GROW Nebraska able to help 43 businesses in McCook, Alliance/Hemingford and Sidney thanks to USDA grant
Owners at small emerging businesses in rural western Nebraska towns have learned valuable marketing skills and expanded their online presence thanks to a USDA grant and GROW Nebraska trainings.
”Benefits of e-Commerce for Rural Nebraska Businesses” is a partnership between GROW Nebraska, USDA Rural Development, and three rural areas, McCook, Alliance/Hemingford, and Sidney. Through the partnership, rural businesses gained access to GROW trainings on social media marketing, Google Maps and ads, and keywords, and gained access to GROW’s successful online store BuyNebraska.com.
The partnership supports rural entrepreneurs to create sustainable incomes and successful businesses, which in turn drives economic growth and development in their local communities. It is helping small businesses survive and digitally pivot to have a greater online presence in this pandemic era.
GROW received the grant in late 2020 and has just finished its first quarter of trainings. Each area has successfully recruited the goal of 10 business participants, but that number is growing as the grant has attracted 43 new GROW members!
Here’s a look at how the grant has helped three western Nebraska businesses:
Honorbound IT started in 1999 under the name Prairie Wind PC’s. In 2016, Prairie Wind PC’s merged with an IT company in Fort Collins, Colo., and Honorbound IT was formed. The company provides technical service and support to businesses and residents across Nebraska, Kansas and Colorado.
Tanner Lytle, who works in sales and marketing for Honorbound in McCook, attended a meeting in McCook where he heard GROW Nebraska CEO Janell Anderson Ehrke talk about the importance of businesses having a digital footprint and discussed the benefits of Google Business listings.
“Before her presentation, I didn’t realize all the newest features and benefits that Google had now with their business listings,” Lytle said. “A few years prior, I set up a listing for our company but didn’t add too much information or nurture it.”
Lytle decided to join GROW Nebraska and started communicating more with GROW’s team.
“They reviewed the updates I made to our Google Business listing, our website, and we discussed some mutual projects that could help not only both our organizations but provide valuable information to GROW Nebraska’s members,” he said.
Honorbound’s Google page does appear to have more visitors after the tweaks he made because of GROW, Lytle said.
“But, I think the bigger benefit we have received so far is access to the team and GROW Nebraska and being part of the membership,” he said.
Because Honorbound focuses on education, the new partnership allows other GROW members to benefit from the company’s knowledge and expertise as they will present at GORW’s MarkeTech conference July 15.
“At MarkeTech, the focus of the topics will be on helping businesses use digital tools such as social media, digital marketing, etc.,” Lytle said. “I am extremely excited to not only share what has (or hasn’t) worked for our company but to also hear from other businesses and learn what has been working for them.”
Lytle said he is looking forward to a continued partnership with GROW.
“We are at the beginning stages of our relationship with GROW Nebraska, and I can only foresee additional growth not just in business, but with the many relationships that can be formed within their organization,” he said.
Nicole Bertrand, owner of Daisies and Dragons consignment store, said GROW Nebraska helped her understand how Google and Facebook can help her business grow with the right wording and keywords.
“Without this opportunity to use this service with the grant that was offered to our small town, we would not have had the opportunity to experience this great service as a small business,” Bertrand said.
Daisies and Dragons has been in business for 10 years, and the Bertrands purchased it in June 2018. They recently added new board games to their products and the Smash Dungeon, a room in the basement where participants can take their frustrations out by smashing anything from beer bottles and coffee cups to keyboards, telephones and small televisions.
“At Smash Dungeon, our mission is to provide our community with a fun and exciting way to get rid of all those bad emotions,” Bertrand said. “Things like stress, anxiety, anger, heartbreak, grief, and depression. We provide a safe and controlled environment for you to come smash your stress away in the Smash Dungeon.”
She said her training at GROW helped her think of a broader variety of words to help promote the new smash room.
She also learned from other GROW trainings about creating a marketing plan and search-engine optimization (SEO). The trainings have already resulted in increased traffic at the store.
“After I went through the GROW Nebraska training, I tackled getting started on finishing up my information and getting our keywords added so that we could start some Google ads,” Bertrand said. “We have had a few people that have come into the store from traveling through on I-80 that saw our ad on Google, and they came off the Interstate to see what we have to offer.”
Hemingford resident and former stay-at-home mom Lacy Covey was helping Three Little Birds, a local day spa and healing house, with its social media presence when she was introduced to GROW Nebraska.
Through the GROW USDA grant, the business was offered a free membership to GROW Nebraska and many training opportunities to boost its online presence.
Covey attended a one-on-one Google My Business training with GROW staff and learned about how critical online presence is, especially in small towns.
“One of the things I learned was that 80% of customer traffic is now starting online,” Covey said. “Nowadays, everyone is online, and they will find you online before they ever walk in the doors. Online is driving the foot traffic into these mom-and-pop shops.”
She set up a Google My Business page for Three Little Birds and then did the same for her church, Hemingford Congregational Church. When the owner of Three Little Birds, Johnna Wood, opened a new store called LOCAL Gift Boutique and Tea Lounge, Covey set up that business on Google and Facebook as well.
Shortly after Covey established the Google My Business page for Three Little Birds, they received a call from a group of employees who had pooled their money and wanted to buy a $350 gift card to the spa for their boss.
“They were from at least 80 miles away, so the only reason we got that sale was because of that Google page and the time spent in search engine optimization,” Covey said.
Adding words like local spa, reflexology, salt therapy and phrases like “where can I get cellular therapy,” boosted the business’ reach on Google.
“That was encouraging to Johnna, too,” Covey said. “She knew it was important, but she didn’t know how well it was working until then.”
Shortly after Covey’s training with GROW, her husband, Johnny, was furloughed from his railroad job. The couple decided to purchase an abandoned hardware store in Hemingford and reopen it to sell lawn and garden equipment, sporting goods, general hardware supplies and guns and ammunition. In March, they launched the guns and ammo part of their store called Valor General Store. In April, they will launch the hardware portion of the store.
Covey signed up her new business with GROW Nebraska and already had a head start on how to promote their store online because of her previous GROW training.
“I just hit the ground running,” Covey said. “The first thing I did was a Facebook page and a Google page and a GROW Nebraska page.”
She reached her first-month goal of 100 Facebook likes in just one week and has been overwhelmed with the support they’ve received for their business both near and far.
“I just want to express appreciation to GROW for the grant and the free training,” Covey said. “They really do care about small business and growing these small-town businesses. That’s the backbone of our country. They shared a lot of valuable knowledge with us and gave us connections. I am just so thankful for that.”
Story by Kristine Jacobson, GROW Nebraska member and owner of KRJ Public Relations (krjpr.com), a business that helps non-profits and businesses tell their stories and gain momentum through blogs, newsletters, annual reports, social media and other publications.