It’s amazing how food has become one of the most engaging topics in media, especially on the internet. Food is a bonafide media darling. It’s more popular than Oprah, Paris Hilton and Barack Obama, combined. Nutritional importance aside, if just our interest in food could be harnessed as energy it would power every home on Earth. I bet there’s a new food blog created every hour of every day.

And why not? We have an insatiable appetite for this stuff! We know all the celebrity chefs by name. We support the countless number of food websites out there, scouring the web for recipes, news and information. Even the most casual among us enjoy watching The Food Network from time to time (and we’re even starting to admit it, too).

Food is our obsession. We want to experience it with all our senses, swoon over it with our friends, follow it around with our cameras, write it love notes, canonize its artists, and build great houses of worship in its honour. We consume food like, well, food. It really isn’t just something we eat, anymore.

Ok, we get it. Everyone’s talking about it. Now what?

Well, the first thing to do is find out what people are saying, and who they’re talking about. Television, radio, newspapers and the internet are where we normally get our information. These are great advertising outlets for big businesses with big marketing budgets, but small businesses need people talking about them, too.

One 30-second Super Bowl commercial alone costs $3 million to air! And why is it so expensive? Because millions of people will see the message, and this is very important for business.

Since very few businesses this much to spend on advertising and other resources, there has to be a better way – and there is! You can reach millions of people just like Pepsi and Budweiser, and do it by spending hardly any money at all.

Social Media Saves You Time and Money

With social media, you contribute a little, and receive lots in return. Here’s how it works:

Say you want to take a swim, but have no pool and only one litre of water. What do you do? Well, you collect 10,000 other people just like you who have only one litre of water but want to swim, and let a social media platform like Industry Blender serve as your pool. If everyone contributes their litre of water to the pool, then everybody gets to swim! All you’re paying for is the cost of the pool which, because of the volume of users, is very low.

The Power of Collaboration – Imagine the Impossible!

If you operate a bakery, for example, social media platforms are helpful because they allow you to link with other bakeries in your area quite easily. Before you know it, there are 100 bakeries in your group.

You talk to each other about the challenges you face, share stories, recommend, give advice, and team up. You provide each other with easy-to-access information and resources, which means no more searching all over to find what you need. Over time, the sum becomes much bigger than the whole of its parts.

Know your Competitors

Wouldn’t this group make things too competitive, you ask?

Not really. A large group of bakeries will get much more attention than a single one here and there, and attracting bakery customers is your primary goal. You can also use social media to keep up with what other businesses are doing. Watch what successful companies do and try to emulate those strategies. Social media gives you detailed access to this information, and makes it really easy to find.

Understand your Unique Advantages and Let your Customers Know About Them

On the other hand, since no two bakeries are alike, you can celebrate your differences and market to different types of customers. One bakery may specialize in custom wedding cakes, while another is set up for mass production. The great thing about social media is you can have an actual conversation with your customers, which puts a face to your business that people require these days before they will buy. Cultivate relationships, reinforce your brand, and take control of what is being said about you.

Market to Millions of People on a Small Budget

The ultimate goal is to be highly visible to people searching for bakeries, and from there you develop niches and set yourself apart. This large union of bakeries is very noticeable to customers, and now you’re a force which demands attention. Now that you’re getting noticed, other bakeries will want to join your group, and soon you’re a powerhouse of bakeries. You continue to pool your resources, become more and more visible to potential customers, and everyone does better business in the end.

Harnessing the Power and Speed of the Internet to Stay Competitive

Things happen very fast, so you must be able to converse quickly. If you have lobsters or other inventory that hasn’t been selling that you need to get rid of immediately, you can’t wait to announce a special in the paper, or count on a sign being seen on your restaurant or around town.

The best method is to post your information where other seafood lovers go for the latest information, just like how Craigslist works for people with classifieds. Advertising online is instant; there’s no need to wait for the “next issue,” or worry if you have missed a deadline date

Word of Mouth Advertising

One reality emerging is that people trust word of mouth more than advertising. This is why customer referrals are so important.

People love commenting about restaurants, movies, etc…, so use their opinions as free advertising. Post referrals you’ve received on your website and use them in your other marketing, as well. Information that comes from unbiased members of the general public is most powerful in influencing the decisions of others.

Encourage comments about your business because, on the internet, they spread fast or “go viral.” You’re probably worried about negative feedback, and, yes these spread faster than positive comments, in fact. But not everyone is going to be happy, so luckily social media is very defensible. You can quickly put out fires before they spread because you’re always conversing with your customers.

Most social media sites like IndustryBlender.com allow customers to comment directly about the goods and services they received. These comments are set in stone, so if you’re a business that takes care of its patrons and provides an excellent service, you will be rewarded.

It’s tempting for business owners to hibernate during, this, the winter of our economic discontent. Everyone wants to freeze their marketing budgets, and hunker down until warmer economic climates arrive. We’re all feeling the effects of these trying times, especially small business owners, who must crunch their finances and try to make the marketing dollars stretch.

Luckily, it doesn’t cost you hardly anything to market anymore. Thanks to the internet, creativity and knowledge are the new currencies. Adhere to these simple promotional tools and you’ll get that extra publicity boost you need to take your business to the next level.

Advertising Vs Public Relations

Before you begin promoting your business, you need to ask yourself the following question: What’s the difference between advertising and public relations? It may sound like a no-brainer, but many business owners use these terms interchangeably. They’re different, and here’s how:

  • Advertising: This is the term for a paid public promotion of a product or service (i.e. newspaper ad or online ad banner)
  • Public Relations: This is an unpaid promotion intended to create goodwill for a person, product or company (i.e. press conference or press release).

Now that you know the difference between advertising and publicity, it’s time to consider including some “public relations” initiatives into your marketing plan. Here are some can’t-miss actions you should take:

Create news-worthy press releases:

Not all news necessarily warrants its own press release, so exercise a bit of caution, here. Before you send out a press release, consider if it’s a topic that would interest the local media (or national media – depending on the scope/region of your business).  It’s really quality over quantity, here. If you are a food supplier, get to know your local community groups so you may contact them to break your news. If you’re a restaurant, send press releases to your local newspapers, internet groups, and advertise, advertise, advertise on many social media outlets. There are many places to post your press release online, and make sure to check your press release for errors and mistakes before you send it out.

Websites, blogs and social networking sites:

These are free publicity tools (a website is more expensive, but it’s an essential long-term investment) are readily available at anybody’s fingertips. If you haven’t developed a website or created a blog, then you are missing out on crucial promotional opportunities. Social networking sites such as Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook, and Industry Blender are tools of connectivity and promotion that you simply cannot live without. They generate potential leads and customers, and can reach many more people than traditional advertising at a fraction of the cost

Organize free or low-cost special events:

Utilize your company’s conference room or restaurant for an after-hours or off-hours event that will help you meet new people and generate buzz for your business. It’s important to thank your customers and clients in this way because the gesture makes them feel appreciated. Even if it’s only an inexpensive morning coffee event, it’s important to put a “face” in front of your clients and customers. In this age of the email, text messaging, and voicemail, business owners sometimes forget that people buy from people, and that physical meetings will only enhance your transparency and “realness” that people seek when they’re buying in person and online. Free or low-cost special events put you right in front of your clients again.

Become involved in your community:

Even if you can’t afford to make a monetary donation, your volunteer time is just as important both for promotional purposes and to help worthy causes. Involvement allows you to give back to your community and provides a great networking opportunity. You can also give in-kind donations for auctions (both products and services), which is another great way to promote your business (and are tax write-offs). Pick a charitable organization that has personal meaning for you, and become a good steward within your community. You will meet other business owners and possibly land new clients and prospects.

Attend events that really target your audience/target market:

Before you take on every networking event or trade show, ask yourself a few questions: Is this event going to help my business? How many people are attending? What’s my return on investment? Is it free or is there cost involved? How many leads/contacts do I hope to land as a result of this event? Don’t get into the bad habit of saying “yes” to every event because you THINK you need to attend them all. Pick and choose the best networking events that you think will provide the most benefit.

21st century business owners market smarter, not harder. Try out some of these cost- effective tips and you’ll boost your reputation, become more visible to your customers, and improve sales more than you ever thought possible.

I just returned from a private stakeholder meeting at City Hall today, regarding the potential revisal of city liquor regulations.  Yes, this is an issue of concern and interest for members of the food and beverage industry, but it also represents policy decisions that will undoubtedly affect the general public.

The nature of this gathering is discussed in greater detail on the main page, so I won’t go into too many specifics.  What I will address is the unfortunate reality that the public (or absent industry pros, for that matter) has no forum with which to A.) be kept abreast of this and other issues and B.) direct questions and comments to other concerned and applicable parties.

There were approximately 40 industry professionals in attendance, all sitting around a large round table or in the audience.  As I watched the discussion unfold, it once again reinforced my belief that a collection of individuals, when given an outlet for their opinions, will seize that opportunity and can have an immense amount of influence when it comes to solving problems that affect their lives, communities and businesses.

This, folks, is a collection of people with similar vested interests coming together to have their voices heard for a common goal.  There simply isn’t enough of this going on in our industry, and I think it’s deplorable that the public has no easily accessible channel with which to be heard on issues that affect them.

But in a world where people have easy access to technology and information in the convenience of their own spaces, there should be an online forum for comments, questions, suggestions regarding this and any industry-related issue.  Social and business networking is the best way to gather information on a topic that is relevant to you.

My suggestion to the city of Vancouver or any other organization or industry would be to create a specific network that caters to the needs and voices of its members.  That’s one of the reasons we started Industry Blender:  Because the Facebook and Myspace models have showed that people need to and will congregate with their peers if given the opportuniy.  We need to be the catalysts for this change.

Social networks make our lives richer and easier and give us the opportunity to have our voices heard.  They make possible meaningful and profitable connections with people we never would have met before.  Their power is immeasurable, and it means you will change the way business is done in the future.  You’re the ones conducting the business, so it is imperative that you be front and centre and totally in control of your own fates.

Gathering physically is very important and can never be replaced, but a virtual network is a room that never gets full.  And it requires no driving or schedule juggling to get there.  We could suggest to City Hall or any other decision making organisation to make available a forum where people can voice their opinions on issues.  The technology and ability to do this is before us, it’s just a matter of organising and stratifying interests.

If the City started a network which allowed restaurant, lounge, bar owners and their patrons to comment on the liquor regulation issue, which people are very passionate about, you can be assured there would be a mob of support and comments.  It’s amazing how all these old and established organisations haven’t caught on to the idea.  No matter.  We’ll work together to educate the business world and show them how things have evolved in the 21st century.  We’ll give our customers and colleagues the opportunity to be collectively heard, and we’ll be on the forefront because of it.

So…what does this mean for us?  It means that the Food, Beverage and Hospitality Industry in Vancouver can be on the forefront of this change which market research shows is going to be in full swing in the next 2-4 years.  We’re a progressive bunch that knows our city and customers, and recognise the need to facilitate this change. 

But change is slow to take place, especially for bohemoth, slow moving companies where it takes much more time for things to get done because they’re reluctant to alter their business models.  But our industry is primed for this transition, and we can get in on the ground floor of this transition.

A word to the Wise…

March 5, 2009

Running a successful business, especially a restaurant, is all about consistency.  It helps you learn from your past to make improvements for the future.  It’s a fantastic indicator of success.

In theory.

Consistency makes trends and patterns more clear.  It gives your customers something to go on when they choose your business.  It allows for successful branding campaigns to happen.  But if consistency is your hero, the story tells us there must be a Joker lurking in the shadows awaiting an opportunity to strike.  

Sorry folks, but this time is no different.  WARNING:  If you’re at all squeamish, the divulgence of your number one nemesis may make you ill.  Please have a warm compress on hand before continuing.  Here it is…

Volatility.

It’s a precarious little bugger, volatility.  It catches you off guard, holds you hostage, and disturbs the precious stability you work endlessly to attain.  As your jumping through hoops trying to run a successful business, volatility is there to douse them in gasoline and light a match.
    
In fact, the only consistency we can expect, ironically, is that there will never be any at all.  We learn in physics that 100% efficiency is impossible because of friction.  But if you pick your spots right and invest your resources wisely, you’ll be put in the best possible position to succeed.

Once thought of as a hobbyist niche that would allow people to easily stay in touch with their friends, social networking has now become perfect for the business world.  While my research leads me to believe that social networks of a like industry will dominate in the future, it’s best to join a number of them because once you fill out business information for one, it can be easily applied to your other networks.

Beyond networking in discussion groups or with friends, you can do so much more in a public social network, let alone what can be accomplished if you were to create a social network that embraced your employees, customers, suppliers and prospects.

Here are 10 basic strategies to create awareness of your business using public social networks:

1.    Your approach to public social networks should employ a broad marketing strategy. When you join your first social network, let’s say Facebook, save your profile contents to a document file so that you have the content ready to cut and paste in to any other social network you join. That will save you a ton of time.

2.    In your social network profile talk about your business and your brand. This can be done subtly or very openly. There are lots of business people doing this today whether on Facebook, MySpace or such business-oriented social networks like Xing, SalesSpider, LinkedIn and their like.

3.    Place mini applications on your social network page, such as widgets. If you want to understand what a widget is, there is a great article on the subject published in a blog written by Jeremiah Owyang, a Social Computing Analyst at Forrester Research.

4.    Create a video that you can post to You Tube about your business. It’s easy to do with the web cam you may have with your computer or one that you buy. They are really very inexpensive these days.

5.    You can also create slide shows using inexpensive web presentation tools such as Flypaper.

6.    You can create photo presentation shows with video, words and music using tools like Smilebox.

7.    Create a group focused on issues related to your business and brand, and invite people to join it. Start with your friends and encourage them to let others know about the group.

8.    Post Notes or create a separate blog and put the link on your social network profile page. On my Facebook profile, I have a link to this blogspot in the Info section. Keeping up a blog can be time consuming so choose to write about issues that you know will resonate with customers and prospects. If you find 3rd party content and want to incorporate it into your blog always ask permission first before posting.

9.    Link your company website to your public social network profile. And mention your social network presence on your company website. The more cross marketing you do the better.

10.    Get on as many social networks as you can. One is great but 5 or more is even better.

During uncertain economic times, every decision requires that much more contemplation and research.  You may have caught our last article where we discussed the ins and outs of leasing equipment.  Well, here’s the other side of the argument:  Buying.  For those just digging into the business world – or upgrading existing operations – here’s some information on the world of equipment purchasing to help make those decisions a bit more certain.

Buying Advantages

Business Equipment can be written off

Tax interpretations are best left in the hands of professionals, of course, but remember that it’s worth your while to research how to best maximize your investment.  Many business purchases warrant a tax break of some kind, and there are more opportunities to save than you might think.  Use the tax laws to your advantage and you’ll reap the benefits of that long-term purchase.

Maximize Use

Leases are risky because you’re at the mercy of the leaseholder.  Changes to your lease can happen suddenly and without warning, leaving you in a compromised position or forced to return your equipment.  Buying creates more stability because the terms of your deal won’t change – you made the arrangement because it’s what you could afford and it worked best.  You’re more in control of your own fate.

Renting and re-selling

Owning your own equipment means that it’s potential to make money is twofold – it makes money when you use it, and acts as collateral in case you wish for it to be sold.  Buying means that you can build equity on your equipment.  With leasing, you’re paying but have limited power using it to earn back your investment.  As an extra precaution, you can reap some sort of return because it has value to be re-sold or rented.  If leasing is paper money, than buying is gold.

The long haul

Buying has an advantage over leasing if you know you’re going to keep the equipment for a long time.  Some purchases you just know this is going to be the case.  Once you pay everything off, it continues to make money as long as it is being used in some profitable way.

Lower overall costs

This article quotes Denis Dummer, Public Affairs Officer for Industry Canada, talking about how buying means your overall payment will be lower:  “Expect to pay a lower monthly payment when you lease, compared with what you would pay on a loan for the same vehicle.”  He also cites another tax advantage:  “You pay tax only on the monthly payment rather than upfront for the full price of the vehicle.”

Modification

If you need to alter your equipment in some way, in terms of servicing or maybe to make it fit better, you have the independence to do so.  You can’t do anything drastic to your leased equipment; otherwise you’ll probably end up owning it whether you had intended to or not.

Buying Disadvantages

Higher up-front costs

One glaring disadvantage of purchasing outright is that you have to pay substantial up-front costs to secure your equipment.  Attorney Fred S. Steingold, author of the Legal Guide for Starting & Running a Small Business writes onnolo.com:

“For some people, purchasing business equipment may not be an option, because the initial cash outlay is too high.  Even if you plan on borrowing the money and making monthly payments, most banks require a down payment of around 20%. Borrowing money may also tie up lines of credit, and lenders may place restrictions on your future financial operations to ensure that you are able to repay your loan.”

Buyer beware

The rate of depreciation on equipment – especially technology – can be steep.  Steingold says that “although ownership is perhaps the biggest advantage to buying business equipment, it can also be a disadvantage. If you purchase high-tech equipment, you run the risk that the equipment may become technologically obsolete, and you may be forced to reinvest in new equipment long before you had planned to. Certain business equipment has very little resale value. A computer system that costs $5,000 today, for instance, may be worth only $1,000 or less three years from now.”

Ultimately, it’s your call

Since we at Industry Blender believe in not only providing members with our own argument, but also helping lead our members to the sources – here is a toast to all you empowered Decide-it-Yourselfers.  These websites provide easy to use platforms for crunching your own numbers.  Just fill in the blanks.

Here’s an interesting business-oriented website that offers a buy vs. lease calculator to give you an idea of which option is best for you.

This one is more business-centric calculator and website that has great definitions for relevant terms.

Good Luck!

By Ed Dugas

My, my, how lucky we are.

It seems like just yesterday that we heard those immortal words: “The
2010 Olympic Winter Games are awarded to…the city of Vancouver!”

Not that there’s ever a bad time to live in The Best Place on Earth.

The 2010 Games present an unprecidented opportunity for companies to
gain world class experience and shine on the international stage. But
benefiting from this event means doing a little bit of leg work. When
you begin searching for ways to contribute your services, start with
this invaluable resource, which is a must-use for any business looking
to stand atop the podium for the world to see.

The 2010 Business Network

The 2010 Business Network
is an online database that allows British Columbia companies to profile
themselves to Games-related buyers including VANOC, Vancouver 2010
sponsors, National Olympic and Paralympic Committees, international
media organizations and dozens of related sporting events.”

The possibilities of the Olympics reach far beyond the actual 2 week
celebration; you could make business connections and gain exposure
which will help your company for years to come. The 2010 Network is
very similar to Industry Blender; it links those looking for services
with those providing services. It’s networking and, as you’ve probably
heard, it’s the best and most efficient way to accomplish your short
and long-term goals.

Signing up for the site is free and will afford you international
exposure through a circulated company profile, the opportunity to make
lasting connections, and access to exclusive workshops and events.

In addition, by becoming involved with the SuperHost program, you will learn how to “Distinguish your Business, WOW your Clients, and Empower your Teams.” Offered by Tourism BC,
this program shows you how to provide elite customer service and win
gold for your business. There’s so much to gain from this experience,
you’ll have to visit the site to find out the rest.

This is a once in a lifetime opportunity, so don’t delay! Get the
ball rolling and set yourself up for succes in 2010 and beyond!

For more information on how you can maximize your opportunities with
this event, please contact RBC Royal Bank Olympic Business Development
Advisor, Betty MacLeod at betty.e.macleod@rbc.com