Small business

Appalachian Small Business Series: Industries of the Future

With the third installment in our series of ideas and tips for small businesses in Appalachia, we discuss the industries essential to the region's future growth.

Appalachia is, unfortunately, not well-known as the home of growth-oriented industries. People living inside the region often speak of how the economy was once stronger, typically due to a booming local extractive industry such as mining or logging. Interestingly, Appalachia's tremendous blessings of coal and timber also lead to what economists often term the "natural resource curse." This "curse" occurs in a region (or even an entire nation) where the prevalence of valuable natural resources actually deters economic diversification/long-term growth. When Appalachia's resources were in great demand, there was little incentive for communities and citizens to develop alternative employment opportunities because jobs were so plentiful. As good timber became less available and coal prices crashed, though, Appalachia's economic pillars crumbled with nothing to replace them. The more recent boom in natural gas was also short-lived as over-production crashed the market and many drillers in Appalachia underwent layoffs.

Appalachia can no longer afford to rely on boom-or-bust natural resource industries. We're not saying that communities in Appalachia should turn their backs on successful mining/logging/gas drilling businesses. Quite the opposite. Stable energy and timber companies should be encouraged to stay and grow! Forward View is not anti-coal/gas/oil/logging/etc. as long as the industry is responsible and economically viable. (For example, America still needs coal for over 30% of our electricity production and for almost all new steel.) We do, however, believe that Appalachia should diversify its economy so that communities aren't reliant upon a single cyclical industry for survival.

Our readers probably expect us to encourage leaders in Appalachia to pursue major manufacturing employers for job creation. Manufacturing, it seems, is this election season's #1 economic topic. Forward View, however, is absolutely certain that 21st century manufacturing will not be Appalachia's new economic engine. Why? It's very simple: Infrastructure.

Appalachia's transportation infrastructure was designed to deliver commodities such as coal and wood by rail to a few select locations. In a college Urban & Regional Economics course, our founder studied the highway infrastructure in Southwest Virginia. His research showed that billions of dollars would be needed in just this one corner of the state to satisfy the demands of large-scale manufacturing. Needless to say, we sincerely doubt that Appalachian communities will receive enough infrastructure investments to make manufacturers suddenly flock to the region in the foreseeable future. Forward View has an alternative solution, though, and it's perfect for small businesses.

In American Nations: A History of the Eleven Rival Regional Cultures of North America, Colin Woodard (2011) informs us that Appalachia is the most "Americanized" region of the nation. In fact, people living in Appalachia are more likely to describe their ancestry/heritage as simply "American" than anywhere else in the nation. Thus, anybody seeking a taste of Americana should begin their travels in Appalachia. The same lack of infrastructure that keeps Appalachia from developing a major manufacturing economy also ensures that the region maintains its unique culture, rural atmosphere and quiet communities. Instead of lamenting the lack of super-highways in Appalachia, communities and small businesses related to tourism should promote Appalachia as America's new tourism center. The region's lakes, rivers, mountains, farms and small towns are under-appreciated across the country. If you read almost any travel website or magazine, you realize that activities such as adventure tourism, eco-tourism and dining at farm-to-table restaurants are extremely popular. Appalachia has the natural resources necessary for all of these tourism-related opportunities, but communities need to harness them. (Farmers can provide the fresh ingredients used by local restaurants to feed the tourists who visit to shop/hike/bike/fish and explore in Appalachia.)

Our November newsletter will delve into the details of how small businesses across Appalachia can collaborate to ensure joint prosperity. We'll give special attention to strategies that business owners can implement during the upcoming holiday season. The 2016 holiday season should be the launch point for small businesses in Appalachia to make 2017 their best year ever!

Reference: Woodard, C. (2011). American Nations: A History of the Eleven Rival Regional Cultures of North America. New York, NY: Penguin Group.

The Appalachian Small Business Series: Mountain Finance

In the second installment of our Appalachian Small Business Series, we discuss economics and financing opportunities in the region.

We decided to focus on the availability of capital and related economic topics early in this newsletter series because they're critical elements for revitalizing Appalachia. Access to small business financing is necessary for entrepreneurial activity, and without cash, firms can't survive long enough to implement our other ideas. With a strong financial foundation, though, companies can focus on 21st century growth strategies.

Before diving into our small business recommendations, let's take a look at the state of small business financing in Appalachia. Perhaps not surprisingly, there's limited data on this subject as more researchers focus on rural economics in developing nations than on Appalachia. Anyway, some of the only available research on our topic comes from a National Community Reinvestment Coalition (2007) report. The study offers these important points:

  1. Small and mid-sized banks in Appalachia are especially small business-friendly. Branches of large banks tend to be less devoted to small business.
  2. The most economically-distressed counties in Appalachia suffer from insufficient access to business capital, especially for companies early in their development.
  3. An overall lack of non-bank financing opportunities restrains small businesses across Appalachia.
  4. Entrepreneurs in Appalachia need additional financial guidance and training to succeed.

How should small businesses in Appalachia respond to these facts?

Just because many counties in Appalachia have limited ties to the banking sector doesn't imply that small businesses should ignore this traditional source of capital. In fact, the fewer the banks in a community, the more important it is to be well-prepared for an application for a loan. (You can't afford to fail!) It's absolutely essential to create a detailed business plan for new ventures, including realistic financial forecasts. Banks won't lend money to entrepreneurs without a clear understanding of the business. Existing firms seeking additional financing will need revenue, profit and cash flow predictions, too. The SBA and SCORE are two sources of guidance for business plans and small business forecasting. Contact them for free advice! Forward View, of course, can also create the financial analyses required for loans and other forms of start-up financing.

One new source of business financing that's underappreciated in Appalachia is crowd-funding. No, we're not talking about some type of charity fundraiser; we're talking about a 21st century alternative to banks, private equity and venture capital firms. EquityNet, Crowdfunder and MicroVentures are just a few of the companies that help connect entrepreneurs directly to investors. Crowd-funding bypasses lending institutions and serves as a new route for businesses in Appalachia (and elsewhere) to receive capital from across the nation. We believe that crowd-funding can absolutely help to bridge Appalachia's financing gap.

In the next issue of this newsletter series, we'll discuss industry and tourism in Appalachia and its relationship to small business. We look forward to presenting our research and ideas. Stay tuned!

Reference: National Community Reinvestment Coalition. (2007). Access to Capital and Credit For Small Businesses in Appalachia. Retrieved from the Appalachian Regional Commission: 
http://www.arc.gov/assets/research_reports/AccesstoCapitalandCreditforSmallBusinessesinAppalachia3.pdf

$0 Small Business Digital Marketing Strategy

Introduction

Small businesses aren't typically blessed with large promotional budgets, but marketing your company doesn't need to be expensive. In fact, we've created a $0 digital marketing strategy that's adaptable to almost any small business's needs. With our flexible and fee-free plan, you can overhaul your marketing without spending a penny. We'll lay out our guide in five easy steps that you can begin utilizing today!
 

Step #1: Get on social media

If your small business has no social media pages, you need to begin building your presence as soon as you finish reading this newsletter. In today's world, digital communication is increasingly happening on social media, and companies that don't reach customers (and potential customers) through social media are missing huge opportunities. Ad Week's Shea Bennett notes that 67% of Americans age 12 and older currently use social media.

The good news for small businesses is that social media pages cost nothing to build, but the key isn't to create a dozen social media profiles and never update them. In fact, that's almost as bad as having no profiles at all! Why? People may question the status/quality of a business with outdated pages. Instead of abandoning social media after you create profiles, follow our Social Media Marketing 101 advice. Now, get posting!


Step #2: Create a blog

We know that the joke today is that everybody and their cat is running a blog, but there's a reason people love to blog: exposure! Blogging also creates productive conversations, both online and offline. A free blog on Blogger orWordPress can even serve as a temporary website for your business, although we do suggest having a website designed for your company by Forward View when it's feasible.The key to blogging is to regularly create engaging posts and to share them on social media. Blogs and social media fit together like peanut butter and bread, so use both communication mediums to support each other for maximum benefits. Remember that your blog shouldn't read like a blatant ad for your business. Instead, focus on industry developments, community insights and an occasional news update from your company.


Step #3: Publish a newsletter (like this one!)

MailChimp is a fantastic, and free newsletter service. We absolutely love everything about MailChimp, and our email subscribers frequently comment on the quality of our newsletter. Creating your own newsletter template in MailChimp shouldn't take more than a few hours, but developing regular communication with your business network is exceedingly vital. Like your blog, don't use your newsletter to send tons of ads for your company. The 80/20 rule is appropriate for newsletters: Publish interesting content 80% of the time and direct marketing appeals 20% of the time. If you reverse those numbers, expect to see lots of unsubscribe notices!


Step #4: Control your online presence

If you have any business, try running its name through search engines. Many companies like YelpGoogle and TripAdvisor will let you claim your business page and update it with custom content for free. These pages will then appear on search engines and apps. Add pictures, your own marketing pitch and contact information to create a nice profile on the relevant websites. If you have a restaurant, don't forget to add your menu! Respond to online reviews of your business, too. Yes, even the (obviously untrue) negative reviews deserve a reply!


Step #5: Generate free publicity and media love

This is the final, and most challenging, step of our guide, but success in Step #5 will elevate your marketing strategy to a higher level. We suggest contacting members of your local media organizations and offering to subscribe them to your newsletter. Ask if you could even be an expert industry source for them. Generating positive press is better than advertising because TV/radio commercials are often ignored by the public. For national exposure, contact HARO and sign up to be a source for reporters across the country. We've we've had good success with HARO and have made Forward View known to readers of top-shelf publications like Forbes. Even one quote in a leading newspaper, website or magazine can provide new opportunities for your business!

Summary

In closing, marketing your company need not be expensive. By investing a little time and effort into developing a no-budget publicity strategy, you can grow your firm's market share. The internet offers great benefits for free advertising and communication with customers. By utilizing social media, email, blogs and media organizations, your small business can expand beyond all expectations!

Shop Small: A Holiday Season Preparation Guide

Here at Forward View, we spend most of our time working with small businesses. You might say that entrepreneurs are some of our favorite people! When we're not directly consulting with local companies from across the U.S., our team is likely reading and thinking about new ways to support the economic pillars of our communities. With Christmas and Hanukkah upon us, we'd like to help you prepare for Small Business Saturday (November 28th) and the rest of the holiday shopping season.

First of all, fire up your social media accounts and start promoting #ShopSmall immediately! Then, begin developing a cohesive campaign that combines an online marketing effort with an in-store/on-location event or offer for Small Business Saturday. (If you have an e-commerce business, then just focus on the digital component.) Create a special sale to drive holiday season visitors, says Forward View consultant Grace Wu. Our copywriter, Chelsea Hippler, adds that your digital efforts should combine the general Shop Small message with your unique business promotion.

For offline marketing, our digital artist, Kerri Costello, suggests you should mail postcards to potential customers in your area. A well-designed card with a coupon or invitation to a special event will stand out in the typical mailbox full of catalogs. Overall, utilize social media and your small business website to present a comprehensive message why patrons should shop with you this season. With big-box stores flooding the internet and airwaves with ads, you must clearly explain the reasons your business deserves hard-earned holiday dollars! Use Eventbrite to publicize your Small Business Saturday event for free. If you don't want to host your own holiday season gathering, Forward View analyst David Wilson says that your small business should sponsor or support community events, such as a 5K run.

Once you have developed your holiday season plan, get your business ready for increased traffic. The good news is that our friends at American Express have free information and content to jumpstart your on-location Shop Small campaign. Click here to access the American Express guides and materials. Also, ensure that you have enough inventory and staff to satisfy increased demand. The last thing you want to do is have a flood of potential customers come to your business... and not be able to satisfy their orders or requests!

We believe that "bottom-up" economic development is key to revitalizing American communities. One small business itself can't impact a regional economy, but a supportive and connected group of firms can do wonders! The key to a successful Small Business Saturday and Shop Small campaign is to network with other local entrepreneurs and business groups to build a cohesive message. Start your planning now so you'll be ready to go as Christmas spending begins in earnest. Make this holiday season your most successful ever!

For further reading, Grace Wu recommends:
http://localvox.com/blog/holiday-marketing-ideas-for-small-businesses/
http://www.forbes.com/sites/caroltice/2014/10/31/selling-christmas-before-halloween-how-small-businesses-can-compete/
http://smallbiztrends.com/2014/10/holiday-marketing-tips-retail-store.html
https://www.nerdwallet.com/blog/shopping/holiday-tips-news/christmas-small-businesses/
https://www.sba.gov/blogs/12-last-minute-low-cost-holiday-marketing-tips-your-small-business

Social Media Marketing 101

Social Media Marketing 101

Don't worry, we're not going to bore you with our selfies or cat videos. This article is intended to help you market your business online through social media.

21st Century Entrepreneurship

Small businesses are truly respected here at Forward View. Not only is Forward View a product of contemporary entrepreneurship, but most of our clients are entrepreneurs, too. In our opinion, the future of America will depend on people who use technology and modern capitalism to develop new products and offer innovative services. According to Inc.com, "The Global Entrepreneurship Monitor shows that 18- to 24-year-olds in the United States are starting businesses at a faster rate than 35- to 44-year-olds." Thus, entrepreneurs are definitely increasing in number. Here's the Forward View:

We believe that more and more companies will use networks of remote professionals because distance is becoming irrelevant. Technologies such as Skype and the prevalence of mobile devices will enable face-to-face digital collaboration across time zones and regions. Forward View itself is a product of this trend. We're based in Virginia but have collaborators and consultants in Pennsylvania, Washington, Colorado and now Texas. Our clients have come from Virginia, Maryland, New Hampshire, North Carolina, Illinois and New York. As distance education/training becomes commonplace, having remote jobs/projects will be even more widely accepted in business. Those who learn online will work online.

-from Entrepreneur

The global marketplace is creating significant demand for incredibly differentiated services and goods. Established corporations struggle to envision anything except for macro trends, but highly skilled entrepreneurs will quickly exploit developing opportunities. Small businesses can react rapidly to changing needs, and they should always focus on core competencies. The 21st century economy will look like your smartphone's list of apps, with each firm dedicated to expertise in a particular niche. The days of conglomerates ruling the world are over.

Forward View realizes that modem entrepreneurs will increasingly promote socially-conscious activities. We think capitalism is the best economic system ever devised and ardently support free markets. (If you disagree and prefer Communism, just go ahead and click that little Unsubscribe button at the bottom of this email.) Nonetheless, we're very interested in supporting companies that do good while they earn profits. Those two outcomes aren't mutually exclusive. In fact, we'd say that thriving firms in this century will seamlessly integrate financial success with other metrics related to sustainable business practices. That combination will be essential to America's future.

-from Entrepreneur

It's our earnest desire to support the first generation 21st century entrepreneurs. The next generation seems even more strongly interested in developing new companies: "61 percent of high school students and 43 percent of college students would rather be an entrepreneur instead of an employee when they graduate college. While Gen Y struggles to pay back one trillion dollars in student loans, and is living with their parents when they graduate, Gen Z [those born between 1994 and 2010] is already focused on creating their own companies and living life on their terms." (Dan Schwabel of Millennial Branding) As business ownership becomes the preferred career, we look forward to helping Generations X, Y and Z!