This article was originally published in the Fort Bragg Advocate-News.
This is the first article in our new Mendo Coast Biz column, focusing on the successes and challenges of Mendocino Coast businesses. We’ll interview local business owners, discuss best practices for businesses, and provide marketing tips. Readers’ comments and suggestions are welcome and will be answered as time and space permits.
Currently, business conditions on the Mendocino Coast are good, especially compared to a few years ago. However, housing costs and employee retention have been identified as limiting economic growth in Mendocino County according to two grant-funded surveys presented to the Mendocino County Board of Supervisors in July 2018.
To mitigate the lack of available and affordable housing, the City of Fort Bragg is encouraging homeowners to build second (“granny”) units and make them available to local renters rather than rent to tourists via Airbnb and other online marketplaces. The City bans vacation home rentals in residential neighborhoods and allows just a few units downtown.
In 2017, county supervisors passed a 45-day ban preventing new rentals of 30 days or less in separate or accessory units. Once the ban expired, however, the County decided to postpone any regulations rather than act immediately. Supervisors Gjerde and McCowen felt that the problem was big enough to merit a ban, but Hamburg, Brown and Croskey voted against it. McCowen warned that this “made the problem worse.”
The reality is that many property owners on the coast find it hard to say “no” to extra money by renting to vacationers rather than locals. At a recent Fort Bragg Guild breakfast, I overheard conversations among several patrons detailing the profits and benefits of short-term rentals with lip service being paid to the dire need of housing for local wage-earners.
Employee retention, however, is something that businesses could start working on right now. To keep employees happy and working efficiently, business owners need to provide regular pay increases, train employees how to work efficiently, allow some flexibility in scheduling, and encourage them to improve their skills. Keep in mind that loyalty goes both ways, and workers who are happy with their employers generate good publicity for them.
Specific Coast Needs
Businesses on the Mendocino Coast have certain concerns that aren’t always addressed by Ukiah-based Mendocino County even though they contribute a significant amount of revenue to county coffers. Research conducted by the County and Economic Development and Financing Corporation (EDFC) encompassed businesses in the entire county.
To focus specifically on local businesses, Coast Women in Business conducted a brief survey in the first days of 2019. Thirty-five respondents filled out the online form, which was open to the public and promoted on social media. Key results included:
- Type of business: Three-quarters of respondents said they ran a service or coaching/consulting business. Two-thirds worked alone (without employees).
- Business longevity: More than 80 percent of respondents had been in business over 10 years.
- Online presence: 80 percent had websites.
- Bookkeeping/accounting: Two-thirds of respondents said they used a financial services product (e.g., QuickBooks, QuickBooks Online, or Quicken), but nearly a quarter used no accounting software at all.
- Professional business associations: 14 percent of survey respondents were Coast Women in Business members. However, one-fourth didn’t belong to any networking group or professional association.
- Biggest business needs: More than one-third of respondents said that, other than increased revenue, their biggest business need was marketing (or getting more clients). One-sixth said they had staffing or worker-related issues.
Clearly, we need more in-person or web-based workshops that teach marketing, financial and technical skill-sets as well as to encourage participation in community organizations. Coast entrepreneurs also need to consider implementing best practices for their businesses in order to become more efficient, maintain quality, reduce costs, develop new markets and increase sales.
Techniques that have been proven – through experience and research – to reliably lead to desired results, best practices can be based on self-assessment or benchmarking (evaluating against a standard or similar “best-in-class” business). By committing to best practices, you’ll provide clear expectations of your workers, support your team, and encourage feedback and recognition. You’ll also give workers the opportunity to use their skills, encourage them to contribute ideas and get involved in decisions, facilitate learning and development, and create a great workplace.
In future articles, I’ll spotlight best practices that successful businesses on the coast are practicing to serve as examples and inspiration.
Business Resources on the Coast
The following are local resources that focus on supporting economic development on the coast.
- City of Fort Bragg
- Coast Women in Business
- Mendocino Coast Chamber of Commerce
- Rotary Club – Fort Bragg
- Rotary Club – Mendocino
- West Business Development Center
Are there other local resources that you’ve used to grow your business? Please share so we can all benefit by learning from each other.
Marinela Miclea runs Mendo Digital, a local resource for SEO, eCommerce, social media, and website optimization. Comments are welcome at firstname.lastname@example.org.