[by Chris Sheehy]
Do you remember the days when people gathered on sidewalks in front of their houses or would stop each other on the sidewalk in front of a local business on Main Street just to chat about what was going on?
Having grown up in a small Connecticut town – I sure do.
As a kid, I remember walking down the sidewalks in my neighborhood (header image – but in better times) with my Grandfather and the frequent interruptions by neighbors & friends – from the corner store to the end of the block – calling out “Hey Johnny!” with a question. These callouts were common, no matter where we went in town. Everyone knew my Gramps, and everyone knew he would have a good answer for them.
And what I remember most about that local sidewalk talk is how it was often about the things in life – where to go for a good lunch, who had the best porchetta for Sunday’s family supper (it’s an Italian thing), what insurance agent to use, or where to get your car fixed.
“Sidewalk Branding” Comes from These Memories – My Grandfather Was “The Google” Of My Youth.
“Word-Of-Mouth-Marketing” is what it came to be known as – it was a precursor to asking a search engine for answers. Now fast-forward just one generation, and we find “Google it,” SEO, Instagram, website design, #hashtags, and Facebook, not just jargon for forward-thinking businesses and techies, but common household words you likely hear throughout your day.
Times they are a-changin’ – and what got businesses where they are today is not guaranteed to get them where they want to be tomorrow. Today’s businesses need more than a simple sidewalk-talk marketing strategy. Local businesses need to promote and market their businesses locally, so they are discovered by the right local people searching for their products and services. This is what we do – and it’s all we do…
I am frequently asked how I got started in this industry, and nearly everyone is surprised to learn that, while I did take computers in high school and college (DOS programming), I didn’t intend to become a search engine specialist – not by a long shot.
Truth is, I came home one day to tell my wife I had quit my corporate job to go-it-alone with my first business. Looking back, her reaction wasn’t what I had envisioned, but she has always been my biggest supporter, and I wouldn’t be where I am today without her.
That was in the late 90s, and like any other bootstrap entrepreneur, I had a dream, tons of ambition, but little money to back up my plans. So, I hit the facsimile machine (aka: “the fax”) to promote my new business! Yep, that’s how we did it back then. Shortly after, during the dot.com boom days, I built a website to promote my startup. In no time, I also had a newsletter and a weblog (that’s what blogs were called before they were cool) and was creating and optimizing content like crazy.
Before I knew it, my website was nominated for an industry award, and I was booking clients with this new thing called the “World Wide Web.” And then – Google entered the market. Ranking & SEO quickly became an obsession of mine and a passion that I enjoy to this day.
When I tell business owners, I know how difficult and complicated promoting a business is and understand where they are coming from – I mean it, and I have the experience in failures and successes earned on my dime, along with hard-credentials to back it up. It’s this experience that differentiates me and my company. And as with any industry – experience pays dividends.
My first business lasted several good years, until I was made an offer, I couldn’t refuse, from the company that made the software I was using. I spent a few years in that corporate environment until my division was sold off. But before HR could schedule an exit interview, I was recruited by one of their partners. That was a super gig that lasted for another few good years until I was told the board of directors wanted me at corporate, where they had a nice office for me on hold. Don’t get me wrong, I love the Midwest – but that was not a good fit for my family – so I took a pass on the offer.
So, as I had done before, I came home from my day job to announce to my wife that I had quit my corporate job (again) to go-it-alone with a new business venture. I built a website, opened a blog (they were cool now), and started racking up publishings, awards, and recognition. The year was 2009 – and Sidewalk Branding Co. is still going strong…
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