Remote Worker Experience …

I was interviewed by  the Greater Peoria Economic Development Council in July and they published this nice article.

To be successful in the writing industry means one has to possess a broad range of versatile skills. Emily Potts has been a prominent writer, consultant, and editor based in the Peoria community with a scope of clients and employers nationwide.

Emily Potts - writer, editor, consultant - works remotely from Peoria.
Emily Potts – writer, editor, consultant – works remotely from Peoria.

More than 25 years ago, she moved to Peoria from Milwaukee in her role as assistant editor for Step-By-Step Graphics, a national graphic design magazine published by Dynamic Graphics (SBSG), which was based in Peoria. She was also attending Bradley University, and upon graduation, worked at other local companies including Central Illinois Business Publishers and Caterpillar. She eventually returned to SBSG as its managing editor, eventually becoming editorial director and rebranding the publication and gaining national recognition. After that, she worked as a remote acquisitions editor for a major publishing company based near Boston for nearly 8 years, and then as a solo writer and editor for several years, before becoming managing director at Pavy Studio, based in Lafayette, Louisiana. Read the rest of the article here.

Harvesting Hemp: From Seed to Sale

As more companies enter the crowded cannabis market, a local business seeks to differentiate itself.

CBD products have flooded the marketplace lately as consumers seek natural alternatives to pharmaceuticals to help them cope with anxiety, depression, chronic pain and other maladies. But in this rapidly growing and unregulated industry, misinformation abounds. It’s a “buyer beware” marketplace, and there are no guarantees the product you’re buying will actually provide the benefits it promises, while the origin of its contents is often unknown. 

A new business in Banner, Illinois, hopes to not only capitalize on the market’s potential, but educate people to lessen the confusion. “The consumer needs to understand how to use CBD and how it works in the body,” explains Paul ImOberstag, president of Banner Harvest. “We are a family-owned business that makes all of our products in-house from raw ingredients, and we process and package everything right here in Banner. We’re delivering a farm-to-table experience.”

A Trusted Source
Banner Harvest operates on the property of ImOberstag’s uncle, former Peoria mayor and businessman Bud Grieves. He and his wife Alice live on the 400 acres they purchased in Banner in 1998. “I wanted to convert the property into a conservation showpiece… to demonstrate sustainability and unique water management capabilities,” Grieves explains. “It’s roughly equal acres of native hardwood trees, prairie grasses and restored wetlands.”

While he initially had no plans to farm the property, Grieves recognized an untapped opportunity with this new venture. “I had 10 acres of virgin ground that had no chemicals applied for over 20 years, and I had the machinery and barns to plant, harvest and store product,” he explains. With the addition of his nephew and other family members, he had the combined skillset needed to make it happen. Read the rest of the article here.

Making a Better Earth

There is ample evidence that humans are overrunning the planet’s resources and causing ecological destruction to our natural environment. The good news is, we can slow this process considerably by simply reconsidering the way we consume and dispose of food. Convincing people to change their habits is an uphill battle, say Luke and Yvonne Rosenbohm, but it’s one they’ve taken on to ensure a more sustainable future for the next generation. “We want to fix this problem for our kids,” Yvonne says, “before the government mandates it.” As our landfills begin to run out of space, that is a very real possibility. 

About 20 percent of what goes into landfills is food waste, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency—and composting is one of the best ways to reduce this waste. Enter Better Earth Logistics, which provides a conduit to local businesses and residents by collecting and hauling their food waste to be composted. 

The business was born in 2015 to provide an extra service for Luke’s parents’ company, Better Earth Compost. “My dad was getting a lot of calls from people wanting their food waste picked up, and he didn’t have that service,” Luke explains. So he and Yvonne purchased a truck, and soon he was making pickups at local businesses, while she handled marketing and built their web presence. It’s proven to be a winning combination—for the Rosenbohms, for local businesses and for the planet.

A Mission Beyond Transport 
In early 2018, Better Earth Logistics got a boost from the Tazewell County Green Initiatives program and Peoria County Sustainability team, who wanted to help them expand their services to more people. The primary obstacle was the cost of containers, so both counties purchased roughly 100 containers for use by local businesses. And as Better Earth’s business has picked up, it’s clear the company is much more than a transport service. Read the rest of the article here.

Built for Music Lovers

Established as a neighborhood bar and restaurant on Farmington Road six years ago, Kenny’s Westside Pub has always hosted live music. But after relocating to downtown Peoria in 2016, a noticeable shift occurred. “We became a live music venue—not just a bar that has live music,” says owner Sean Kenny. “We’re hosting ticketed events with national acts, so people are traveling from the entire Midwest to see shows here.”

And Kenny has Jason Miles, his good friend and director of entertainment, to thank for this. Miles has been promoting music for 20 years—working with Jay Goldberg Events & Entertainment for the past five, and booking talent for some of the area’s biggest music festivals, including Summer Camp and the Peoria Blues & Heritage Music Festival. “Kenny’s was built for music lovers and that’s the clientele we want to cater to,” Miles affirms. 

Bringing Music To the Masses
In the early 2000s, the two worked together at Eamon Patrick’s Public House—which happened to be located where Kenny’s Westside is now. “I was a bartender and it was the best job I ever had,” Kenny recalls. “I loved the music and the whole vibe, and Jason was a young independent promoter… well, younger,” he smiles with a wink and a nod to Miles, who’s sitting beside him. The experience helped inspire the opening of his own establishment on Farmington Road, which they used to call a “mini-Eamon Patrick’s.” 

“Jason and I have the same brain when it comes to music,” he continues. “When you come to Kenny’s, you’re going to see a lot of bluegrass, funk, jazz, Americana—all original music. You’ll never see a cover band here.” Having staked out their niche, they generally steer away from popular genres like classic rock, country and EDM. “That stuff isn’t in our wheelhouse, and it’s not what our customers expect.” Read the rest of the article here.

The Sweet (& Tangy) Taste of Success

For as long as she can remember, Brenda Lovingood has been making barbecue sauce for family and friends, slathering it on chicken wings, pork and meatballs. She had toyed with the idea of selling her homemade sauce for more than a decade, but life always got in the way. Both she and her husband Tony had full-time jobs and were busy raising their 11 children, while running a catering business on the side. “It always got put on the backburner,” Brenda recalls, “until one day I just decided I was going to do it.” 

That day finally arrived in 2016 after she attended the Women in Business Success Conference organized by Doris Symonds, who had been encouraging her to bottle her sauce for years. “It was like a one-stop shop,” Brenda says of the conference, where she gathered information about marketing and finances. “It was also the kick I needed to get going.” In addition, she and Tony met with Kevin Evans, director of the Small Business Development Center (SBDC) at Bradley University, who helped them strategize their objectives and establish the business. 

Converting the Masses
Lovingood Foods was formed in July of 2016, and within two years, the couple was selling cases of their barbecue sauce to local and regional stores including Hy-Vee, Alwan & Sons Meat Company, Save-A-Lot, and Haddad’s. “We literally walked into stores with a sample tray so they could taste the product,” Brenda says, and their hands-on tactic worked. They now drive to King’s Food Products in Belleville, Illinois—where the sauce is produced in large quantities—every three weeks to pick up cases for delivery. Read the rest of the article here.

Building a Headband Brand

A local maker finds success online and at pop-up shops throughout central Illinois.

As with many good things, Hello Headband started on a whim. Founder Megan Ray has always been a “maker,” teaching herself to sew at age nine, experimenting with fabrics and color, and keeping a close eye on fashion trends. On a lark in 2011, when she was 21 and still living in her parents’ home, she made a headband, put it on, and walked downstairs to show her mom and younger sister, Erin. 

“I thought it was kind of funny—at the time headbands weren’t super-popular,” Megan recalls. “I asked what they thought… and to my surprise my sister said, ‘That’s actually really cute. I would wear that.’” When she did, her friends loved it and asked where they could get one. Soon Megan was making headbands for friends and family; eventually, she was making so many they encouraged her to open an Etsy shop, which she did under the name Raydiant Apparel

Sales took off and before she knew it, she was buying loads of fabric and spending all her free time making headbands. But free time was something Megan was running low on, given her full-time job while also attending nursing school. By 2013 she couldn’t sustain it all, so she quit her job and left school. “I thought if I’m going to pursue this, now is the time to do it. If it fails, I can always go back to school,” she explains. Turns out it was the best decision she ever made. Read the rest of the article here.

Born to Shoot

A local photographer found her passion at an early age, following in her mother’s footsteps.

Even before she was born, Christie Newell was destined to become a photographer. Forty years ago, her mother, Barb   Primm, started a photography business in the basement of their family home, eventually moving into an old Victorian in Bartonville and calling it Sonshine Studio. As a child, Newell accompanied her mother on photo shoots, soaking up the trade and loving it.  

She started working in the studio in high school, learning both the business and creative sides, and eventually shooting sessions with Primm. By the time she graduated, she was ready to pursue photography full-time. “My mom taught me the nuts and bolts, and after high school she sent me to conventions to learn more about the craft,” Newell explains.

She also pursued professional certifications through the Professional Photographers of America (PPA), a go-to resource for the industry with some 30,000 members. A Certified Professional Photographer, Newell holds a Master of Photography degree and a Craftsman degree from the organization. She serves on the American Society of Photographers Board of Directors and the International Photographic Competition Committee, in addition to teaching workshops and speaking at photography conventions. Read the rest of the article here.

Raising the Barn

The Village of Goodfield welcomes the Conklin Players back to the Barn.

If you had told Mary Simon two years ago that the Barn would be rebuilt and booking future performances, she wouldn’t have believed you. The director of the Conklin Players was sure that her turn in local theater was up. The Barn II in Goodfield, the theater troupe’s longtime home, had closed in the summer of 2015 after irreparable wind damage rendered the building unsafe. Undeterred, Simon moved her operations to Five Points Washington, where the troupe performed until the end of 2017.

“I was giving everything we made at Five Points to the troupe to try to keep them solvent,” she recalls. “And then I couldn’t afford to do it anymore. I had cashed out my insurance policies. I borrowed against things. My credit card debt was huge… I was tapped out.” But just two weeks after Simon gave up, Abby Reel walked into her life and proposed a plan that turned everything around.

A Storied History
A native of nearby Congerville, Abby Reel essentially grew up with The Barn’s cast of colorful characters as a backdrop. Her parents, Les and Carolyn Reel, were huge supporters of the theater—attending performances regularly, becoming friends with Simon and founder Chaunce Conklin, and encouraging their daughter to join—which she did as a teenager, working there before heading off to college.

Fast forward nearly 20 years, and Reel is now owner of the Barn III, still under construction. The new venue is set to open in February with support from its community, a massive fundraising effort, and a sizable loan from Morton Community Bank. You know what they say about it taking a village. Well, it took that and more.

Although Abby Reel and Mary Simon act as partners, Simon is quick to point out that Reel is the boss—“It’s her nickel,” she explains. No doubt there’s a mutual affection and respect between the two. Several times during our conversation, Simon leaned close to Reel, patted her hand and mentioned how grateful she is to her for saving the Barn—not only for herself but for her beloved troupe, who were displaced when the last incarnation went out of business.

“We make decisions together, collaborate [and] compromise,” Reel notes. “And I think it’s really interesting how similar we are… in terms of how we think about taking care of people.” In fact, before embarking on their partnership, Reel, a licensed therapist, asked Simon to take a personality test. She had an inkling that they shared a lot of common traits and wanted to know how they would work together. Read the rest here.

Breathing Life into an Historic Building

When Raphael and Katie Couri Rodolfi purchased the F. Meyer Block Building on Adams Street in 2017, they acquired a little slice of Peoria history. Built in 1885 as Meyer Hardware, the structure has seen its share of tenants over nearly 135 years, weathering economies good and bad. Having set up their own ventures in the building—alongside a pair of other businesses—the Rodolfis are in it for the long haul.

The entrepreneurial couple has longed to open shop in Peoria, initially setting their sights on finding a location along West Main Street near their home. When they couldn’t find the right space for their needs, they expanded their search to the Warehouse District.

“We really liked everything that was happening down here. The city had redone the streets, making it more pedestrian-friendly. Sugar [Wood-Fired Bistro] was established and Zion [Coffee Bar] was moving in,” Katie recalls. “So all of that felt more like ‘city life.’ We lived in Chicago for a number of years, and Paris on and off, so we appreciate pedestrian-friendly cities and all the joy that can come with that.”

The addition of rehabbed loft apartments within walking distance—including Cooperage 214, Winkler Lofts and Persimmon Lofts—also sealed their resolve to put their roots downtown. Shortly after purchasing the building, Raphael moved his video production company, Videogenique, into one of the open office spaces. “The structure has a lot of character, which is 100 percent what we love about it,” he explains. While his large, open space on the first floor remains largely unchanged, he quickly went to work updating the other spaces to accommodate potential tenants. “We made mostly cosmetic changes like painting, tearing out old carpet and replacing acoustic ceiling tiles with metal tiles. It made a huge difference.”

Read the rest here.

How to Build a Better Brand from Four Experts Who Know

Brand-building is key to any successful business. Design plays a critical role in the development and evolution of a brand over time. Here, we ask four branding experts about the factors that influence brand success and why.

Meet the Four Branding Experts

Megan Auman is a designer, metalsmith, educator and entrepreneur who has built a multi-faceted business around her passion for great design and sustainable business. Her eponymous jewelry line is sold in stores across the U.S. and online. Her designs have been featured in Design Sponge, Better Homes and Gardens, Cooking Light and more.

April Bowles is a writer, creative business consultant, marketing strategist and photography dabbler. She wants to live in a world where artists and makers adore their blogs, write with confidence and know how to get their unique work in front of people who love it—and scramble for their credit cards because they just “have to have it.”

Stanley Hainsworth is founder and chief creative officer of Tether, a design and branding agency in Seattle. Prior to founding his own agency, he worked as creative director, defining and reshaping the stories for Starbucks, Lego and Nike.

Lewis Howes is a lifestyle entrepreneur, high performance business coach, author and keynote speaker. He hosts The School of Greatness podcast, which has received millions of downloads since it launched in 2013. His newest book, The School of Greatness, provides a framework for achieving real, sustainable, repeatable success.

Learn from the Branding Experts

HOW: What’s the difference between a brand and a set of branded elements?

Howes: Your brand is the feeling people get when they interact with you or your work. It’s how they remember you and what they say to someone else when describing you. Your brand elements are just the visual representation of that feeling.

Bowles: A brand is all the marketing and communication you do to differentiate your business from the competition. Branded elements like a logo or business card are pieces that help to make up your brand.

Hainsworth: A set of branded elements are the badges and the delivery mechanisms for a brand. A brand is a thing, but it’s also a feeling, a movement, a passion. A brand puts a promise out into the world, “if you interact/experience/try our product or service then you will…”

Auman: Simply put: Emotion. A brand is an emotional connection repeated over time. Brand elements are one signifier of those emotions. The challenge in branding is that it’s very difficult to build an emotional connection simply through the elements we traditionally associate with branding. The emotional appeal comes from the product itself, the stories a company tells, the experiences customers have with the company (both online and off), the experiences customers have with the products, and even the way a company is represented in the media.

What person or company, in your opinion, is currently doing the best job at branding and why? What sets them apart from the competition?

Howes: I think The Rock (Dwayne Johnson) is on top of his game and brand in a big way. He dominates at social media and has mastered letting his authentic self through in all of his interactions with fans and the press. His brand really reflects who he is, and he’s attracting the opportunities he wants because of it.

Hainsworth: Virgin has a brand and branded elements that are consistent across multiple consumer categories. The multiple brands share the right amount of brand-ness and branded-ness that unites them from the inside out and the outside in. They don’t create industries or categories, they go in and disrupt them, do it better. And then they back it up with their attitude, service, pricing, branded elements.

Bowles: Marie Forleo is a great example of a business that kills it when it comes to branding. From the fonts to the images to the web design to the videos to the products–everything works together and sets the brand apart from everything else out there. What Marie does better than many other businesses is that she stays true to who she is and doesn’t jump on trends for the sake of being cool.

Auman: I am a huge fan of Freshly Picked, which makes baby moccasins. The founder, Susan Peterson, took this from a side hustle, sewing leather baby shoes at her kitchen table, to a multimillion dollar company. This makes them an interesting case study in brand loyalty, as it’s really a brand that was built from the bottom up, by appealing directly to consumers’ emotions, rather than top down by attempting to apply consumers emotions to arbitrary brand elements.

Freshly Picked has a focused, consistent, and recognizable product line. The moccasins are basically the Louboutins of baby shoes. When you see a toddler wearing them in a photo, you instantly know who made them. And for a long time, they only had one product. (They’ve since expanded to a few other shoe types and accessories.) This intense focus helped them become known for doing one thing really well.

 

So much brand building in recent years has come down to social media and apps. Do you see this ever changing or going back to more traditional methods?

Bowles: No, I don’t see this ever changing. I know a lot of businesses would love to ignore the power of social media and apps, but that’s the world we live in. Everyone is connected to their phones more than anything else. Back in the day, when the internet first appeared on the scene, people said that it was just a trend. The internet! One of the worst things you can do as a business owner is to become rigid in your marketing tactics instead of moving with the market.

Hainsworth: It is all a mix, and will continue to be so. For example, brands that started online are creating physical, or brick-and-mortar experiences. Social media platforms have started creating branded products. It is all a beautiful mix and will continue to change (and stay the same) as new platforms become available.

Howes: Honestly no, I think social media is here to stay. Of course it will keep evolving and there’s always new apps, but the direct connection between a brand and its audience is irreplaceable and that is what social media has allowed on a huge scale.

Auman: One of the reasons brand building has been so focused on those methods recently is that they work! It takes time for brands to develop that emotional connection, and social media, with its frequent updates and need for an endless stream of content, is a great place for that.

That said, consumers are growing increasingly weary of brands’ need to constantly engage on social media. And they are growing even more weary of brands advertising on social media. I think that means that companies will need to look to innovative strategies for brand building, and that may include looking backwards to methods that have worked in the past.

 

Why do you think some brand overhauls go over well (KFC, Sprint) and others fail miserably (Tropicana a few years back; UPS redesign was highly criticized)? 

Hainsworth: Think of one of your friends who shows up with a significant change in their appearance. If it is a nice evolution, you will nod your head approvingly. If it is a total left turn you will look questioningly and say that seriously? This speaks to the emotional investment that consumers put in the brands they use. It has to be a respectful or believable evolution. If it is too much of a departure, too trendy, too different, too not-who-we-are, the consumer will arch their eyebrows.

Auman: I think brand overhauls fail when a brand fails to understand the emotions behind the brand and the customers they are appealing to. UPS is an interesting example of this, because they’ve really pushed themselves recently as a very utilitarian brand, with a focus on “logistics.” But the average consumer’s experience of UPS is as someone who magically makes all those online purchases appear. A criticism of the logo redesign was that it lost the element of “it’s a present” that appeared in the old logo, which is often how you’ll hear online shoppers talk about getting their deliveries. There’s a strong emotional pull there that UPS is completely ignoring in their focus on utility. And as more and more websites give customers the option to choose their shipping carrier, it would behoove UPS (or any of the shipping carriers for that matter) to focus on branding that appeals to the emotions customers already associate with getting packages delivered.

Bowles: I work with small businesses, so I’m going answer this question based on small businesses. One reason that I see brand overhauls fail is because they move away from what their customers really love about the brand. When you change something that has become synonymous with your brand (and your customers adore), you risk alienating your most loyal customers. If you stay true to who you are during a brand overhaul, you tend to improve upon the things your customers love and it becomes a huge success.

 

How difficult is it to get consumers to shift brand loyalties? Do you think it comes down to the brand elements/story or the actual product? or is it a mix? can you give an example of this happening? 

Auman: One of the benefits of having a strong brand is that it becomes a shorthand for making purchasing decisions. Consumers are overwhelmed by choice, so when it comes time to make a decision, many will default to the brand they’ve always used. This can make it difficult for consumers to shift brand loyalties. But at the same time, this shorthand also put brands at the risk of losing their emotional appeal, when buyers begin making choices only out of habit and no longer out of deep love and affection for a brand. This presents opportunities for a new brand with a strong emotional pull to swoop in and steal market-share.

Hainsworth: Consumers are loyal to brands, sometimes. But think of your friend again. She talked poorly of you to others behind your back. Will you forgive her? Give her another chance? Or maybe hang out with another friend more and eventually switch your loyalties to her. New best friend. Consumers are the same with brands. If there is a brand mis-step, whether a blip in product quality, or a lapse in transparency, etc., you might try another brand. As an experiment. And you may forgive your former brand love and go back to it, or if the dalliance with the new brand shows promise, you may switch.

Motorola was the darling of the phone handset world. They innovated and provided a great brand experience through the design of their devices. Until they didn’t. When other brands (Apple, HTC, etc.) started putting out devices with similar service but provided an enhanced, sexier experience, consumers went with a new girlfriend without a backward glance.

Bowles: Great branding is so good that it’s hard to put into words. One of my favorite brands of all time is Anthropologie and it’s hard for me to explain why. They didn’t start marketing to me via email or pushing their way into my Facebook feed. I loved them from the moment I walked into the store. It felt like everything in there was made for me, I loved the scents from the candles they were burning, and I felt comfortable in the dressing rooms. You can tell that they pay close attention to every detail and that makes a great experience for customers. When you give people an experience that blows their mind (by paying close attention to every brand detail), you can definitely get them to shift their loyalties.