Who is Rhoda Meek, we hear you ask? Well, you might of heard of a new project and brand called isle20, which has been supporting Shetland's makers and small businesses through these strange times. Many ShetlandMade makers have signed up to be part of the directory, so we thought it was time to catch up with Rhona Meek, who runs isle20 from her home in Tiree.
What drove you to start isle20?
I'm a digital product manager and I had a contract come to an end just before the pandemic started to accelerate. I had been planning to spend my summer building my wee tea label and picking up work here and there. It became really clear early on that the tourists I planned to sell to weren't going to be here, and that I would need to focus on online sales and improving my digital marketing. I am in the really privileged position of having the skills to give that a fair shot - but I also realised that a lot of other small businesses might not be as fortunate. I'm old enough to have been around building websites in the late 90s when the internet was full of directories and websites were part of "rings" sending people on to the next site by linking to them. I guess that's where the idea came from! Old school solutions to new problems!
It's a great project. What's the reception been like so far?
The reception has been incredible. I spent a day building the first version and put it out on twitter asking small island businesses to list themselves. I didn't expect much traction. Four weeks later there are over 320 businesses listed, and we've had well over 25k unique visitors to the site. It shows that there's a real need among small businesses for increased visibility - and that people are increasingly interested in buying items from small independent businesses.
What advice would you give to island businesses who are perhaps looking for a way through these difficult times?
Get online. Once you have an online presence, start selling online. I think we all need to be a bit more aggressive about getting sales and developing marketing strategies. My next experiment is trying to help people dip their toe in the world of ecommerce by getting them set up in an isle20 marketplace. I will run the technical side, and the businesses will send out the orders. The main listings site will stay free, but the marketplace will need to be commision based as I have to eat! :-)
I think the other thing is to start thinking outside the box. Can you team up with another local business to offer deals? Can you bundle items or create hampers? What if you sold gift vouchers to be redeemed next year. There are some really inventive ideas coming out of this crisis, which is pretty cool.
We've got more free time these days. How are you filling your time when not working on isle20 or your own business, Tiree Tea?
Haha! isle20 has turned into an almost full time job, and as a crofter I have also been lambing for the last 3 weeks. All that aside, I've been volunteering locally, doing shopping and collecting prescriptions, going to the post office for folk who can't go out. I'm not bored - put it that way!
Music's also been playing a big part in our lockdown. What have you been listening to?
I've got a mix featuring Skippinish, Trail West, Skerryvore, Manran and Peat and Deisel which is my go to when I need some motivation! Classic Hebridean choices!
The image at the top of the page is from ShetlandMade maker Gilly B, who you can also find in the directory - find out more about Gilly's work at gilly-b.com. Gilly will also be sharing some advice and activities on sketching from life over on our Shetland Arts Facebook page and our IGTV on a weekly basis!