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.
Curiosity is not always a death sentence for the cat, sometimes curiosity can lead to very fun and unexpected positive life event. In my social media and local personalities peripheral vision I had been noticing for a while this guy named Rick Dancer who was utilizing aspects of social media that no one else was daring to dabble in. Even now that there are some experimenting with tools such as Facebook Live, few of them approach it with the personal touch and the collaborative spirit that Mr. Dancer does. Curiosity drove me to I reach out to Rick and he graciously agreed to meet up with me for coffee one fateful day at the Washburne Cafe in Springfield, Oregon, sparking a friendship. Anyone who has seen him in action with Live with Rick Dancer knows he is a rather transparent person, I was glad that he was willing to go even deeper for this interview.
Jon Isaacson / IZ Vents: Your past life was as a successful local journalist, when you look back on that leg of your journey, what are the key lessons you learned?
Rick Dancer: Television News taught me how to think on my feet. I naturally react quickly but you make a few errors publicly and you quickly learn how to avoid pitfalls and holes. I also learned to take my love of storytelling and put it to work for me. For a few years I tried to mimic news people and write textbook type stories. However, what really changed my style was covering stories of great pain and humanity. Soon, I chucked the journalistic style for my style which was telling a story from the heart perspective.
A significant portion of your story includes some road bumps which include phasing out of journalism not completely of your own accord, an “unsuccessful” run into politics and beating cancer, how has what many may look at as failure brought you to where/who you are now?
Failure is my greatest teacher but many discount the value of failure or the pain one must go through in order to discover their true story, their true self. In news I won a lot. I got awards, had honors and lots of attention from the public. Running for public office humbled and tried to destroy me. It took every ugly thing in my life and put it right in front of me. Ego lost much of its power over me. I no longer care as much what people think of me. Losing has given me freedom and I don't think you can be truly free without loss.
How is it that a nearly 60 year old man 1) looks so handsome and 2) is leading the charge in the state of Oregon to optimize the new media? How did you get into Facebook live and launch that into a growing local business?
At 58 years old my thought is we must redefine what it means to age. I surround myself with younger people, not on purpose, but because they are the ones who are the most help to me. When I ran for office my young staff had me on Facebook the day after it started. Social media is a natural for me and I use it well. Young folks kept me ahead of the curve.
We are using Facebook in a way many can't, won't or fear. Live has always been my weakness....I mean I thrive on it. A day after the live feature came out I was on there doing video's, figuring out how it worked and looking for ways to make money off it. Part of that desire is born out of desperation. Video production is easier and many don't need people like me to produce a video for them so I needed something to bring in the money. I found people who trusted me and launched "Get Real with Rick Dancer." Now we have "Live with Rick Dancer" and in November will begin "At The Car Wash, Live with Rick Dancer."
You must never get stale and that means being willing to jump on the next thing before others do.
You have a unique talent for drawing out stories, what is it about stories that are so compelling and how have you learned to bring those out of people?
I have always been a storyteller but the gift began as a listener. I was the kid who sat with the old folks at family gatherings and listened to the stories. Growing up I now believe I had some learning issues. Spelling was and still is very tough for me. Proper sentence structure and understanding the ins and outs of grammar have never been natural. For years that kept me from using my gift. I would not write because I didn't want people making fun of my technique. In the news business I discovered my heart and use of real language, real words, pauses, points and percussion in a sentence was much more important than punctuation, spelling and sounding acceptable to the masses.
This is what set me apart from others. Journalists used to poke fun at my techniques but none of them could match my ability to grab, squeeze and rip at the heart of a viewer. Learning to ignore them and winning numerous awards for writing, didn't silence the critics, but it made it so I didn't care, I understood what worked and used it.
For those who are looking to market their services and products, what are some key principles they need to understand about interacting with the current economy?
People today aren't just buying a product they are purchasing something from a person. They can buy a video from anyone but what makes my video better. It's not the equipment we use but the heart we bring to the story. People want to buy from people and yet many in marketing still look to the sell, sell, sell, in order to sell. What people want is you. They want to have a relationship with the person they are buying from. Purchasers are buying your brand. If a video producer wants to be the "Big Equipment Dude On The Block" that's their brand. Pretty pictures are nice but a story that helps you understand why the person serving you is serving you is far better than another drone video of your business.
People don't care what you sell or what you do they want to know why you do it. But to understand the customers why you have to first understand yours. Storytellers are curious people who are not looking for happy endings or even an ending but instead the passion of a life.
What projects are you working on lately that get you excited to continue with what you are doing?
My dream is to travel the country, the world and video the stories of everyday people. I want to visit the small towns, the nowhere towns, the overlooked "spots on a map" and unveil that place for the rest of us. I believe we are tried of the fast-paced get it done life. There is something soothing, sobering and peaceful about simplicity. But the problem is we are complex or at least we've create a complex way of life. In order to reveal simplicity in each of us, there is a process that only great storytelling can release. No one wants to be told how to live, but show me, show me how to do it through the words and actions of another person, and I may actually see it. So, while I love what I am doing I hope it blossoms into the next thing. I hope my world takes me on the road to the places less traveled. And of course, the trip won't be any fun without people like you to follow me.
As you look back on your life and the new chapters you are carving out what are some key things you believe are important for entrepreneurs?
Life is not about being comfortable. No, it's about learning to be comfortable with discomfort. Life is not about you. Yes, you have value and purpose but those around must always be treated better. What you do doesn't matter at all. Why you do it is all that counts. Most people will never get to the why. Oh, they say to help people but the real story is deeper and too many of us stop just outside the door of discovery. Challenging our perceptions and our lives is like walking on a sore foot that is tormented with a sliver. Instead of stopping to dig at it, cause it to bleed, drain the infection and pull the sliver out, we continue to walk on it until we get used to the pain. After a while we don't even feel the sliver but it's still there.
I am not the best father, husband nor am I the best businessman in the world but that's not my goal. I longed for freedom and now I have it. I longed to do what came natural to me and by learning to do things that are un-natural (vulnerability) I have found me. Cancer, losing, failing and struggling are my best teachers. While I would never purposely sign up for their classes, these educators continue to serve me well. Instead of trying to chase difficulty out of our lives what would happen if we look for it?
One parting comment: I learned during my political run for office that I can't please everyone, not even myself. But I can please God so now I live for an audience of one....or should I say, "The One." Thanks for listening.
You can find out more about Rick Dancer through his website, see him in action via Live with Rick Dancer on Facebook, as well as LinkedIn, Instagram and Twitter (@RickDancer).
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Jon Isaacson has a monthly feature column with Restoration & Remediation (R&R) Magazine titled The Intentional Restorer