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Monday, Apr 15, 2024

Mother-Daughter Team Helps Nurture Small Firms on Internet

You don’t have to be an Internet geek to know how to “get Googled,” according to Kate and Libby Higgins, a mother-daughter team on a mission to help small businesses understand 21st century marketing tools at their fingertips. The pair launched CitySitesInc.com in April of 2008, a website design and Internet marketing company that is also behind the four online business directories JustBurbank.com, JustNorthHollywood.com, JustPasadena.com and JustGlendale.com. The directories offer free and complete listings of all businesses in those areas, as well as free postings announcing everything from garage sales, to store promotions and community events. The company plans to launch JustShermanOaks.com, JustStudioCity.com and JustWestHollywood.com within the coming weeks and has plans to launch seven more sites covering most of the San Fernando Valley by next year. The company will debut its first movie advertising campaign this fall at the Burbank movie theater. “This is about helping small businesses gain the knowledge and the tools of the 21st century to really go over and beyond what they ever thought they could do,” said 29-year-old Libby, who handles the marketing side of the business. Their company hopes to be a one stop shop for businesses’ online marketing needs, also offering educational work shops and consulting as well as web site design and optimization. “We’ve discovered that small businesses in particular are not very savvy still about how to use the Internet,” said Libby who has been incessantly lecturing about Internet tools to groups ranging from therapists associations to the Directors Guild for the past three years. Companies don’t seem to understand that social networking sites like My Space and Facebook are business tools that go way beyond serving as platforms for friends to update each other on what they had for breakfast, or who they went out with last night, she said. Older demographic “It’s not about that anymore. The bottom line is the largest demographic on twitter is between the ages of 30 and 50, and boomers have taken over Facebook. So really, is it about your kid anymore, or is it about business?” The tools out there right now, be it online directories, or Twitter, or Facebook or YouTube, “those things can just change your world!” she added. And the advantages for a small business are huge. “Imagine being a roofer in Burbank, and you have a Twitter account because you’ve been to one of my workshops, and the first thing you do is search ‘my roofer sucks,'” Libby said. “Now you’ve got a list of everybody, real time, who’s saying how much they can’t stand the job that their roofer did, who you can go on and reply back to and say, ‘What did he do wrong? Maybe I can give you a tip? I’d be happy to come and look at it for you.’ Now tell me another tool where you can get some real time customers like that, for free.” CitySitesInc.com customers have begun to catch on. “It’s a different kind of marketing, I’m still getting used to it, but it works” said Randy Wasoff, a chiropractor in Burbank, who hired CitySites Inc. to build and optimize his website. His practice is listed on the JustBurbank directory. Kate and Libby, he said, have helped his business gain online visibility by getting his website first page positioning on Google searches, for example. “I realized a main form of attracting new business is through e-commerce. I’m still very 20th Century, but they’re pulling me through. They’re really my guides to coming into the 21st century.” Kate also designed the website for Andre Paradis’ auto body repair business in North Hollywood, and Libby helped optimize his business’ visibility on the Internet through links with other sites. His business is also listed in the JustNorthHollywood directory. “It’s really amazing. They’ve helped me get access to this entire group of people that I could never reach otherwise, and there’s been a snowball effect,” said Paradis, who attributes a significant uptick in business to Kate and Libby’s work. “Everyone is talking about how the economy is slow, how business is slow, and here I am pulling my hair out- I’m so busy. I’m getting at least one person a day coming in and telling me that they found me online. I don’t really understand how it works, but this whole thing about optimization and key words now I see that it’s not a scam, it’s really the wave of the future.” Especially during this recession, it’s really important for small business professionals to learn everything they can about Internet marketing, because a lot of it is free, Kate said. Going local A web designer for more than 13 years, and a self-proclaimed “techie” Kate first came up with the idea for the local directories out of frustration, while trying to buy a food gift basket for her daughter Libby back when she was in college, and she had trouble finding local vendors. “A lot of it is about going local, we really believe in synergy at the local level, because we’re about building community,” Kate said. Meanwhile, Libby who had worked as a sign language interpreter for seven years, as a dance coach/ performer for three years and as a bartender, was starting to get really interested in the Internet. “I started to get my hands really deep into the Internet sludge and I liked it. Then I couldn’t come out. Even to this day I spend over 40 percent of my time doing research [about Internet trends],” she said. By the time the idea for the directories blossomed and Kate and Libby decided to come together as a business team, Libby had already had five years of experience doing Internet marketing campaigns. “We have different skill sets, but we both have the same drive, and the same bootstrap do it ’cause you can, and why not us, kind of mentality,” said Libby, who calls her mother Kate while at work, as a reminder of their business relationship. But working with her mother has its advantages, she said. “I can be blatantly, painfully, harshfully, horribly young daughter evil honest.”

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