COVID Creativity - Manchester Ink Link
Business Name: Manchester Ink Link
Client Name: Carol Robidoux
Location: Manchester, NH
SBDC Advisor: Hollis McGuire
For some of us, there's that one small thing we can point to that completely changed the trajectory of our life. In Carol Robidoux of Manchester Ink Link's case, it was a letter.
"It all goes back to that letter. If I never got it, I never would have pushed myself to start a business," shares Carol, owner of ManchesterInkLink.com, a daily news and information community hub site.
The story of Manchester Ink Link starts back in January of 2014 when Carol, a well-established journalist, was laid off from Patch.com. She wasn't sure about the way forward. She never considered herself an entrepreneur and had no real intention of launching a new website. Still, she was a freelancer and figured she could leverage her experience into a freelance business. With a family to support, though, she had to act fast.
That's when that life-changing letter arrived. The letter told Carol she might qualify for the NH SBDC's Pathway to Work Program, a partnership between NH Employment Security and the NH Small Business Development Center.
As Carol puts it, the letter about Pathway to Work was basically telling her, "see if you can make something work, and here's the pathway to do it."
The program was identified as a solution for out-of-work NH residents who would like to start a business and create jobs for themselves and others. The program allows qualified unemployed residents to work on starting their own businesses while continuing to receive unemployment benefits. Pathway to Work participants are engaged full-time in establishing a business and becoming self-employed. SBDC advisors provide participants with business advising, entrepreneurial training, and technical assistance.
So, with the strong support of Stephanie Backman at NH Employment, Amy Bard, SBDC Business Advisor, and later, Hollis McGuire, also an SBDC Business Advisor, who began coaching her, Carol launched her business in June of 2014. A year later, she monetized the site thanks to the guidance, counseling, and encouragement she received from SBDC.
Carol reflects, "I do not think I would have taken a shot or succeeded otherwise."
And succeed is precisely what she has done. In the beginning, ManchesterInkLink.com averaged 1,000 views per day. Today, that number is at an impressive 300,000+ per month.
Even when COVID hit in 2020, Carol's resiliency and creativity continued to rise to the occasion as Manchester Ink Link was not considered an "official" essential business. But, as she says, "it's hard to think of a business more essential in terms of communicating vital news and information to the public."
Her instinct was to get more news. Ink Link's readership tripled in March and continued to explode as demand for timely and accurate information was vital.
As traffic to the site increased, however, advertisers took a step back.
Lending her support to those businesses, Carol offered existing advertisers free ad space during those months and compiled a comprehensive list of which restaurants were open, closed, providing take-out, etc., a valuable service to both the business community and her readers.
As the demand for news increased, Carol brought on some local journalists who other outlets had furloughed. They continued to provide news and information about closures, reopening, COVID outbreaks, and school news.
With encouragement from Hollis at SBDC, Carol also applied for and received a small sum from the COVID Relief, Paycheck Protection Plan (PPP), which she used to upgrade a freelance journalist to a full-time employee and get a downtown office space for a safe space to work as needed.
"Having a full-time employee has been incredible. I created a job in journalism, and I have support," says Carol.
Her COVID creativity doesn't stop there. With seemingly constant changes to COVID news, she was involved in seeing that the Granite State News Collaborative (collaborativenh.org), of which she is a founding partner, was able to expand and share statewide coverage of the pandemic. Founded in 2018, the GSNC now includes 20 major news outlets and educational partners around the state. The collaborative continues to pool its resources and share COVID-19 and other content so that all consumers of local news could have access to timely information.
Reflecting on the past year, Carol shares, "SBDC made it all seem possible. At SBDC, there was always someone I could reach out to. It was like a trust walk with SBDC that I was on the right path."
And of that life-changing letter she received in 2014, she described it as being like "a little beacon," letting her know they believed she could create something, and they were going to help her do it.
As Manchester Ink Link moves forward, Carol plans to continue to grow and do what they do best: keep the public engaged and informed and build a community around the issues that matter.
This client story is part of NH SBDC's ongoing collection of COVID Creativity stories about businesses surviving and thriving during COVID-19.