Digital tools help local small businesses compete

By Anne-Marie Faiola, Founder and CEO of Bramble Berry

It’s an exciting time to own a small business – so different today than when I started. That was in the late 1990s when I would bring homemade soaps and crafts to sell at local fairs. Now I am sort of a digital guru, as every day I use digital technology and online media to grow my business. But I am worried that while so many are enjoying the digital revolution, our elected officials, including Attorney General Bob Ferguson, are attacking the companies that made it possible. I’m not sure that these elected officials realize just how important digital tools are to small businesses.

I started a soap company because I have a passion for crafts. I was tiring of my career in corrections and wanted very much to work every day on something that I love and that my customers would enjoy also. I wanted to connect with people that shared my craft making passion and empower them to be creative – and I have!

I started the business with a single pallet of soap, 5 fragrances, some soap molds, $15,000 in savings and lot of moxie. After a few years, the business was growing, but I wasn’t turning much of a profit. Then in 2004 a business mentor opened my eyes to digital opportunities and showed me how to reach many more potential customers. I love Bellingham, but our 89,000 people are only going to buy a limited amount of handmade soap and craft-making supplies at local fairs and in local shops.

We put our new knowledge to work and started hunting for more customers using digital advertisements on Google and on social media sites like Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and Pinterest. In 2006 we started the Soap Queen blog, which is now a source of hundreds of DIY bath and body tutorials, crafting tips and small business advice. Our team is constantly experimenting with product formulas and sharing ideas with customers. And people love it! Our “In the Studio” section of our website features a lot of fun and informative content and Soap Queen TV YouTube channel has more than 300,000 subscribers!

Our business continues to grow and change. We now have 60,000 customers from around the globe and more than 90 employees in Whatcom County. In 2019, we launched a new website that includes resources, supplies, and all-inclusive DIY kits to help customers enjoy their own creativity. We’re continuing to develop new and exciting collections with products that are thoroughly tested by experts.

We like to say that we brought traditional crafts into the 21st century. But without free and low-cost digital tools I’m not sure our business experiment would have been successful. And I know that we are not unique. A recent study found that 85 percent of small businesses report that digital tools are critical to their success.

I understand that some elected officials are concerned that tech companies and digital companies are getting too big and are collecting lots of data, and I certainly am not interested in criticizing public officials. But Congress and Attorney General Ferguson need to understand that these big companies are helping thousands of American small businesses compete and succeed – including mine. Our story is important to our Whatcom County team members and their families, and also to our many thousands of customers who enjoy handmade soaps and to thousands or perhaps millions of small businesses that have found success digitally.

I think if our elected officials hear just how important these tools and platforms are to their communities, they might be very careful and regulate gently, so they don’t mistakenly overturn the applecart and punish small businesses.

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