2009 was a strange year. A strange year in general, that is, not just personally for me, our business, anything is particular. Just strange. Challenging, difficult, often times horrific? I’m still looking for the right words. 2009 was an incredible deluge of personal tragedies combined with a tanking economy all the while trying to keep our chins up and heads above water. There were hot-spots of good stuff, no doubt, but in 2009, those were more fleeting than regular. So, two weeks ago, I thought “Oh, crap. It’s time to write to about 2009.” What will it be? My favorite beers? A beer resolution? A beer non-resolution? The ubiquitous list? A round-up? A Top 10? Goals?
Nope, it’s not any of that. What I want to say is this: Thank you, 2009, for being over. This post is not meant to be bitchy, belligerent or ungrateful. I hope it will be honest (and perhaps provide a little free therapy to the girl sitting here in this chair).
For us and many of our friends, 2009 was a year of great personal loss—family, friends, homes, jobs. For us, it was Jason losing his father and mentor. And while Bruisin’ Ales kept chugging along, there’s no denying the fact that we didn’t grow as much as we would have in a good economy, I slacked on the blog, and I suffered a major early (self-inflicted) burnout in our busiest Fall season from the stress of worrying about keeping a small business going. After all, we had big plans for 2009 before it clearly showed signs of potential disaster. Most of them, thankfully, we were able to implement, such as the launch of our new website, our major events like the Dogfish Head Weekend and hosting Allagash’s Rob Tod, and some behind-the-scenes stuff. But still, the fact of the matter is, many things had to be put off until this year, including a re-vamped marketing plan and projects such as the e-comm store. So, here it is. A promise to myself, you and the greater universe.
Don’t stress. Re-address.
The e-comm store is what really laid it all out for me in Fall. In the year where “social media” burst through an old marketing paradigm—and will someone please think of a better term for “social media,” because I am sick of it entirely—I made the announcement we were dipping our toes into e-commerce. I committed a VERY HUGE no-no in marketing: I leaked our own plans. Everyone who knows me personally knows I’m horrible at keeping Christmas presents until Christmas, or even birthday presents for that matter, but I usually can keep my mouth shut when someone tells me to. But I get so excited about things that I could not contain my own information. Basically, I forgot to tell myself to shut the F up. Shortly after announcing e-comm with the relaunch of the new site, it took on a life of its own. Soon, on Facebook and Twitter, this big addition was happening right away. There were mentions we were opening a warehouse in Raleigh, NC; a store in Birmingham, AL; you name it. It spun out of control, even for me (and I’m pretty controlling). Then came the incessant questions for launch date, the constant I-want-to-be-an-affiliate requests, etc. Understand: This was my fault. I mean, we were/are already shipping, and while admittedly, it’s not the best system, we still get the product out there with little or no need for a fully-integrated e-comm store or site. It’s still going to be Jason, myself or Mike calling you and packing boxes. (Now, if e-comm came with robots who work for free…) When we opened, we never even had intentions of shipping beer, it came out of one request for a really great customer in a time where it’s cheaper to ship then spend gas money on a road trip for beer. And so finally, instead of stressing about it, I back-burnered the whole e-comm site for 2009. Why? Because I could. And I had to. It became such a beast that the project itself became unapproachable. We don’t have data-entry nymphs on-hand (they are with the robots somewhere); we are doing this ourselves with the help of Asheville Web, who will implement the project. Our first and foremost loyalty lies to the humble storefront, the home-base of Bruisin’ Ales, the community of Asheville, our local and loyal customers, and those that make beer treks to our fair city. Shipping is not a priority in the great plan, it’s just a super-delicious add-on that happened. We love shipping beer to happy beer people. It’s beerlanthropy, no doubt, but the e-comm is not critical. So, while we’re on the subject: Our goal for launch is first quarter 2010. That is all I can tell you and that is a goal, not a fixed date. Please be patient and we thank you for it. Until then, here is how we ship to you. Whatchu need?
Lesson learned: Big plans and big mouths can lead to big self-inflicted problems.
2010 Goal: Set goals in a way that best serve both customers and ourselves.
Social Media Overload
I joined Facebook over two years ago now. I wasn’t a cool kid from the get-go. I used to make fun of MySpace (sometimes I still do), Friendster, and whatever Friend/Face/Space products were out there. For the record, I often make fun of Facebook, too, but it has been an invaluable tool for the store. I reconnected with many friends, family who had no idea what I had done with my life. There is a sort-of public life that comes with being in front of people daily, and frankly—though probably against all the good graces of Social Media Experts—I don’t care if you see a photo of me making a complete ass of myself. Jason is private; me, not as much. I’m not Mrs. America, a politician hiking the Appalachian Trail of Argentina and I don’t have a PR problem. (Yet. Possibly after this post.) For the first year, my personal page was our business page. It was a mish-mosh of me and Bruisin’ Ales. Only after reaching a whopping 1200+ “friends” at some point last spring, did I realize I had a problem. While I am Bruisin’ Ales, Bruisin’ Ales is not always me. I’m not always drinking beer. I do have other interests. So, we set-up a Facebook Fan Page for Bruisin’ Ales. On Facebook, particularly, it became more of a privacy issue. I get more friend requests from more people than I ever know in real life. These days, my “friend” list hovers around 800 +/- and I clean it about once a month. It’s actually due for a cleaning. If I don’t know you, haven’t done business with you, or you’re not an industry person I need to contact, I won’t accept your friend request. It’s not personal. If you like Bruisin’ Ales, I thank you greatly, and please go be a fan of our page, which is an extension of our blog.
While anyone who follows me on Twitter (@bruisinales) knows how I love, love, love the Twitter, it can be overwhelming. After our initial foray (at the coaxing of our web team) to try this micro-blogging thing, I fell in love. Blogging took time, Twitter was easy. I could keep up with more people quicker and easier than I could ever do with one blog post. We were lucky. It took off for us, but I put a ton of time into it at the start, which paid off immensely. I don’t “tweet” about beer constantly. Half the time, I’m tweeting about crap you don’t even care about. Hell, half the time it’s crap I don’t even care about. But I try to keep it fun and mixed. If anything, the Bruisin’ Ales Twitter feed is an extension of us, not a separate entity unto itself. (In that way, I treat it totally different than Facebook.) Then, the pressure came: Klout (I’m a “persona”), TwitterAnalyzer, other things that “measure” your value on Twitter. Then, we snagged a couple local blogger/Twitter awards (for which, we are extremely grateful). Ack, the pressure! For about two weeks, I started stressing—again—because in my mind this was a reputation to be upheld. Then I realized I didn’t care. Or perhaps a better way of actively putting it to words: I needed to be unaffected by it. Cool, yes. Interesting, yes. Important, not really. But, yes, you will still see me out and about, Blackberry firmly planted in palm. Soon to be bionic, we can only hope.
The blog is still a work in progress. While back in the day, it was the first thing I did every morning, I eventually realized it’s a lot better to post less frequently with interesting content¹ than it is to post daily with regurgitated stuff from other people. Summaries are helpful and I know some of you enjoy them—and they will continue occasionally—but there are plenty of sites like BeerNews.org that do that already and much, much better than me. Simply put, some days I have no blog ideas; there is nothing to say; or if there is, I censor myself from saying it. So, our website hits are down a little in the second half of 2009. Oh, god, no! I must fix that! Truthfully, no. I’m cool with it. My readers read when I write. If they miss it because I’m less frequent than I used to be, perhaps they’ll catch it on a cross-post with our Facebook Page or Twitter. I mean, that’s how this crap works, right?
AddThis. Oh, AddThis, my love/hate relationship with you knows no boundaries. When we first added the little “share” button to each blog post, it just looked cool. Frankly, I don’t even know what the hell half of those things are and who is sharing them. So, we kept it, but added a simple ReTweet button. (Which, yes, I know I made disappear yesterday when I updated WordPress.) I like to stick with easy things. Easy is good. YouTube, I hardly watch you and everyone has a YouTube Channel, right? Perhaps I’m losing market share, or maybe I’m old and out of touch, but I’m not that much interested in being on video myself outside of others video casts. (Ask my mother. I didn’t even want a videographer for our wedding. Ten years ago.) Comments, you make me nuts. I hardly read you. (Except for the Citizen-Times comments, because those borderline on insane half the time and provide endless entertainment, which is a sort-of case study to my reasoning.) We’ve never had comments open on the blog—except once, just recently—and I don’t want them open. It’s not that I don’t care what people have to say, it’s that we’re not a forum. We’re busy selling beer, not moderating our comments. You can comment all you want over on the Facebook Page. Go nuts. Hell, you can comment on me not letting you comment! Boo-yah! And geo-tagging, Foursquare. This I will never understand. I can fully explore my city without Foursquare’s help. Pretty sure I can do it in others, too. And if I want you to know where I am, I will let you know myself. I don’t need to have my GPS location tagged in my Twitter profile. I don’t need to “check-in” unless it’s vacation, which I need desperately. I don’t want to be the mayor of anything. Except maybe BeerCity, USA.
Summary: Social media is great. Truly, it is fun to watch it evolve. It’s fascinating stuff for a marketing girl like me. But without really being social, without really meeting followers on Twitter—and we always encourage you to introduce yourself when you’re in-store—the whole entire purpose is defeated. It’s a great reaching out point, but without the actual social contact, you got nothing. So, we’ll see you out and about in beer land.
Lesson Learned: Ratings, numbers and statistics are overrated. There are no social media rules. Do what works.
2010 Goal: Fight off web/social media armies that will argue with me over these statements. But argue with them in a public social setting.
Back to Basics
My main point of all of this is Bruisin’ Ales is going to back to basics and moving forward at a pace we can live with. We moved here to simplify our lives, get out of the corporate wrangling, and actually get to spend some time together. We just want to sell great beer. So far so good. We’re a married couple running a business and have so far survived, thrived, and made a little, tiny dream come true. The rest will wait and evolve in due time. We thank you for success we never anticipated so quickly. Cheers to 2010!
Lesson Learned: What is good for you, is not necessarily good for the business. What is good for the business, is not necessarily good for you.
2010: Balance. Keep on keeping on, but don’t lose site of what matters. And that, of course, is the beer. And you guys.
“There are too many ideas and things and people. Too many directions to go. I was starting to believe the reason it matters to care passionately about something, is that it whittles the world down to a more manageable size.” —Susan Orlean, Adaptation. (2002)
¹ This blog post may or may not fall into the interesting category.