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!
Please join me at the Babson Entrepreneurship Forum on Friday, November 10th. I will be moderating the "Taste Good, Do Good" panel on food and beverage entrepreneurship with some excellent panelists from 4-5pm. There will also be some incredible speakers such as billionaire Dean Metropolous and Wombi Rose from LovePop. For more information visit: https://lnkd.in/eaexf8X
I must be a product of my generation - at the edge of Millennials - and so I often purchase a book cheaply on Half.com if I know I want to savor it or own it without having to return it to the library soon. There are some books that I can whip through and others I want to come back to time and again. More often than not, I want to feel the book in my hands, turn the pages, and throw it into my bag instead of flip digitally through it. After reading a variety of travel blogs, I stumbled upon (8 years late) Gretchen Rubin's The Happiness Project.
This book came into my life at precisely the right time. As a planner, her methodology made perfect sense to me, and it was fun to learn what she specified as resolutions in her own life. I've been doing a lot of thinking lately around doing primary research myself from scratch the hard way versus allowing myself to take "shortcuts" and experiencing others' summaries in order to get through more material and advance myself quicker on numerous topics.
In the book, one of her brilliant reflections is on the positivity of embracing a hobby. Having a hobby is quite at odds with other goals, namely: removing clutter! I myself live in a small urban apartment, and so I constantly re-assess every item in my household and if we really need to hang on to it and why. Since I was a small child, I indulged in hobbies. I even had a short-lived perfume sample and postage stamp collection. Currently I collect postcards and magnets, both off-shoots of my travel obsession and also easily stored. While traveling, it's great to be on the "hunt" for which postcard or magnet I will select, and also I love finding, writing, and mailing postcards for other people.
Other collections of others that has inspired me includes: finding different blue plates to assemble as part of a china set, a teacup collection, old cookbooks and cooking magazines, antique keys, buttons, and Wellesley college memorabilia.
This past trip to California, my fiance and I were in a vintage record store out of an old flower shop in Alameda which is in Oakland. My friend and her boyfriend who is an audiophile and previous college DJ encouraged us to make the purchase. Maybe it's my roots in consumer insights, but I love looking out for other people and trying to indulge them in hobbies themselves. As such, Sam and I found ourselves cradling a brand new baby record player and brainstorming a million ways to get it home safely to our pad in Davis Square.
Given Sam's love for music, especially the Grateful Dead, this hobby was especially fitting. We found ourselves the next day in antique stores in Headlsburg, rummaging through hard-to-reach places and comparing the scratches on a pair of James Taylor vinyls. When we got home, we had ordered the necessary pre-amp, speakers, and did our research on which audio shop could best repair a few items on our vintage MCS. Hearing that warm sound of Sugar Magnolia weaving through our air waves at home was a sweet reward to an afternoon of preparation and research. Suddenly those silly record stores around town seemed cool and intriguing, and we spent hours rummaging through Goodwill to find $0.99 albums we were excited to try.
I finished the book, and I am hoping to embark on another one of Gretchen's challenges: writing a novel in 30 days. I highly recommend that you guys revisit this book as it sets up a good structure in which to evaluate your time, your tone, and your togetherness. What do you think?
For the last couple of years, my fiance and I have been ushering for the Calderwood Pavilion and Huntington Theater company of Boston. We have seen numerous shows, and each one has been extraordinarily poignant and rewarding. So far this Winter, a favorite show of mine was Topdog/Underdog, which demonstrated a powerful relationship between two brothers, each with their own talents and shortcomings, jealousies and insecurities. We also saw a comedic opera sung in English based on Oscar Wilde's The Importance of Being Earnest and most recently a high octane, intense drama entitled The Who & The What which explored clashing themes regarding modern Islam.
As the curtain lifts, I find myself mesmerized in anticipation of the stories ahead and eagerly wait for the outline of the characters to be colored in with richness and depth. We start off at the basics, and then little by little more is revealed until I can see into their souls. At intermission, I flip happily through the Playbook seeking more data on their backstories, peruse the actors' bios, and discuss themes with those around me.
Similarly, in my work consulting to growing companies and start-ups, I have come to fully realize the importance of storytelling. For the founder or marketing manager, Instagram posts may start to feel rote. Promotions may seem too "tried and true." And core products may be harder and harder to refresh and perk up. What may feel like ho-hum day to day drivel to a founder could actually still be a unique, behind-the-scenes peek to a customer. Sharing a testimonial from a customer may not be unwanted nor silly but actually a cool way to connect heart-to-heart with another seeking content. Sure, not everyone in the audience may want to be there, but there are some in the house hanging on your every word. So, the next time you're feeling a plateau or lacking motivation to create compelling content or share your brand's journey, I'd encourage you to get out to a theater such as the Calderwood for a play - roll the dice since they're all good - let me show you to your seat, and then sit back, relax, and listen to the story.
One of the best reasons to travel is to expand one's mind and discover how others at far reaches of the globe live. I encourage everyone to go where they don't "blend in." Whether that's 3 or 300 or 30,000 miles away from home, it's important for us all to experience entering an environment where we feel out of place, misunderstood, and/or uncomfortable.
As a planner, I enjoy researching a place before visiting. Even for me, however, the idea of traveling to Asia was daunting. I spent weeks pouring through information on Tokyo and Japan, reaching out to those who had been there recently, and reading blogs and articles into the late hours of the night. Compared to other destinations, however, no matter how much I learned about Tokyo, I still had this frustrating feeling that I had still no idea what to expect.
Days before I arrived in Japan, I read a blog post instructing me "don't eat while you're standing or walking" since it's bad manners. It told me not to point at people or religious things. Don't blow my nose in a handkerchief; it's even more polite to sniff. Speak quietly on the train, since many travel long distances and often sleep or rest there. There aren't many trash bins in public places, so one should hold rubbish until home or find one at a coffee shop or department store but don't litter. The ground is considered dirty, so don't sit on it. People wear surgical masks to avoid getting sick or passing on their sickness to others. Don't talk loudly in public, and definitely do not gab away on your cell phone while walking the Tokyo streets.
Stepping off the train platform into Tokyo Station, I marveled at the efficient processes and social code as swarms of people made their way through the station. Tokyo felt three times as large as New York City with less than half of the noise. On the train, a peaceful hum of quietude greeted me despite the crowds. I knew I stood out as different, and I studied those around me in order to fit in as best I could. The quietness allowed me to be with my thoughts.
And yet, a simple nod from strangers felt friendly and personable. Buying a bag of chips at the convenience store felt special because of the dramatic hand gesture the cashier made to present me formally with my receipt. Purchasing anything from the department store felt important because they unwrapped and checked the items I wanted to make sure they were in good condition and wrapped them back up with care, even taking off the price tags. I didn't worry about my pocketbook placed in a small holder on a cafe floor because I knew no one would steal it. A tiny bookmark that I bought my grandmother was packaged by the clerk with stickers and emblems worthy of a much grander buy. A woman on a crowded street in Kyoto struggled in broken English for 10 minutes to help me find a suitable dinner option once I asked. The toilet in my tiny hotel room even had a luxurious warming seat function to provide some ordinary comfort. Taxi seats were covered in fabric doilies and their doors opened and shut automatically to escort me to the curb.
Of course I felt happy to return home to the United States. However, I felt a strong contrast that is worth considering. I am not saying that the Japanese liked strangers more or were more hospitable than those here in Boston. But I can say that the way they treat each other and their public environment is unequivocally more outwardly respectful on the whole than the way we do here.
I think that there is a lot we can learn from the Japanese respect. I wish there was a stronger social code in Boston where we acknowledge each other on the street, hold our rubbish until we find a trash can, respect those trying to rest on the train, admire nature and ceremony, and take pride in our purchases and jobs. One cannot mistake respect with kindness, but the allusion of kindness to me was just as powerful, and I find myself longing for it here in Boston as well.
One of my favorite food challenges is to "lighten up" heavier dishes by including more vegetables, fiber, and lower glycemic index sweeteners. In the early 2000s, companies all jumped on the "low fat" bandwagon, adding in sugary fillers to reduce the fat of various goods. Today, consumers can pretty much rely on two things: 1) every body's metabolic make-up is different so one diet may work for one person but not for another and 2) the only transparent nutrition information is the ingredient list itself + education.
Despite these challenges, there are some food items that caught my eye which are fun if nothing else -- and that is re-invented comfort food!
I had an interesting conversation today talking with someone about brands I have worked on in my career. She considers herself an "artisan shopper," and the work that I have done to transform brands, leverage their quirks, and improve their relationships with consumers inspires her. It is people like her who both care about and consider the products they consume and life experiences they have that gets me up in the morning.
Some days I reflect on how my best friends' work directly improves lives by curing rare forms of cancer or providing emergency therapy, and I feel that perhaps my professional talents have been misdirected. But it is moments like these when I realize that I have been making a collective positive impact and that the body of work building brands and improving products and user experiences creates a mutually beneficial dialogue.
In the digital space, there are worker bees building this 1:1 dialogue at scale. The automation of a relevant conversation feels soul-less upon first glance. But in actuality, I believe that tuning in, picking up data crumbs, and answering customers' signals is now one and the same as building a brand's legacy. As brands become more intrusive on users' everyday lives through multiple channels and with higher frequency, it's those that care about their legacy and how and when they engage, that will do right by artisan shoppers. We must control the conversation and preserve the integrity of the brands we represent. It is with great joy that I have contributed to a brand's evolution.
What is your career legacy?
I have been writing a blog for Hourly Nerd, a website dedicated to independent marketing consulting. Check out my latest piece here.