June 17, 2024

You’re the Boss Blog: Living the B&B Dream, a Couple Plans to Update an Inn’s Web Site

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What’s wrong with this site?

Nancy Galloway and Andre Laporte are living what is, for many, the ultimate retirement dream: owning and operating a bed breakfast. Their current challenge is figuring out the best ways to attract visitors to their Web site and, ultimately, to a very remote part of Canada where the nearest traffic light is an hour away.

About 10 years ago, as they neared retirement from their careers as diplomats, Ms. Galloway convinced her husband that the next phase in their lives might best be enjoyed running a picturesque bed breakfast somewhere in the country. After conversations with a neighbor who was running a consortium of BBs, they agreed to test the concept by allowing him to convert the second floor of their home in the Logan Circle neighborhood of Washington into a BB.

As they learned the industry, Ms. Galloway began the search on BBCanada.com for a retirement location. They considered Montreal and Vancouver, B.C., but both seemed too competitive, so the couple focused on smaller locales and found their answer in the quaint mountain valley town of Crawford Bay, B.C. Population: 250.

In 2003, when Ms. Galloway and Mr. Laporte moved in, the Wedgwood Manor Country Inn had been functioning as a BB for 18 years, but it was in need of an update. They invested $565,000 to buy the property and over the past 10 years, they have invested another $95,000 in renovations. Their purchase included the six-room main building, two cabins and a pink-themed Web site that demanded a makeover.

It got it at the hands of a longtime friend who was working at a Web-design firm in Ottawa. She revamped the site for $5,000, and the couple spent an additional $3,600 on two photographers. To attract visitors, the designer employed software to better understand what words and phrases people were using to search for vacations. Over the years, when Ms. Galloway updated the copy on the site, she would refer to the same list.

In 2012 the inn generated revenue of roughly $100,000, and the site attracted between 800 and 1,000 visits a month. In an average month, approximately 40 percent of the inn’s Web traffic arrived through search engines. Some 30 percent discovered the business through industry sites like bbcanada.com and cabinrentalbc.com. Because of this, the couple has earmarked $4,000, about 85 percent of their marketing budget, to get the inn listed on relevant sites.

While most nights found the inn at capacity, Ms. Galloway believes a more compelling site will attract a few more guests and also convince more visitors to book their stays online — without making a phone call.  She is also hoping that refreshing the site’s content will attract younger travelers. In recent years, the average guest has been over 50; she is hoping to book more couples and families in their early 30s and 40s, and she thinks optimizing the site for tablets and smartphones will help.

She also wants to market the inn as a place for “BB people” — as opposed to “hotel people” — by playing up the property’s social feel, where guests can meet and mingle over meals and afternoon refreshments. And she wants to highlight the area’s artisan community and small-town feel.

Before embarking on a Web site overhaul, Ms.Laporte is looking for guidance on the following questions:

– What design elements and information should the site offer?
– What type of information, photography or description is missing or can be improved upon?
– What other factors for a vacation area should the couple include?
– Is it time to update that list of terms? What else could she do to improve search engine optimization.

Next week, we’ll follow up with highlights from your comments and I’ll offer my own impressions along with Ms. Galloway’s response.

Would you like to have your business’s Web site or mobile app reviewed? This is an opportunity for companies looking for an honest (and free) appraisal of their online presence and marketing efforts.

To be considered, please tell us  about your experiences — why you started your site, what works, what doesn’t and why you would like to have the site reviewed — in an e-mail to youretheboss@abesmarket.com.

Richard Demb is co-founder of Abe’s Market, an online marketplace for natural products that is based in Chicago.

Article source: http://boss.blogs.nytimes.com/2013/03/27/living-the-bb-dream-a-couple-plans-to-update-an-inns-web-site/?partner=rss&emc=rss

You’re the Boss Blog: I Swear I’m Going to Stop Doing That

Staying Alive

The struggles of a business trying to survive.

My wife and I attended the opening of our town’s newest library, which is magnificent, and on the way home I said I was glad to live in a fairly small place that manages to have six libraries. “You forgot one,” she said, and she mentioned another that I’m not going to name here.

“That doesn’t count,” I said, noting that it is part of a different borough.

“They are all crabby there anyway,” she said, “Those ladies are all sour and rude to everyone.  Except there’s one lady, she’s nice.”

It’s true: they are a very sour pack of library ladies. “That’s the sign of a bad boss,” I said. “For whatever reason, the boss sets the tone. And then the workers pick up on it and dial it up a notch, and they get used to it, and it keeps going. That one nice lady probably just wants to have a nice day and doesn’t buy into the negativity. But the boss is letting the other ones get away with it.” It was an easy diagnosis for me, because I run into this same thing myself.

I sit in a very small office with my administrative assistant, my two sales engineers and my design engineer. All five of us hear each other’s conversations and are privy to most of what we all do each day. And inevitably there are moments when we get off a phone call or finish reading an e-mail in which we have encountered some bad news or something irritating, and we vent.

I do it; the others do it. It’s just human nature. But I’ve learned to make sure that I take a deep breath and try to get my mind back to a better place. And I make a point of listening with sympathy but then reminding everyone that most of our clients and vendors are good people who are easy to deal with. And I repeat that to myself. Again and again. I really need to keep thinking about that as often as I can.

After 26 years of long days, bad pay and dealing with a million fires, it would be easy to let the fog of cynicism and negativity engulf me. But if I do that, the bad attitude will spread quickly to everyone around me. I find it’s one of the hardest things about being a boss — keeping that smile on my face, answering the phone with the perfect jaunty greeting no matter how crummy I feel, and staying calm even when the situation calls for running in circles and screaming. Understanding that the staff will mirror the attitude of the boss, I know I have to set the tone. If I let my guard down, I can do great harm.

And most of the time, I do O.K. But I’m bad about one thing: at work, I have a very foul mouth. I’m not sure where I picked this up. I could say that it’s a result of working on construction sites, but I haven’t spent a huge amount of time on construction sites. I think it’s just a way I have of letting off steam. Clearly, I can communicate without swearing when I want to. But if it’s just me and my workers, I am one swearing — oops, almost did it again!

Maybe I could stop doing this, but I haven’t made the effort. It’s not something I’m proud of, but no one has ever complained to me about it. I should probably cut it out. But I have limits to what I’m willing, or maybe able, to do to be the perfect boss. I have enough trouble with the basics of running a profitable factory. Perfect behavior seems to be too much of an effort.

Do you have a bad habit that you know you should stop?

Paul Downs founded Paul Downs Cabinetmakers in 1986. It is based outside of Philadelphia.

Article source: http://boss.blogs.nytimes.com/2012/09/24/i-swear-im-going-to-stop-doing-that/?partner=rss&emc=rss

You’re the Boss Blog: Are the Big Banks Keeping Their Commitment to Small Businesses?

Searching for Capital

A broker assesses the small-business lending market.

Last September in Cleveland, 13 of the nation’s largest banks stood beside Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. and Karen Mills, chief of the Small Business Administration, and announced a commitment to increase small-business lending by $20 billion over the following three years.

On the surface, this sounded like a terrific proposition. As always, the devil is in the details. Over the last few weeks, I have sought to understand precisely what the banks committed to doing and how much progress they are making.

Specifically, I wanted to find out:

What types of small businesses are the banks talking about? Are these truly small businesses that need capital, or are the banks including larger businesses with tens of millions of dollars of revenue? What type of loans were included in this commitment? Are the banks including credit card lending?

When a bank issues a line of credit or a business credit card, does the total amount of credit available count toward the commitment? Or is it just the amount that the customer actually uses and borrows? This is especially important because many small businesses use credit cards for convenience to get points or cash back without actually maintaining a balance.

As I set out on my research, I expected to find a consistent answer to my questions. I anticipated that when the banks and the government agreed upon this commitment, they must have specified the terms. But based on my conversations with the banks, that does not seem to have been the case.

Jim Seitz of the small business corporate communications team at Wells Fargo declined to talk specifics. “Since the S.B.A. is gathering data on an industrywide effort, we believe the focus should remain on our industry’s collective efforts, not on any individual institution,” he said. “We can say that Wells Fargo is well ahead of its commitment under this initiative.”

Bank of America did supply some numbers. “In 2011, the bank surpassed its pledge to increase new small-business lending by $1 billion over 2010 levels,” reported Don Vecchiarello of corporate communications. “Through the first half of 2012, the bank has continued this strong trend and is currently on pace to exceed its 2012 pledge by more than $1 billion.” But when asked for further clarification, the bank declined to answer.

Mary Jane Rogers of the corporate communications team at JPMorgan Chase went further. She reported that JPMorgan Chase had “increased its small-business lending by 35 percent in the first half of 2012 versus 2011.” And Ms. Rodgers was helpful in explaining what JPMorgan Chase considers the terms of its commitment to be.

Specifically, she said the commitment is for new loan originations made to companies with annual revenue of $20 million or less. She further confirmed that “our total small-business lending figures — $10 billion for the first half of 2012 — include new originations and increases to existing lines of credit. For the lines of credit, they are a combination of draw downs and total commitments.”

I then turned to the Financial Services Roundtable, a trade organization that represents the 13 member banks. “Each bank is different, and there is no universal formula for how they track the commitment,” said Scott Talbott, senior vice president of government affairs. He suggested that I speak to each bank and the S.B.A. “for the details.”

I called the S.B.A. Emily Cain, in the press office, explained that “each institution is tracking its progress against the collective commitment.” She added that, with the one-year anniversary of the commitment arriving on September 20, “A progress report on the collective commitment will be published around this date by the S.B.A.” She also said, “Each institution uses its own definition of a small business for the purpose of this commitment.”

I have spent a lot of time dealing with banks, but trying to sort this out felt different. Do you remember the last time you took a loan from a bank? In exchange for borrowing money, you accepted and signed a legal document that laid out the precise terms and conditions of the loan in black and white. When lending money, bankers generally demand precision.

So how can we bring some precision to this discussion? I have a suggestion. I would like to recommend the same methodology that my loan brokerage, Multifunding, uses to grade bank lending on our company’s Web site. There, as I have explained previously, we grade the small-business lending of every bank in America that files a call report with the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation.

We base those grades on what we think is the best metric for tracking small-business lending: the banks’ self-reported data for loans with a balance of $1 million or less. To track the big banks’ progress toward their $20 billion lending commitment, we looked at these numbers as of June 30, 2011 (the last reporting period before the commitment was made) and compared them with June 30, 2012 (the most recent data available).

What we found was that the aggregate total of such lending for the 13 banks has actually declined by more than $2 billion over the last 12 months. For example, Wells Fargo reported that that its less-than-$1 million loans are down by more than $2.3 billion over the last 12 months. Bank of America’s total for such loans is down by more than $560 million. JPMorgan Chase’s total is up but not by the 35 percent it calculates. Given those results, it’s a little hard to see how the banks will hit their three-year commitment.

Still, the news in not all bad. According to the F.D.I.C. data, Citibank, the nation’s fourth-largest bank ranked by deposits, has increased its small-business lending by more than $1.4 billion and PNC Banks has increased its lending by more than $1 billion. We congratulate these banks for helping to lead the way. (Here’s a complete list of the banks and how they are doing.)

Using this methodology has raised objections. In a recent blog post, the financial services roundtable cited its opposition to our banking grades by noting, among other things, that big companies sometimes have loan balances that fall below $1 million.

While there is a possibility that occasionally a big company will have a loan with a balance of less than $1 million, we think it’s a fair assumption that the vast majority of these loans are small-business loans and that it’s the best indicator available. We also like the F.D.I.C. data because while it includes credit card loans, it only includes the balances, the monies actually lent. Plus, the F.D.I.C. loan data include existing loans and new loans, which means they reflect how banks are treating all of their customers, not just the new ones.

It will be interesting to see what the S.B.A. reports later this month (and we will let you know). We hope they will offer more clarity and some consistent definitions. After all, as small-business owners we should expect the same from banks as they expect from us.

Ami Kassar founded MultiFunding, which is based near Philadelphia and helps small businesses find the right sources of financing for their companies.

Article source: http://boss.blogs.nytimes.com/2012/09/06/are-the-big-banks-keeping-their-commitment-to-small-businesses/?partner=rss&emc=rss

Investor Talked to Mets but Buys Part of Yankees

By the time negotiations with Einhorn fell apart this month, however, the Mets could not turn back to Bartoszek. Besides feeling that the Mets’ owners had manipulated him to apply more leverage against Einhorn, Bartoszek had found a better deal. He would instead invest with the Yankees.

Last Friday, Bartoszek emerged as the newest limited partner with the Yankees, buying a share of the team from another limited partner.

Bartoszek and the Yankees would not say how much his share represents, but he becomes one of about 30 partners with the team, including members of the Steinbrenner family, with Hal Steinbrenner acting as the team’s managing general partner.

My conversations with the Mets was a very interesting and positive experience, and I was able to parlay that into this great opportunity,” Bartoszek said. “I’m privileged now to be a part of this incredible group of owners.”

Negotiations between the Yankees and Bartoszek, who is from Pelham, N.Y., began in June and were completed Friday. Bartoszek was at Yankee Stadium on Monday afternoon to watch Mariano Rivera break the career saves record in the Yankees’ 6-4 victory over Minnesota.

“It was done within 90 days of the initial contact,” Bartoszek said. “It was the most straightforward negotiation I’ve ever been a part of.”

Bartoszek, 46, made his fortune trading oil for Glencore International before he retired from the company and became a consultant. He once described himself as a passionate Mets fan who stayed up late to watch Lee Mazzilli hit a home run in the 1979 All-Star Game, but he said he always admired the Yankees, too.

In January, the Mets’ owners, Fred Wilpon and Saul Katz, announced that they were seeking new investors to help stabilize the team from the financial distress caused by a $1 billion lawsuit filed against them by the trustee representing the victims of Bernard L. Madoff’s Ponzi scheme.

Shortly after the announcement, Wilpon and Katz engaged Bartoszek, among others, in serious negotiations. A former second baseman on the United States Merchant Marine Academy’s varsity team, Bartoszek passed the initial stages of the vetting process and was one of only a few potential investors to spend a day at Citi Field with Jeff Wilpon, the chief operating officer, going over team operations.

In May, the Mets chose Einhorn, and Bartoszek was told that he was the runner-up. Then, when negotiations between the Mets and Einhorn stalled in July, Bartoszek was invited to resume his negotiations. Word of those talks with Bartoszek leaked out, and the next day the Mets announced that they had resumed exclusive negotiations with Einhorn.

But on Sept. 1, the Mets announced that they had ended their negotiations with Einhorn and were no longer looking for one big minority investor. They are now looking to recruit a collection of smaller investors, similar to what the Yankees have. But they will no longer be talking to Bartoszek.

“I still love the Mets,” Bartoszek said. “And I always liked the Yankees, too. My dad was a Yankee fan, and I was never the type of Mets fan who hated the Yankees. Now I like them even more.”

Article source: http://feeds.nytimes.com/click.phdo?i=8f4a000029a5f1548f99993428a6ccf3

Frequent Flier: A Constant Traveler and In-Air Nanny Service

I’m a Type A personality, and I always think there has to be a more efficient way to do things in an airport. But like everyone else, I follow the signs and all the rules and don’t object to anything, although I can’t say I’m Zen about it.

I don’t check luggage. Ever. It’s just not worth the extra hassle. I’ve been in some pretty far out and funky places in the world, but I’ve learned to pack light. If I can’t roll it up and get it into a knapsack, it’s not coming along for the ride.

When I fly, I often try to combine multiple locations in one trip. Recently I flew from New York to Indianapolis, then on to Philadelphia, back to New York. Then I left for San Francisco, went from there to Boston, then to Washington, and then to Chicago. I practically live in airports.

Everyone who flies a lot has had their share of bad flights. But most of us just take it in stride. Sometimes, you just can’t.

I was flying a few months before Sept. 11, and I was worried about making a connecting flight in Paris. Another passenger was worried about the same thing. We explained the situation to the flight attendant before the plane landed, and asked if we could be the first to get off the plane, even though we were seated toward the back. The attendant said no.

So when the plane landed and started to taxi toward the gate both I and the other passenger decided to start yelling like lunatics about how we needed to get off the plane. The other passengers looked at us like we were crazy, but they obliged. If we did that today, we’d be carted off the plane in shackles.

I used to love to strike up conversations with seatmates. Now I just watch movies. I look at it as a time to watch all the trash movies I never saw before. For me, a great trip is a mystery novel and a movie.

But that all changes if I see a parent traveling with a child. I have an incredibly soft spot for children. It can be tough traveling with kids because they can get so bored. I’m a mother and a grandmother, and I know what these parents are going through. I went through it, too. So when I can, I try to help out.

It all started when I was waiting to board a flight to Thailand and noticed this young mother with a child who was about 5 years old. She was juggling luggage and the kid was a handful.

I went up to her and asked her if she needed some help. She was really grateful, and I actually enjoyed it, too. I call it my “nanny” service, and I keep it to kids who are about 5 years old or younger.

Sometimes parents get a little bewildered when I offer my services. They probably think it’s a little creepy. But once I explain my motives, they are so happy it’s almost funny. I’ve pushed strollers in airports. I’ve allowed kids to play with my keys. I’ve walked up and down the aisle with anxious kids on flights.

It doesn’t bother me at all. The kids don’t see some woman who has spent more time in airports than she cares to count. What they see is a friendly Jewish grandma. And I think that’s pretty neat.

By Ruth Messinger, as told to Joan Raymond. E-mail: joan.raymond@nytimes.com.

Article source: http://feeds.nytimes.com/click.phdo?i=bfe644531273bbe42fa2fb2aeb1c51a5

Beck and Fox End Relationship Grown Cold

Mr. Beck’s official departure was preceded by conversations over a period of months with the Fox News chairman, Roger Ailes. Even as Mr. Beck and Mr. Ailes described how much they liked each other in an interview with The Associated Press, the message conveyed between the lines by both sides was that, despite ratings that would normally bring about an automatic contract renewal, this was a relationship that had grown cold — and run its course.

On Wednesday, the two sides made it official, announcing that Mr. Beck would end his top-rated show at some unspecified point later this year. His contract with Fox ends in December, but he is expected to sign off well before then.

Hired away from CNN’s Headline News in 2008, Mr. Beck found a home at Fox News, giving voice to disaffected Americans who were deeply troubled by President Obama’s election. He reached as many as three million viewers on some nights, setting time-slot records for Fox. Although his ratings have since declined — he averaged 1.9 million viewers in March — he still dominates the 5 p.m. hour among the cable news networks.

Notably, Mr. Beck became a daily broadcast platform for a libertarian strain of politics that is also evident in the Tea Party, a movement he embraced. Critics loudly condemned him for living with his own facts — but that only seemed to widen the conspiracy that he outlined each night, aided by a growing number of chalkboards in his studio.

But at that studio, he was unhappy from almost his first day on the job, which happened to be the day before Mr. Obama was inaugurated. Even in his first year, he was contemplating an exit from Fox and wondering if he could start his own channel.

Beck supporters presented a picture of constant sniping, planted stories about his declining ratings, and discomfort with his ability to build a career for himself outside the Fox News brand.

From Fox’s perspective, the facts about Mr. Beck’s run on the network have been public and indisputable. Among those were the refusal of hundreds of Fox advertisers to allow their commercials to be placed on Mr. Beck’s program, and a history of incendiary comments that attracted harsh backlash, including one where the host called President Obama a racist and another where he compared Reform Judaism to radical Islam. (He later apologized for both comments.)

Mr. Ailes suggested in the interview Wednesday that he was happy with the departure being characterized as either a cancellation or a decision by Mr. Beck to quit. Fox has retained all its other high-rated hosts in the past, but they didn’t come under the intense scrutiny that Mr. Beck has faced, nor the mass opposition from advertisers.

As onerous as that might have been to Fox financially, it did not seem to be an issue for Rupert Murdoch, the chairman of the News Corporation. In two recent comments to shareholders, Mr. Murdoch defended Mr. Beck. He said of the advertiser boycott, “They don’t boycott watching it. We’re getting incredible numbers.” He followed that by pointing out that even with his diminished ratings, Mr. Beck’s show provided a “terrific kickoff” to the lineup of Fox shows that followed.

But the ratings clearly could not overcome the fractures in the relationship. “By the end both sides had had enough,” said one executive who was involved in the decision to end the deal.

Mr. Beck’s new deal with Fox allows him to develop and produce new projects for Fox and its Web sites. But those projects are likely to amount to occasional specials and appearances, nothing more.

Mr. Beck is known to have contemplated an expansion of his subscription Web site and a takeover of a cable channel in whole or in part. Already, his growing media company produces several hours of shows on the Web each weekday.

A spokesman for Mr. Beck declined to say whether the agreement included a noncompete clause that would preclude Mr. Beck from hosting a TV show elsewhere for a period of time. On his show on Wednesday, Mr. Beck said to his viewers, “We will find each other,” adding later, “I’m going to be showing you other ways for us to connect.”

A senior Fox News executive, Joel Cheatwood, will join Mr. Beck at Mercury Radio Arts later this month.

Notably, descriptions of Mr. Beck’s future plans drew derisive comments in some quarters of Fox News, where they argued that Mr. Beck needed the huge platform of his Fox show to build his media empire.

At times, Mr. Beck and his managers said they sensed that Fox was retaliating in public, although they did not prove it.

Last month, when Mr. Cheatwood was first said to be moving over to Mercury, his Fox salary was suddenly leaked to a reporter. That day, a staff member who had been working with Fox on Mr. Beck’s show was asked if he could imagine working at an institution that would leak a salary figure. The staff member replied, “Not only can I imagine it, we’ve done it for 27 months,” referring to the precise number of months Mr. Beck had been at Fox. “It’s not fun.”

Article source: http://feeds.nytimes.com/click.phdo?i=97afd1ba2753db7619e2c56efc15e0b9