North Country Local began in June of 2015, and as of today has roughly 7900 fans on its Facebook page. The mission of North Country Local is to support locally-owned businesses throughout the North Country of New Hampshire and Vermont through the use of social media and the fun of daily prize giveaways.
And here’s how North Country Local started.
I’d like to introduce myself: my name is Josh Simonds, I’m 37 years old, and live in Lunenburg, and am the creator and owner of North Country Local. Some of you on the page may know me, some may not...and while I’m not a person to seek out the spotlight, I felt the beginning of 2017 was a great time to show everyone the “man behind the curtain” if you will. I’ve also had some reminders in my life recently that helped me to remember to be proud of what I’ve created.
I was born in Lancaster, NH in 1979 and my parents moved across the river to Lunenburg, VT when I was 5 years old. (The difference between NH and VT, in terms of property tax, sales tax, and income tax, could be enough for a completely separate post!) Both my parents came from farming families with generations of roots in the North Country - my mom’s family coming from Lyman, NH and my dad’s family coming from Dalton, NH. My parents owned their own small business as I was growing up, and if there was ever something my parents taught me to be proud of, it was my work, and what I create with my own two hands to make better the lives of those I love.
Both my parents were handed nothing in life, and created their lives through hard work and determination to create something better for their family. Neither of my parents received any sort of inheritance, and I have memories of growing up with my parents working hard to provide for my sister and I. I remember my father coming home, covered in sweat and concrete from his construction job. I remember my mother smelling like the kitchens in which she worked. While we never were able to go to Disneyland, we were taken care of. We had food on the table, a roof over our heads, and clothes on our backs. It’s the appreciation of those basic things in life that have given me so much drive in life.
I went to primary and middle school in Lunenburg, and graduated from St. Johnsbury Academy in 1997. Being one of those kids that was “only going to take a year off” before going to college, I never made it past a semester of community college a few years later. And while I would have loved the opportunities and education a college degree would provide me, I still see not going to college as one of the best things that ever happened to me. I have way more friends and acquaintances that have college degrees for things they have never done, and in fields they’ve never worked, all while living under crushing debt. Sure, college works out for some people, but from what I’ve seen...not many.
My son was born in 2003, and is planning on attending St. Johnsbury Academy next year. I work hard for him, and my family, and am hoping that I’m lucky enough to pass along to him what was passed along to me.
I’ve had many jobs, and am all the more grateful for all the experiences I’ve had. I’m convinced that EVERY person should have to work in a retail environment and in a restaurant, just to learn basic tenants of life - customer service, the ability to keep your cool and smile when someone is yelling at you, be it your boss or a customer, and the ability to check your pride at the door when you go to work for a paycheck. I’ve bagged groceries, I’ve sanded golf club heads, I’ve worked in sawmills, I’ve peeled logs for log cabins, I’ve waited tables, I’ve worked in fast food restaurants, I’ve tended bar, I’ve sold cell phones, I’ve been a carpenter, I’ve mapped out property lines using GPS units, I’ve worked at convenience stores, I’ve worked at Home Depot, I’ve been customer service over the phone many times, I’ve been a landscaper, I’ve built stone walls, I’ve managed a perennial nursery and estate, and I’ve had many other interesting (and not-so-interesting) jobs in the North Country.
Back in May of 2013, I left a job at a local software company that I’d had for 4 years. I had plateaued at a job that I excelled at. There were no more positions to move up to, there was no more money to make, and sadly, I was convinced there was nothing left to learn. At that point, I was able to successfully speak to someone on the phone AND draft an email at the same time, such was my muscle memory.
But I wasn’t LIVING. I wasn’t LEARNING.
I had heard an ad on the radio that the parent group to about 5 different local stations was looking for sales help. Interested in something new, I applied for that sales position over the course of 7 months, all the while the station’s general manager told me it would be the worst job of my life. And while I took him seriously, I also knew that even if I had a bad experience, I would LEARN something.
So I started selling radio time to local businesses, and the station manager was right: while it wasn’t the worst job that I’d had in my life, it was right up there as one of them. While the jury is out on the effectiveness of radio for small businesses, I soon found out it was expensive. It was also something that a business needed to do a LOT of for it to work, and oftentimes I found it did absolutely nothing for a business, just because they couldn’t afford the thousands of dollars it would take for it to be effective.
In September of 2013, I was working in the Lancaster area, selling radio ads as a package to tag along with the Lancaster Fair. By this time I’d already seen the writing on the wall, in terms of what kind of job it was, but I wasn’t one to quit easily...until someone escorted me out of their business by the shirt collar because I was representing those radio stations. Apparently, I was filling pretty big shoes and living in the shadow of a business that wasn’t fondly looked upon in the area, for many different reasons that won’t be discussed here.
But as soon as I felt like the job was affecting my personal reputation, I had to do something else. Now, my family and the North Country have taught me to always look for opportunity and that if I wanted something, I’d have to get my nails dirty to get it. I’m convinced if someone is going to thrive - not just survive - in the North Country, they need their fingers in a lot of different pies, they need to know how to do a lot of different things, because one never knows when they’ll need to swing a hammer, flip burgers, or sell coins over the phone.
As I was selling radio and working with different businesses, I would try to make their marketing efforts align by working with what was going on on their website, in the newspaper, and on social media...and one of the things I noticed was that many businesses weren’t taking care of their social media profiles. They weren’t updating frequently, they were leaving questions from customers unanswered, and they weren’t using this tool to their fullest.
That’s why, in October of 2013, I started Face First Solutions, a business that would take care of Facebook pages for local businesses. I would post content, take pictures, answer questions, reply to messages, and grow each business’s audience. One of the ways that I would do that is with contests, giving away a $10 or $20 gift certificate each week. And it worked wonderfully. A lot of the pages that I help manage number in the THOUSANDS of fans, and having an audience of advocates like that for a business is almost priceless.
Having found that giveaways were successful, it dawned on me that I could create a local organization of locally-owned businesses that would support one another, and using the power of social media, support the nonprofit, charity, fundraising, and arts-related efforts across the North Country. That’s why you’ll find a DAILY prize giveaway worth at least $50 on the North Country Local Facebook page: most everyone likes to win something, and most everyone likes to support local efforts by businesses.
Since October of 2013, I manage about 50 different Facebook pages, I create websites, I’m pretty okay at taking pictures, and I’ve found a passion in video production. I offer consulting and training services, and even teach classes at WREN in Bethlehem to entrepreneurs and business owners looking to hone their social media skills. I’m probably modest to a fault, and that’s why I’ve stayed “behind the curtain” - I don’t need credit for what I’m doing, I’m just happy that I’m able to do something I enjoy, that takes care of my family, and is something that gives back to the area that I grew up in and hold dear.
You can find my website at www.facefirstsolutions.com, and if you ever want to drop a line, you can reach me at firstname.lastname@example.org and at email@example.com. I look forward to getting to know everyone better.
You can expect a new article on the North Country Local Journal every Tuesday, giving you further insight into local businesses, events, happenings, and places (and don’t worry, they won’t normally be this long), but for now, I’ve got to go - it’s time to get my nails dirty. :-)