Carolyn Browne Tamler

has helped hundreds of businesses and organizations with her thoughtful facilitation and research services. She also writes colorful and compelling articles about new business initiatives! Would this help you? Call Carolyn today!

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    p:| 360.222.6820
    c:| 425.351.7531

    f:| 360.222.6820

    2055 Pheasant Farm Lane
    Freeland, WA 98249

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    5-31-12 What is special or unique about your business?

    If you don’t have a good answer for this question, it’s a lot harder to create a marketing plan for your business that really draws in customers.

    Some businesses are unique because there may be no one in the area selling what you have.  In that case, you have to be able to do a good job explaining what you have and why someone needs it.  And, you still have to offer good customer service so that people will come back and/or spread the word to others.

    Most businesses are selling a product or service that others are selling.  Are you a massage therapist?  Lots of people provide massages.  Are you selling clothing?  Lots of people sell clothing.  Are you a restaurant or café?  Lots of people have a food service business.

    So, the first thing I ask a business person is the question: “What is special or unique about what you offer?”  It’s best to laundry-list as much as you can and really think about what is different about what you provide.  Sometimes, the product may not be special, but the service certainly can be.

    Once you have defined all of the things that make your product or service special, you’ll have a much better concept of how to market yourself.


    5-24-12 Finding a niche: the key to creating a successful business

    Anyone who has started a business knows how challenging it can be to know if a product or service is filling a void or responding to some unmet need.  If you have a business that does something others do, you need to think about what is special or unique about what you will be offering.  If you choose a product or service that hasn’t been available before, there is the question of whether there will be enough customers for what you will provide.

    I’ve done business with three companies on South Whidbey that really have found a niche, filled it, and built awareness to the point that all are thriving (albeit, also a bit weary from working so hard):

    drewslist (

    Just about everyone on South Whidbey seems to know about drewslist.  “I saw it on drewslist” is one of the most common expressions heard nowadays.

    Drew Kampion published the regional “Island Independent” from Langley every other Thursday for three years (1993 – 1996).  He couldn’t get enough off-Whidbey advertisers to make it work, although he was aware even then that there was a definite need for a local community “bulletin board.”  He noted, “As the world moves in the direction of globalization, the last bastion of individuality is bio- and cultural regionalism.”

    Two years ago, he came up with the idea of creating an email list that would provide basic information about goods, services and events on South Whidbey.  Through word-of-mouth (one of the best marketing tools on Whidbey…and many other places), his list of subscribers grew, and today he is approaching 3,500 and is looking for more ways to serve his micro-local market.  He currently makes his money through donations from subscribers, businesses and sellers using his service.

    Island Concierge Services, Inc.  360-320-0744 (Billy’s cell phone)

    Billy Ducharme had worked for Useless Bay Country Club for several years when they informed employees in 2007 that the business would be closed for a major remodel that might take as long as six months.

    At the Club, Billy would hear people complaining about people they hired to do jobs who didn’t show, or who did less-than-satisfactory work when they did show.

    Billy needed a job, and he saw the possibilities for becoming someone who could create a new way of doing this type of service business.  In 2007, he opened “Island Concierge Services” with an old pickup truck and a plan “to do everything a concierge does.” 

    Billy attributes a good share of his success to finding an excellent person to handle the business aspects.  Connie Duddridge has been handling billing, statements, banking, payroll, fielding calls and dispatching the work from the early stages of the business.  Connie says she loves working for Billy because, “His integrity and concern for our customers is inspiring.”

    Today, Island Concierge has 10 full-time employees, an office in Freeland, four trucks, three trailers, a dump truck and lots of other equipment.  He and his staff are ready to take on just about any job they are asked to do.

    Timbuktu Java Bar & Café, 18205 SR 525, Freeland, 360-331-1504

    There are many places on South Whidbey to get an espresso, but Timbuktu has become a distinctive welcoming place to stop for an espresso and lots more.  Lauryn Taylor, who shares the ownership of Timbuktu with her husband, Chris Jacobs, says that the niche they fill comes from “a passion to immerse the customer in a total sensory food and beverage experience.”

    Timbuktu has many regulars who come for the delicious foods, made from scratch: Frittatas (that are the “talk of the town”, baked blueberry peach french toast, other delicious pastries, and an extensive menu of gluten-free foods. 

    Lauryn and Chris always extend a warm welcome to anyone who comes through the door.  They describe their coffee drinks as “artisan-crafted espresso drinks.”  And, to add to the ambience, Lauryn, who is a highly regarded artist, uses their establishment as her art gallery and invites other local artists to display there as well.


    So, what does it take to find a business niche and make it work?

    1. You really do have to have the confidence to know that you are selling something that is special or unique;
    2. You have to have a good sense of your target market, the people who will want your product and service; and
    3. You have to use the right marketing tools so that those most likely to become customers will know what your are providing.

     It takes a lot of courage and creativity to develop a new business.  If you can find a niche – a product and/or service that is desired by a specific market – and, if you can get the word out, you have the ingredients for a successful enterprise.


    5-17-12 Another great example of collaboration

    I’ve written recently about collaboration (4-5-12).  This is a term I use a lot.  I believe it’s one of the most efficient and effective ways to create business.

    Last weekend, I went for a visit to Greenbank Farm, one of my favorite places on Whidbey.  In addition to hiking to the gorgeous viewpoint that lets me see the Olympics and the Cascades, I stopped off for a visit at the Galleries at Greenbank, which include Raven Rocks, Artworks and Rob Schouten.

    In front of the Rob Schouten Gallery now sits the gigantic “Nest,” one of the best visual examples I have seen illustrating the power of collaboration.  Rob explained it to me: “My initial thought was to create the nest as a promotional piece for the ‘Birds and Nests’ show. I couldn't quite figure out how to make the eggs, nor did I have time to do so. Then I realized what a great opportunity this was for a collaborative effort.”

    (Photo: Rob Schouten Gallery; Left to right: Dan Freeman, Sharon Spencer, Rob Adamson, Rob Schouten)

    The end result is magnificent.  Rob Adamson made the gorgeous eggs.  Sharon Spencer and Dan Freeeman worked on several elements of the design and construction of the piece.  Dan came up with the idea of making a tripod table with a wire mesh top that became the base for the nest with branches woven through the mesh.  Sharon knew where to get the mosses and the lichens that line the nest.  Jonni Reed provided a pile of branches from her pruned fruit trees that were trucked over.

    Rob says, “The experience of being in sync with other artists as you are creating is tremendously stimulating and inspiring, and we are already talking about doing something like this again.”

    The finished “Nest” is spectacular, and everyone who comes within 50 feet of it is drawn to the Rob Schouten Gallery ….and many come into the gallery to see what’s inside, as well.


    5-10-12 Making eye contact

    I did a presentation to the Central Whidbey Chamber of Commerce last Tuesday, and, in talking about marketing, I emphasized the importance of good customer service (you’ve probably heard me mention that a bit in this blog).

    Recently, I walked into a national bank, and the teller focused on the transaction, but didn’t look at me. I believe making eye contact with a customer or potential customer is an essential first step to making a positive connection.  (My local bank, Whidbey Island Bank, provides the opposite experience; every time I go into the bank someone says "Hello" and engages with me.)

    If you have an on-line business, this doesn’t apply. But, even in today’s internet world, most small business owners/managers frequently meet people face to face.  Depending on what source you check out, you’ll find that human communication is 70 – 90% non-verbal.  Yep, even with today’s texting and networking, most  human communication is without words.  (Ever notice how often you have a “gut feeling” when you meet someone new?)

    And, making eye contact (with a smile) is one of the most effective ways to let someone know you appreciate their business.

    Here’s an excellent article I discovered about this:




    5-3-12 Three basic ideas when thinking about how to increase your business 

    When you’re thinking about how to best use your dollars for marketing, here are the three ways I approach this:

     1)      It is always easiest to sell more to those who are already buying your product or service;

    2)      You are more likely to sell to new customers who are much like the customers you already have; and

    3)      It is hardest to sell to new people about whom you have little information.

    Item 1 assumes that you do everything to keep your customers happy so they’ll want to keep coming back to you.

    Item 2 is based on the idea that the kinds of people who really appreciate you, what you sell, and how you do business are likely to want to do business with you….once they know who you are.

    Item 3 means it can be very expensive to simply place an advertisement without knowing details about the audience that will see the advertisement.

    So, two wise ways to use your advertising dollars are to promote your business to current satisfied customers and to ask your customers for referrals to others they think will want to do business with you.