Should You Write a Newsletter for Your Business? Part I

I started using a newsletter in our business about eight years ago.  Initially, it was just a bit of a lark, it seemed like a fun thing to do to stay in touch with our clients and customers.  I had been looking through a newsletter that came as a result of my daughter’s involvement in the local symphony.  It was a fun read, some great articles, and I sensed that it was accomplishing something that we were lacking in our business.

It was a way to develop community.

If you have a business where you have a lot of clients and customers who come in, but not always in a really regular basis, using a newsletter can help to accomplish two things:

  1. It will keep you at the “top of their mind”.
  2. It will make you appear friendlier and more approachable.

Here is an example of a four-page newsletter we created a couple of years ago…because this was for our gift shop, we chose a style that was in keeping with our image:

This is the front page of the newsletter:

    • As you can see, it has a title,
    • The name of the business,
    • A table of contents,
    • A letter from the owner,
    • and a picture.
People LOVE to know who they’re doing business with.

Most businesses think they are in business to sell things.

Actually, you’re really in the relationship business!

Because our demographics for this business include 95% female, we always include a fun, original recipe for them to try out at home.

Sometimes we would incorporate something we sold at the shop, but most of the time, we did absolutely, positively  NO ADVERTISING on the FRONT PAGE!!!

This is really important. I can already hear some of you saying, “WOW! A 4-page newsletter, can you imagine all the ads I can put in that thing????!!!!”

Hold on. A newsletter is to be of service to your clients.  This means you have to give them something meaningful, something they can use in their lives.  You want them to say, “This is really great!  I NEEDED to know that right now!”

What business are you in?

Do you think you can’t use a newsletter to help your clients and customers be better informed?

I write newsletters for a LOT of businesses, and there isn’t a single one who hasn’t benefited from writing a helpful newsletter.  Why? Because it made their clients and customers feel like they were special.

Once we started our newsletter, people would come into the shop and rave about the newsletter.  They said it made them feel so special and they loved the articles and recipes, and timely/helpful tips and hints that we always tried to include.

The next post will show you the inside of this four page newsletter, providing more examples of the type of things you may wish to include in your newsletter.

Until then…think about your clientele.  What do they want from you?  How can you help them best?  Is your competitor doing anything that you’re not? How can you change that? What do you wish all your clients knew?

Shopkeepers are Friendly!!!

I followed my own advice last night.  My husband and I decided to do some Christmas shopping in the old town Glendale shopping district, specifically Catlin Court Historic District.  Our first stop was at Cameo Candles, Bath & Gifts run by Bernie and Cindie Boyle.  Their young son greeted us as we entered the shop and asked us if we had ever been there before.  We told him that it was our first visit, and he promptly told us that all their candles are soy candles made on the premises by his dad (who you can see working in the back room if you’re lucky).  His mom makes all the bath products and holiday decorations that are available.  We were encouraged to visit each room of their little shop, which we did.

Isn’t it fantastic to meet the person who has actually created the things that you purchased?  What a wonderful feeling to know that you’re contributing to the upbringing of Bernie and Cindie’s young son?  I do regret not getting his name, but I will the next time I visit.

Our next visit was to Bears and More, which has so many adorable gifts for young children, as well as a few unusual things for adults.  My husband managed to find a needle felting kit for me ( I know, I’m not supposed to know what I’m getting for Christmas, but needle felting is something I’ve never done and I was encouraged into it by one of the owners, Valerie, who was as sweet and welcoming as she could possibly be).

I mentioned that I wanted to bring attention to the fact that more people need to think about shopping local and she laughed and said, “What do you need? I’ll tell you where you can get it!”

The point is that before we decide to just run to one of the big box stores, just because they’re convenient or a little less expensive, we should look to see if we can meet our needs locally.  The point is to keep more of our money inside our own local communities.

Our last stop in Catlin Court was at The Open Door and The Open Door “Too” where we met Daphne and Russ.  I mistook them for a married couple because Daphne was telling Russ where to display his items.  My mistake!  They’re actually very good friends and laughed at my assumption.  Another wonderful experience talking to shopkeepers, and people who either make the items that are for sale, or are responsible for placing them in the store.  I have been looking for an indoor fountain to help me sleep at night.  At The Open Door, I found beautiful copper fountains, each one a work of art, reasonably priced, and something that I would never find at a big box store.

The Navajo artwork was stunning.  Each piece is numbered and guaranteed to be authentic.  None of these items have the words “made in China” on them. Instead, they are made by hand, one at a time, and a tribute to the history of this part of the country.  Without these types of items, we would lose track of our heritage.

Do we want to be an identical twin of our neighbor?  I certainly don’t. I want to be an individual, and as such, I want to purchase some of the things that speak only to me.  I don’t want to be told what to buy. That is, in essence, what happens when a computer does the inventory ordering for a big box store.

In a small store, you find things that are created in a very limited number. Original works of art go for a great deal of money because there is only one of them.  Limited editions are still collectible because they are limited.  When you make 100,000 of an item with pending orders for even more, it becomes common, and not as desirable.  It makes it inexpensive…but that’s about it.

Please try to find a local business to support, and do it often.  Without recognizing that we’re bleeding our country dry we will die a slow death.  If we stop the flood of money out of our communities and pledge to keep more here, we will turn things around and make a difference.

Local Biz Needs a Lift

A new report just out indicates that as a single state, Arizona has lost over 250K jobs since June 2006…but the Housing Market finally looks as though it is going to improve. (We are all holding our breath on this one…)

The news is pretty similar to everyone around the country, local biz, large and small, is suffering.

As I go out and interview small biz owners in the community here, many of them are really working to keep their people employed, but admit that it is hard to provide all the hours that their employees want or need.

Remember to shop locally.  Even when you can spend a little bit less because you don’t have to pay sales tax, those dollars spent locally can mean the difference between someone keeping or losing their job.

I’ve even managed to change the thinking of immediate family members, by talking up the “shop local” idea.  Most folks don’t understand just how difficult it is to keep our economy going, especially when we’re all trying to stretch our hard earned dollars by shopping for bargains. Some of the bargains are found in the big box stores, and sometimes it just doesn’t make sense to pay a large percentage more.

Next time, try this, go to a local store owner and tell them your dilemma.  You want to shop locally, but their price for a specific item is just too high.  See if the good old “let’s make a deal” method can give you a better price than you would have gotten, and your local shop owner made a sale.

Remember, it’s our local economy we need to worry about, so keeping our money local is critical!

Matt’s Big Breakfast – Phoenix, Arizona

Matt’s Big Breakfast – One of the most amazing breakfasts I’ve ever eaten!

Recently I was on a phone call with a client back in New York, and he asked if I had ever eaten at Matt’s Big Breakfast.  Not only had I not eaten there, I’d never even heard of it.

This meant that a field trip was in order, and yesterday we waited 45 minutes in the hot Phoenix sun (actually, we were lucky enough to sit on a shaded bench) for our chance to sit down for breakfast inside this tiny little restaurant.

Yes, when I see a line, I shudder…”maybe not today”, but I thought, “If not today, then when?” and I had no answer for that. So, we waited, and met some interesting people, some of whom had never eaten at Matt’s Big Breakfast, and others who eat at Matt’s at least once a week. That was enough for me.  I wasn’t leaving until I tried it.

And it was amazing.

How do I define amazing? The food was fresh, the whole wheat toast was thickly sliced, lightly toasted and served with home-made raspberry preserves.  We ordered the two most expensive meals on the menu and our bill was slightly over $20.

The coffee (roasted in Cave Creek) was hot, strong, and not bitter. The meats were grilled perfectly, eggs cooked to perfection, hash browns were freshly shredded (no frozen stuff here), the home fries (Yukon Gold potatoes) mingled with grilled onions and rosemary made me want to weep. They use only cage-free eggs, grain-fed pork and beef, and local organic produce whenever possible.

This is not your typical “eat out” breakfast.  This was an experience!

We met Erenia, Matt’s wife, who told us they have been in biz for seven years, of which the first three she kept her corporate job, but after that she had to jump in and join the fun.  The restaurant supports about 20 families (this is the point of shopping and eating locally folks!) a fact she was very proud to share.

“Call me Ernie, or Mama,” she invited.  As busy as they were, Erenia took the time to chat with us, tell us about the organic produce they were using, how the bread is bought fresh daily, and if they run out before they close for the day how her customers get upset.  What a problem to have!

Shop Local! Eat Local!

This is how we support our community, by supporting businesses who make a significant contribution the way Matt’s BIG Breakfast has done.

Shop Local – Just Smile and Say “Hi!”

I read a post today that there are more and more people who aren’t sure how to “shop local”.

At first this puzzled me, until I took into account the fact that it is very, very easy to shop in a big box store or at the local mall. You don’t have to talk to anyone if  you don’t want to. You don’t have to feel guilty for just window-shopping. If you’re not interested, you don’t have to explain yourself.

Shopping locally means, however, that you might be in a store with just you and the shopkeeper inside. Oops!  This could begin to feel a little uncomfortable. Where do you go?  What do you look at? You almost feel as if you have stage fright!

We really have gotten accustomed to a plastic and artificial society. Kids talk to each other through their cell phone…even if they’re sitting side by side.  Kids…what am I saying?  I was talking to an engineering manager the other day who said that his engineers would prefer to IM or text one another about a problem rather than getting up, walking five feet and having a face-to-face conversation.

I think that the “shop local” movement is also a movement to return to the idea of relationships.

You don’t have a relationship with the e-commerce shopping cart on that website where you just purchased some air-soft ammunition, do you?

While it might seem easier, developing relationships is important. When you shop locally, you recognize that something that you are doing will directly impact a specific individual. You might even begin to, (gasp!) care about people who used to be perfect strangers.

You might actually be concerned when your barista tells you that her daughter had a fever of 102.5 last evening, and she’s worried about her today.

Talking to your local dairy farmer makes you realize that there are people who are on duty 24/7 and they really don’t seem to mind it.  They milk cows and/or goats twice a day, every day of the week, every week of the year. Isn’t it wonderful that there are people who do that so that we have fresh dairy products every day?

What about the people who are picking your turnips and kale this week at the organic farm you support. Do you follow them on Facebook so that you can get to know the farm and their employees a little better?

Personally, I love stories. I hate watching television programs or movies that ignore the human/interpersonal relationship factor. If there’s a touch of humanness to the story, I’m more willing to watch it. You see, humans are not meant to live in a vacuum.  We need one another, even when we don’t realize it.  We’re much more powerful as a collective force rather than as just individuals.

The next time you step into a local shop, look the owner in the eye and say, “Hello!”

Most of the time, they’re very happy to just have a conversation with you.  Most shopkeepers never expect every person who comes in their store to actually make a purchase.  Try it.  Just one time.  Come back and comment on this post about your experience.  I’d really love to hear it.

Kathleen Birmingham

Small Biz is the Backbone of our Economy

Shopping locally is the thing to do.

Shopping locally will make a difference

I recently read that small business employs a whopping 97% of all employees.  I’m not quite sure how they came up with this number, and you know what everyone says about statistics…that 48.7% of all of them are made up on the spot.

Yes, I made that one up.

The real fact, however, is that small biz is what this country was built on, long before the industrial revolution.

Today, it is what I look for when I shop.  I support CSA, community supported agriculture.  I actively seek out “mom and pop” shops for coffee, lunch, and other shopping endeavors.

Yes, I shop on the internet, and I do shop at the large chain stores from time to time.  If I knew where to get these things without going on the internet or going to a Kohl’s or Target, then I would do so. I also recognize that sometimes you can’t get around finding what you need at a larger store.

What I’d really like to do, however, is to raise everyone’s awareness about shopping locally.

When you shop at a large department store approximately 17 cents of every dollar stays in your community (usually in the form of taxes). When you shop at a locally owned small biz, between 48 and 78 cents stays in the community.

That’s a HUGE difference.

A grass roots movement is afoot around the country to raise the awareness of people to this fact.  The economic forecast is pretty grim.  However, if we try to spend more of our money locally, we might just turn things around.

Let’s do our part.  Shop locally. Encourage others to do the same.

If we can even persuade people to spend $50 to $100 locally this holiday season rather than at a large chain store or the internet, we will be making a significant change in our communities.  Let me know what you’re doing to make a difference.

I welcome any and all comments.

Shop Local Initiatives

Buying from him today could keep him in biz tomorrow.

For anyone who reads this, consider making a pledge to yourself to shop locally for a period of time. I have heard initiatives from around the country where people are trying to shop locally for the entire holiday season.

Others want to try to set up a single day a month where customers will buy locally. This requires a little bit of organization on the part of the biz owners, but they might consider doing it.

The payoff could be huge!

Spending money in your community helps to pay for services such as police, fire, emergency personnel, to say nothing of our schools, roads, and infrastructure.

More and more communities are discovering that they don’t have money for such essential services, and even more of them are discovering that they aren’t going to be able to afford the pensions of their current workers a few short years down the road.

When you spend money in a big department store, most of the money leaves your community (and oftentimes even your country) by the truckloads. We have to stop sending our money to other countries.

The more we do that, the more grim our future is going to be.

Little by little we are draining our communities dry. And yet, it only takes just a little bit of a change, perhaps spending $50 to $100 locally that you would normally have spent in a big store or online.  You will also find that when you shop locally you have a lot more choices.  Do we really want to be so universal that everyone, everywhere buys exactly the same thing?

What are you going to do today to try to support your local biz?

Land of the Free, Home of the Brave

The Birth of Our Nation

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal,

That they are endowed by their
Creator with certain unalienable Rights,

That among these are Life, Liberty,
and the pursuit of Happiness.

~Declaration of Independence, 1776

We live in the land of the free and the home of the brave.

Do you know your history and appreciate the significance of this beautiful flag
of ours?

We might be taking the 4th of July a bit for granted, so let’s recall the important events of 1776 and what they meant to us. Prior to the signing of the Declaration of Independence on July 4, 1776, Americans had been chafing under the rule of Britain’s King George who wanted not only to rule and tax the people of the new colonies.  He also wanted to keep them well under his thumb, limiting their ability to expand territories and to export all our natural resources. The Revolutionary War is the result of that desire for Independence and the signing of the Declaration of Independence was merely the beginning.

It would take six very long and painful years before we broke free from British rule. The Revolutionary War pitted families against one another long before the Civil War ever did. Some people were content to remain loyalists, but I am
glad that the Patriots held fast.

Hurray for the USA!

Here is an article on Independence Day that summarizes much of what went on in 1776 and the subsequent six years.

It is good to recall that the 4th of July is about a whole lot more than fireworks and BBQs.

It really IS a day to celebrate the birth of our nation, and the beginning of an entirely new way of life.

We are, indeed, fortunate to live in the USA!

Rural Business Must Not Be Forgotten

Carrot varieties horizontalWhile I frequently write about business that you may find in your city or town, we can’t forget that our most basic roots are in our rural communities.  I grew up very closely associated with the land.  My mother grew up on a farm and as a result I worked on the farms of my aunts and uncles from the time I was young.  I learned that you picked what was available and ate it.

Sometimes you picked corn at 4:30 am, and if you were hungry, you ate raw corn as you picked for the Farmer’s Market.  I learned that produce doesn’t keep.  It must be eaten as fresh as possible, because that is when it tastes best.

Our rural businesses have a very unique set of problems, and yet in order for our country to survive, for our cities and towns to survive, our rural business cannot be left behind. Without our local farms, we wouldn’t have local fruits and vegetables, local farm-raised meat and eggs, local milk and cheese. What would life be like if all the food we ate and drank tasted like cardboard?

There are several grass-roots movements afoot about supporting local agriculture such as Farm to School, Community Supported Agriculture, Farm to Table, Locavore, etc. I will be covering these topics in greater detail when I have the opportunity.

Update: 9/2012 Here is the link to my Farm to School Article in Acreage Life Magazine.