I met Judy Dunn when we both guest posted for The Marketing Guy Jay Ehret. We’ve been Twitter friends ever since, and I’m so excited she finally shares her small town business story.
Ferries that blow their horns on foggy days. That break down at the worst possible moment, usually when you have an important meeting with a new client. Ferries that will take you back home if you show up in line before the last one leaves the dock, at 7:30pm sharp.
If you arrive 10 seconds late, the ferry workers in their bright orange vests are already pulling the thick ropes in and locking the gate. And you are stuck in a hotel room on the mainland, cursing that “careful” (substitute another word here) driver who chugged along at 17 miles an hour all the way along the tree-lined road that leads to the ferry landing.
You would have made it if not for her.
We found this little piece of heaven called Anderson Island, Washington five years ago. A 7.7-square mile piece of land in south Puget Sound, with 1,200 residents year-round, 4,000 in the summer. On a whim, and with only a faint promise of high-speed Internet (“sometime soon,” the telephone company said), we bought a house overlooking the water.
We settled into an idyllic life. A mama deer who visited us each spring to show off her fawns. Raccoons, squirrels and birds. A bald eagle that made its nest in the towering fir tree across the street and taught its babies to fly as we watched, amazed.
But there was a tradeoff. For a marketing firm with graphic design files as big as 250 megs to upload to clients, there were times when I said to Bob, my husband and biz partner, “What were we thinking?”
When the switch from dial-up to fiber-optic Internet finally happened, we were ecstatic.
There were other things we learned. Even if you are not on an island, if you are a small business in a little town or rural spot, you probably know what I’m talking about.
5 Things I Learned When I Moved My Business to an Island
If your clients and customers are not your neighbors, the success of your business depends even more on getting what you need to stay afloat (no island pun intended). Five things I learned:
- Get to know your providers and vendors. You will recognize them because it’s always the same person. But how well you get to know them—and how you treat them—will impact on your business in very real ways. The woman in the post office, who answers your questions about her son in Iraq, adds the extra postage when your deadline-sensitive package to a client comes up short. Her voice mail message says, “Just drop by the change next time you are in.” Jack, the FedEx driver, who loves fishing, hand delivers your package when it’s pouring outside. Tony, the Internet repair guy, whose wife needs advice on starting an online jewelry store, works overtime to find your problem. And before he leaves, he gets on the phone to the finance office because he thinks he can get you a better phone rate. (And he did.) It doesn’t take much effort. Just be nice. Engage them.
- Rethink your ideal client. This took a little time—and some courage. Most of our clients handled the change to working by phone and email without missing a beat. But we found that some of our “old school” clients, who frequently insisted on face-to-face meetings, were eating up the time disproportionately. Since traveling to Seattle turns an hour meeting into 4-5 hours, depending on the ferry schedules, we decided to gradually weed out those clients and replace them with ones who work comfortably over distances and in digital environments. It was scary at first, but it was the best move we could have made.
- Don’t make your location an issue. There are times when it is important to sit down with a client. When a huge project involves several decision-makers in a company, I offer a range of open times and suck up the time loss. Whining about a situation I have chosen to put myself in is the best way to make a client think twice about passing another assignment on to me. So I smile and say, “Sure, I’d be happy to stop by. Let me take a look at my calendar.”
- Develop an online support network and make friends with social media. This continues to be one of my best strategies. I have replaced some of my physical networking with clients and colleagues with involvement on social media platforms. My writer friends stay in touch by email. We are scattered over three counties, but we share resources—and job referrals—regularly. My marketing colleagues on Twitter are there to help with problem solving. And I have met talented and generous people who have invited me to guest post on their blogs or be a podcast guest.
- Don’t shortchange your in-person networking. Create a face-to-face networking plan that works for you.Bob and I choose 2-4 real time networking events a month. One or more is usually an evening event that requires an overnight stay. One social networking site in particular, biznik.com, allows us to build relationships online and nurture them with offline workshops and networking events we schedule in the Seattle area. It’s the best of both worlds.
What about you? What have you done to develop a support system for succeeding in a small town or rural setting?
Judy Dunn is co-owner of Cat’s Eye Marketing near Seattle, Washington. She has a passion for helping her clients develop a unique online presence with websites, blogs and social media profiles. Judy writes about online marketing for small businesses at catseyemarketingblog.com.