Just Ask Audrey

Midway District Manager Audrey Piacsek has taken over our 'Just Ask' column! For those times when you want to reach out for hope, answers and connection, “Just Ask Audrey”. If you have a question large, small, or inconsequential about small business/business district, email audrey@ventureportland.org with the subject line “Just Ask Audrey”. Audrey will do their best to answer questions in a timely manner.

March 24, 2023

Dear Audrey,

I’ve heard that small businesses and organizations need to use TikTok for marketing. Is it really useful? I’m not sure how to start making videos or what to put in my videos. Tips are appreciated!

TikTok Turned Around

Dear Turned Around,

TikTok and short-form videos in general (think Instagram Reels and YouTube Shorts) have taken over social media in the last few years. If you’re marketing your business or cause online it’s a good idea to pay attention to popular formats. Try it out and decide for yourself whether it’s worth your time!

Why try TikTok? Venture Portland hosted a webinar on this topic with Carmen Paradise, Social Media Manager at Travel Portland. She let us know many people use TikTok as a search engine: they look for products via social media to see what’s popular. The demographics also don’t skew as young as you might think—a large share of TikTok users are women over 35.

Let’s get started! Your first step is to download the app and make an account. Here’s a link to some step-by-step instructions for creating a business account and filling out your profile. Once you’re set up, it’s time to start making videos! Some popular video formats include:

  • Showing a process: Whether you hand-make your products, set up displays, or package orders, viewers like to go behind the scenes. Have someone film you for a few seconds at each stage to show your entire process.
  • Location tour: Take your camera on a walk around your district, tour your new seasonal displays, or take viewers around your workshop.
  • Challenges: If you have a large team, ask everyone to participate in a video together. Google trending challenge ideas or scroll through the app yourself until you see one you like.

TikTok has built-in video editing tools, but if you’re new to the game it can be confusing and overwhelming. This video is a great intro to the app’s layout and shows you how to make videos within TikTok. You can also use other video editing software and upload your videos. A good rule of thumb is to keep videos between 15 seconds and 1 minute.

As useful and fun as TikTok can be, don’t do anything you’re not comfortable with. Use the app’s text-to-voice feature to avoid putting your real face or voice online, and make a schedule to manage your time on TikTok. Social media can be fun, but it’s okay to have boundaries! And as always, if you have a question, just ask Audrey!

March 10, 2023

Dear Audrey,

I’m part-owner of my business and also do volunteer work. There’s been much discussion in the last few years about increasing diversity in the groups where I volunteer, but it feels like people often bring up the issue without really moving forward. Do you have advice on how to take concrete steps toward better inclusion?

Wanting to Serve our City

Dear WSC,

You’re right that talk doesn’t replace action, and while there is no one-size-fits-all answer, here are a few ideas to get you started on the road to collaborative, inclusive leadership!

It may seem obvious, but the most essential way to connect with people who aren’t represented in your organization is simply to reach out! Nothing replaces genuine connection and relationships built over time. Attend public events in your area, introduce yourself to other community leaders, and invite them to your meetings. Make a goal to stop by local businesses owned by people of color, LGBTQ people, or members of other marginalized groups, and again—introduce yourself! Connections will build naturally if you take the first step.

Ask yourself why you want to bring in marginalized voices, and make sure it’s not just a box to tick. New people bring diverse ideas, new opinions, and possibly major changes to your organization. Take the time to learn what “diversity” and “equity” mean in practice. TED talks are an accessible place to start (see TED recommendations here), and librarians at your local branch can help you find more resources.

Once you have some clear goals, share them with your business or group to ensure you’re all on the same page. Come up with ideas to accomplish your goals together and put everything down in writing. Equity is all about collaboration, and it’s helpful to have written reminders.

I’ve only scratched the surface, and the most important advice will come from your peers and friends who are members of marginalized groups. I hope I’ve given you the confidence to start building better inclusion— by recognizing the need for change, you’ve already taken the first step! And remember, if you have a question—Just Ask Audrey!

March 3, 2023

Dear Audrey,

I’m a board member for one of the business associations, and I’d like to revamp our newsletter. We used to put one out quarterly, but about a year ago we stopped. I would like it to not take up too much time. What’s the best way for me to tackle this project?


Dear Newsie,

A newsletter is a great idea! I’m glad you’re able to take it on for your district. There’s a perception that writing a regular newsletter is a lot of work or takes up your time, but in fact, you can put together a solid piece in an hour or so.

The first step is to figure out your format. When it comes to email, you’ll want to invest in an email marketing service if you don’t already have one. My district uses Mailchimp, which has a fairly comprehensive free plan. MailerLite is another recommended service for small organizations and is free up to 1,000 subscribers. Ultimately, you should research the best company for your needs and budget. While email is the main mode of communication these days, you should also consider printing a few copies. Leaving a stack of newsletters in your office or another central location can help you reach new people who might be interested.

Another step before you start writing is to clean up your mailing list. Use the features of your marketing service to track when people were added and why. Is your list mainly members, or residents? Do you still have subscribers from years ago who are no longer active? This will help you target your newsletters to the people who read and engage with them.

Finally, on to the writing! It can seem daunting, but you’ll get the hang of it quickly. Visuals are important to hold your audience’s attention, so be colorful and use lots of photos! It’s always worth taking photos at events, businesses you visit, even meetings (but ask permission and don’t include strangers’ faces if they didn’t consent to being posted online). Don’t worry about your writing being perfect. Be concise and use bullet points or subheadings to break it up visually. If your board uses social media, you can reuse captions, graphics, and photos—just edit them slightly to match your audience.

You’ve got this, Newsie! And remember, if you have a question, Just Ask Audrey!

February 24, 2023

Venture Portland recently hosted a great webinar on grants and financial support with our partner Prosper Portland (watch the recording on our YouTube page) so this week I’m taking a break from my usual format to let you know about local financial resources for your business!

Prosper Portland is an agency of the City of Portland dedicated to supporting and growing our economy. They work together with partners to provide a wide range of support, and their Portland Small Business Hub is a great place to start. This program links business owners with one-on-one advisors who can help you navigate grants, loans, and savings options.

Micro Enterprise Services of Oregon (MESO) offers similar advising as well as their own grants and workshops. Their next information session is on March 6th, 2023– sign up here to learn more. If you’re looking for longer-term support for little to no cost, try Livelihood NW. Both organizations prioritize people of color and women for their programs but are open to all small business owners and entrepreneurs!

If you need funding for a specific project, there are many smaller grants out there as well! Prosper Portland’s Prosperity Investment Program and Local Small Business Repair Grants allow tenant businesses to make property improvements and recover from vandalism. The Portland Clean Energy Community Benefits Fund (PCEF) distributes City of Portland funds to invest in a green economy. By working with a local nonprofit, you can apply for mini-grants to beautify your street with trees or fund an intern at your business.

This is just a snapshot of current grants and resources, not an exhaustive list. For more opportunities, check out Venture Portland’s Small Business Grants page. If you aren’t prepared to apply right now or don’t see any programs that work for you, check back monthly to stay updated on new opportunities. These groups also repost outside grants to their social media pages, and your local business association may have other resources that apply to you!

Enjoy the snow… and if you’ve got a problem, Just Ask Audrey!

February 16, 2023

Dear Audrey,

Do you have any ideas for bringing customers back a second time? I’ve worked on building our social media since we opened a year ago, and recently we’ve had a breakthrough and some new customers are finding us! But I want to make sure I can keep them coming back!

On a Roll in NE Portland

Dear OAR,

Last week I talked about expanding your audience, but it’s just as important to retain loyal customers. The good news: it’s easier to retain customers than recruit new ones. Someone who’s tried your business is already in your target demographic. After all, something brought them to you in the first place. They’re interested in your products, agree with your mission, or maybe live nearby. That said, you still need to put in effort to make sure their experience is worth repeating.

A rewards program is an easy but effective idea to incentivize customer loyalty. Programs can be set up with some POS systems such as Square, or you can go old-school and print out some customized punch cards. Design your rewards system to have clear and attainable benefits. For example, a 10-purchase punch card at a coffee shop or 15% off after spending $500 at a furniture store. Consider having multiple rewards at different levels, so big spenders and customers on a budget can both see benefits.

Consider putting together a monthly newsletter to make sure your interested customers know what’s happening. You can easily compile social media posts and write a short description of your upcoming sales and events into an effective newsletter. As an incentive, offer exclusive deals to customers who sign up. Make sure that your subscribers are intentional, however—no one likes unwanted emails!

Last but not least, ensure that every customer has a great experience. Customer service is always important, even when you’re interacting on social media or over email, so try to be prompt and responsive on all channels. You don’t have to accept abuse or trolling, but at least one good-faith reply or offer is usually appreciated and might turn an upset customer into a grateful one.

And remember, if you have a problem, Just Ask Audrey!

February 10, 2023

Dear Audrey,

I’m part owner of a coffee shop and we have been struggling to recover from the COVID slowdown. We’ve raised prices (also due to overhead costs increasing), but we want to stay affordable and at the end of the day we have fewer customers coming through the door. What can we do to increase business so we don’t have to raise our prices through the roof?

At A Loss

Dear AAL,

It’s frustrating to see your hard work and delicious products be overlooked! Here are some tips to stand out and build a strong customer base.

Special events are an effective way to bring new faces into your space. Even if they just pop in for an event, they may end up buying something—and the next time they’re craving a coffee, you’ll be on their radar. An open mic, karaoke, or poetry slam can help you tap into new groups of customers and establish your business as a neighborhood hangout. If you need tech support, rent audio equipment (and a team to help you set up) from a local business like Rose City Sound. Reach out to your local business association as well– they would love to host a mixer, tour, or other district event in your space. Find your business association using Venture Portland’s map tool. If membership fees are a barrier, you should still let them know that you’d like to join! They may be able to find a sponsor or take an in-kind donation instead.

Consistency is key: new customers turn into regulars when you become part of their routine. Hosting events regularly and maintaining a public calendar allows people to plan ahead. Weekly specials can be consistent while still inviting some variety, like a “two-for-one Tuesday” with different drink and cookie combos. Keep tabs on your traffic and ask for feedback to make sure your schedule works for your customers.

If you’re struggling to think of new ideas, go personal. People like products that feel relatable and appeal to their interests. Put together a playlist of popular songs paired with a drink or food item or post a “staff pick of the day” with a picture and short blurb about your staff. Fun promotions like these are great material for social media, and don’t forget to tag or send them to your business association so they can give you an extra boost! For more tips on social media, read my column from January further down this page.

And remember, if you’ve got a problem, just ask Audrey!

February 2, 2023

Dear Audrey,

Since 2020, many elements of my job have moved online, and while it’s nice to be able to start my day at home, I’ve found it harder to draw the line between work and free time. What can I do to be more productive while working at home?


Remote and Distressed

Dear RAD,

Ah, working from home: you get to ditch the commute, stay in your pajamas, and put on whatever music you like. That’s great! Right? Working remotely isn’t a new idea, but it’s become much more common in the last few years– and not everyone has an easy transition. Some amount of structure is necessary to be productive, and when you don’t have a traditional workplace it’s up to you to create that structure.

Setting boundaries is a great tool in this situation. A basic example is to create a schedule that reflects your “normal” work hours and hold yourself to it. Starting and ending your workday at roughly the same time every day will help you draw that line between work and free time. Some ways to enforce this boundary are setting alarms or calendar reminders for yourself and setting up an after-hours email response to let others know your schedule.

Habit is the remote worker’s best friend… and sometimes your worst enemy. Structuring your time will give you a framework for building good habits and breaking the ones that hold you back. Start your day off in a productive mindset by eating, showering if you’d like, and dressing for the day before you sit down to work. Hunger makes it hard to focus and brings down your mood, and staying in your PJs all day blurs the boundary you’re trying to set. Finding a specific study area can help as well, whether that’s in your house or at a local coffee shop. The more you can differentiate “work” and “not-work” with things like clothes and setting, the more you can trick your brain into drawing that boundary for you. This helps you be productive at work, and also allows you to relax when you’re off the clock.

You got this, Remote Worker! Don’t be too hard on yourself, and reach out if you’re having a hard time working alone– your co-workers are likely feeling the same way.

And remember, if you’ve got a problem, Just Ask Audrey!

January 26, 2023

Dear Audrey,
I am opening a second retail location and looking to hire several positions, including customer service and an accounting position. I’m a little overwhelmed by all the online job sites and different places to advertise them. How do I decide what to use?

Hiring can be a complicated process for both applicants and employers. It makes sense to feel overwhelmed at the beginning, especially if you’re hiring for several positions at once. If you break it down into manageable steps and prepare for each step before you take it, you can make all the necessary decisions with confidence.

It’s helpful to begin with specific goals that can guide you throughout the hiring process. Read through the job description closely.  Begin writing a few notes on how you will measure candidates’ important qualities in resumes and interviews. What is an absolute must-have? Are there any red flags, or qualities that will disqualify someone for the position? Think holistically about your company and the work environment. What qualities are important in a co-worker or employee? Oregon has certain requirements for job listings (read them here), so it’s wise to double check your listing before posting it.

Nowadays, online job boards are a go-to for jobseekers. Before you post your position online, research the best website to fit your job openings. There are advantages to large job sites, such as ZipRecruiter, Glassdoor, LinkedIn, and Indeed: these sites have search filters for both employers and jobseekers, which helps you pull the best matches from their large applicant pools. However, the popularity of these sites can also be a drawback– it’s easy to get lost in the noise on a large platform. For jobs with specific qualifications, like your accounting position, specialized job boards are a good option. One example is UpWork, which focuses on professions like IT, marketing, and accounting. Another is Diversity Jobs, which prioritizes candidates from under-served backgrounds and helps employers reduce bias in the hiring process.

Another way to tailor your search is by using local Portland job boards. PDX Pipeline has a website, social media, and newsletter that showcase Portland events and job opportunities. Listings are free, but you can pay for a special feature and promotion as well. The Immigrant and Refugee Community Organization (IRCO) is a local group that connects jobseekers from these communities with employers. They offer a free job board and internship recruitment.

Keeping your budget in mind is important: many sites charge for their services and the fees can add up quickly. For example, ZipRecruiter’s basic rate is $16 per job per day, or a flat $300 per month. For a small company it’s worth looking into free job sites, although you might sacrifice features like promoted listings or the ability to post multiple jobs. This list of recommended free job sites from Forbes Advisor can help you weigh the pros and cons.

Once you’ve chosen the best way to spread the word and posted your job listing, congrats! You’re done with that step! No part of hiring is easy, but if you’ve done your research and put some thought into it, you’ll feel good about each decision along the way.

January 19, 2023

Dear Audrey,
I started my business about a year ago, and I have been trying to promote it on social media, but I don’t feel like I’ve ‘cracked the code’. I don’t usually get many ‘likes’ and I’m not sure what I’m doing right or wrong. Is it worth my time to keep trying? What can I do to gain more followers?

Social media is the new frontier for advertising, and as a small business owner—especially if you haven’t spent much time online before– it can feel overwhelming. Don’t worry! With practice, time, and a few insights into the social media game, anyone can build a following.

The first step is to evaluate what you want to gain from social media. Who are you trying to reach? Are you looking to gain new customers, connect with current ones, or just maintain your brand? How much time do you want to spend on social media? Can anyone at your business help you? It’s important to set goals and boundaries to minimize the stress and help you spend your online time wisely.

Social media sites are tools, and it’s important to choose the best toolkit. You don’t need an account on every single platform, so start small with just one or two. Instagram is one of the most popular for businesses—it’s all about images, so Instagram is great if you’re selling physical products that you can show off. Facebook offers a lot of variety for posting, including event pages and quick sharing options. Twitter is best for short updates and announcements. TikTok allows videos only and requires a little more effort and planning, although it can pay off. For more info on video content, check out our recorded webinar.

Once you’ve set up an account or two, I recommend creating a schedule for yourself. Build in 10 or 15 minutes each day to add a quick post. Make it even easier by taking several nice photos of your products on Monday and posting one per day for the rest of the week. Many sites have an “algorithm”, or a set of instructions that influence which posts the users see, so keep your account relevant by posting often. Don’t be afraid to post the same thing twice over a few days, especially if you’re announcing an event or special sale! New people are likely to see it the second time.

Now that you have a schedule and a plan, here are some quick tips to make your posts stand out!

  • People respond to photos and videos, so try to include one with each post. Being able to see your products and your physical store (if you have one) brings your business out of the virtual space and sticks in your followers’ minds.
  • Bring in your personality! Show off your business’ seasonal decorations, share some backstory to your new products, and post photos of people having fun at your events!
  • When showing faces online (i.e. customers or coworkers), it’s best to ask permission before posting. Not everyone wants their photo up in public. For kids, ask both them and their parents.
  • Go behind the scenes! People like a peek behind the curtain, and they’ll feel more connected to you and your business. Try a video of you making soap, trying a new menu item, redecorating your store, etc.
  • If you’re not comfortable being on camera, that’s fine! Ask employees or friends to host a video, or film your product displays and put pleasant, copyright-free music in the background.

And the most important tip of all: social media may be taking over the world, but it’s not the end of the world. Even if you don’t have as many followers as you’d like, it can still be worth a little time each day or week to connect with your customers.

If you’d like more in-depth tutorials on social media, check out Venture Portland’s recorded webinars at http://ventureportland.org/member-center/training/!