information is essential to the enrichment of your content production and scheduling.  There are also external resources that can be used to supplement your efforts and strengthen your overall effectiveness.  Give resources like Canva, ColorStory, Hootsuite, Planoly, and/or VSCO a try.  See which apps/websites work best for your brand and implement them into your routine.  If you’re still hesitant, or simply have questions, additional resources such as the Greater Watertown – North Country Chamber of Commerce, or other organizations dedicated to promoting and supporting business are a great start!

A Bright Future

                It’s time to invest in your brand’s online presence and take advantage of what the digital world has to offer.  Social media platforms help businesses grow.  When used intentionally, social media can lead to increased brand awareness and build trust with your audience. When you challenge the idea that you do not have the time, the resources, or the savvy to plan, and you recognize that these platforms can enhance your brand and better your business, you will discover the plethora of possibilities that planning content can bring to your business in the North Country. 

20 Questions: Lewis County native grows chamber strength and membership

SYDNEY SCHAEFER \ NNY BUSINESS
CEO and President of the Lewis County Chamber of Commerce Kristen Aucter, poses for a portrait at her desk in the Chamber’s Lowville office.

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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.

Making Connections: An Introverts Guide to Networking

Jessica Piatt

Many professionals find networking to be a daunting, treacherous endeavor.  It’s uncomfortable, awkward, and at times, painful. There will always be those who have a natural talent for working a room, namely extroverts who thrive in social interactions, but for others networking in a room of strangers can make one feel phony or inauthentic.

As an introvert, I find it all a little overwhelming but in the last year I have found ways to make networking not only successful ventures but enjoyable ones! Here are some ideas on how any north country professional (introvert or not) can embrace networking just as I have:

Change Your Attitude

Networking events are an opportunity for growth and discovery. Treat them that way! All too often we set ourselves up for failure by approaching networking with dread and pessimism.  Now, if you’re an introvert, you can’t simply will yourself to be extroverted. But when you shift your perspective from viewing it as a chore to seeing the near infinite possibilities, you take control of the narrative and attain the opportunities networking offers.

Be Purposeful

Now that you’ve changed your attitude, set an intention for the event.  Sure, expanding your professional network is a great start but it can be broad and a bit scary. Try simplifying your intention.  Replace “expand professional network” with “make a meaningful connection.” By clarifying your intent you’ll enable yourself to have more natural interactions with those around you. Start small, find a familiar face, perhaps someone you have met before, but only briefly, and work on further establishing your professional relationship.

Find Common Ground

Okay, so you’ve changed your attitude and you’ve set your intention for the event. Now what? Find a common interest! This tiny trick might seem simple but, trust me, it can go a long way. Think about how your interests and goals align with those of people you meet. This can help you forge meaningful connections that yield collaborative initiatives and long-lasting working relationships.  When your networking is driven with intention and forged over common interests it will feel more authentic and meaningful. Bonus, it will also make you more memorable to others in attendance!

Bring a Friend

The next time you register for an upcoming social/networking event, invite a friend to tag along. You don’t always have to go at it alone. Having a friend or coworker by your side can make large networking events less intimidating.  You might just find you have a connection in attendance worth introducing your friend to

Networking is a necessary component of success in any career. It can lead to career opportunities, a broader knowledge of your surrounding community, improve the scope for innovation, professional advancement, and so much more. When you change your perspective, begin to have purposeful interactions, find common ground with others, and use the resources already available to you, you will find networking isn’t so daunting after all. Perhaps you’ll even come to embrace it.

JESSICA PIATT is the marketing director at the Greater Watertown-North Country Chamber of Commerce. You can contact her by calling 315-788-4400 or by emailing jpiatt@watertownny.com.

I LOVE Northern NY – How to get in on ILNY promotions

BROOKE ROUSE

Many recognize the I LOVE NY brand and think of it as New York City. In fact, I LOVE NY is the official destination brand of New York State.  Each county government designates an organization be the ‘local boots on the ground,’ or tourism promotion agent (TPA) for I LOVE NY, or more specifically, Empire State Development’s Tourism Division.  An annual grant is then administered, combining state and County funds to be used specifically for marketing the County as a destination to out-of-county visitors.

                In addition to the grant funds, the TPAs work closely with the I LOVE NY team on a number of marketing initiatives and state wide campaigns. So how do you, as a business or community, get a piece of the pie?

                Your County TPA creates a marketing plan annually and always appreciates participation from tourism partners. Sometimes cooperative marketing opportunities exist, where you can buy in at an affordable rate to get a lot more. This is done through regional branding efforts, where you can be highlighted in print or digital platforms.

                Your TPA is actively seeking exposure for your county…one of the best ways to do that is through earned media (we do the work to earn the recognition, but don’t necessarily pay any money). For example, the TPA will communicate with writers or the state may organize a trip of writers (also known as a FAM or familiarization tour) to visit and write, blog, photograph the area. Typically we need businesses to host for overnights, meals, excursions, or tours. Typically these things need to be offered for free or at a discount. The ‘host,’ as an active participant will then be covered in the content. These stories have tremendous value that our tourism marketing budgets could not afford, so this is a great opportunity for the destination and the business, product, etc.

                Your TPA is actively updating websites, social media, visitor guides and requests for story leads. The most important thing…PHOTOS. A picture tells a thousand words. High quality (high resolution) photos, showing people doing things are the best way to really tell the story. Any time your community or business can share high quality photos (not smartphone photos) of a festival, activity, landmark – you are sure to be included in the next promotion.

                The more we know, the more we can help. I LOVE NY is constantly sending out story leads for major publications like USA Today, NY Times, etc. They want to know what is new, what is unique. If we know what you are up to (and have high quality photos!), we can quickly send the word (and image) along. Sometimes its quirky – a top 20 list of breakfast features, or unique requests like spa getaways where you can sleep under the stars. The more unique offerings you can create, the better. The more we know about it, the more you benefit.

                The state and other state partners have also developed several thematic campaigns.; Haunted History Trail, PRIDE, Underground Railroad,  Path Through History, Taste NY, to name a few. If you can create an event or have an attraction that is a fit, be sure to let your TPA know.

                To get connected with your local TPA, call 1000 Islands International Tourism Council (Jefferson County) 315-482-2520, Oswego County Department of Community Development, Tourism & Planning 315-349-8322, or St. Lawrence County Chamber of Commerce 315-386-4000.

Brooke Rouse is executive director of the St. Lawrence County Chamber of Commerce and a 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@st.lawrencecountychamber.org.

Business Rises as Water Levels Fall To Normal

WATERTOWN DAILY TIMES FILE PHOTO A tourist boat approaches Boldt Castle in Alexandria Bay.

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Small Business Startup: The Great Escape, Mind Body and Soul

DAYTONA NILES / NNY BUSINESS
Terrie LaLone is the owner of the Great Escape in downtown Watertown. This is a business that helps with light and sound meditation and healing including a Brain Tap.

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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.

The Business of Small Business

KRISTEN AUCTER

President Calvin Coolidge stated that “the business of America is business” and although the statement was made in the 1920’s it still rings true today. The encouragement of entrepreneurship across the country idealizes our willingness to take risks and reach for the stars. The successful businesses that run through our small towns and communities provide the nourishment to keep that enthusiasm and those dreams alive.

    Small businesses create a strong middle class, give back exponentially to the community and have been, throughout the nation’s history, the primary source of job creation in the country. It is our job as consumers to continuously provide support to perpetuate the cycle of success to the business owner and the communities we live in.

    According to the Small Business Administration, small businesses make up 99.7% of US employer firms. Since the last recession they have accounted for 67% of the new jobs created! Those statistics alone should make people want to identify how to continue our small business revolution. Here are some ideas on how you, as a consumer or business, can do just that:

  1. Shop there! This one shouldn’t need much of an explanation. Visit their businesses. Use their services. Make it a habit to check what they have available before going to larger box stores.
  2. Participate in “Small Business Saturday”. Since 2010 American Express has been encouraging consumers to skip Black Friday shopping and support their local small businesses. The campaign was launched in an effort to aid small businesses in gaining exposure and to change the way consumers shop in their own community. Many Chambers of Commerce, including Lewis County’s, open their doors on that day as a welcome station. Providing lists of business open for the day, reusable shopping bags and goodies for kids or pets who may be tagging along!
  3. Encourage your friends and family to shop local. Everyone hates the dreaded question “what do you want for your birthday/Christmas/graduation etc”. Let them know you love what the local shops have to offer. It not only gets you what you want but introduces a new customer to those businesses.
  4. Look into community gift certificates. Many local Chambers offer gift certificates that can be used at multiple participating businesses in the area. Lewis County will have Chamber Ca$h available as of June 1st. It is a dollar for dollar match that will allow the recipient to purchase goods and services locally!
  5. Organize a community event. Small Business Saturday doesn’t have to be the only day of the year to step foot in the doors of these businesses. Be creative and host an event that encourages people to become aware of what hidden treasures your community has.
  6. If you enjoy your experience provide a good review. Yelp, Google and Foursquare are all review sites that other people use when making decisions where to shop. It is the new “word of mouth”. It will increase their visibility in search results and continues to foster that sense of trust in small businesses.
  7. Network. Network. Network. Business After Hours are a great way to know what is new in the community. Most small businesses start out of someone’s home. While these businesses might not have a store front to visit this doesn’t mean they aren’t exactly what you are looking for and you can help them grow. As a Chamber we encourage these new, up and coming businesses to come to Chamber events to let people know what they have to offer.
  8. Collaboration. Do you own a small business? Do you have skills or insight that might be a benefit to someone just starting out? Reach out to your Chamber to host a speaking event in a local speaker series at a free or discounted price.

   Beyond creating jobs, investing in locally owned small businesses keeps money in your community to support other important initiatives through the local sales tax earned. Education, law enforcement and emergency services, parks, and other publically funded programs all benefit immensely.

And, of course, shopping at local small businesses creates a unique experience you can’t have online. Small businesses tend to provide a more personal customer experience and offer special things you wouldn’t find elsewhere.

Kristen Aucter is the president and CEO of the Lewis County Chamber of Commerce. Contact her by emailing kristen@lewiscountychamber.org.

20 Questions: Professionals Joining Together

AMANDA MORRISON / NNY MAGAZINES

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