Sunday, January 24, 2010

National exposure for local efforts

The local food effort started by Tim Will in Rutherford County continues to gain momentum. it received more national exposure in Parade Magazine yesterday. This comes on top of continuing exposure provided by state leaders and the efforts of a dedicated group in Rockingham Stokes and other Piedmont Counties. There were over 80 attendees at the Piedmont Local Food meeting this past week and they now have over 40 members. I believe this is just the beginning and as the efforts grow, much more of our food will come from local sources. This is a great sign for local farmers and potentially rural areas all over America.
Thanks Tim, Brenda, Michael and everyone that has a hand in this important program.

Link to Parade Story:

Friday, January 22, 2010

The Best Valentines Ever

Don't take a chance on flowers this Valentines Day, give the gift that keeps on licking. A cat or dog from the Animal shelter will maker him or her happy and save a pet from an uncertain future. We have three and if room allowed, we would have more. Check out the bassets they currently have great dogs that will be wonderful pets.

It Truly Was an Extravaganza

I don't have the pictures to prove it yet, I will be posting them on my face book page next week but we had a wonderful evening at Camp Hanes. There were 35 local businesses with booths at our event (2 companies shared booth space) and probably 30 more that were in attendance. The energy level was high, people were talking, laughing, eating and having a good time.

I was a nervous wreck around 2:30 when I started to see ice forming on the trees. Food for the event had been ordered for over a week and there wasn't a weather forecast anywhere that was calling for ice 24 hours prior to the event (it must be nice to have a job that you can be right 20% of the time and then just tell people what happened afterwords and still be working- like weather forecasters do but that is another story). To the credit of the good business people of Stokes County, every booth was set up, everyone was smiling and the show went on without a hitch.

I really expected a lot of people to show early and get home before bad weather closed in. People did show early but to my surprise, they stayed. There was a roaring fire in the dining hall, the mood was light and I thing everyone enjoyed themselves. Numerous folks made it a point of letting me know how happy they were to see a large cross section of people from all over our county at the event. And I agree.

We have our issues: we don't have a lot of industry, our infrastructure needs improving, we have a large portion of our population that commutes outside the county to work and we need more local shopping but we have huge assets that offset this. We have a strong work ethic that goes back to our farming heritage, we have wonderful natural resources, we have a strong tourism base and a vibrant business community. I think these can offset any problems we have if we work together.

What really drove home the point for me last night was how many people stayed beyond the 7:30 announced ending time of the event. It seemed they didn't want to leave. If we can find a way to translate this energy into action, I believe Stokes County will grow and thrive in the future. And that is why our event matched the billing of being a Business Extravaganza: No false advertising here!

Friday, January 15, 2010

Your web site is alive, or is it?

As we have started building web sites for local businesses, one of my request and really my only demand of them is that they keep the site fresh and fun. If they don't care about it, then why should their friends, customers or clients. The simple answer is they won't. People might visit once and go away never to return. Take a look at the tips included in the report below and add some of your own:

Strengthen Your Website to Woo More Clients
A closeup of a website. You have your website up and running because you were told that every viable business has gotta have one. Now what do you do with it? There are just a few easy and inexpensive things you can do to strengthen your website and woo more clients. Here are seven:

1. Personalize Many business sites are sterile and impersonal. That often intimidates and overwhelms users. They’re more likely to request your services if they feel a genuine connection with you, and that can happen when you personalize your website. I once called a plumber blind simply because the owner had a picture of himself and his son in the yellow pages. The picture drew me to his business more than anything else about the ad. In the ‘about us’ section consider adding pictures of you, your family, and your staff. Also write a fun and interesting bio that will allow potential clients to get a taste of your friendly personality.

2. Vocalize Adding a podcast to your website is a nice way to personalize the site by allowing visitors to hear you speak. Fairly easy and inexpensive to create, a podcast is an audio recording that can communicate the emotion that is often lost in promotional text. It allows the listener to better connect with you and your business. And all you need to create a podcast are a microphone, a digital recorder, and some editing software.

3. Relate Let visitors know that you understand their concerns and can relate to them on some level. This comes in knowing your target audience and being able to communicate how your services can benefit their lives in some way.

4. Teach People love free stuff. Provide information that can help your current and potential clients. This can be accomplished in a number of ways: offer a free newsletter that provides helpful information about your product or service; provide links that will give them even more valuable information. Your website then becomes educational and not just promotional. This increases its value to visitors and they will come to use your site as a reference; when they actually need the help of your type of service, you’ll be the first one they think of.

5. Respond When someone comes to you through your website (and other means) you must respond as quickly as possible. Waiting too long communicates disregard and may turn potential clients away. Even if they’re asking a simple question that may never lead to even one billable hour, this is a potential client who should be given the same high level of customer service you provide all your contacts.

6. Keep in touch One of the most valuable things you can get from your website is contact information. Once someone comes to you through your website you should keep in touch with that individual. Be friendly and low pressure. Send email updates, call to see if you can help them with anything else, or give him/her promotional offers.

7. Outshine the competition Your website should be better than anything else your local target market can find. This means you must find out what the competition’s websites look like. Go through the yellow pages, do a web search, or look for URL’s on business cards. Once you find those websites take inventory of what you need to improve on or add to your own.

Good Luck! from
Terri Barnes Bryant

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Social Media Best Practices

While we are busy assisting people with web sites and helping them to enter the world of digital marketing and why social media. It is not for everyone and it is not the answer to all questions. It can however, be an important tool to businesses of any size that are looking to reach and maintain new customers or expand their markets. Please read the following report and give some thought to your social media program:

HOW TO: Implement a Social Media Business Strategy
Sharlyn Lauby is the president of
Internal Talent Management (ITM) which specializes in employee training and human resources consulting. She authors a blog at
Over the past few months, we’ve talked about whether you
should have a social media policy and what should be included in that policy. It only seems logical to discuss the next step in the process, which is what to consider when implementing a social media strategy in your workplace.
Just having a policy isn’t good enough — you need a plan to put it in place. Here are five areas to discuss when implementing a social media strategy.
size=3 width="100%" align=center>
1. Determine Your Objective
Luis Ramos, CEO of The Network, reminds us that creating a social media strategy is a complex exercise because “it includes not only looking inside the organization to establish appropriate practices, usage policies and content parameters, but it also includes looking outside the organization to determine the proper degree of engagement.”
Figure out why you’re getting on the social media bandwagon and what you want to accomplish with it. This step is absolutely necessary if you plan to
measure ROI or develop your own internal metrics tracking.
When General Motors put together their social media strategy, they had some specific objectives they wanted to accomplish.
Christopher Barger, director of global social media at General Motors, outlined the following:
A. Become more responsive to people/consumer audiencesB. Incorporate audience/consumer feedback into your organization more quickly and effectively than has happened traditionallyC. Make your brand a little more “human” to the outside world, and show people the smarts, personality and passion of the people behind your logoD. Increase awareness of the strength of your current product lineup, and provide perspective/accurate information about your company
The other benefit of defining objectives is that they can guide the timetable for implementation. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen an organization’s list of objectives and knew there was no way they could implement everything at once or in the timeframe they intended. Having well-defined objectives can assist in prioritization and creating the best way to phase-in a social media strategy.
Developing objectives and a timetable could also prompt a conversation about content management. Ramos suggests including in the strategy the position responsible for updating content as well as the update frequency. “Many organizations have grand plans of updating content on a regular basis only to quickly run out of topics, leaving content to become stale. As a best practice, a specific employee is typically assigned to create and manage the company’s social media pages, so he/she can respond to messages and questions within 24 hours.”
2. Find an Internal Evangelist
This is a constant source of discussion right now on the Internet, but the bottom line is, some department needs to “own” social media. Lots of departments might be consulted when it comes to decision making, but ultimately someone has to be held accountable for the outcomes.
Which department ultimately gets the responsibility could be dependent upon the size of your organization and corporate culture. For example, Barger says social media at General Motors is “owned within the communications team, reporting up through the Vice President of Communications, who reports directly to the Chairman/CEO. Social media leadership has a seat at the communications leadership table and acts as an integral part of the larger corporate communications function.”
Smaller organizations might not have that amount of structure, so responsibility might simply fall to sales or marketing.
Another option to consider is using external resources (i.e. consultants) for certain aspects of the strategy and internal resources for the rest. Barger explains, “We use internal resources whenever possible; given that two of GM’s main goals are to become more responsive to the public and to incorporate insight back into the organization, these are things we can only effectively do if it is our team who are engaged. We use agency partners for monitoring/measurement, for identifying new opportunities and new influencers for us to reach out to, for video production, and for counsel on tactics/strategy.”
3. Consider Your Employees

This is a biggie. Organizations need to understand their employees’ level of knowledge and interest. Offer training.
And one noteworthy item for non-profits is to think about your volunteer base.
Diane Gomez, public relations manager for the Public Relations Society of America (PRSA), mentions that not only is PRSA staff involved, but volunteers are as well. “This includes monitoring and interacting with members (and nonmembers) who reach out to us via these channels, and is in addition to pushing out information of interest to our members.”
In addition to posting GM’s social media policy, Barger explains several things the company did to convey the company’s approach. “We posted a 45-minute ‘Social Media 101’ interactive training course on the intranet that gives employees the basics on how/why/where to engage in social media. Additionally, we developed a ‘201’ level ‘train-the-trainer’ course that introduces more complete tools and tips. Those who’ve taken this course are authorized to train others within their departments on the basics of social media. Finally, we have an internal blog, ‘Making Conversation,’ that focuses on sharing lessons we’re learning through social media outreach.”
Though she’s the president of a smaller firm, Crystal Kendrick used a similar approach with
The Voice of Your Customer. “Our employees are very social media savvy and understand how to technically use the sites. We discussed the spirit of the policy and reviewed examples of ineffective social media policies. Training for our employees focused on the strategic and professional applications of the social media sites. We use ‘key word rich’ content, approved messages and in some cases, scheduled time for posting.”
Gomez added they are encouraging staff to participate in social media on behalf of the organization. “We are looking to establish an overall strategy that departments will follow when deciding when and how to use social media.” I’ve found many companies developing job aids, such as flow charts or decision trees, to help employees determine when and how to respond to blogs and inquiries on other social networking sites.
4. Check Your Tech

While most social media doesn’t need a huge technology investment, you should still take a look at the technology capabilities of your company and make sure the system can support the strategy.
As Ramos reminds us, this includes making sure social media applications aren’t hidden behind firewalls. “Before any social media components are engaged, there needs to be an understanding across the organization of the following:
- Who will have access to the sites?- Are there any firewalls that would prevent access?- What are the rules about time spent and content posted on the sites?
He adds, “Due to some of the technology access restrictions, some organizations have opted to build their own internal technology to offer social media type forums without the complexities of changing firewalls or altering access rules. This also allows further features like locking down postings to help control inappropriate content.”
Kendrick took a different approach to the issue of employee time on social media applications by creating “social media breaks that are very similar to smoke breaks.”
5. Listen First
A lot can be learned by watching others. Don’t be afraid to ask questions on and offline so you can learn more.
Barger encourages companies to remember “that few ideas should be rejected out of hand; not everything is going to work, but in 95% of the cases, even if something doesn’t work there is value to be gained and lessons to be learned from the ‘failure.’ The only exceptions to this rule are efforts that would contradict the basic etiquette and/or rules of social media – transparency, openness, authenticity, and avoiding ‘pure traditional marketing’ plays, etc.”
According to Kendrick, “The first few weeks were a bit hectic.” Like GM, they began to share best practices among employees, identify expert users to follow and recommend connections. She notes, “We matched our target customers to the demographics of our connections and identified gaps in our networks. From there, we began to focus on making connections with persons in target companies, industries and geographic regions and joined groups and lists of industry groups to ensure that we maximized our exposure and business opportunities.”
During 2010, more companies are expected to explore and engage in social media activities. While some might categorize using a social networking application as easy, that doesn’t mean developing a strategy is simple. Proper planning and execution is the key to integrating social media into your organization.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

There is no such thing as "Status Quo" in Business Today

I have been told that the level of someone elses intelligence is based on how much they agree with you. I think the writer of this article must be brilliant. At one time, you may have been able to tread water in business... not today. You are either looking for ways to move forward, to remain competitive or you are falling behind. Take a few moments and read the blog below and let me know what you think:

Are You Paddling Or Floating?
Ask yourself are you paddling or floating your canoe down the river of your business life? If you're floating then you're on the defense, if you're paddling then you're on the offense - where do you want to be? In today's business climate if you're not on the offensive then you're being whipped and buffeted from every side by the obstacles you encounter. If something isn't working in your advertising and you're a floater then you just wait until next week, or next month and see if it improves. But if you're paddling and guiding your business, then you're busy working out how to fix what's not working. Take for instance that big boulder in the river known as "competitive intelligence", which refers to the knowledge needed to implement successful competitive strategies. If you haven't got a handle on this it can spell disaster to your business. Let's look at an example of what I mean. Suppose you find out that a competitor has dropped the price on a product or service competing directly with your business' highest gross margin item. Before you drop your price to match, ask yourself whether this could affect your ability to compete. If the answer is "yes", you should do a bit of sleuthing to answer some key questions like: * Is the price cut an unequivocal comparison, or have certain features/services been modified? * Is the price drop sufficient to overcome customer inertia to change? * Does the competitor have the capacity to handle increased demand without damaging customer satisfaction? * Is the price change restricted to one territory or account, or is it across-the-board? Effective strategy covers product design, branding, services, and a host of other variables that, in total, comprise your competitive edge. Protecting your edge requires a real-time stream of knowledge about the changing competitive landscape. The most significant fund of ongoing information, on an ongoing basis is your sales or marketing force. Salespeople and marketers have the most direct contact with customers, and have customer feedback on the competition which is both real and perceived. However, their job is to sell or market, so it's important that you make them aware of their importance and involvement in gathering competitive intelligence. For the successful collecting of information from the sales or marketing force, you must prove to them that the process is of value to them. This means you have some homework to do which is gathering information that is already available internally. Look at and analyze call reports, won-lost reports, and marketing records for red flags and trends. A competitive move in one territory may seem insignificant until added to information from other territories, or as part of a global roll out strategy. Augment these finding with public data from published sources and industry analysts, and you can offer your marketing force tips on competing more successfully. By initiating the information sharing process, you will encourage reciprocity on the part of marketing once they see what's in it for them. In addition to the marketing force, people from other functions in your organization are often repositories of useful competitor information. Other organizational functions/departments attend professional meetings with competitor counterparts and may have bits and pieces of the competitive landscape puzzle. Do they know how important this data is, and have you motivated them to share it? This is but one little corner of your business life, but unless you're on the offense - paddling instead of floating - you'll lose your edge and be left in the dust by your competitors. Personally, I'd rather be paddling my little heart out instead of being tossed by whatever winds blow my way. L. Aynn Daniels 336-577-3054

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

What January Slowdown

Things are definitely not slowing down for me after the New Year. After shedding my unwanted 3MM kidney stone friend, it is now back to work.

What is in store is exciting and intimidating at the same time. We have a major project on the horizon: working to expand broadband coverage to a large number or under served or un-served residents in the county. At the present time we have about 8500 citizens that are without high-speed Internet access and another 22000 that have only one choice. It is my hope that we are able to move forward with an affordable program that will provide the needed coverage to Stokes County. It will not happen without taking some risks and spending some money but what in this life that is worthwhile happens without effort.

The expansion of broadband coverage is central to our economic development efforts. If we want to recruit business, to offer the best opportunities possible for our children's education and be a competitive growing community in the future, it needs to happen. I hope the costs are within our grasp and we have the will to move ahead.

Friday, January 1, 2010

New Years Objectives

It has been nice having a few days off. Everyone needs time to recharge their batteries and that is what I have been doing.

Starting next week we will be working on a master plan for tourism and the Dan River Basin, we will be continuing our efforts to bring better Broadband coverage to the county. We will be working on a new visitors guide and tourism website. Our web building program for local businesses is really ramping up and hopefully we can see fifty web site on-line by Easter.

On January 21, 2010, the EDC will be hosting a business event for all Stokes County businesses. We hope to have over 200 Stokes County business people and friends in attendance at Camp Hanes. If you haven't received your invitation, let me know.

We will continue our efforts to help local farmers by being a partner in the Piedmont Local Food project and will look for other ways to work with the farming community.

As I have stated before, their is no one company or industry that will revitalize our economy but if we take advantages of our assets, work together and work smarter, our citizens can have an opportunity for a better life.