Multi-Million Dollar Businesses

Beating Back the Recession: Food for Thought

Learn by example how to overcome hard economic times.
Latest posts by Rich Sloan (see all)

Always on the lookout for signs of recession and how entrepreneurs can overcome it, one entrepreneur caught my eye recently as she posted in our forums. It was clear that she had made strides and grown her business – selling jerky, of all things -­ in spite of the tough economy.

Janie honeycuttHer name is Janie Honeycutt, owner of House of Jerky along with her husband Ron Hargett. Sure, they sell the usual beef varieties, but they also sell everything from ostrich jerky to “exotic” alligator jerky. They smartly offer pre-packaged “Soldier Jerky,” too, which you can send to the troops to make them feel right back at home.

Having launched in Temecula, Cali., in 1997, Honeycutt and her husband have seen their share of economic cycles. But this time around, they’ve grown rapidly through quagmire. Their wholesale operation, which distributes to a dozen branded stores around the country, grew 15% in 2007 over 2006 and continued to grow in 2008.

How can they do it when sales of so many other “optional” products are suffering in the trigger-unhappy consumer environment?

Enter the Internet.

The huge growth came in their online retail efforts, ­doubling (and then some) in 2007 compared to the year before. All told, the couple sold $600,000 of jerky in 2007, and was on pace to best that number in 2008. If you consider that a typical one-pound order runs $34, that’s a lot of jerky going out the shipping and receiving dock.

I asked Honeycutt to share some of the strategies that have helped her rev up her web sales so fast in spite of the tough economy, and here’s what she advised:

First, word-of-mouth has been a huge contributor. Most of her business comes from referrals, bringing in new customers who spawn yet more new customers by gobbling up and then gabbing up their unique jerky offerings. Honeycutt says that she regularly gets written feedback indicating that her customers “share [the jerky] with everyone they can.”

 

But the big surge in online interest, Honeycutt says, has come from her search engine optimization efforts. Instead of buying online advertising, she’s leveraged the full force of the web by transforming her website into a magnet that the search engines love.

Just try typing in “ostrich jerky” into Google. She was the first result for me (and the second result as well). She’s accomplished this by streamlining her site’s copy and coding to make it supremely attractive to the algorithms used by search engines. Notice how her homepage is text-intensive with all the keywords you might associate with jerky (and how sparce it is in terms of images that search engines don’t pay attention to).

A less obvious trick Honeycutt has used to raise her site’s credibility in the eyes of search engines: social networking. Not only is that how I discovered her, but that’s how thousands of other entrepreneurs have discovered her, many of whom have become customers.

And the social networking had another benefit. By weaving mentions of her site and links to her site throughout high indexing forums, she confirmed that the search engines actually began attributing more credibility to her site and started ranking her higher. Those back-and-forth bulletin boards aren’t sounding like such a waste of time anymore, are they?

Once relegated to the cyber boonies, she’s now positioned more like a rest stop along an Interstate Highway of traffic. You can see how she’s put this strategy to work by visiting her under the StartupNation nickname, HouseofJerkyJanie, where her recent posts are indicated.

Growth in their traditional wholesale business is something to be proud of in and of itself in this tough economy, especially given that their product is distributed in largely recession-sensitive, resort-oriented towns. But Janie Honeycutt’s online growth (recently more than doubling) is nothing short of spectacular. Her search engine savvy has clearly been a winning strategy during a time when other businesses are on the wane.

(This article is provided courtesy of CNNMoney.com)

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