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. 

Finding the Funding: Small businesses find financial support

HOLLY BONAME / NNY BUSINESS
Laurel K. Zarnosky stands behind the ice cream counter at her newest business Simply Sweets at the Top of the Square Plaza, Watertown.

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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.

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.

Small Business Startup: Thousand Islands Custom Woodworking

HOLLY BONAME / NNY BUSINESS

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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.

Small Business Startup: Igo To The Farm

HOLLY BONAME / NNY BUSINESS
Denise Igo holds a chicken that produces eggs at her farm, Igo To The Farm

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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.

Tapping the Family Tree

CHRISTOPHER LENNEY / NNY BUSINESS
Entrepreneur Josh Parker with wife Alessandra and son Rhett at the Parker’s Real Maple road side stand in front of his County Route 21 business in Canton.

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July Small Business Startup: Stitches & Pics

DAYTONA NILES / NNY BUSINESS
Stephanie Shively is the owner of Stitches & Pics in Sackets Harbor.

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