Tips to grow your business through social media and local networks.
How many consultants do you know that can say they have a background in public policy, specifically climate and transportation, who then transitioned their love of vintage items into a thriving local business? We took some time to interact with local business consultant Allison Bishins who survived moving her growing family from Washington DC to the other Washington. The discussion regarding solutions for climate concerns and traffic issues are relevant coast to coast, as is her passion for helping business owners to achieve their goals.
Allison has maintained her involvement in sustainability issues by creating The Sustainability Summit for South Sound Women in Business and has rapidly become a fixture in the Tacoma community. Allison has a passion for helping local businesses replicate her success through building both a social media presence as well as a literal social network. By doing so, entrepreneurs can benefit from the best of what the internet and the physical world have to offer.
The DYOJO: What is your business origin story - when did you know that you had an idea/skill that you wanted to adapt into a business?
Allison Bishins: I started my first business in 2008 when I realized I wanted to keep collecting vintage without it overwhelming my house! It was born out of a combination of a hobby and a desire for less clutter. I was working full time on climate and transportation policy. I still run that business, though it's a tiny part of what I do now. (Vintage will always be my first business love!) I left the nonprofit world in 2011 when I had my first child.
DYOJO: How did you go about starting up your entrepreneurial efforts in a new land over 2,500 miles away from your existing network?
Allison: When we moved to the West Coast with a second baby on the way, I turned my tiny jewelry hobby into a growing, robust business. I doubled my revenue every year for several years, almost exclusively through Instagram. When several other handmade businesses reached out for advice on how to replicate my success, I knew I had an opportunity to help other people and widen my business offerings.
DYOJO: How do you source your jewelry?
Allison: All of my jewelry is handmade, and about 90% of my necklace materials and 50% of my earring beads are reclaimed or second-hand materials. I do a lot of deconstruction and reconstruction.
DYOJO: You moved to the Pacific Northwest, to a city you’ve never heard of in Tacoma, you start up a jewelry business that takes off and then you decide to share your experiences with others.
Allison: I started offering workshops in 2017 because so many amazing business owners in my community didn't know each other. I wanted to create a space for people to get to know each other deeply and support each other. When we had 42 attendees at my first workshop, I knew I was on to something! 2.5 years later there are still ongoing contracts, collaborations, and friendships that came out of the workshop!
DYOJO: What was one lesson you learned from a positive mentor that has stuck with you through your development?
Allison: I haven't had a lot of mentorship in my business journey, but I learned a lot from my the way my dad ran his construction business: generous, fair and empathetic but firm and with high expectations. I started working when I was 13 (making sandwiches at a deli!) Some of the best advice I've received has actually come from the internet - it can be sort of a mentor for those without support structures. My favorite quote I read online and really stuck with me is, "Let go of what no longer serves you." It's so helpful in life and in business.
DYOJO: What was one lesson you learned from a negative example and how did you adapt from that to construct your method of approaching business?
Allison: I've had a lot of bad bosses, and their failures tended to be a function of either poor communication or underlying biases (sexist, racist, etc.) I've done a lot of personal work on undoing biases, prejudices, and expectations. While I know my business can grow significantly with employees, I've avoided hiring staff because I know just how hard it is to be a great manager that supports people while also getting excellent results. Communication, I feel like, is the universal flaw - even if we work on our communication skills, there's always someone who will read our words differently than we mean them. That makes business hard! Especially when the bulk of your business is conducted online or over email.
DYOJO: What does Allison Bishins Consulting do?
Allison: I am a small business consultant. About half of what I do is teach small businesses how to use social media marketing to grow and build community. The other half are workshops and one-on-one consulting focusing on increasing efficiency, letting go of activities and revenue streams that stress you out or don't lead you to your goals, and fostering community building.
DYOJO: What do you feel is unique about how you approach small business consulting?
Allison: My approach is unique because I have a background in urban policy, sustainability, marketing, handmade business, and nonprofit administration. Every workshop and session is underpinned by the question: How can you grow your business while also building community and reducing your stress? I call this "soft" consulting, because even though we often talk about tactile topics like finances, marketing, etc, a lot of the work I do centers around societal and personal expectations and how they play into the work you do.
DYOJO: I am a believer in the power of collaboration. You say, “When our businesses are connected and supportive, our local community thrives!” In an age when we are all strapped for time, can you elaborate how you have seen entrepreneurs come together and find value by investing in/with other business leaders?
Allison: I firmly believe that our local business community is stronger when it works together and supports each other (Allison wrote an article on the benefits of community engagement for business leaders). I frequently collaborate with other consultants whose clientele and expertise overlaps with mine. I'm always learning from the amazing people in my community. Wouldn't it be a shame to shut that off and say 'no, I'm the expert, I have to stay separate?"
Some of my most popular and impactful classes are a collaboration between a local yoga teacher and myself. I have always enjoyed thinking through problems in non-traditional ways, so partnering and collaborating is a natural fit for me. But I want to encourage more people to see collaboration as a priority, rather than a last-minute scramble.
DYOJO: Tell us more about Nurture.
Allison: I run a Facebook group called Nurture: Tacoma Women and Non-binary Business Support Group. I am constantly invigorated by the support and expertise the members give each other, without expectation of that energy being returned. I've seen so many cool collaborations and partnerships come out of that group and my Nurture Small Group Networking events.
DYOJO: You note that you offer “social media marketing training instead of social media management”, what is the distinction and why is that important for entrepreneurs?
Allison: I train businesses in Social Media Marketing - teaching the business owner, marketing manager, or even an intern, how to use social media to increase revenue while also connecting with their community. Social Media Management is when a freelancer actually takes the reigns and creates and posts content for a business.
DYOJO: If an entrepreneur is on the fence about running their social media in house or hiring a manager, what would your encouragement be?
Allison: I've always been skeptical of Social Media Management because the magic of social media is in authenticity - getting to know and trust the businesses you follow. And having a freelancer do that work makes it harder to achieve those levels of trust. There are cases when Social Media Management might be the best option for a business, but a really good Manager is very expensive, and I usually encourage people instead to hire someone part time they can train in-house (sometimes with some expert training!)
Social Media best practices from Allison Bishins:
DYOJO: With regards to consulting, what perspective/advice would you give someone who is thinking of entering the consulting world?
Allison: If someone was interested in becoming a consultant, I'd encourage them to really dive into why, and what perspective they can offer that's different than what's on the market. I encourage my clients in most businesses to "niche down" - to find out what they do that's extra special and focus on that. It's easier, in my experience, to offer a very specific product and a following, and then expand outwards, than to offer every type of product and build a reputation on the broadness of what you offer (Amazon being one big exception!)
In The DYOJO we believe in the power of local business leaders to connect, collaborate and conquer to achieve their goals. It has been refreshing to see Allison as an active force for local businesses to thrive by partnering with each other - the essence of what networking should be. Please note her encouragement for unlocking the power of social media - 1) be authentic, 2) connect locally and 3) lean in to clarity. Visit Allison Bishins Consulting to discover the philosophy, services and events that Allison has to offer.
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Jon Isaacson has a monthly feature column with Restoration & Remediation (R&R) Magazine titled The Intentional Restorer