A Family Focus On Business: Relph Benefit Services serve the north country

From left to right: Jack Gorman, John Bartholf, Bob Relph Sr, Fred Tontarski, Bob Relph Jr, Mike Wiley stand together at the site of their newly built office in 1989.

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The Experience Economy: An opportunity for business

Brooke Rouse

Summer always brings people out; locals, snowbirds, visitors. It’s an exciting time to enjoy our great outdoors, art, culture, events and more. Some people have the gear, the know how and the ability to experience a lot of what is available, and others don’t – partially because they can’t access the opportunity. 

    You may find yourself saying, “I want to paddle that river, but I don’t have a boat, or really want to own a boat or have a place to store it. But I’d really like to go out on the Grasse River.” You may hear about the bike paths and ATV trails and say ‘Hey – I want to try that’, or attend an art festival and say, ‘Wow – I would love to try painting again, with a little instruction.’ Business is about finding solutions, the solution here is the ability to create and offer an EXPERIENCE. 

    The Experience Economy is growing by leaps and bounds, year over year, with the most significant growth in the 18-34 year old population. Still 50 percent of this audience is 45 years or older. This is an opportunity. The term Experience Economy was first introduced in 1998 as an argument that “businesses must orchestrate memorable events for their customers, and that memory itself becomes the product: the “experience” (Pine & Gilmore). 

    Online shopping has become the number one threat and concern to many retail establishments and brick and mortar businesses and attractions. Business owners are constantly seeking ways to stay competitive in the retail market, typically honing in on tremendous customer service that equates to an EXPERIENCE that cannot be found online. Organizations like the Frederic Remington Art Museum in Ogdensburg have increased their focus on experience, not only for a museum tour, but for the unique opportunity to do yoga in the gallery or learn how to paint. Increased awareness of the museum through events and experiences has ensured greater exposure in new markets and a stronger relationship with patrons. 

    St. Lawrence County has welcomed two new ‘Experience Businesses’ for recreation this year. Seaway Outfitters in Ogdensburg rents bikes, SUP boards, kayaks, rollerblades and offers ATV tours. Grasse River Adventures offers fully guided and outfitted hunting, camping, hiking and canoe trips. This type of service allows people to experience things they may not get to otherwise, reduces risk, and allows for adventure without the hassle. These experiences can be booked on the internet, but are offered and experienced here, on the ground by local businesses. 

    Experience comes from and is shared by passion. Allow yourself to pursue local experiences…if there is not a business offering it, consider creating one or recruiting a friend of family member to do it. Business development assistance is available by local Chambers and Small Business Development Centers. 

    As the Tourism Promotion Agent for St. Lawrence County, we are constantly marketing (and bragging) about our tremendous opportunities to discover things here that even locals don’t know about. We are always seeking more opportunities to refer a business to make the experience happen for visitors and residents. 

Improve your Content (and Grow) in Three Easy Steps

Jessica Piatt

If you’re new to the rapidly expanding world of social media, welcome! It’s a fun place where individuals can create, organizations can expand their brand, and businesses can profit.  It can also be an intimidating world for any user, let alone someone doing it in a professional capacity with little to no experience using social media as a tool to market a service or product.  I’m going to give you the three pillars of creating a cohesive strategy to improve your content on social media. Thus, improving your brand awareness.  If you’re ready to commit to investing in your brand’s success on social media, then these steps can help you accomplish that goal. 

Start with Looking Ahead

    Planning is key when it comes to content creation.  When you look ahead, you’re taking the time to consider your brand’s consistency, your target audience, and what you can offer.  This is to say that you are planning with a purpose.  This is an important habit to initiate because it is crucial to transforming your social media presence.  In my last contribution, I went into this concept in further detail in a piece titled Invest in Your Businesses Online Presence.  In this column, I intend to build on the notion by recognizing it as a paramount pillar in your endeavor to improve your content and increase your growth. Planning with a purpose plays a critical role in your cohesive strategy to improve your content by establishing the ground work for your approach.

Quality Visuals Count

    Now that you’re in the habit of planning with a purpose (or on your way there soon) it’s time to talk visuals. Visuals are a key component to any marketing strategy.  They are an effective method of making memorable impressions that can be converted to meet a call to action.  And people like them!  With visual content continuing to yield higher engagement rates than text alone, employing this tactic to your overall strategy, as laid out in step one, will produce real results.  However, keep in mind that quality over quantity holds power when it comes to the visuals you associate with your brand.  The photos and videos you post should fit well into your organization’s visual brand, keeping the audience in mind.  It’s true that a picture’s worth a thousand words, but who are you talking to? The visuals you use should resonate with your audience.  Take photos that both represent your brand and hit your target audience (it’s 2019, this can be easily done by using your smart phone) then post them to the appropriate platforms.  When you maintain your brand, act with purpose, and produce quality visuals, it will show in your content. Now, you can take this practice a step further.  Consider which posts are generating higher engagement rates and respond by giving your followers more of what they demand.  Quality visuals, produced within the parameters of your visual brand, made for your audience will enhance your efforts to improve your content and grow your brand.

Words Absolutely Matter

    Having a brand voice is an essential part of success when it comes to social media.  Using a brand voice gives your audience a consistent feel that maintains your brand’s identity and helps build relationships.  Think about the words you type and how they can help you connect. At the Greater Watertown – North Country Chamber of Commerce we believe that when people make meaningful connections, it leads to growth.  It is for this reason why we provide opportunities for businesses, networking experiences for professionals, and encourage organizations across northern New York to use social media intentionally.  The next time you write copy for purposes of social media, do so with your brand’s voice.  Write for your target audience and be consistent with your messaging.  This practice will help your content feel familiar and better resonate with your audience.  Consequently, writing in your brand’s voice will make your content more impactful, therefore improving your connections and growing your brand.

    Well executed content is vital to growing your presence on social media.  In taking the necessary steps to improve your content, you’re committing to the development of your brand.  Utilize the three pillars of creating a cohesive strategy to improve your content on social media.  Implement planning to establish a foundation, use quality visuals made for your audience, and consistently write in your brand’s voice.  These simple, yet effective, steps will result in improved content and yield growth.

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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Opportunities Found

Sarah O’Connell

The federal government and New York state are committed to ensuring that economically or socially disadvantaged businesses have an opportunity to participate in direct contracts or subcontracts with government agencies and/or prime contractors. They have instituted specific programs to give these firms an opportunity to certify and register. For some contracts, there is even a specific percentage goal that must include small businesses from these designations (called set-asides).  These designations may include women, minority or service-disabled veteran firms.

    For specific federal programs, the SBA.gov website is an excellent resource. Specifically for women-owned businesses, the federal government offers the Women-Owned Small Business designation (WOSB). Doing any business with the government requires registration in the System for Award Management (SAM), and women can self-certify their company as women-owned. However, to get access to what are considered “underserved” industries, women must apply specifically to be a WOSB company. These industries are identified in the WOSB section of the Small Business Association’s website. If the company is determined to be eligible (more on that later) it can work its way through the process at certify.sba.gov.

    In the New York State MWBE (Minority and Women-Owned Business Enterprises) program, the woman-owned business must already have been in operation for a minimum of one year. The process is fairly rigorous and calls for uploading of a number of documents as part of the application process, followed by an interview by the agency to confirm the business is truly woman-owned and operated. (Note: the OGS – Office of Government Services – oversees the Service-Disabled Veteran-Owned Business program.)

    How is a business determined to be woman-owned? Some of the basic requirements include at least 51% ownership (where one partner is not female) and meeting the benchmarks that determine that a company is considered a “small business.” These may include reporting that annual sales fall below a certain mark and that personal assets also fall below a certain mark.

    The business must also prove that the business is truly woman-owned and operated, so that a male owner can’t just designate or add a female owner to take advantage of the system.  It must show that the female owner had financial investment in the start-up and continues to have an integral role in the operation of the business. Being the “keeper of the books” is not enough – the woman owner has to have knowledge of and show control over all facets of the business which may include bid estimating, contract writing, control over ordering, etc.  The female owner must spend the majority if not all work hours involved in the business; employment in another workplace is a red flag and may result in rejection of the application.

    The advisors at the Small Business Development Center can help steer companies through the certification processes for both WOSB and MWBE.  Once the requirements are met, opportunities open up for the woman-owned small business. In Jefferson County, 31 companies are certified in the federal WOSB program (according to the Dynamic Small Business Search at sba.gov). The New York State Contract System identifies 108 women-owned business enterprises (WBEs) in the North country region which covers Plattsburgh to Watertown to Oswego.

    Once a business is certified as woman-owned, it can start exploring opportunities that exist within its service area. Many of our businesses work closely with the local PTAC (Procurement Technical Assistance Center), located at the Greater Watertown-North country Chamber of Commerce to identify potential projects to bid. The north country PTAC will be offering a matchmaker event on April 4 where all small (not just women-owned) businesses interested in government contracts can meet with key people from government agencies and prime contractors to introduce themselves and share their capabilities. Visit http://www.northcountryptac.com

for details.

    Planning is underway for our 14th Annual Business of Women networking conference in May. 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. Her column appears bi-monthly in NNY Business.

20 Questions: Success from the Start

AMANDA MORRISON / NNY BUSINESS

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What Exactly Does Your Chamber of Commerce Do?

Kristen Aucter

The number of times I have heard this from business owners in my short time at the Lewis County Chamber of Commerce has been surprising, though, in a way, it shouldn’t be. I found myself asking this question when branching out into the business world and wanting to be more involved in the community as well.

    Previous experience across the country had provided me with the insight that if you were interested in a particular geographical area, that the chamber of commerce was the place to find information. But these experiences did not necessarily delve into the details of what they did.

    Breaking it down to bare bones, it’s all about supporting the business community. Not only should chambers be a spokesperson for local businesses, but they should also provide services and benefits to increase the success of the business community. The combination of these work to create a connected environment in which businesses, and in turn the community, flourish.

    It is true that all businesses go through stages of growth. The plateaus are nice, when a business and its people can rest and enjoy the rewards of a job well done; however, most business owners aren’t willing to sit for long before seeking the next challenge. A primary function of a chamber of commerce is to support and promote businesses regardless of their stage in the game; not only with membership benefits, but with networking opportunities. In small communities like ours, there are other local businesses and experts who can help you to your next stage.

    Finding these connections at a chamber networking event is one of the greatest opportunities that a chamber of commerce offers. Think of it as joining a private club, where all members are willing to help one another. Success for one encourages success for the others. Networking leads to stronger businesses and stronger businesses lead to a more stable economic foundation in the community.

    The most successful business owners are willing to give back, because years ago someone paid it forward to them. Paying it forward is good for business. While many studies show that chamber members rank networking as number one on their list of benefits from the chamber, that is not the only thing of value that they have found.

    According a study done by The Shapiro Group Inc. in 2012, if a customer knows that a small business is a member of the chamber of commerce, they are 44 percent more likely to think positively of it and 80 percent more likely to purchase goods or services from the company in the future. More or less, businesses that are chamber members get more customers simply because of their association with the chamber.

    Getting your information out can be a costly venture for any business. Marketing services offered by chambers provide a great return on investment for your membership fee. In addition to thousands of referrals made by chamber staff each year they also have website, community events, print advertising and last, but not least, social media to assist in your marketing needs.

    In a way, a chamber of commerce works for the population as a whole, encouraging the development of infrastructure, recreational areas, innovations for established and new industries. These advancements also encourage population growth. The increase in residents leads to an increase in demand for services like real estate, insurance companies and construction jobs, improving the economy of an area. And who connects these people with the businesses who can meet their needs? You guessed it: a chamber of commerce.

                While chamber benefits do vary from region to region, I think you will find the advantages of being part of your local chamber community far outweigh the cost. At the Lewis County Chamber of Commerce we are always searching for ways to help our businesses succeed and encourage our members to come talk to us with new ideas. Because at the end of the day the question shouldn’t be “what does a chamber of commerce do?” but “what doesn’t a chamber of commerce do?” 

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

20 Questions: Guiding downtown development

AMANDA MORRISON / NNY BUSINESS

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Looking Downtown: Revitalizing Watertown’s public square

COURTESY OF watertowndri.com

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