What would we do differently for Adopt a Business Challenge

What would we do differently for Adopt a Business Challenge

Big Ideas

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April 23 2021
Big Ideas
Author: Deanna Westbrook and Jaime Campbell-Cushnie

Jumping on the Opportunity

When Marty Fisher, President of Sherpa Marketing, conceived of the idea to offer free support to a business impacted by COVID, I was really excited by the prospect. I jumped at the chance to participate and promote in the Kitchener-Waterloo area, and to gather and evaluate applications.   

I focused my initial outreach on business associations, thinking that it would be an easy way to get the message out to dozens of registered small businesses. I also assumed that if I had their endorsement, there would be less skepticism about my offer—which could easily be lumped in with the ask from an overseas lottery winner that just needs $5,000 in exchange for $2M to be wired in return.   

Shocked at the Results of my Efforts

I was genuinely surprised by the response. I thought that we would be overwhelmed by applicants, when in fact, I struggled to get traction. 

As I look back now, I think it’s fair to say most associations and business owners were simply shell-shocked and panicked. They clearly didn’t know how to respond, and the legislation to close businesses was so unexpected and unprecedented, most business owners just couldn’t see a way to operate within the new restrictions. It took time to understand it wasn’t temporary, and that business operations were not going to look the same for a very long time.  

It’s not hard to imagine that since my tree-shaking initiatives were producing little fruit, we had substantially fewer applications than expected. While all the applicants were experiencing financial hardship and deserving of a hand-up, we wanted to be sure that we partnered with a business that we could genuinely help with our skill set. In Kitchener-Waterloo, we chose Heart and Soul Beauty Bar, a smaller full-service business that features a broad range of hair and aesthetic services. 

Looking back at my experience I can honestly say that it hasn’t been at all what I expected. I can now better appreciate how hard it is for some small business owners to embrace the marketing aspects of their business plans, and I have a deeper understanding for how daunting that is. A small business owner may have a passion for their service – be it cupcakes, sandwiches, or household giftware – but success requires heavy lifting in some areas that may not be familiar territory, or even enjoyable, to the average entrepreneur. 

Reflecting on the Experience

With the luxury of hindsight, I have shortlisted some broad takeaways for business owners and entrepreneurs. 

Partner with someone who can give honest advice about how to grow, change, and adapt.

It’s difficult for small business owners to see the forest for the trees and having someone in the inner circle to give honest feedback about the business is crucial. Small business owners often do the accounting and take out the garbage, and it can be painful to hear constructive criticism about something so intensely personal. Looking at the business through another lens can often reveal unexpected insights on how the product or service is perceived by prospective customers. 

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Get all the free advice you can. 

Free business advice is easy to find, but you have to make the effort to take it in, evaluate it and apply it effectively. There are unlimited free resources online for small business owners on website platforms and social tools, but don’t overlook marketing publications, industry organizations, your local business associations and marketing professionals. Sherpa Marketing regularly posts interesting articles about marketing strategy and success stories. Make a habit of spending a couple hours per week broadening your knowledge in this area to round out your business acumen. 

Get social. 

Having a presence on social is absolutely critical to success. Make a list of competitors and critically evaluate their Facebook and IG accounts. Note how often they post, and the content topics and make a commitment to getting active in this space.  

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Embrace the idea that marketing your business is absolutely essential and that this is not the same thing as advertising. 

Think of marketing as the strategy, and advertising as the tactic. It’s critical to the success of the business to know where to find customers, and what they need to know about you. 

Outsource if it’s not your jam. 

If you love cupcakes and that’s why you opened a bakery, embrace your passion. However, if you honestly can’t dedicate the time or energy to bringing high quality customers to your bakery, you should partner with someone who can carry that load for you.  

Deanna Westbrook

Big Appreciation for Small Businesses

Through this experience, I have a much deeper appreciation for the small business entrepreneur, and if possible, an even stronger commitment to buying local. I’m proud to be part of the team at Sherpa that supports businesses in both Winnipeg and Kitchener, and inspired by local businesses that are working so hard to bring innovative ideas to our communities. 

My pandemic story probably sounds familiar to most people. As shutdowns began across the globe, I watched close friends and family shut the doors to their businesses that they built with blood, sweat and tears. It was heart wrenching to watch as staples in our community struggled to make ends meet, for the greater good of the community. 

Marketing has adjusted a lot over the past few years – local artisans, the ones that make our neighborhood’s truly unique, have found a niche on social media. They can get substantial exposure for very little time and budget, so they can focus their one true passion.  

Focusing on Something Positive

When Marty came up with his initial “adopt a business” idea, I was thrilled. As the partner of a small business owner I admit, I got sucked into some negativity. And what better way to give back to those that are struggling, than to offer our expertise in their time of need? COVID flipped everybody’s world’s upside down and if anything, Marty’s initiative gave us something to focus on, that was bigger than all of the terrible things happening in the world. 

Once we started promoting the idea, we were off to the races. We reviewed applicants and gauged the need based on the businesses that seemed willing to take advice, had a clear vision of where their brand could be, and those that seemed like fixtures in our community. I was part of the selection committee for the Winnipeg applicants, and we chose Neon Cone at the Forks. 

For those that aren’t from Winnipeg – The Forks is the #1 destination for tourists, and non-tourists alike. With its abundance of things to do year-round, people tend to end up at the Forks as a meeting place, no matter where they are from in the city. I grew up in the suburbs, but I have fond memories of my childhood going to the Forks to shop or bring out of town friends for something to do, and usually those visits involved ice cream. 

Neon Cone has been a longstanding partner of the Forks, since the ground broke for the destination. After reading their application, and understanding the direction of the company, the committee was invested. Daniel, the applicant had recently taken on the company from his father. But he had a new vision for the brand – instead of scooping out manufactured ice cream, he had begun making his own. Daniel was trying to pivot the brand that had been so successful at the Forks just for being at the right place at the right time, to being one that was a destination for food lovers across Winnipeg – and that passion was contagious. 

Putting in the Work

What followed was months of planning, shooting and developing templates and content for Neon Cone. Daniel had a clear vision for the aesthetic for the brand, and it was refreshing to work with someone so invested in their vision. Like most people, small business owners can get caught in the weeds of their own thoughts and goals. What was exciting about the Neon Cone brand was that Daniel had a vision of where he wanted to be, and how to make his company grow because of these goals. We helped him work towards his goal of being more influential on social media, and developed guidelines and content to meet that aesthetic. 

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We developed a giveaway to get people over to Neon Cone, on what was expected to be a rather slow Canada Day compared to previous years – and it resulted the biggest day of sales in the history of the business! 

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Looking back on our time working together, one of the most rewarding parts for me is watching Daniel take the guidance we gave over the summer and fall, and I am now seeing him apply it through his off season with products like locally roasted coffees and premium hot chocolates. I am proud to have worked with this team, and even prouder of Winnipeg for sticking it out with our local businesses. The fact that Dan took the time to drop off some homemade pints for the team, made the deal even sweeter ;)  

Jaime Campbell-Cushnie

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