Hillary Berman is the founder of Popcorn & Ice Cream, a Washington, DC-based marketing consulting firm focused on small businesses and start-ups, the author of “Customer, LLC: The Small Business Guide to Customer Engagement & Marketing”, and a Google Small Business Advisor. Hillary brings experience working in and for businesses of varying sizes to her small business clients. Her work focuses on helping services, product and retail companies build a strong, customer-centric marketing foundation, engage the customers they have and reach the ones they want. She holds an MBA from the University of Maryland and a BS from Syracuse University.
What motivated and inspired you to start your own business?
When my husband started his business more than a decade ago, he needed assistance defining his brand, marketing communications, lead generation strategy, client experience, and more. I discovered many excellent creative freelancers, but no one to point him in the right direction on how to use these talented graphic designers, copywriters, web developers, and photographers. I left my big agency marketing job to help and quickly realized how big the need was for small businesses seeking marketing help. After getting my husband’s business off on the right foot, I started Popcorn & Ice Cream.
Tell us about your business.
Popcorn & Ice Cream is a marketing consulting firm focused exclusively on small businesses and start ups, working with them to determine the best-fit marketing programs for their businesses and then work alongside them to bring their brands and the marketing campaigns to life. Our clientele is diverse from retailers and restaurants to consumer products and professional services of all kinds.
Our work covers a wide range of tactics from social media and content marketing, to grand openings and product launches, trade shows and events, print materials and digital campaigns, email communications and referral programs, and more. Whichever marketing tactics are right for our clients’ businesses – we help figure it out and make it happen.
Last year I published my book, Customer, LLC: The Small Business Guide to Customer Engagement & Marketing.
Where is your business based?
What were the first few steps you took to get your business up and running?
I invested in a professionally designed logo, business cards, and website. After all, if I was going to make recommendations about marketing to other companies, mine had to look the part too.
What has been the most effective way of raising awareness of your business and getting new customers?
Networking. I am an active member of several local business organizations, including the chamber of commerce and communities specifically for women business owners. The more business owners I meet, the more my network and the referrals for new projects grow.
In addition, speaking engagements and my book have been great for building credibility and giving me the opportunity to be in front of larger audiences of small business owners.
What have been your biggest challenges so far?
Managing growth. In professional services, time is both the most valuable and scarcest resource. The only way to sustain growth and achieve our goals comes by way of hiring new resources. This however presents other challenges as we refuse to compromise the premise on which this business was established – providing quality, qualified marketing support to small businesses at a price they can afford. We refuse to increase prices to hire ahead of new business or compromise quality with lesser resources.
How did you overcome these challenges?
To address this challenge, we manage growth through the addition of part-time consultants and freelancers who work as members of our extended team. We hire those who share our passion for small business, as well as commitment to excellence and creativity. We work with the best minds for small businesses regardless of where they’re located in the US.
How do you keep motivated through difficult times?
Seeing our clients thrive. It sounds a little cheesy, I know. But I’ve always loved working with small businesses because I could see the impact of the marketing. When we do a great job, their businesses grow. (With bigger businesses, this is far harder, if not near impossible, to see.) The unexpected calls from clients raving about something amazing that happened as a result of our hard work or collaboration with them, that makes even the toughest day far brighter.
How do you distinguish yourself from your competitors?
Many talk about supporting small businesses. Many see small business as their business opportunity. But at Popcorn & Ice Cream, we live and breathe entrepreneurship. We’re a small business that supports small businesses. We truly love being a part of this vibrant, growing and critical part of our economy. We are proud to be one of the many woman-owned businesses that are thriving and providing a valuable resource to our clients.
Also, our approach to hiring also sets us apart from competitors. By focusing our full-time resources on our core strength – marketing strategy – we’re able to leverage the skills of many talented creative resources. Rather than providing all clients with a single option for creative execution based on a person on our staff, we’re able to match the right resources with the right projects. The ability to draw from a vetted, qualified pool of talent also allows us to focus on providing advice based on what’s right for each client, rather than on what we can sell. We provide competitive bids on everything from graphic design and web development to photography and printing. We are transparent with portfolios and allow clients to select the right resource for them based on style and price.
What is the best advice you have received recently?
It’s ok to say no. It’s really hard not to want to please every potential customer or prospect. But sometimes, the opportunity just isn’t right. In those situations, it is not only ok, but also better, to say no. Turning down the wrong opportunities opens doors to the right ones. I tell this to clients all the time, just sometimes need a reminder for myself!
What advice would you give to other entrepreneurs?
I often hear entrepreneurs owners complain that their business is harder because of their situation, the industry, or some other factor. These things are easy to say and easy to believe. But what’s actually hard is the work – regardless of the business. Being an entrepreneur takes hard work and a tough stomach. But that’s also what’s awesome about it. Successful entrepreneurs have passion and commitment that’s unmatched. As a result, growth and success are absolutely within reach and within your power! There’s no excuse that can compete with an entrepreneur on a mission.
What is your favorite business tool or resource?
A good ol’ fashioned to do list. It’s remarkable how fulfilling it can be to cross something off. Plus, it keeps me organized and on task.
What is a good article or book you have read recently?
Other than my own? My favorite business book is “Hug Your Customers” by Jack Mitchell. I call it my small business bible. His stories and perspective on how to make customer service the center point of a successful business are spot on and a true inspiration for businesses big and small.
What are you currently learning about for your business or looking for help with?
We’re upping our marketing automation smarts. Increasingly, marketing is a technology game. We’re awesome at the strategy around this and are working to up our technical skills to match.
What are your goals for the next few months and how are you striving to achieve them?
Continuing to build my pipeline of speaking engagements. I’m getting out there more and more and love inspiring groups of small business owners and entrepreneurs!
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