Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Food in the news

Things are never as bad as they seem or at least we hope they aren't. If the report below is only half as dire as predicted, we need to change the way we think about food and our lifestyle. http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/43221576/ns/business-consumer_news/?GT1=43001 This report projects that food prices will double by 2030 and at the current time over 972,000,000 are going hungry.

We can't feed the world from our local economy but we can have real impact if we use our land wisely and buy local. There is a dedicated and growing group of local citizens that are pouring out their time, energy and money to make a change in the way we feed ourselves. Please take the time to get involved. I have started raised beds in my yard, I am buying food from the Piedmont Local Foods website, going to local farmers markets (there are now two in King) and plan to buy 1/4 of a beef from a local farmer. If enough of us change the way we think about food, we can change the world food situation, one garden plot at a time.

Friday, May 27, 2011

NC Rural Center Microenterprise Loan Program

I had the opportunity to meet with Mary Cox from the NC Rural Center this week to discuss their micro loan program. These loans are targeted to small businesses that are having difficulty finding loans from normal sources. If you are an entrepreneur or are thinking about striking out on your own and you think this program may be of assistance, please give me a call. I will be glad to walk through the process with you. We can assist you with the application as well as working on your business plan.

The Microenterprise Loan Program helps rural people become self-sufficient by providing the opportunity for self-employment and small-business growth. It provides loans for the start-up or expansion of small businesses by individuals who have sound ideas but do not qualify for bank loans.
The center launched the Microenterprise Loan Program as a demonstration project in 1989 to fill a gap in the types of business financing available in rural areas. It became a permanent center program in 1992. The program has been awarded the 1996 Presidential Award, the 1998 U.S. Small Business Administration’s Award for excellence in microenterprise lending and the 2000 Vision Award. It remains one of the largest microenterprise loan programs in the country.
Funding comes through a variety of sources. A Ford Foundation program-related investment capitalized the loan pool. Other private foundations have provided additional funds, and the N.C. General Assembly supports program operations.
The program provides loans of up to $25,000 for new or expanding businesses. Loans are coupled with technical assistance, provided by community college small business centers, local offices of the Small Business and Technology Development Center of the University of North Carolina System and other community-based agencies.
Individuals may apply directly to the Rural Center or be referred through a network of partnering organizations that provide business assistance in the community. (See list on back.) Program staff and partners work one-on-one with potential borrowers to prepare loan applications based on the borrower’s business plan, character and the local economy.
Who is eligible
The program serves all 85 rural counties in North Carolina with an emphasis on low-income, female and minority borrowers. Loans support a wide range of businesses, including florists, automotive repair shops, child-care providers, small manufacturing firms, craft operations, hair salons and trucking companies.
The business, or proposed business, must be located in North Carolina, and the total project cost cannot exceed $50,000. Borrowers must be at least 18 years of age, be a U.S. citizen or permanent resident, and be a North Carolina resident.
Rural Center contact:
Carolyn Perry, Director
Microenterprise Loan Program
4021 Carya Drive
Raleigh, NC 27610
Program Results
November 1992 Through June 2010
Number of People Served: 6,223
Number of Businesses Served: 2,948
Number of Business Loans: 1,421
Total Dollars Loaned: $7,512,000
Repayment Rate: 84%
Average Loan Size: $5,277
Service Area: 85 counties
Jobs Created/Sustained: 2,924
Number of Inquiries: 24,820
Technical Assistance Workshops: 198*
Number of Workshop Participants: 3,871*
Loan Customers: 48% Minority, 53% Women,
48% Low Income

Baby Steps

Economic Development in Stokes County, just like most every place else in not an exact science. It contains many twists and turns and occasionally things work out right.

I had the opportunity yesterday to see three small "right steps" These were not home runs, they were more like bunt singles that you had to leg out for hits. Lets face it, most of us can't hit is over the fence and we don't have to. With persistence and hard work, we can score and win. That is what yesterday was about. It is no secret that we have an insufficient supply of lodging to meet our needs and with the economy in its current state, no one is going to come rushing to our aid to build a hotel. Knowing this we have to take alternative action, last night and additional 28 spaces came closer to reality, in the form of two small tent camping locations and a small RV park.

I visited each of these with David Suddreth, our planning department director yesterday and each of them has much to offer including access to the river and or some really incredible views. I salute the entrepreneurs that are working to make these new opportunities a reality (there is still one hurdle to cross: a public hearing before our County Commissioners on June 7th, hopefully this will go well.) It is with their spirit and the cooperation of all involved that we hope to soon make a significant dent in the lodging needs of Stokes County. By playing small ball, we will get there 1,2,3,5,10 rooms at a time, leading to other opportunities, creating additional jobs and investment to one of the most beautiful locations in North Carolina.

Thursday, May 12, 2011

Positive Response to New endeavor

WS Journal
New endeavor
Thank you, Journal, for the excellent article about Jessup Mill in Stokes County ("Jessup Mill gets fresh start," May 7). Because of your description of the mill and the activities, we attended the opening-night events. The host and hostess, Andrew Jones and Marga Eichleay, welcomed us with excitement. We were entertained by Paperhand Puppet Intervention, an unusual and creative group from Chapel Hill. Sitting by the Dan River and hearing its flow was a perfect setting for a Saturday night out. I would encourage everyone to check out this new endeavor; they will be pleased with what they see.

It is all hard work

I am paraphrasing from the story you will find from the post I am offering you today.It is from a couple that have started their own on-line business. It appears that they are very successful and offer a great product but what I take away from the story is that they spent the time on developing a plan and then they executed the plan. You can ask anyone that I talk to about starting a business and they will tell you that my first question is "Do you have a business plan?" More often than not the answer is "No, but I have been thinking about it." Folks, that just isn't good enough. Starting a business is hard work. The more effort you put in on the front end the better chance you have of your business surviving.

Planning on the front end won't take away from the hard work that is owning a small business, but it will double your chances of being successful and not making a big mistake. Please enjoy the interview and take today's sermon to heart.

Story by bluehourdesigns, marymary
Published on May 10, 2011 in Seller Handbook
Photo by Blue Hour Designs
Tell us about your previous working situation and how you discovered Etsy.
Before starting our Etsy shop, Norbert was working as a computer engineer and I was an elementary school teacher. We discovered Etsy through one of my old college friends who was selling handmade purses. The visit to the site, however, did not end in just purchasing a purse.

How did you prepare to transition to full-time Etsy selling?
For several years prior to opening our shop on Etsy, we had talked about owning our own business so we could have more freedom and control over our lives — we just never knew what type of business that would be. Norbert was unhappy at his desk job and I was craving an artistic outlet that had been suppressed for many, many years.

I soon took a weekend course in silversmithing and immediately fell in love with it. A chain of events quickly unfolded as we both realized that this could be our future. Despite all of the obstacles — the fear of starting a business during these tough economic times, having two young kids at home — this path just felt right. So we jumped in, like two giddy and ecstatic little kids. When setting up a strong business foundation, we did all of the following:

•Created business and marketing plans with short and long term goals
•Registered an LLC and a domain name
•Opened a business bank account
•Created accounts on Etsy, PayPal, Google Checkout, Blogger, Facebook and Google Analytics
•Designed business cards, banners and packaging
•Developed shop policies
•Expanded our home studio space
•Ordered additional tools and materials
We actually wrote all these tasks down on a big 2' x 3' sheet of paper and crossed them off as they were completed. Of course, not all this work was completed right off the bat, but at least the placeholders were there and we had a scalable business. After completing all of this preliminary work for our business structure and listing the first pieces of jewelry on Etsy, we were officially in business!

What are your best marketing tips?

•We quickly learned that if our customer feels like they are treated well, they are much more likely to tell their family and friends about us and return to our store.
•Good product photography is right up there with excellent customer service. That's what people see when shopping online, not the physical object. We always upload our best product photography to Flickr, which not only brings in additional direct traffic, but also serves as a virtual lookbook of our work. This also makes it very easy for bloggers to grab an image of our work if they want to talk about it.
•Advertising on blogs that cater to our potential customers has also worked very well for us. However, over time we have learned that blog advertising is much more than just supplying an image to be displayed on the blog side bar. Many bloggers love to do trades, so not only are you getting free ad space, but you also get your product into the hands of someone who has a big audience. In our experience, bloggers are also very willing to write sponsor posts and host giveaways, all of which can significantly boost the traffic to your site.
•Another reason why advertising on blogs (especially the higher profile ones) is great is that, by having a direct link to your shop, major search engines start to view your site as more important and increase your page rank. If potential customers spend a lot of time in your store, then Google and other search engines view your site as having relevant content and thus increase your page rank even more.
•Frequently listing new designs is another huge way for us to attract traffic. In most cases, small businesses have a limited audience. Our regular customers might lose interest if we don't keep our shop looking fresh.
•Blogging and posting on Facebook are excellent ways to establish a direct link between customer and artist. I share my work, inspiration and thoughts to provide a more personal connection and allow our customers to view the process behind the pieces they purchase.
•Whenever we send out a package, we always include a little bio card and a handwritten thank you note. We feel this gives deeper meaning to our pieces and separates us from big box stores.
What's been your most popular item or line to date?
Our Burst line of rings have been very popular. Our one-of-a-kind pieces that feature large natural stones also sell incredibly well. The patterns on the stones are unique and, much like fingerprints, can never be matched. While we have several designs that have been in our store from the very beginning, we also like to cycle certain designs in and out at different times. Similarly, if a design is just not doing well and better photographs don’t help it sell, we don’t hesitate to remove it from our store.

What have you found to be an unsuccessful promotion?
The danger for any small business is spreading yourself too thin. We always try to focus on tasks and promotions that yield the best results with the least amount of effort. The great thing about promoting online is that Google Analytics makes it so easy to track the resulting traffic.

What's the hardest part about running your own business?
It’s all freaking hard, but we absolutely love it! We have never worked this hard in our lives, but we don't want to do anything else — this is it! Every morning we wake up looking forward to our day. We’re very passionate about what we do and know that having our own business is what allows us to live our lives exactly the way we want to live them.

What is the biggest challenge you face during your daily schedule?
Honestly, our biggest hurdle is time — or the lack of it, to be more specific. We have two little rambunctious boys and whenever they’re awake, one of us is watching them. We have become quite good at prioritizing and scheduling. Each week we have a meeting and discuss the status of our previous week’s goals and come up with new goals for the following week. Knowing exactly what needs to be done also helps us come up with a realistic schedule. As funny as it may sound, even if you’re running a business by yourself, having a weekly status and goals meeting is definitely something we’d recommend.

Although we have made great strides, keeping business and life at balance has been a big learning process for us. Working from home has so many benefits, but at the same time it makes it too easy to work too much. Whenever we don’t spend enough time with our boys, put off household chores, don’t spend enough time with each other as husband and wife, or don’t eat or exercise properly, everything else starts to fall apart as well.

What do you enjoy most about not having a day job?
While we should be saying that we miss distinct cut off times and a steady paycheck, we don’t really ever think about it. We're too busy moving forward with our plans. We love that we have freedom in scheduling, business, creativity, and pretty much everything else.

Another really great thing about having your own business is seeing the direct relationship between how hard you work and the results that come out of it. Often times in corporate America, the slackers get paid just as well as the others who work really hard. If we do well, it’s because we worked hard for it and that feeling is simply amazing.

What are the positives and challenges of working with your significant other?
We shared a collective laugh here. The bottom line is that we’re very different people — an artist and a businessman. While this balances and strengthens us, it can also lead to clashes. But we’ve improved greatly since we figured out that each of our roles are indispensable and equally important. Date nights and non-business related conversations are key to keeping us connected as a married couple and keeping the personal relationship strong.

What advice would you give someone considering a similar path?
Don’t spread yourself too thin. Figure out what is the best course of action and do it well. Working on too much at the same time can only lead to mediocre results. Also, don’t re-invent the wheel — chances are great that somebody else has already faced the problem you’re about to tackle. A little bit of research (the Etsy Forums are a great resource) can yield some helpful results and significantly simplify almost any task.

Don’t forget that business ebbs and flows. When business is temporarily slow, instead of feeling down, use that time to come up with new designs, marketing techniques or anything to improve your business. Don’t worry, the sales will come — and when they do, you need to be prepared!

What goals do you have in store for the future of your business?
Growth within the context of a small business. We’re the kind of people who love to go to a quaint little restaurant and see the owners working behind the counter or head to the farmer's market and buy vegetables straight from the family who owns the farm. While we don’t exactly have a store front to serve customers, we always strive to maintain that personal connection.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Good Info on Social Networking

The best place to be is in front of the curve. This means being inovative, looking for solutions to problems and searching for opportunities while everyone else is busy with what happened yesterday. This leads me to a blog post that I found today concerning social networking. If you are a small business owner and think that this is yesterdays news and that everyone is already aboard the bus, you are wrong. I hope you will take a few moments and read this post. If you are a business in Stokes County and don't have a web site, or business facebook page, get in touch with me and we can help you to become a leader and not a follower!

Most Small Businesses Don't Use Social Media. Big Mistake.
Friday, April 29 2011

By:Rieva Lesonsky

From the buzz it generates, you'd think almost all small business owners would be actively involved in social media. But you'd be wrong.

This disconnect becomes clear in the latest Small Business Success Index survey conducted twice a year by Network Solutions (disclosure: they're a client of mine) and the University of Maryland's Robert H. Smith School of Business. While the SBSI showed an "almost universal awareness among small business owners of Facebook and Twitter" only 27 percent of the entrepreneurs used Facebook for business purposes, and a mere 7 percent were Twitter users. Linked In garnered 18 percent.

Despite the tepid survey results, Network Solutions is a big believer in the power social media has to impact business. To gain some insight I talked to Tim Kelly, Network Solutions' CEO and the company's Director of Social Media (known on Twitter as the Social Media Swami) Shashi Bellamkonda (@sashib).

And those small businesses who have tried social media often see results: 63 percent say it helped make their customers more loyal. Other say social media it has helped them:

1.Stay engaged with customers.
2.Build brand awareness.
3.Identify and attract new customers.
So why aren't more small companies doing it?

More than half of small business owners (56 percent) worry that social media is too "time-consuming." Bellamkonda acknowledges that at the beginning, "it's hard for small business owners to keep up with their many responsibilities, without adding social media into the mix." But, he adds, "Rather than viewing social media as time consuming, you should integrate it into your marketing plan from the start. Once you become familiar with social media, you'll find it's an easy and affordable way to grow a loyal customer base, and more often than not, see that it's absolutely worth the time investment."

Bellamkonda believes the benefits are more than worth the time for small businesses. "If building a loyal customer base is a top priority (which it probably should be), social media is a great way to start. Its reach is immense with more than 500 million active users on Facebook and 1 billion tweets [sent] per week. Putting your small business out there gives you an opportunity to build relationships with your customer base, and allows customers to personally bond with your business."

Bellamkonda is a big proponent of Twitter, especially for dealing with customer service issues. "Twitter is fantastic because it's real time, and an easy way to [quickly answer] customer questions."

Even so, getting started with social media can seem overwhelming. Bellamkonda recommends starting slowly. "Ask your customers what social media platforms they use the most and start there," he says. "When you get a feel for your voice and presence on that network, you'll find it easy to expand to other platforms."

He boils it down to a 2-step process:

1) Listen. Where is your key audience online? Set up Google Alerts for your business. You'll begin to see where the conversations about your business are taking place. Listening helps you develop your voice.

2) Engage. Be sure you aren't just blasting out information and news about your business. Interact directly with your followers. Ask them what else they would like to see from you and your business.

Network Solutions CEO Tim Kelly puts it this way: "Social media levels the playing field" for small businesses, giving you "access to the exact same audience that the big brands" have. "No matter whether a business is large or small," Kelly adds, "you have to go where your customers are. Given the huge popularity of social media, odds are that's where many of your customers will be."

Entrepreneur and AllBusiness blogger Gini Dietrich, CEO of Arment Dietrich, recently put it in perspective: "This is not the Field of Dreams. If you build it, they will not come. Choose one tool, implement it into your overall business strategy, get good at using it, refine its use, and move on to the next one. And be patient. It does take time. After all, you're building relationships online. Online or off, relationships don't happen overnight."

Stokes County Farmers market

With the rising costs of food and transportation, it is more important than ever to support our local farmers and take advantage of the wide variety of fresh and healthy foodstuffs they provide. The market is moving to the Stokes YMCA starting today!

King Farmers Market has a new home

The King Farmers Market opens for the season today in a new location, outside at the Stokes County YMCA.

The market will be open from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. Wednesdays and Saturdays through October.

The market was at the American Legion Post on the Stokes County Fairgrounds.

The move should give the market more opportunities because of the YMCA's large customer base, said Randy Fulk, a Stokes County extension agent.

The Stokes Family YMCA is at 105 Moore Road in King.

For information, call the YMCA at (336) 985-9622 or the Stokes office of the N.C. Cooperative Extension Service at (336) 593-8179