Whether you’re starting to a new business on Vashon Island, or you have an existing business that you would like to promote and see more people frequenting, this is a fairly comprehensive piece of advice to help you get the most out of the Island residents and visitors without overstimulating them.
Before you get started, it’s best to understand the market on Vashon. The people here are fickle and extremely intelligent both at the same time. Using standard blast emails or social media posts that don’t have any personality to your business aren’t going to go over well with this community. Our community also doesn’t forget. If you somehow offend them with (what they consider) spam (i.e a post a day with your business updates) they will not only be annoyed, but they will verbalize it to the rest of the community, and will continue years after you have stopped.
I say this as someone who has used standard best practices when marketing to a larger audience (coming from a strong marketing background for large corporations) when I started this website back on 2014. The feedback I receive in my marketing has been both positive, and negative throughout the years. I have hired locals to learn marketing while using this site to try new ideas, which has also been both positively and negatively received. By collecting the feedback throughout the years, I have come up with a sort of list of advice that should help you avoid the negativity and to become a positive and well received business on the Island. In other words… learn from my mistakes 😉.
Your Voice and Personality
On Vashon Island, personality is everything. Given that we are a small community of a vast array of personalities and personas the community will associate your business with you (or the personality you give your business). Any political views are closely scrutinized by all parties, religious beliefs are both questioned or embraced (depending on your audience) and any position you take on any issue will be cross-examined. This part of your business is going to be critical in deciding where you want to take it and be sure to stick to your original stance. As I mentioned before, this Island community never forgets. Supporting the dog lovers while denouncing all cats on the Island and then deciding that cats are actually not to bad (or even helpful in keeping your rodent population under control) will not bode well with Vashonites. The dog lovers will remember you didn’t like cats once upon a time, and the cat lovers will remember every comment you made bashing the feline variety. Vashonites will comment on your post about helping a customer 3 years later that you once didn’t like cats.
My point here is, decide on where your loyalties lie and stick with them. My core advice is to try to stay out of any and all discussions that could be considered controversial if at all possible. Impossible to do, but some businesses on the Island have managed to do it successfully. Unfortunately, I have learned that remaining impartial and not saying anything can also be construed as saying something. It is known that the conservatives think I am too liberal and the liberals think I am too conservative (even though I fall on neither side in any capacity). We have a strong community of both and all sides of the political coin. So, I say this from experience, that it is best to either find your stance on any and all topics and stick to them, or remain agnostic and avoid commenting on any topic (keeping it professional at all times), even from your very own personal social media account. If you choose to find your stance on the most pressing topics for the Island (and they all are pressing, even the colors you choose for your garden flowers are extremely important) then find your people and be their bestest friend and advocate. Ignore the neigh sayers, the keyboard warriors and online bullies. If you do this well, you will have a strong community of supporters that will have your back during any debate, and will promote you throughout the online and offline social gatherings.
The Online Vashon Community
The community on Vashon Island is strong on social media. You can find Vashonites on Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest, Twitter, Reddit, Nextdoor and this website (with a listing). We even our own Vashonites online community (though not always very active) can help you unload old items, things you have for sale or you can start a discussion going. The best way to get a handle on where to connect with the audience that best fits your business is to get to know where they will “hang out” the most. Are they locals only that are tech savvy and reject all mainstream social media? Then your best places to connect with them would be Reddit and (maybe) Twitter. Is your audience the long term resident that is involved with the offline (and sometimes online) community? Then your best place to connect with them in Facebook, Instagram and/or Nextdoor. Is your business reliant on visually appealing images (i.e. artwork, outdoor activity, or location that has beautiful views) then Facebook, Instagram, and Pinterest will be your best place to connect with the community online. If you provide a service for the Island residents such as plumbing, HVAC, pest control, handyman services, etc then your best place(s) to connect with the community will be Facebook, Reddit and Nextdoor as the community on those platforms are mostly local residents and are very active.
Whatever platforms you choose to connect on, my best advice to you is to stay as active as you possibly can. A good example of a local business that is doing this is Mica’s Kitchen. Michaela has come in with her humbleness getting to know the community and posting often. She even has a TikTok account in which she updates often with personal accounts of her wellbeing, as well as short videos of her baking at all hours of the day. When her Mother was struck by Covid and suddenly passed away, Mica was bold and strong enough to share her story with the Island community, and the community answered her with even stronger support. Mica is one of the busiest local business owners I know as she starts baking at 2am and doesn’t finish her day until late the following evening, yet she finds the time to update her social media channels whenever she gets a chance and it is paying off. Mica has a strong and loyal following that has supported the growth of her business.
My best advice I can give you is to decide on what your level of engagement will realistically be, and choose how many (and what) platforms to update and engage in. If you only have time for one and your business is very visual (as mentioned before) then just create an Instagram account and do your best to post once a day. If your audience is broader and you have time to post updates several times a day, then create a Facebook page (connecting it to all of the groups that fit your audience) as well as Instagram and Twitter and update your audience with similar posts throughout the day (try not to duplicate across platforms). If you have time throughout the day to check social media channels, then by all means go for it and create an account for all of them. Check in throughout the day, engage in the group discussions, or even ask to be a moderator for some of the larger groups (Vashonites is always happy to take on new moderators to help manage the group just let VashonMaury know you’re interested). The more you can get involved in the community, the more they will get behind your business and support you. Just be realistic in your expectations of yourself, and the community will understand.
Show Up and Be Professional
It pains me that I feel I need to add this part to the list, but sadly I see so many posts and comments in the community that there are local businesses who don’t show up and/or aren’t professional. From simply not answering their phone, returning calls, responding to texts/emails or even committing to a time to meet (or work) and not showing up without any communication. So, I put this piece of advice here – answer your phone, respond to text and emails, show up when you say you will and be professional with working with your customers. That’s really all it takes to have a solid foundation for success on this Island.
Keep it Personal
Lastly, my advice to every business is to remember that we are a small community in which everyone knows someone somehow. When you are personal in your engagement with the community, then they connect with you on a much deeper level. All of my previous advice leads up to this last part. Your voice, where you choose to engage, your activity level, showing up and being professional… it all boils down to who you are as a business owner and how the community will connect with you. Anytime you post an update or comment on another post, let your personality shine through and share a little bit about yourself. Don’t be afraid to talk about your bad hair day and how you managed to overcome it to get to work that day. The community can relate and therefore will feel a deeper connection to you. The deeper the connection they feel, the more they will want to support your local business and will also help promote you where they can.
All in all, Vashon can be a great place to grow a business and actively live off of what you sew. By connecting with the residents and online community you will find that your business will thrive.