My primary job has been independent marketing consulting, but I've learned from the example of my entire family who have been their own bosses the pleasures and excitement of starting one's own company. For my next independent start-up, I wanted to make sure that it was:
b) in line with my skills and talents (among them: research, food, and planning),
c) relatively low start-up capital (I had explored massive start-up costs in the past via food manufacturing that was discouraging)
d) somewhat flexible
This past July, I started Off The Beaten Path Food Tours, which is an awesome food tour company that takes guests around offbeat but delicious and historically interesting Boston neighborhoods such as Cambridge and Somerville with a friendly guide. Now you can eat with us around the state, and you don't have to get stuck in perennial Boston favorites like the North or South End. We stop at 3-7 places per tour and give you a lot of fun, interesting historical facts about the neighborhoods and businesses.
Our mission is to share delicious food, support local businesses and entrepreneurs, and highlight the rich cultural history of off-the-beaten path destinations in Massachusetts and beyond! We also offer unique event experiences throughout the year in order to delight and entertain our guests. You can read more about our food tours on our website (and hopefully try one!)
In starting the food tour, I've definitely practiced my marketing skills within a limited budget. Here are some concepts for resource-strapped marketers:
1. The Internet Indexed: With all of the talk of net neutrality, there's definitely a feeling that the internet is "free", but that is anything but the case. Having a small business makes me realize a few things about the "pay for play" aspect of the internet. As much as we think we can search and find anything we want organically, especially niche, it is important as marketers to take a step back and realize that the Internet has become curated and organized over the past decade in ways we may not have paid attention to. Although you may think you're searching freely on Google, they're choosing what content to show you often because of those who paid more for stronger SEO to appear at the top of the search results, often without as much relevance as you'd think. Google decides through their algorithm how much your business would pay for certain keywords, from upwards of $1 a day. Even our personal apps have this clout. On TripAdvisor, for example, our food tour is indexed under Somerville and Cambridge although our competitors are able to enjoy being indexed under Boston. How many times have you googled "Boston food tour" versus "Somerville food tour" in the past 90 days? It puts us at an unfortunate disadvantage right from the start, even before we start garnering reviews. And businesses like Yelp scourge new companies for fees of at least $600 a month to start with no guaranteed impact.
2. Industry Fees: Another area of red tape for start-ups is trying to claw your way towards a level playing field with others. We looked into joining the Greater Boston Convention Center Bureau to get noticed by conferences coming into town and the like, and their fee was over $1200 to join and list an event on their website. That's probably more than we'll make in profit this entire year! We also paid some industry insiders hundreds of dollars to be part of their paid e-mails, and didn't receive a single sign-up from doing so, so the ROI all goes into the bucket of "awareness", I suppose. Did you know that concierges all over town are getting upwards of $20 per Duck Tour ticket they schedule? With those kinds of margins, they have practically a monopoly over the concierge word-of-mouth marketing attention.
3. Instagram Fees: Food bloggers all over town are trying to monetize their feeds. In doing so, there are lots of comment pods, which means many of the people commenting on their posts are friends of theirs who aren't interested in buying your product and often are trying to climb the ranks of followers and engagements themselves. My biggest pet peeve in this channel, which otherwise I do love for many reasons, is that super-unhealthy items like greasy cheese, donuts, and bacon seem to get the most likes and engagement so those are shown more. On one hand it's good to post items that your audience loves, but it also feels extremely disingenuous that some of the bloggers are posting a million photos with dozens of donuts without actually eating them and honestly just tossing them in the trash after showing them near their face. #yuck
All in all, it's been an incredible journey. Check out our Boston Food Tours and Chocolate Tours!