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Melissa Albano-Davis on startup success: Meet client needs, be credible

New Hampshire Union Leader

August 29. 2015 5:44PM
Owner Melissa Albano-Davis of Grapevine Marketing poses at her downtown office on Tuesday. (David Lane/Union Leader)

MANCHESTER — When you're surfing the Internet, Melissa Albano-Davis wants you to take action.

Buy something. Commit to appear somewhere. Donate money.

Marketing is no longer justifying your fee by bragging to your client about how many cars drove by a billboard you recommended the company put up.

“Now, we have to prove that customers are coming through the door,” said the founder of Grapevine Marketing.

Her three-person firm on Elm Street uses analytics to measure how effective Internet ads and social media are at increasing business for clients.

“We can track that you clicked on let's say this Google ad, came through this (Web) page, went through three more pages, clicked into the shopping cart, bought two things and that you've been here before,” she said.

It's a different digital world since Albano-Davis left a traditional marketing job during the Great Recession in 2009, looking to focus more on the digital side.

“Jumped ship,” as she called it.

The 2003 Northeastern grad used a chunk of 401(k) retirement funds to get her firm started at home.

“The worst case scenario was it doesn't work and I go back and get another job or I'm a pretty decent bartender,” the Massachusetts resident said. “Honestly, the worst time was kind of the best time because everything from that point forward was up.”

Albano-Davis, 35, spent part of her time at the Amoskeag Business Incubator (now Alpha Loft) “before I was ready for an office” and allowed her to network with others starting a business, she said.

“They gave me some credibility,” she said.

And she never had to pick up any hours as a bartender.

At the start, she said, “We were taking on everything, but as we continued to grow we scaled back and handled just the digital work. I learned pretty quickly where to focus our services and where we could be best.”

The big shift happened in 2013, when she changed her business model to focus on long-term marketing projects and full-service Web design and development efforts, away from single projects.

Revenue rose about 150 percent the following year, allowing her to hire full-time workers.

This year, Grapevine is poised to increase revenues at least 30 percent over last year.

“Search engine optimization is a huge part of our business,” said Albano-Davis, whose clients include Next Step Bionics & Prosthetics and the New England Cord Blood Bank. “Most of our business is coming from word of mouth and referrals.”

Mike Skelton, president and CEO of the Greater Manchester Chamber of Commerce, said Albano-Davis has given “really valuable” advice to small business owners during chamber events.

“Her firm really, I would say, has been one of the models on community engagement ... and being active within the business community,” Skelton said. Her job is to figure out how to coax the cyberworld to deliver the biggest bang for a client.

“Companies have finally realized how important it is, so that's one piece,” she said.

“They've gotten a lot smarter about how they market, and what comes along with the digital side is a level of accountability that doesn't exist in a lot of other places.”

She said hiring someone isn't merely choosing the best-looking resume.

“It's far better to find the right person ... that best fits the team versus to hire a specific skill set,” she said.

“I definitely stumbled a couple times in the beginning before I figured that out. You can train for a lot of different skills. but if the person is not the right fit, attitude-wise and personality-wise, it will never work.”


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