Sunday, January 2, 2011

BucksMontStyle: a Community-Building Resource for Suburban Moms.

This post comes from Temple University journalism student Julie Achilles:

When the recession hit in early 2009, Jessica Cohen found herself like many other freelance writers: jobless.

Cohen had made a living for years by freelancing full-time in Manhattan, working for a parenting magazine and doing demographic and advertising research.

When the slow dribble of work came to a halt, Cohen, now a Bucks County resident and mother of two, realized she was only half-heartedly sending out resumes for a new career.

She decided to turn her attention to a personal project, a website she envisioned as a niche resource for local mothers seeking advice, news and information on family-friendly events.

“I think I can do this,” Cohen said, remembering her moment of enlightenment. “I didn’t sleep for five days, learning how to create a host and talking to web designers.”

By the following week, an alpha version of was up and running. Cohen started the solo project by working 40 to 50 hours on the website, writing articles and lifting content from free resources online.

“I wasn’t a person who had a plan,” she said, admitting that her start-up involved some trial and error. “I wasn’t an entrepreneur.”

But she used the project as a learning experience, expanding her journalistic skill set to include business and website management.

Despite her background in magazines, Cohen never considered starting one. She said she preferred the web for its ability to be updated and changed frequently.

And the relatively low overhead didn’t hurt either.

Cohen’s start-up only cost between $3,000 and $4,000, a price that a magazine could easily have doubled or even tripled.

She also considered the fact that her target audience of young moms and professional women are good recommenders, always on-the-go and increasingly tech-savvy. A website would be ideal.

She began to develop partnerships with women in her targeted demographic – a demographic that she, as a new mom, was conveniently in as well.

One place she started was the Women’s Business Forum (WBF) of Bucks County, a free networking group and incubator for local businesses.

Cohen met Kristie Finnan, a fellow Bucks County mom and children’s book author, at a WBF Ideas Expo in the spring of 2009, soon after BucksMontMom had launched.

The two shared a similar interest in building a resource for mothers in the community, and rather than compete, decided to partner up, split the work in half, and reach a broader audience.

Together, they began to build a brand, Company Mom LLC, which encompassed a few different projects, including BucksMontMom and Finnan’s lifestyle and money-saving site, Suburbia Style.

“We complement each other very well,” Cohen said, describing the dynamic.

Although both women do everything from writing stories to advertising, Cohen and her husband concentrate on the business and marketing side of the website, while Finnan develops a good deal of the content.

Finnan has also been a source of confidence for Cohen, who admittedly finds it challenging to self-promote on a regular basis.

“It’s not in my second nature to self-promote, and it almost seems like I’m being egotistical,” Cohen said. “When I worked for a corporation it wasn’t a problem!”

“But if you don’t pat yourself on the back, no one else will,” added Finnan.

During the summer, Cohen and Finnan started a new branding campaign and renamed the site By doing so, they worked at the opportunity to expand content and appeal to a broader audience of families, and not just new moms.

“We wanted a site we could grow with,” Finnan said. “We’re young moms now but our kids
are going to get older.”

The site now offers local news and weather feeds that update each day, in addition to a packed events calendar, and new articles that Cohen and Finnan write at least twice a week.

A recently posted consumer news article takes a look at ways to avoid “pinkwashing” during National Breast Cancer Awareness Month in October, and suggests which campaign items to purchase that will make a valuable impact in the community.

An article written in early September brings up the important topic of sex predators living near school bus stops and whether or not Megan’s Law has taken enough effect in local communities.

Over the summer, a series of stories focused specifically on local “mom-preneurs,” highlighting their growing businesses in the area.

If you’re a parent living in the Greater Philadelphia area, Cohen makes sure there’s an article to pique your interest.

Pat Achilles, a Bucks County freelance illustrator and patron of Cohen’s site, said she especially likes the tab offering advice from local experts on a variety of subjects from child care, to home office organization, to real estate.

“I haven’t seen that resource offered anywhere else,” Achilles said.

As a children’s book artist, Achilles said she is also impressed with the reviews section of BucksMontStyle.

“I’d certainly appreciate a review by someone in my age group, local authors and moms who can give you that camaraderie, who have the same interests as you.”

All active members of the WBF, Cohen, Finnan and Achilles have seen positive growth in their businesses by offering short elevator pitches at the beginning of every monthly meeting.

Through continued networking, Cohen and Finnan have also met with small business owners in the community to learn about their target markets, missions and the kind of partnerships they’d like to form.

These local partnerships turned into advertising dollars a few months after the website first launched. Initially, Cohen said the money “trickled in,” and was slow to pay back the start-up of the business.

Today, advertising dollars not only cover the cost of the website but also provide a small profit for Cohen and Finnan.

Yet they said the project’s main goal isn’t strictly about money. According to Cohen, BucksMontMom was originally more of a learning experiment, and if it happened to make money, then it would be all the more successful.

BucksMontStyle currently offers a variety of advertising options including a premium leaderboard on the site, sidebar buttons, category sponsorship, off-site opportunities, event promotions or inclusion under the “local expert” or “house party and vendor listing” tabs.

“The actual layout of the ads on the site is nice,” Achilles said, considering taking out an ad of her own to promote her illustration business. “They aren’t overpowering, and I do think users would be compelled to click.”

Although advertising is increasing, Cohen said she wants to stay local and find creative ways to get moms and businesses on board.

Sending out frequent updates via social media has proven to be one of the most popular tactics. BucksMontStyle has 194 “likes” on Facebook, and a solid patronage of 798 followers on Twitter.

Recently, BucksMontStyle also partnered up with NBC 10’s Tracy Davidson to offer “Mom Saving Tips,” on the newscast’s consumer segment every Wednesday.

One of Cohen’s most important missions is aligning BucksMontStyle with local non-profit organizations to get the word out and support a good cause by offering a portion of each event’s proceeds to charity.

A “Pay it Forward,” tab on her site offers a lengthy list of these local groups, many of which she’s worked with herself.

One recent fundraising event offered advice and networking opportunities for unemployed women looking to re-enter the workforce.

Another ongoing BucksMontStyle-sponsored promotion asks readers to donate their unused coupons to American troops at the Incirlik Air Base in Turkey, where families can use them to purchase goods at the Commissaries and Post Exchanges.

Even fun events have a purpose in expanding business.

To meet her readership and work to maintain existing relationships, Cohen hosted the first annual Girl’s Night Out in September at Wellness Solution Centers in Newtown, Pa. The evening offered free giveaways, hors d’oeuvres, wine and a chat with local female physicians.

Personal gatherings like these help Cohen overcome one of her biggest business hurdles.

“The challenge is getting people to access the site repeatedly,” she said, indicating that the more women who become involved off the site will continue to sign on.

Today, BucksMontStyle continues to grow from the passion and dedication of both women.
Since starting, Cohen has been forced to scale down her work time on the website, but still puts in about 25 hours a week.

On a daily basis she can be found writing new posts, pitching proposals for potential clients, attending meetings and editing comments on the site.
Likewise, Finnan said she blogs well into the night after putting her three kids to bed.

“I’ve met some amazing local business owners and I’ve learned a ton,” Cohen said. “When you’re self-taught, you can really see your progress and see it come together.”

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