I don’t know if it’s the technological advancements or simply a reflection of the state of the economy, but businesses are getting smaller. I have three jobs, I manage operations for the Potrero Dogpatch Merchants Association (PDMA) and Allpointe Insurance Services, and I’m the community manager here at LocalOn. It may seem like a lot, but compared to when I worked in the corporate world, I’m much more satisfied with my quality of life. Maybe that’s because of the increased autonomy I have, or due to the fact that I get to work with small business owners daily, personally witnessing the impact they have on their communities.
Allpointe’s total staff is less than five employees, as I’m sure is the case with many businesses in the LocalOn community, the new norm for small businesses. The Bureau of Labor released a study in March which shows that the average size of new start-ups was 4.7 employees in 2011, down from 7.6 employees in the 1990s. While President Obama’s small business tax credit and other tax plans may help some some small businesses, they do nothing for the 88% of small businesses that have fewer than 5 employees or the self employed.
Working for a small business and a small business organization like PDMA has opened my eyes to a whole new world. A world where local, independent merchants play major roles in terms of job creation and economic growth. It seems like it’s time for policy makers to start making some of the same shifts I see small business owners making every day in their thought processes to address the new norms. We need policies that will help the 88% majority of small businesses. There are a variety of programs currently in place to help small businesses, like SBA PRIME and Microloan Technical Assistance, and if these programs received adequate government attention and funding, small businesses could be an even greater asset in terms our nation’s economic recovery.
Congratulations to the 8 newest additions to the LocalOn family. Congratulations because each one of these small business owners added their own content, selected their own theme, and worked closely with us to configure the layout of their new websites.
Check out the results for yourself:
Banana Soy: Vegan restaurant offering a casual, intimate decor. All dishes are prepared with healthy ingredients, and no animal products or MSG are used.
17 Jewels & Spa: Superior service, quality care, and a warm comfortable environment from the moment you walk through the door.
Contra Costa Black Chamber: Community organization dedicated to supporting the economic development, viability, and sustainability of businesses owned by Africans, African Americans, and peoples who are new immigrants or with ancestry from the Africa diaspora.
Streetside Records: This attractive, iconic storefront in Kansas City has great exposure along the highly traveled route between Westport and The Plaza. It is adaptable to many types of uses as evidenced by its diverse history.
Juni Hair Salon: Experience new and different hairstyling techniques with the latest cuts, colors, treatments, and perms from Japan and Korea.
Oakland Venue Management (OVM): A company dedicated to enhancing the city of Oakland by providing professional staff, high-quality venues, and production services for both artistic, cultural, and corporate events.
Toasty Town: R. Gary Branchaud’s wonderful children’s story about quiet time, creating, reading, and bonding at the end of the day.
Philip King & His Harp Universe: An album confirming that miracles do exist. Play it when you’re most stressed and let the Universe and Philip King do the rest.
Here’s to 8 locally owned merchants doing web marketing for themselves.
Yoga can be many things to many people, for some it’s a physical workout, and for others it’s more metaphysical. But whatever the benefits, the biggest challenge for many of us is figuring out how to fit yoga into our day. It’s not surprising that making time is a top priority for Renee Sera, owner of Yoga Fountain.
Renee sits across from me as we discuss how the switch to LocalOn has impacted her business, she raves about how much extra time she has now that she doesn’t spend all day trying to figure out WordPress. This is extra time she says she’ll use to work on her business and develop her personal yoga practice.
Renee’s journey from beginner yoga practitioner to yoga teacher to yoga studio owner (and also valued LocalOn customer) has been a journey of serendipitous self discovery. She immediately fell in love with yoga, after her very first class. Shortly thereafter she enrolled in a 200 hour Yoga Teacher Training at Pretzels Yoga in Potrero Hill. Renee recalls an immediate connection to studio owner and teacher trainer Pretzel, and began teaching with her when she finished the training. Last October Renee purchased Pretzels Yoga, now Yoga Fountain.
Yoga is responsible for the Renee sitting across from me today. She explains that yoga made her feel and look better, and improved her outlook on life altogether. Reduced stress, increased energy, and a greater understanding and appreciation for life are just a few of the benefits that helped transform Renee into a savvy small business owner. It’s only been a few months since Yoga Fountain first opened its doors, and plans to increase class availability and schedule neighborhood events for children and seniors are already underway. Renee actively participates in the Potrero Hill business community, recently joining the Potrero Dogpatch Merchants Association. PDMA hosts member meetings once every month, and at the very first meeting Renee attended, David and Shahbano happened to be presenting. They were giving members an exclusive preview of PDMA’s new online marketing platform. After the meeting Renee decided she wanted to work with us, so the very next day she chose her template, and then a couple days later the LocalOn-powered www.yogafountain.com premiered.
Now Renee posts regular real-time event updates, announcements, and coupons in minutes. “Easy” she says with a thinning East Coast accent, and if she has any questions, or needs professional assistance, she knows we’re just a phone call away.
This may not be the best year for skiing in Tahoe, but so far it’s been a great year for checking out some of the local businesses in the area.
On weekends during the ski season, my partner and I go up to Tahoe to ski. This year, there have been less than ideal conditions, so instead of holing up in the cabin watching Allie McBeal on Hulu, we decided to make a trek down to Truckee.
Truckee is a small town in North Tahoe, along I80, with its own burgeoning “buy-local” campaign. Every month Truckee celebrates First Friday, “Think local, Be Local, Buy Local, Give Local.” We’d already missed this month’s festivities, but the more we walked around downtown Truckee, there was no mistaking the all around pro-local atmosphere. Unique, creatively inspired shops, restaurants, and our favorite, a cool cafe that makes homemade chocolates, Dorinda’s. After enjoying the chocolates and buying some for our cabin mates, we headed over to Truckee Sports Exchange, a locally owned and operated one-stop shop for ski, snowboard, cross country, back country and snowshoe purchases and rentals. I hadn’t planned on purchasing anything when I walked in, but I walked out with a new pair of skis. Dany was very helpful and knowledgeable. We talked about the current ski season, my approach to skiing, and my skiing experience. He showed us the different ways skis are constructed and explained the pros and cons of each. He even gave me a few pointers. It felt like I was in ski school. After we decided on the best match for me, he offered an incredible discount and a guarantee: If I didn’t like them once I’d spent a couple days with them on the mountain, I could return them, and he would only charge me a rental fee. That day, Saturday February 25th, although the conditions weren’t perfect, a skier was born. I had the best, most positive experience I have ever had on the slopes.
Local businesses are what make local communities unique. They often carry a wider array of unique products because they buy for their individual markets. I’m not only going back to Tahoe to ski every weekend, I’m also going back to patronize Truckee’s vibrant local scene. I like to think that what I experienced in Truckee, could have only been experienced in Truckee. I think we could all apply some of this small town mindset to our businesses, wherever they are.
Share with us some of your favorite local shopping experiences on this blog or on our Facebook page.
We’ve all heard of flash mobs. They are spontaneous seeming events, often organized using social media, that bring people together to perform in public places. One of the best things about them is that they convey a sense of community.
Recently in Oakland, a cash mob, organized on Facebook by Alex Haider-Winnett, a paralegal and participant in the Occupy Oakland movement, saw more than 15 strangers gather with cash in hand, ready to shop at Marion & Rose’s Workshop, a local gift shop. This was a great way to boost the store’s sales and spirits. As the Wall Street Journal reports, “The first known cash mob was the brainchild of Chris Smith, an engineer for Oracle.” Chris saw the effect sites like Groupon have on small businesses and thought “Why do we need a discount to support good, solid, local businesses?” What a great idea!
The trend to promote local businesses is moving more and more into the mainstream. On this blog we’ll continue highlighting creative ways that communities are supporting their local businesses and how merchants are supporting themselves–and each other. If you’ve come across any buy local campaigns, share them with us on this blog or on Facebook. Let’s spread the word.
Results from a new survey of independent businesses by the Institute for Local Self Reliance show that organizations with a local-centric campaign have yielded greater returns to their member businesses, due to an increase in “pro-local’ attitudes.
“Independent businesses in communities with an active “buy indie/buy local” campaign run by a local business alliance saw revenues grow 7.2% in 2011, compared to 2.6% in areas without an alliance”
LocalOn, your very own “pro-local” web marketing provider was founded with the goal of connecting people to the marketplaces in their local neighborhoods. We provide an easy-to-use platform which will increase your potential to benefit from the emerging “pro-local” trend.
The most user-friendly site builder on the web gets a little friendlier.
This week we’ve added another usability tweak that should make arranging widgets much easier. The WebDev site customizer will now automatically snap a selected widget in line with other widgets. You can see the change by the blue lines that pop up to indicate when you’ve brought a widget in line with one of its fellows on the page.
The Snap Line should appear on all existing widgets, including the new HTML5 Slideshow and Menu/Inventory. See it in action below:
Building websites should not be hard. If it takes a couple minutes to book an airline itinerary, a process that used to take a week with a travel agent, then why should you still need a web designer to arrange your content on a webpage page?The WebDev is our answer. With LocalOn, a small business owner can take control of their brand online without relying on a web specialist. We’ll continue making tweaks like this to WebDev to keep it the most user-friendly site builder on the web.
In this heyday of multinational behemoths and the reign of large chains, the small business seems like a romanticized relic of the past. Mom-and-Pop stores are generally not considered one-stop shops, and are often passed over for larger, more endowed big businesses who can not only afford to meet all of their customers’ needs, but do it cheaply as well.
But small businesses are still an integral part of the U.S. economy, and an option that discerning shoppers should not only support, but can also benefit from. Here are some reasons why:
Better customer support
The modern trope of the outsourced customer satisfaction department is more than just the subject of sitcoms—it is a sad reality and a byproduct of big business. For many large corporations, customer support cannot scale to meet consumer demands while also remaining personal and individualized, and the loser almost invariably ends up being the customer. With a small business, you avoid this issue by dealing directly with the seller, and avoiding long customer queues for minor issues. Often, the “customer satisfaction department” is within earshot of the cash register, meaning faster results and a better experience for you.
Although few small businesses will have product offerings that rival that of their larger siblings’, when you take the inventory of a group of small businesses in aggregate, you will often find the same goods at comparable prices. The solution to the issue of locating specific items used to be going to a big store, but the internet and its wealth of information now allows you to easily identify which small businesses have the items you need before you leave your home. Before the internet, this was not possible, but just as a big store puts its entire inventory in one place, the internet puts everyone’s inventory in one place.
If you’re a person with a very specific need that does not fit the popular demands of the mainstream, chances are you’ll have a lot of trouble finding a big store that caters to your needs. Whether it’s an exotic brand of aquarium maintenance tools or a specific antique hardware part, if there’s not enough demand for it, a large business won’t stock it. Fortunately, small businesses don’t work in economies of scale, and can provide choice amounts of niche goods that you won’ be able to find at a big business. Often, in the case of a small hardware store, if they don’t stock a specific part, they will be willing to order the part just for you at a small premium, a service you simply won’t find at large retailers. This, in combination with the superior customer service, will make your shopping experience that much more pleasurable.
There are many reasons why you should give small businesses a shot, but these are the ones that benefit you, the customer, the most. At LocalOn.com, we aim to make finding the products of small businesses as painless as possible, and as we grow, we hope to help small businesses thrive
Previously we talked about the basics of Search Engine Optimization (SEO). SEO is important for businesses with websites because it helps consumers find them using search engines. However, prioritizing search results based on technical things like Page Organization and Incoming/Outgoing Links isn’t perfect and is actually quite unnatural for many types of searches. Search engines use these methods because their computers can’t truly “understand” what the words on a website mean like you or I can. For example, let’s say that we are looking to buy some brown leather dress shoes made in Italy. If we type “brown Italian leather dress shoes under $100″ into a search engine, we’re not going to get useful results. In fact, we might have been better off just to search for “Shoe Stores.” There are two main reasons why the more detailed phrase doesn’t work very well:
1. The information isn’t always online
Most of the time business owners are satisfied with just having a website, even if it doesn’t describe the specific products they sell or services they offer. If you go to Target.com or BestBuy.com, you’ll notice that they have thousands of products listed and their own “private” search engine to sort through them. Unfortunately, these kinds of tools are unavailable to smaller businesses.
2. The search engines can’t make sense of the products that are online
Let’s say you have a website and you write on it that you are selling dress shoes from Italy that come in a variety of colors (including brown) and at a range of prices. Google has a program called a “crawler” that looks through every single website on the internet and tries to figure out how to order them in the PageRank system that we talked about a few weeks ago. The problem is that this program isn’t as smart as a person, and it probably won’t read your website and understand that what you wrote means that you sell “brown Italian leather shoes under $100.” In addition to the text that describes the product in our hypothetical search phrase, we have an important piece that says “under $100.” When Google’s crawler reads through websites, it can’t necessarily figure out that $80 shoes are “under $100” because it has a hard time making sense of things that ordinary people find to be quite simple.
To fix these limitations with the way that search works nowadays, the biggest search engines (Google, Yahoo, and Bing) have adopted something called “Semantic Tagging.” This involves describing products and other things using a kind of dictionary, called a “Schema,” that helps computers understand the meaning of what we write. Returning to our example, Semantic Tagging would help the computer determine the following:
1. You are selling shoes, which are a type of clothing item
2. The shoes are made in Italy, which is one of many possible countries of origin
3. The shoes are brown, which is one of many possible colors for shoes
4. The shoes are made of leather, which is one of many possible materials to make shoes out of
5. The price of the shoes is $80 (Google can now figure out that $80 is less than $100 for the purpose of our search)
In the future, when websites use Semantic Tagging, it will be much easier to get accurate search results for search terms that are detailed or specific. Businesses that start using this technology earlier than others will have a leg up on the competition. Of course, all websites created and managed through the LocalOn.com service use this technology right now!
Hey everyone! We’re proud to announce the newest addition to our steadily growing base of local businesses—Dumpling Empire. We’ve been engaging the owners of businesses in conversations about their daily routine and the challenges they face so that we can develop a better LocalOn that meets their needs and works how they want it to. Despite these businesses’ diverse backgrounds, LocalOn has something to offer each of them.
Dumpling Empire is a new and refreshing choice for dine-in and delivery Chinese food in our native South San Francisco, and has just had its grand opening. The menu, already online at DumplingEmpire.Localon.com, contains a staggering array of delectable and authentic Chinese dishes from dumplings to soups!
We have been focusing on the needs of restaurants, and have built tools including the easy-to-use and stunningly attractive menu-builder widget. Pretty soon these features will be complete and we can work to meet the tailored needs of an even broader range of businesses!