WOMEN AT WORK

Continued existence can equal success during a tough economy

Posted Aug. 18, 2011, at 3:27 p.m.

While a possible double-dip recession, potential tax increases and a national debt crisis are enough to make any small-business owner’s head spin, I say to them: If you’re still standing in a down economy, you’re doing something right.

I recently asked some of our successful graduates to share their creative marketing strategies, only to find their success goes deeper than marketing alone. These entrepreneurs are practicing what they were taught: Follow an effective marketing plan, watch cash flow and embrace industry trends.

“Getting back to basics,” is what Judy Crosby admitted when I questioned her strategy.

“Doing that word-of-mouth networking, taking brochures in your car everywhere you go so you never miss an opportunity when you see a bulletin board,” she chuckled.

She launched The DaVinci Experience in 1999, a science and art summer day camp for children ages 4 to 13, with six locations from Brunswick to South Portland. Even though she admits the economy affected her business, she’s still slated to expand in 2012 into Massachusetts, Vermont and Wisconsin.

Crosby understands the value of knowing her target market, especially now. “You have to really be careful about your marketing dollars, and really understand niche marketing,” she said. She uses camp guides, newspapers and Internet directories which all target parents looking for camps. Her niche marketing is so carefully targeted that, “If you don’t have a child ages 4 to 13, you’ve probably never heard of us.”

Crosby’s networking skills have also paid off. As a board member of the Maine Youth Camping Foundation, she learned what was working for other camp directors. She also received many referrals when other camps folded under economic pressure.

Chia and Steve Murdock, owners of Unity Forge, attribute their success to salvaging much-needed advertising dollars.

“If we were a small business that carried debt, paid rent for our space and were responsible for employees … the first thing to go would have been our money for advertising,” Chia said.

Out-of-the-area trainings and networking events would have followed closely behind. “None of which would have been good for our marketing,” Chia said.

Unity Forge began in 2005, offering hand-forged decorative and functional furnishings, architectural hardware and one-of-a-kind works of art.

Chia acknowledges using age-old bartering methods in their community to keep living expenses low and their marketing budget intact.

“We can rely on the role of blacksmith locally, by forging and restoring farm equipment, at times on a partially barter basis for farm produce,” she said, freeing up marketing dollars to reach architects, designers and art lovers.

Cyndi Prince launched Wooly Rounds right in the middle of the recession nearly a year ago. She has kept her job at a Rockland art gallery, and is on the verge of expanding her business.

Wooly Rounds are felted wool balls she created to use in her dryer instead of dryer sheets. Her creation started when she knew she was going to be cloth diapering her newborn son. She says Wooly Rounds soften clothes, but more importantly, reduce drying time which conserves energy and saves money.

Prince says she has played off of consumers’ shift in social consciousness to sell her product.

“The one thing that I dove right into was researching the green household cleaning products industry. They say that it’s one of those markets that did well, if not better, during the recession. By 2014 it will expect to double.”

Prince has zeroed in on one gold nugget of information: “The sweet spot for more profitable sales looks to be in the eco-friendly products … not only the practicable use, but also has a sensory or emotional benefit.”

Wooly Rounds, Prince said, answers these needs.

Prince said most of her marketing is through social media. “I’m connecting on a more personal level … 95 percent of the time on Facebook.”

She has a Twitter account and has sponsored a Twitter party. One of her biggest breaks came when a blogger gave Wooly Rounds a product review, thus launching Prince’s product into the blogger’s fan base.

Gigi Guyton is microenterprise coordinator for Women, Work, and Community covering Cumberland and York Counties. Her office is in South Portland, and can be reached at 799-5025, or by email at gigi.guyton@maine.edu.

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