small business

Shop Small. Shop Local.

by Stacy Ford, Extension Agent

With the holiday season upon us, it’s time to start crossing people off your shopping list. Why not do that by supporting small businesses? Saturday, Nov. 28, is Small Business Saturday, and here are some ways to participate in your town.

Did you know that when you spend money locally a bigger percentage of that money goes back into the community through purchases to other local businesses, tax dollars and salaries versus money spent at a big box store?

Why shop local?

  • Shopping local stores is more personal, they have a smaller staff and are more familiar with their inventory than a big box store and usually provide better customer service. Plus, it’s just nice to have someone know your name.
  • Shopping small supports your community. Locally owned stores are the businesses that sponsor events, local schools, youth sports teams, fairs and festivals and make donations to local causes. The more support they receive from the community the more they’re able to give back to the community. Ever been to a little league baseball game? Those names on the front of the jerseys aren’t big box stores, they’re locally owned businesses you pass by every day.
  • It’s less hassle than online shopping or going to big box stores, and it’s immediate. You don’t have to drive far, fight crowds, wait in long lines or pay for shipping.

Some ideas to shop small in even the smallest of towns:

  • For the person on your list who has everything, consider purchasing a gift certificate to their local favorite coffee shop, beauty shop or even a local artisan’s shop.
  • Maybe for some of the men on that list think about visiting your local hardware store, automotive shop or even a local craft brewery for some gift ideas.
  • Visit a craft show or holiday bazaar. Often you’ll find unique handmade crafts, local cook books or locally made jams, jellies or soaps. These make great items to create a gift basket for someone on your list! These types of events are also a great way to support local nonprofits, churches or civic clubs.
  • Consider visiting your local nursery or greenhouse and purchasing a plant or gift certificate for the spring planting season.
  • Do you have a local theatre? If so, purchase a season pass, or for the kids on your list, movie tickets and gift certificates for popcorn.

Most of us will have family in for Thanksgiving so get out Saturday, walk off your binge eating haze and revisit your town. Make it a fun event, visit a local coffee shop for breakfast and go in some shops you’ve never visited before.

Small Business vs. Entrepreneurship Interview

by Sarah Halstead, CARD Extension Specialist, shalstead@wvstateu.edu

Sarah asked Brenda Pinnel, a WVSU Lean Startup 60X client, to share advice with others who are thinking about starting a small business. Below is an excerpt of the interview.

What ignited the spark in you to start a new business venture? How did the idea for your business come about?
For me, it was more of a long-smoldering ember that several breezes blew back to life. I’ve been doing graphic design work for newspaper for 30 years, and for the most part, enjoyed it. After meeting Charly Hamilton and Bernice Deakins and coming around in my life, I think I decided I wanted to be an artist. I started a notebook of sketches and somehow a whirlwind blew me into Tamarack. And then into [WVSU’s DigiSo business training program] and the Lean Startup 60X program. And I began to think, maybe I can be an artist and make money.

What three pieces of advice would you give to college students who want to become entrepreneurs? Is that advice different for Encore Entrepreneurs 50+?
Follow some kind of passion or dream. I wouldn’t halt a perfectly good career or job prospect unless you do have a passion. If you’re over 50, I’d say, get moving. You never know how much time you have. Listen to people who have gone before, even if you think they are lame. Learn to see what is in front of you for what it is.

If you had the chance to start your career over again, what would you do differently?
Be more proactive. Follow more advice. I have been lucky enough to drift into pretty good situations, even out of college. Sometimes I wonder if I had been more persistent, could I have been a fancy modern Mad Men style executive? If I had followed advice to concentrate on informational graphics would I be renowned or famous? Or unemployed?

I do believe, though, in not having too many regrets or dwelling on what could have been. Maybe I don’t learn any lessons with that philosophy, but I am where I am because I did what I did. And try to be okay with that.

What would you say are the top three skills needed to be a successful entrepreneur?
Not successful yet, but — and this is just for me — I think I will need to be able to manage my own time, do things I’m afraid of or uncomfortable with and be open-minded.

What have been some of your failures, and what have you learned from them?
Hard to say yet what my failures are or aren’t in my HepCatz venture. Right now, a big failure is choosing to play online games rather than pushing on with a Facebook post. Also, not believing in myself. Don’t know what I’ve learned yet. Ask me again in a year.

How long do you stick with an idea before giving up?
Well, so far about six months.

How many hours do you work a day on average?
While I am working full time, about 12 hours, five days a week. But that includes travel time. I work at least a couple of hours on the business nearly every.

Describe/outline your typical day.
Get up, plan what I’m going to do. This is important, because I tend to drift without a plan. At this point, it’s not so critical to get everything done on the list, but I need a guide. I try to get in doing a little artwork. Go to the WVSU Economic Development Center. It’s hard to say. I don’t really have a typical day yet.

How has being an entrepreneur affected your family life?
The cats are ticked. But they’re mollified by the hope of better kibble.

What motivates you?
A desperate, deeply-ingrained need to succeed. And a need to draw, and the pleasure both give me. I also like to please people and make them happy with what I do, and if I’m successful, be able to make the world better in what small ways I can.

Brenda Pinnell is the 2013 Community Newspaper Holdings, Inc., Graphic Designer of the Year and a Tamarack juried artist at Tamarack in Beckley, W.Va.

The Power of the Post: Social Media and Your Small Business part 2

by Stacy Herrick, Communications Specialist, sherrick1@wvstateu.edu

Once you have decided to give your small business a social media profile, it is important to determine what you want to do with it. Finding your voice is an integral step when starting out with social media. What is it that you hope to accomplish with your page? Some common objectives are promoting news in your industry, success stories/customer testimonials and promoting upcoming events.

Along with finding your voice, it is key to define your audience. Who is it that needs to hear the messages that you’re sending out? Your audience doesn’t have to be defined into an exact segment, but you should be able to categorize and prioritize them so it is possible to plan your posts appropriately. It is important to put yourself in their shoes and think about what information they would want to receive, not just what you think they want to know. When creating your content, ask yourself some of the following questions:

•  What do they want to know?
•  What information is most valuable to them?
•  What content should I share? (original content vs. outside sources)
•  Tone: Conversational and “fun” or all business?

As we all know, there are tons of social media platforms out there for people to use. Knowing your audience will help you determine which platform(s) to use. The most commonly used are Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and Pinterest. While these are the most common, you don’t have to stick with just one. In fact, it is good to have a mix, because each one has different purposes and affects its audiences differently.

Another question to ask yourself is, “When is my audience most apt to hear my message?” The shelf life on social media is about three hours, and most of your interaction will occur within the first 60 minutes of posting. Some people may check their Facebook newsfeed before work and not check it again until the evening. So, if you post at 10 a.m., they may not scroll all the way through their newsfeed to find your post, and you message will not been seen. Leo Widrich, a blogger for bufferapp.com, wrote, “With some of the smartest minds in social media having taken on the science of timing, one thing seems clear: no one arrives at one optimal solution.” It is for this very reason that using scheduling tools such as HootSuite and TweetDeck are important to utilize. (Note: Facebook has a scheduling feature for their business pages. Look for the clock icon in the bottom left corner of the posting box.) The spur-of-the-moment post is great, but it’s possible to map out your content ahead of time. That way, instead of being glued to your computer or smart phone throughout the day, you can “set it and forget it.”

When scheduling posts ahead of time, you will want to set them to go live when your audience is most apt to see them. If you’re just starting out, this will involve a lot of guesswork. But, if your Facebook page is currently in existence, check out the analytical tools that come with it. It will tell you what time of day your posts are seeing the most action and can help determine your biggest bang for the buck. Currently, Twitter’s analytics do not give you feedback based on time of posts, but if you have a rough idea of when you posted, you can get a feel for how your Tweets are doing at different points of the day based on the other information provided.

These strategies will help jumpstart the social media presence of your small business. Although each business is unique, there is always going to be an audience for your industry online. The key is find who those people are, where they are and when they’re online.

The Power of the Post: Social Media and Your Small Business (1 of 2)

by Stacy Herrick, Communications Specialist, sherrick1@wvstateu.edu

As most people know by now, social media is not just a passing fad. It is becoming a way of life. And for small business owners, social media is beginning to play a larger role in their marketing and advertising tactics.

According to the National Small Business Association, 73 percent of small businesses were using social media in 2013. This number is a major increase from the 47 percent that were using it in 2010. The increase could be due to a variety of factors, such as wider availability, better understanding of how social media works or people realizing that it is not just a trend that is going to eventually go away. However, the real takeaway from these numbers is the reality that social media is playing a larger role for small businesses and how important it is to be involved.

A lot of us have our own personal Facebook pages or Twitter accounts, but what are the benefits of your small business using social media?

Cost
When marketing budgets are small, or non-existent, social media grants the user the opportunity to engage with audiences using social networks for free. All it takes to connect is the time to create a profile for your company on whatever site you want to use. From there, your business can begin connecting to other businesses and, more importantly, customers. For an added boost to your presence, ad space can be purchased through these networks; however, it is not always necessary.

Personality
Different companies approach social media in different ways. Some choose to keep everything straight-laced and strictly business, while others will interject their personality into their profile and posts, making light of situations and giving them a human quality. There is no right or wrong approach to this; it is all in how a business wants to be viewed. Taking your audience into consideration when planning your business’s online personality is key. Are they the type of people that want just the facts, or do they prefer engaging with your business like you’ve been long-time friends?

Customer Service
Social media is one of the easiest ways to handle customer service. Users feel more of a personal connection using networks such as Facebook and Twitter to talk about an interaction with a company. This allows a company to directly address a customer’s specific problem or request with a personalized, direct response.

On the other side of this, thanks to social media, people also expect a faster and more personalized experience compared to the past when all they could do was blindly send an email, write a letter or call a customer service line and receive a generic, scripted response.

Learning
According to a LinkedIn survey, learning plays a major role in why many small businesses are on social media. It gives them “access to a network of peers to ask questions or get recommendations,” letting them learn from the experts in their industry and obtain best practices. By seeing how other successful small businesses are managing their accounts, it may give them ideas in how they could be utilizing those platforms for themselves.

The point of all of this is to show that no matter what industry your small business is in or which customer segment you are trying to reach, there is likely going to be an audience for it on social media — it is effective, wide-reaching and free.

To read more about social media and small businesses, read the full article in the Fall/Winter issue of Extension Matters and check back next week for the second part of this article.