Updated July 2014
We appreciate you taking a few minutes to investigate the possibilities for growing a similar business model in your district.
What I will try to do in this short prospectus is make it clear to you how I started in my area, how the present business climate is affecting sales and where you can go to get more information about being a successful ruralroutes.com entrepreneur.
Am I cut out for this? What are the essentials to making this thing work? I like the concept, and the technology looks appealing, but in your mind what would be the one thing that makes the model work?
First and foremost, you have to be willing and able to work at client relationship management. Your clients will write your cheques, and you have to have the long-range view in mind. People who understand and work well with computers don't necessarily have the face-to-face marketing skills to succeed. There is a basic level of personal computer expertise that is needed, and this will be discussed later in detail, but YOU WILL NOT SUCCEED if you are cynical, short-tempered or have a history of poor interpersonal rapport.
That being said, there is a huge vacuum presently in web content, particularly in smaller communities with poorly knit together business organizations. I would be bold enough to say that this model could be replicated in any regional jurisdiction with reasonable tourism potential.
You first must get out a map of the area within an hour and a half's drive of your home base. Take a Sunday afternoon and drive through the towns in your area and take a count of storefronts that you think are impacted particularly by tourism traffic in the summer months. Take close note of gift shops, restaurants, farm markets, cheese factories, cottage rental resorts, Bed and Breakfasts, artisan's studios, golf courses and one-of-a-kinds of any stripe. When you get home, go to the town's or area's website and print off a list (if it exists) of the local business association. Check off the businesses you noted on your travels, double-checking those that only list an email address.
My guess is that if you counted over 100 businesses without a significant website, you could make a success marketing ruralroutes.com.
OK, OK ...but how do I find enough business to make this pay, after all, can't you get a website on the Internet free of charge? And aren't Chambers of Commerce and Tourism doing this for free already?
The above stylistic map shows our province broken into 15 tourism zones. My suspicions are that your state or province has similar boundaries. When I started marketing ruralroutes.com 10 years ago, there already was in place a cooperative regional tourism group publishing a brochure and building a web presence to the west of my area. I always, always, always attempted to work with the group and put up reciprocal linkages for them if they agreed to do the same at their web interests. Again the town and villages you work in will already be doing their best to promote the area as a whole, and rest assured, there will be an expert on every corner. Systematically visit every entrepreneur and get a feel for the level of service in the area. Ask to speak to the business association about the product ...work up a PowerPoint presentation about collectively marketing the area.
Some selected areas will have developed a sophisticated on-line marketing model already, and it's probably best to just side step these areas. The threshold for rural I've discovered is about 20,000 and so individual cities and towns at this population and greater usually have more developed services, and thus more competition for the ruralroutes.com model.
What you have to realize is that many clients will already be serviced, but don't forget to bundle product, so at least you make a pitch that isn't wasted.
So I decide to take the plunge and hit the road ...can you give me some specific advice about how to sell successfully? How can I go back to a sale the following year and regain them as a client?
The beauty of this product is that you become (as you gain more and more expertise) a full-service tourism / web content provider. There are actually now 5 annual subscription services I sell and I will list them in the order I present them to clients:
- Web-page development for a 1 -year trial on the web. This does include a full record in the ruralroutes.com database (don't worry about this term yet) with a selection of features that I emphasis using rate sheets simply colour inkjet printed with local clients already using the service. This is the entry-level lost-leader and is presently priced at $139.00 CAN. This is a good present threshold for entry into this market. I've tried selling various levels of this product with fewer pictures, etc. with a range of prices, but have found that you might as well go ahead and WOW the client on the first meeting and do all you can to please them. Sit down in their premises, either dialup or go wireless to present the concept, and often you can load the site immediately with their email in place, and images correctly edited and uploaded. Takes about an hour. If you are creative, you can snatch videos, slideshows, etc. and really enhance a record well. $139 for an hour's work.
The record presently has fields for 72 images (which I thumbnail and 400 pixel size at the site using graphics software) including mouseovers, unlimited text, a private emailer (to protect personal addresses from spam), a counter to assess traffic at the page and other minor features such as charge-card icons and of course the wonderful, pannable Google map utility, but most importantly, the page is completely self-editable because the information is entered into a database.>
- Top-Level domains (ie www.mydomain.com) pointing or redirecting to the above Internet web page. We presently use directnic.com as a registrar because they operate a very streamlined easy to navigate site for managing multiple domains, and offer discounts for large purchases. You can also purchase POP3 email addresses here that are configured to operate with the domains you are managing (ie email@example.com). Top-Level domains presently are very popular, and often clients will invite me in to dial up the web and see if particular domains are available. Often small businesses have considered having a web site, and all that is needed is a fast developer on the fly. This is an annual subscription fee, and I charge presently $100 to register, redirect and administrate the domain to the $139.00 page developed in section 1) above. The more simply said and spelled, the better.
- A tourism map which I develop in a good-quality publishing software package (ie CorelDRAW or Adobe ILLUSTRATOR) so you can find a print house to run some cheaper promotional material as the tourism season is starting. I have been using a local web press that's been able to work up an acceptable full process colour product in large quantities (ie 20,000). You can develop your own process, but I find the web is invisible to large numbers of people, and the printed copy is very useful to brand the web product over the many others already in your area. From this standpoint, you will find that many rural areas are under-serviced in good tourism material, and thus an easier sell. You may say that you don't want to get into the print business, that there are already too many tabloids hitting the landfill, but experience has moved me in this direction ...having a strategy to brand your product IS important, and an inexpensive annual handout of some sort is the way to go. ruralroutes.com is prepared to build custom maps for your area and assemble the client advertising. The present client pricing for the hard-copy map is :
- $150 for a 3" colour image and a 50 word description.
- $600 for a cover corporate anchor 8.5" X 11" colour image.
- Hosting existing web content. This knowledge is becoming more and more marketable. Present local ISP hosting fees range from $25 per month and up depending on the complexity of the site. You will find that many, many websites are shallow (don't have particularly rich content for display ...they are basically business cards with email added as a communication tool. These are easy to maintain and thus ruralroutes.com is now managing web content with clients that understand the FTP (file transfer protocol) process. We use Primus Communications in Ottawa as provider and charge presently $200.00 per annum ($17 per month) and includes a Top Level Domain registration and POP3 email if needed... In order to get the website details transferred to the server, the client has to do one of the following:
- Upload them to ruralroutes.com using FTP (file transfer protocol). The client has to have the FTP software loaded on their local computer to do this. It's really straightforward once the client has the login details.
- The client emails a "WinZip" archive of their entire website to ruralroutes.com.
- The client provides the FTP login details for their previous website host (ISP) so that the website can be retrieved by ruralroutes.com We require ftp server name, ftp username and ftp password to go get the files.
Building Web Sites. Take a Dreamweaver course at a local college, and get to know this Adobe product. With CSS templates available, you can sit with a client and develop a lovely website in about a day. Most potential clients already have experimented with the Internet and are looking for cost-effective methods to manage their interests in real time. Rather than sell them a canned editable module, encourage them to learn Dreamweaver, and they will be happy to buy services from you down the road. This aspect of the ruralroutes.com model works presently for me as a "filler", working to keep clients that envision a more customized site.
Hey, I already have a laptop and am reasonably comfortable with PC programs ...I really like the idea of gathering interesting content on the fly with a customized database already busy with tourism related traffic ...
This section deals with why the ruralroutes.com model is so successful. I will likely use terminology that's slightly geekish, but bear with me, and as you work with the equipment, the vocabulary will become more comfortable.
Firstly, the entire ruralroutes.com model is built on speed. I have assembled WebPages for up to 6 and 7 clients daily with the laptop model used. I'm working with Canon photographic digital equipment as they seem to be the leaders. The new Canon EOS 5D Mark II: 21MP and HD movies (released middle of Sept. 2008) looks like the next generation and includes a video feature for Youtube uploads.
You will find that you can build WebPages using the above technology in about 45 minutes to an hour, and upload them live or in 10 minutes when you get home. This is the part of the business I like best, for it uses an interesting blend of skill-sets.
My experience has been that once you have a client's images on a laptop (and a 15' screen helps here) LCD, you've already made a sale. Just type the client vitals into an already prepared database (this is an organized computer approach to handling similar sets of data, and as such, is terrific, because you can't forget bits of information that you wish you had later), do some simple graphic manipulations to save the photographs (digital images) to disk, and voila, the web page self-assembles. BUT THIS IS ONLY HALF THE STORY.
Our technical partner (BRIT ~ Boicey Robbins Interactive Technology of Ottawa) has ingeniously coded an intranet to make tasks down the road even easier. So, once you get the laptop home from a busy day on the road, you connect your modem to your ISP's modem, and use whatever FTP (file transfer protocol) program you like to drop the new records (including images) to the "live" database at Primus Communications. Once the record is added, the intranet sends an instant email to the new client's address, informing them of the "live" record and the password enabling the "self-edit" feature. CONGRATULATIONS, UPLOAD COMPLETE!
As you deal with the resubscriptions down the road, you will find the intranet bookkeeping feature invaluable as well. Invoicing and receipting is completely automated, and a monthly renewal feature keeps you up to date of clients that need to be notified or toggled off because payment is missing or they have instructed you to do so.
Suffice it to say that if you can think it and justify the business model to support it, the code can be written to service it. It has taken 10 years of development to get to the stage where associations are calling me for a content management system to enhance their membership services.
A quick summary of the technical background ..."Cold Fusion" is presently an Adobe product and is used to write the code, which generates what you see on-line.
The Apache web server is a powerful, flexible, HTTP/1.1 compliant web server that provides DBM databases for authentication and allows you to easily set up password-protected pages with enormous numbers of authorized users, without bogging down the server.
Don't even tread into the world of database discourse ...unless you are a linguist brought up with this engineering discipline. The tools are absolutely brilliant when they are functioning properly, but I'd rather be keelhauled than try and solve a concatenation problem.
Clive, I would like to talk more about the product and the financial strings / legal implications of carrying your banner abroad. How can I reach you?
I do believe that the Internet will get bigger and that PCs will get smaller and easier / more seamless to use. You may be at a transitional time in your career, and are looking for a great company to grow with as you shift professional alliances. We don't want fly-by-nighters or dreamers. This is a solid, proven product that works. Use it.
I would be happy to discuss a partnership with you or your association, and accounting protocols. We want this to be as unfettered as possible, so that you succeed. We are looking for ambitious, diversified skill-sets and associations needing a strong online tool suite for their membership.
Clive and Jane Nickerson
208 Stewart Rd., RR#3
Reception 1 613 475 4637