1 tbsp    butter    15 mL
1/4 cup    onions, peeled and coarsely chopped    50 mL
2 1/2 cup    asparagus, washed, trimmed and cut in 1-inch (2.5cm) pieces    625 mL
1 cup    potatoes, peeled and cut in 1/4-inch (0.6-cm) pieces    250 mL
1 cup    chicken stock    250 mL
2 cups    whipping cream (or milk)    500 mL
1 cup    plain yogurt    250 mL
white pepper to taste
1/2 cup      blueberry or raspberry sherbert    125 mL
fresh dill sprigs

In a saucepan over medium heat, melt the butter and sauté onions, potatoes and asparagus until the onions are translucent.  Add chicken stock and 1 cup (250 mL) cream or milk and simmer until vegetables are tender. Season to taste with white pepper. Purée mixture in a food processor or blender until smooth, then pass purée through a very fine sieve or strainer, using the back of a spoon to help push liquid through.  When mixture has cooled add plain yogurt and the other cup of cream or milk, blending well. At this point the soup may be reheated over medium heat, or chilled for 4 hours if serving cold. Garnish each serving with 1 tbsp (15mL) of sherbet and dill sprigs. Serves 5-6.

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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.

It’s amazing how many parallels can be drawn between the Web 2.0 revolution and food. First, let’s look at how food got to be so popular. Here’s some Web 2.0 for thought:

Our interest in food has increased dramatically in the last 20 years and now receives a level of attention normally reserved for celebrities and musicians. We can identify television cooking shows and the internet as catalysts for this shift, delivering new ideas and trends in food production to the mainstream.

Our consciousness about health and wellness has put food right under the public’s noses. Most mass-produced food contains chemicals added either during the production process, manufacturing process, or both. With cancer rates on the rise, food recalls receiving more press than shark attacks, and obesity an epidemic issue, consumers are fighting back against the supposedly “regulated” products that government agencies and their producers have deemed fit for consumption.

And most importantly, we want the truth, and unlike with television or newspaper articles, the internet is a medium where we can be immediately heard, and have, in effect, become a vocal driver in how businesses operate.

Consumers want accountability and transparency from the companies with which they do business. Big corporations have been attached with horrible stigmas for years, and with social media the opportunity for unflattering news to spread has never been stronger. Smart companies realize this, so they’re going right to the source for their validation: their customers. The customer is either your most valuable asset or a force of complete destruction. Word travels fast (bad news many times faster than good) so reputation management is becoming just as important as the actual product produced.

Our evolved obsession with food came about because food has a tremendous amount of “trend-worthiness.” Every good trend requires a high-volume interest base, prolific players within the activity or idea, and a level of accessibility.

The first proof of this is to consider the simple fact that everybody eats. Who wouldn’t take an interest in food? But food can be looked at from a necessity and interest standpoint. Yes, we all have to eat, but we also need constant hydration without just drinking water all the time. Gatorade, juice and soda all provide a little spice and variety to the experience. And it’s the same reason people still eat out at restaurants despite the fact it’s discretionary spending. Eating at home is uninspiring at best, unless you live with a professional chef. There’s only so much the average person can do in the kitchen, so they need restaurants to satisfy their needs for elevated taste experiences.

As a culture, we’re very keen on keeping up with celebrities. I think professional chefs make the perfect celebrities because they’re very enigmatic, charismatic, and often have unique personalities. They’re a lot like artists; they express food in extraordinary ways which can take your breath away. The fact that the best chefs in the world just do it better than most everyone else means that people are going to find them interesting, follow them, and thus the best ones are exceedingly popular.

The final reason food is ripe to be a lasting trend is that it can be prepared by anyone. Only the fortunate few ever become celebrities from cooking, but the ones that have made it are constantly in our consciousness, selling products, starring in television shows, releasing cookbooks, and opening restaurants. And people love them. I can’t think of a single celebrity chef that isn’t positively embraced (or, at least, not hated), but I can think of countless athletes, businessmen, actors and generic celebrities that are less than desired by the public. All in all, it’s great to be a celebrity chef, and if you have a stove, some ingredients and a few good ideas, you can impress your date, serve high-rollers, and maybe one day get a cooking show of your own.

Stephen Mutch, a business management, operations and client services professional from Napa, California says this about great customer service: “At the most basic element, great customer service  is (all about) fulfilling promises.  Failure to do that leads to loss of credibility and trust in your company and organizations which have fatal and long-term ramifications.”

Marketing and promotions can be accomplished in many forms and from a number of different mediums.  Some strategies are designed to reach a great number of people, while others focus on targeting and reaching a specific customer demographic.

Regardless, fostering great relationships with your customers are of utmost importance.  It’s often a  challenging task as consumer needs are constantly evolving and must be frequently monitored so as to make the necessary adjustments.  This is why a number of companies are employing “reputation managers” who constantly monitor blogs, social networks and other information sources on the internet to keep up with what people are saying about their brands.

It’s been said here many times before, but the best way to get the information you need to be successful is to establish many contact points with your customers.  And how else to do this effectively, inexpensively and efficiently but through social media!

So this week’s tip:  Take charge of your customer service!

Seattle-based Decho group, a technology development firm, doesn’t wait for customers to contact them with questions, comments or concerns – they seek them out directly by using social media tools.

ITBusiness.ca reports on their strategy: “‘Increasingly, they are choosing to reach out to the online community and ask questions about our products, rather than contact us directly,’ said Dave Robinson, vice-president of marketing at Decho.”

Amazon.com demonstrates pure mastery on this front.  They were featured on the cover of Business Week Magazine earlier this month because of their ability to turn potentially bad publicity into an opportunity to brand themselves as a caring company.  Here’s an exerpt from the article:

“For the most part, Amazon has earned a reputation for strong service by letting customers get what they want without ever talking to an employee. Sales clerks are nonexistent. Orders ship with a few mouse clicks. Packages arrive on doorsteps quickly. It all happens with monotonous regularity even as the number of customers has doubled in the past five years to 88 million. But when things go wrong at Amazon—and they occasionally do—the company’s employees get involved. That may be where Amazon stands out most markedly from other companies, and helps explain how the company earned the No. 1 spot on Business Week’s customer service ranking this year.”

When a business reaches out to their customers and does everything in their power to make them happy, they remember it, sign the company’s praises in their blogs, and tell all their friends.  A gesture which may cost $20 to fix could result in $2000 worth of business from valuable viral word of mouth.  A failure to pony up that same $20 in the event of a mistake could cost $2000 the other way.

Small businesses are the backbone of our economy, and significant assets to the community. They understand that a marathon of hard work and perseverance goes into being successful, and that it’s tough to achieve without a strong network of collaborators and supporters.

Here’s what these 6 businesses have learned along the way:

K & M Farms

28494 Maclure Road, Aldergrove, BC
Ph: 604-857-8912
Email: kmfarms@shaw.ca
Web: www.kmfarms.blogspot.com

In their own words:

K & M farms raises chickens, turkeys and beef like your grandmother did – the natural way – outside on pasture with no antibiotics, growth hormones or animal by products!

What’s your secret?

“Start slow,” says Mark Robbins, who originally started the farm as a side project, but has seen it grow considerably in the past few years. “It’s also important not to lose sight of the big picture.”

Lowland Herb Farm

5685 Lickman Rd, Chilliwack, B.C.
Ph: 604-858-4216
Email: info@lowlandherbfarm.com
Website: www.lowlandherbfarm.com

In their own words:

We have 35 years of experience growing herbs organically. We use biodynamic and sutainable practices so that our comprehensive and unique list is incorporated into our landscape/farm/greenhouse/Qltuts (walfrin cold frames) for maximum efficiency, consistency and unique flavours and quality with amazing keeping ability of our fresh product.

What’s your secret?

“I’ve been doing this for 30 years, so I’m proud that I’ve hung in for so long, and proud to be a small scale and organic farm,” says owner Boni Townsend. “I am a devotee of working cooperatively, and serving the needs of our cooperative. In a world of limited resources, this takes precident over profit.”

Silverhill Apple Orchard

30111 Silverhill Ave., Mission, B.C.
Ph. 604-820-7957
Email: orchard1@telus.net
Website: www.bcfarmfresh.com/farm.asp?id=29

In their own words:

Come visit our Orchard and Country Store in the beautiful Silverdale area of SW Mission. We offer one of the best selections available of local and naturally grown produce under our Protective Crop Tunnels. This latest intensive and environmentally friendly growing method allows us to grow an even greater variety of products without the use of toxic chemicals.

What’s your secret?

“Providing the best quality product, grown with love. And, for us, taking our production costs into careful consideration, and making sure to follow all the government regulations.”

BCFRESH INC.

# 201-7560 Vantage Way, Delta, B.C.
Ph. 604-946-3139
Email: gerrit@bcfreshinc.com
Website: www.bcfreshinc.com

In their own words:

“BCFresh is 100% locally owned and operated. Our root vegetables are grown by 32 families throughout the Fraser Valley, many of whom have been growing BCFresh produce for for or five generations. Much care is taken to ensure that only the freshest, highest quality produce reaches your dinner table. Look for BCFresh products at your local grocer.”

What’s your secret?

“Be patient, get your name out there,” says Gerrit of BCFresh. “You have to get your network going. It takes a lot of time, so make sure to just keep going.”

Forstbauer Family Natural Food Farm

49350 Prairie Central Rd, Chilliwack, B.C.
Ph. 604-794-3999
Email: farm@forstbauer.com
Website: http://www.forstbauer.com

In their own words:

Founded in 1977, the Forstbauer Family Natural Food Farm is a Certified Organic farm in Chilliwack. Mary and Hans Forstbauer were pioneers in the early organic farming movement, and are still farming with integrity and passion.

What’s your secret?

“We’re involved with a lot of associations, including the BC Farmer’s Market Association, Canada Association of Farmers Markets, and the Farmer’s Market Nutrition Coupons Program,” says Mary Forstbauer. “It’s also important to listen, and really hear what people are saying instead of just waiting to speak. You also have to do your research, and take a step of faith.”

Painted River Farm

218 Barnston Island, Surrey
Ph. 604-581-2665
Email: paintedriverfarm@skyweb.ca
Website: www.paintedriverfarm.ca

In their own words:

Painted River Farm, locared on Barnston Island, produced naturally raised beef and goat meat. We do not use hormones, antibiotics, or pesticides on our land. We were the first SPCA-certified beef producers in BC, and sell our products from our farm gate in the fall.

What’s your secret?

“We produce naturally-raised SPCA-certified beef, that’s a great product, raised very well for the general public, and with passion towards our animals,” says Donna Gilmore. “It’s important to do your homework, and talk with people if you don’t know something.”

Some will say women have more refined taste than men, that the male palate is much easier to satisfy.  Women have a reputation for being more discriminate with what they eat, choosing healthier options, while men shun the starch-vegetable-protein formula in favour of meat-meat-meat.

Suffice it to say, generalities abound with this topic.

I think as a male diner I can chime in on this topic.  I consider eating out to be a special occassion, so I’m more likely to eat less healthy than if I were having a meal at home.  Apparently, women remain much more dedicated regardless of the situation.  I think everyone’s starting to embrace healthier lifestyles, but I don’t think your average guy will turn down the surf ‘n turf in favour of the baked tilapia with asparagus, no matter how well it’s prepared.

Here’s an article from the Boston Globe which weighs in on this very issue.

Ran across two interesting articles which show just how far food service establishments in the US will go to salvage business during the recession.

According to USA Today, the $183 billion full-service dining industry is struggling to keep up with falling demand at its restaurant locations, which has prompted some well-known chains to offer astonishingly low entree prices and deals.

“‘Chains have little choice. Cash-strapped consumers are holding back on eating out.  Same-store sales have been falling for 14 months and were down 3.6% in February,’ says researcher Knapp-Track.”

For chains that use budget and family themes in their branding, offering lower prices is a sure way of appealing to their traditional customer base.  It’s risky for an elite brand to low-ball its offerings, but even the upscale Morton’s Steakhouse is getting in on the act…

Adding value is a strategy often employed by brands which come advertised as worth every penny, and are reluctant to risk their reputations by discounting, but even low-end fare requires a little dressing up to sell.

Ask yourself if you would risk eating this for the chance at winning a t-shirt…