Are You and Your Business Ready for Storm Season?

As you know we are already a month and a half into Hurricane Season, as it started June 1st and lasts until November 30, but it is never too late get yourself and your business ready. Last year, some of us on the Suncoast learned lessons the hard way with unpredictable weather patterns from Hurricanes Harvey and Irma that threatened our homes and businesses. Thank you to Florida Power & Light Company (FPL) for creating a plan for the community & businesses to prepare.

Sarasota County FPL skinny

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Tropical weather in the state of Florida is a way of life. The Sunshine State leads the nation in landfalling hurricanes with nearly 120 – almost double that of Texas, which ranks second on the infamous list. Properly preparing for hurricane season now can save you and your employees’ unwanted stress when a storm has its eyes set on the state. The key is having a plan in place for when that time comes. Here are some tips to help get you going.

Plan ahead:

  • Ensure your employees’ contact information is up to date.
  • Have a plan in place to communicate after the storm passes, e.g. set up a telephone number with a recorded message that will be regularly updated to inform employees of the status of company operations.
  • Consider developing a system to authorize re-entry to company facilities after a storm, e.g. I.D. cards and vehicle permits.
  • Establish a safe area away from exterior glass windows and doors if you plan to take shelter in your business.
  • Determine if your business is in a flood and/or evacuation zone and review evacuation routes, designating an emergency temporary site.
  • Identify what you need to secure your building, important equipment and who will help; outline specific tasks and conduct a training session.
  • Photograph or record your building or office – inside and out – for insurance purposes.
  • Have all trees and vegetation near power lines trimmed by specially trained line-clearing professionals to minimize their potential impact on your business and neighboring businesses.
  • Make sure debris is cleared prior to a hurricane warning announcement – trash pickup will be suspended during this time. Tree limbs and branches are the leading cause of outages and can become airborne during a storm.
  • Bookmark FPL.com/outage and save 1-800-4OUTAGE to your cell phone to report and check the status of your restoration.
  • Download the FPL Mobile App in the App Store or Google Play, or text the word “App” MyFPL (69375).
  • Save your FPL account number to the notes section of your cell phone, or keep a copy of your FPL bill – which has your account number on it.
  • Update the phone number and email address on your FPL account.
  • Consider installing a generator in case of power outages.

Generator safety

  • Read and follow all the manufacturer’s guidelines when using a generator to avoid
    dangerous shortcuts and ensure safe operation.
  • DO NOT directly connect your generator to your business’s breaker or fuse box. Power from a generator connected to a business’s wiring will “back feed” into utility lines – which can severely injure or kill a neighbor or utility crew working to restore power.
  • DO NOT run generators inside your business or garage, as they produce potentially
    deadly carbon monoxide fumes.
  • Keep generators away from all open windows to prevent the fumes from entering your business.
  • Buy a battery-operated carbon monoxide alarm, which will alert you if carbon-monoxide levels become dangerous.
  • Turn off all connected appliances before starting your generator.
  • Turn connected appliances on one at a time, never exceeding the generator’s rated wattage.
  • DO NOT touch a generator if you are wet, standing in water or on damp ground.
  • NEVER refuel a hot generator or one that is running – hot engine parts or exhaust can ignite gasoline.
  • Ensure you have plenty of gas safely stored in gas containers to operate your generator.

Before a storm:

  • Pay attention to instructions from public officials and the media.
  • Secure the exterior of your office and protect interior furniture:
  • Identify outdoor equipment, materials, and structures that could become airborne and move them to a safe location.
  • Park vehicles in safe, protected areas such as a covered garage.
  • Secure doors, windows, and other openings.
  • Move items away from the windows.
  • Lock drawers and filing cabinets.
  • Unplug all lamps, radios, computers, and equipment in case of a power surge; cover important equipment with plastic bags.
  • Gather any important supplies and documents.
  • Charge your cell phone and keep it ready by obtaining portable chargers.
  • Make multiple back-ups of computer files and data and store records off premises.
  • Run a special voice message informing employees and customers of the status of company operations.
  • Close your offices with sufficient time to allow employees to secure their own homes, and inform clients that you’re closing early and when you plan to reopen.

After a storm:

  • Make your safety and the safety of your employees a priority.
  • DO NOT travel, or ask employees to travel, until it is safe to do so.
  • Watch for downed power lines. Call 911 or FPL at 1-800-4OUTAGE to report fallen power lines that present a clear and imminent danger. DO NOT attempt to touch any power lines. Always assume that every power line is energized.
  • Read and follow all the manufacturer’s instructions and safety guidelines if you use a portable generator. Remember to NEVER wire your generator to your breaker or fuse box – the power you generate may flow back into power lines causing severe injury or death.
  • Turn off your circuit breakers, disconnect all electrical appliances and turn off all wall switches immediately in case of interior water damage. Remember to never stand in water while operating switches or unplugging any electrical device.
  • Stay away from standing water and debris, which could conceal a live wire.
  • DO NOT venture out in the dark because you might not see a downed power line that could be energized and dangerous.
  • Make emergency repairs only when it is safe to do so. Repairs that prevent looting or further damage should have top priority, but only if the repair can be done safely.
  • Take inventory to determine and record losses – based on the photos and recordings you took for insurance purposes.

Staying in touch with FPL following a storm

When outages occur, we know our customers want and need information on when their power will be restored. FPL will provide updated restoration time estimates and other progress reports via mobile if a storm strikes:

For more storm and safety tips, visit us at FPL.com/storm.

To download a PDF copy of this plan, click here.


FPL has invested more than $3 billion since the historic 2004-2005 hurricane seasons to build a stronger and smarter energy grid you can count on in good weather and bad. The improvements we have made to the grid have improved service reliability for our customers by more than 30 percent over the past seven years. And, we’re not stopping there. Here’s what we’ve done in Sarasota County since 2006 to make the energy grid more resilient in storms and more reliable during day-to-day operations:

  • Strengthened 39 main power lines, including those that serve critical services, such as Sarasota Memorial Hospital, Sarasota Emergency Operations Center, the American Red Cross – Southwest Florida Chapter location, Doctors Hospital of Sarasota and 9-1-1 emergency communications centers, that are necessary for communities to recover faster after a storm;
  • Cleared tree branches and vegetation — a major cause of power outages — from 8,841 miles of power lines, an average of 737 miles every year;
  • Inspected all 85,728 power poles every eight years, strengthening or replacing those that no longer meet FPL’s standards for strength;
  • Installed smart grid technology, including 2,055 automated switches on main and neighborhood power lines to help detect problems and restore service faster when outages occur; and
  • Inspected 252 main power lines and equipment using infrared technology to detect issues before they cause a power interruption.
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Member Tip: Is Your Unique Value Proposition Doing Its Job?

Your business needs a unique value proposition (UVP) to differentiate you from your competition and to get you more customers. If you don’t have one, or you have one that’s not working, the foundation of your marketing is shaky at best.

The problem with creating a UVP begins with the name itself. It’s smothered in marketing garbage lingo. It turns people off. No potential customer will ever ask you “What’s Your Unique Value Proposition?” before making a purchase, but they will ask you what makes you different and that’s what you have to concentrate on when defining this concept for your business.

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What Makes Your Business Different?

Most companies are quick to say what differentiates them from their competition. Usually, it’s service or quality. For the most effective UVP, it must be two things – valued by your ideal customer and hard to replicate by your competition. While most customers value good service, every one of your competitors probably believes they (too) are providing excellent customer service, so it’s not a strong differentiator in the market unless you bolster it with specifics that can’t be imitated.

How to Stand Out

Regardless of what you call it, a unique value proposition is all about standing out. If you’re lucky you do something no one else does. But in today’s crowded global markets, it’s harder to find something that no one else is doing. Instead, you need to discover, and market, how you’re doing it differently.

Explore Your Business Model

The fortunate will take one look at their business model and immediately recognize a differentiator, such as their giving 10% of proceeds to a childhood cancer charity or providing college scholarships for employees. As in these examples, you can see it’s not always your product or service that differentiates you. Sometimes it’s how you conduct your business or your company culture that stands out.

Examine the Needs of Your Ideal Customer

If you have a buyer persona or an idea of who your ideal customer is, ask yourself what that person needs? If you’re not sure, listen to what your loyal customers are saying about you in reviews or testimonials. What makes an impact in their lives? Read reviews of your competition. What are the key themes that keep surfacing?

Define the Impossible

Ideally what makes you stand out is something your competition will have difficulty duplicating. Using the themes you identified in what your ideal customer likes or values, you’ll construct a promise your business can make that would be hard for others to replicate. “The best service” is not a differentiator unless you pair it with specifics like “best same-day service” or “service with a smile or your meal is free.” Take for instance Dawn Dishwashing Soap. Marketers had a hard time finding the right niche for the product. It cleaned well but so did its competitors. Nothing seemed to work in differentiating it until they did a commercial showing how it was used in oil slicks to clean birds. Suddenly the dish detergent is known for taking “grease out of your way” was also saving the environment.

Even if your competition eventually offers the same thing you do, if you can bring it to market and become known for it first, you will have a successful differentiator.

Make Your Process Unique

Sometimes what makes your business unique is actually a flaw in other’s eyes until you define it as something intriguing or fun for your customer. For instance, Dum Dum lollipops by Spangler Candy Company produces a mystery flavor. At first glance, this appears to be a fun marketing stunt but it is really an efficient operations tactic. The mystery flavor is the combination of two flavors of lollipops. Instead of taking the time to strip the production machines between flavors and make a solid switch, the company decided to leave the machines running between flavors and thus the mystery flavor, a combination of the two. This saved huge amounts of time and resources but appeared to be a product marketing decision. Sometimes the efficiency with which you bring your product to market is your differentiator.

Differentiating yourself from your competition is essential to helping potential customers select you over other businesses in your town and across the globe. An effective difference lies in marketing something your prospective customers’ value and calling attention to something your competition can’t easily replicate (or hasn’t thought of).  If you don’t know or establish what makes you different, there’s no way for a buyer to know.


Christina R. Green teaches small businesses, chambers, and associations how to connect through content. Her articles have appeared in the Midwest Society of Association Executives’ Magazine, NTEN.org, AssociationTech, and Socialfish. She is a regular blogger at Frankjkenny.com and Event Manager Blog. She’s a bookish writer on a quest to bring great storytelling to organizations everywhere.

4 BEGINNING TWITTER TIPS FOR BUSINESS

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From 2014-2015 the number of Twitter users grew by 50 million, and it’s estimated that close to 1/5 of Internet users have Twitter accounts. The average Twitter user follows 5 businesses so if you’re not trying to reach your customers on Twitter you’re missing an opportunity.

Twitter is easy enough to understand, just share something 140 characters or less. You can share links, images, or videos. Here are a few other tips for businesses just starting out on Twitter:

Use Hashtags

Twitter is as hard to follow as the ticker tape on a stock page. It’s a constant barrage of messaging, particularly for those accounts that follow a lot of people. Hashtags, or pound signs (#), help people search for the information they want.

Using an appropriate hashtag can expand your business’ reach and help potential customers find what they’re looking for. Employ one specific to your business and use hashtags that are relevant. For instance, Jake’s Jewelry Store might use all, or any, of the following hashtags in tweets with images of gifts for mom: #jakes, #mothersday, #gift.

You can also use popular hashtags of trending topics, when applicable, like #marchmadness or #50shadesofgrey.

Share Images

This tip applies to most of social media but Twitter will display images prominently in the stream so it’s a good way to get your followers’ attention.

Rise Above the Noise

Find ways to stand out from others who are merely posting articles they’ve written. Ask questions. Have conversations. Thank people for sharing your content.

One of the easiest ways to create loyal followers, at least initially, is through commenting on what they share – either by providing your own opinions or asking them follow-up questions.

Avoid sending out automated thank you messages to new followers. While the concept seems nice – thanking them for following you – they come off as exactly what they are, robotic. Plus many Twitter users don’t check their messages box because of a large number of these they receive.

In addition to finding customers and potential customers on Twitter, it’s good to connect with influencers in your industry or audience such as mommy bloggers or niche bloggers.

Follow the Golden Rule

To follow back or not to follow back. That is the question and the answer for business is follow back, or do unto others as you would like them to do to you.

There are exceptions to this rule.

Twitter will cap you at 5,000 following (people you follow) if your followers (number of people who follow you) are not fairly equal. For instance, if you followed 2,000 people but only 500 followed you, Twitter will not allow you to follow any more until those numbers get within (about) 200 of each other. Twitter won’t tell you the exact number that it takes but you will be limited until those follower numbers rise.

You also don’t want your followers and following number too far off of one another because:

  • If you are following too many people, and a relatively equal number is not following you back, it looks like you’re not sharing worthwhile information.

On the other hand,

  • If a lot of people are following you and you’re only following a handful, you look like a bit of a jerk. That’s okay for reality TV stars but people who are using Twitter for business should be a little more congenial.

You can manage your Twitter followers through tools like ManageFlitter, Followerwonk (a Moz app) or Friend or Follow. Many of these tools can help you tell which accounts are spambots or fake accounts or inactive accounts. (You don’t want to spend time engaging those.) They also help you isolate influencers in your area.

There are pages and pages of tips written on topics like Twitter for business but the best thing to keep in mind is your humanity. Don’t make it all about your business and be gracious. Find ways to connect with people on a more personal level and imagine every tweet you’re sending could be seen by your grandmother, unless you’re in the type of business you don’t want your grandmother to know about.


Christina R. Green teaches small businesses, chambers, and associations how to connect through content. Her articles have appeared in the Midwest Society of Association Executives’ Magazine, NTEN.org, AssociationTech, and Socialfish. She is a regular blogger at Frankjkenny.com and Memberclicks.

Sarasota County Wins State FAFSA Completion Award

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The Talent4Tomorrow Partnership is proud to announce that Sarasota County Schools has won four awards for highest FAFSA completion rate in the state from the 2017 Florida FAFSA Challenge, a campaign to increase the proportion of high school seniors completing the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). Through leading local efforts made by the Talent4Tomorrow Partnership, 45.5% by Sarasota County high school seniors have completed the FAFSA. This is a 9.1% change over the previous application year, which equates to an estimated additional $513,180 in Pell grants awarded to Sarasota County students. Additionally, the Florida College Access Network (Florida CAN) has awarded Sarasota with the following honors:

  • Sarasota County Schools–“MVP for Large School District” (Having the highest FAFSA completion rate through March 31st, 2017)
  • Riverview High School–“Biggest Boost for Large Schools” (Largest week-to-week change in percentage of students completing the FAFSA)
  • All-Stars”—(Achieving an increase of FAFSA completion by at least 5% over last year):
  • Sarasota County School District
  • Suncoast Polytechnical High School
  • Sarasota Military Academy
  • Booker High School
  • Venice Senior High School
  • Sarasota High School
  • North Port High School
  • Riverview High School

 

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Talent4Tomorrow Partners and Sarasota County School District Officials accepting the award for “MVP for Large School District”

 

The Talent4Tomorrow Partnership is a community collaborative known as a “Local College Access Network”, and consists of CareerEdge Funders Collaborative, Education Foundation of Sarasota County, The Greater Sarasota Chamber of Commerce, Sarasota County Schools, UnidosNow, and United Way Suncoast. The Talent4Tomorrow Partnership seeks to increase career awareness and postsecondary attainment through increased college and career awareness, aspiration, and affordability initiatives. Kevin Cooper, President of The Greater Sarasota Chamber of Commerce stated, “Every dollar counts when it comes to accessing post-secondary education.  When we come together, focus together, and lead together, it’s gratifying to see results getting our students one step closer to where they and we want them to be.  This is a truly great example of leadership through collaboration.”

The Talent4Tomorrow Partnership has spent several months planning and executing FAFSA awareness and support activities, including FAFSA completion assistance during community- and school-based events. Community volunteers as well as financial aid officers from Ringling College of Art & Design, State College of Florida, University of South Florida Sarasota-Manatee, and Keiser University assisted families of high school seniors in completing the FAFSA form at North Port High School, Booker High School, and Sarasota High School, as well as community-based FAFSA events and United Way Suncoast VITA (Volunteer Income Tax Assistance) programs.

According to the Florida College Access Network, less than half of all eligible Sarasota County high school students in 2012-2013 completed the FAFSA form, thus leaving over $2 million in Pell Grant dollars untapped. 59% of Florida students in 2013 were eligible to receive a Pell Grant, which awards up to $5,815 a year per student.


For more information regarding the Talent4Tomorrow Partnership, contact Mimi Cirbusova at mcirbusova@sarasotachamber.com or (941) 556-4038.

2017 Small Business Awards Finalists Announced!

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On Friday, June 2, The Greater Sarasota Chamber of Commerce will honor six businesses at the 2017 Frank G. Berlin, Sr. Small Business Awards at the Hyatt Regency Sarasota from 11:30 a.m. to 1:15 p.m and one as Top Honor Small Business of the Year.

In its 27th year, The Frank G. Berlin, Sr. Small Business Awards recognizes member businesses and individuals with locally owned and operated business in six categories. Named in honor of the late Frank G. Berlin, Sr., whose legacy in the community and untiring support of The Greater Sarasota Chamber of Commerce epitomized the hopes and dreams of contemporary business entrepreneurs. We thank the Berlin Foundation for lending his name and financial support to our Small Business Awards program.

This year’s finalists include:

Health & Wellness Organization of the Year
Sponsored by: Lakewood Ranch Medical Center 
Gulfcoast South Area Health Education Center
Hearing Loss Association of Sarasota
Thomas A. Bowles, D.D.S., P.A.
Hospitality & Tourism Organization of the Year
Sponsored by: Sarasota-Bradenton International Airport
Marina Jack – Marina Operations
Mixon Fruit Farms
Tableseide Restaurant Group
Non-Profit Organization of the Year
Sponsored by: Kerkering, Barberio & Co.
Safe Place and Rape Crisis Center (SPARCC)
Suncoast Blood Bank
Van Wezel Foundation, Inc.
Products & Services Business of the Year
*Award Sponsorship Available*
Canada Med Services
Coast to Coast Pools
Gilbert Design Build
Professional Services Business of the Year
Sponsored by: Hyatt Regency Sarasota
Caldwell Trust Company
J.E. Charlotte Construction Corp.
Hall Architects, P.A.
Retail Business of the Year
Sponsored by: Shumaker, Loop & Kendrick, LLP
DutchCrafters
Millennium Shutters
Sunshine Baskets
The Top Honor Small Business of the Year will be selected from the winners of each category. The Top Honor Small Business of the Year is presented by the
Herald-Tribune Media Group.


For Sponsorship and Ticketing information, please visit our website or contact Brittany Lamont at (941) 556-4040.

Chamber Member Intel

Chamber Member Intel_bannerIn an effort to continuously improve the business climate in Greater Sarasota, to gather and share information useful to members, and to better understand the business goals of our dedicated membership, The Chamber is asking for valuable input from members in a series of business-related questionnaires we’re calling Chamber Member Intel. Results will be summarized to help members maximize their success and used to address information gaps/concerns and develop or adjust programs to better fit the needs of our diverse members.

So far, members have provided their feedback on Internships, Recognizing Achievements and Factors Limiting Business Success. And the findings are curious.

Continue reading “Chamber Member Intel”