Fly Rose Air

Charter pilot learns networking herself crucial to making her company take off

When her marketing efforts didn't pay off, Jane Rosevelt had to learn to personalize her sales approach

The Oregonian, Friday, November 20, 1998
By Jennifer Bjorhus of The Oregonian staff

    Jane Rosevelt's Web site displayed flight routes and rates. She'd strategically placed ads in publications such as the Multnomah Bar Association and Sierra Club newsletters. She'd mailed a flurry of information postcards about "Rose Air," the air taxi service she runs with her Cessna Skylane. "Always a window seat," the ads declare.

    Though she has been chartering flights since 1996 -- she hopes to finally break even by the end of this year -- Rosevelt was disappointed by the results of her marketing efforts. The responses to her ad in the Sierra Club newsletter, for instance: zero.

    Then she got invited to speak at a brunch offered by Lake Oswego Civic Outreach, a business welcoming service. Struggling through her fear of large groups and public introductions, Rosevelt discovered a business truism at least as old as silver coins. Rosevelt, herself, is her most effective marketing tool. She changed her marketing strategy. Networking at business groups now generates half of Rose Air's sales.

    It may seem old-fashioned and too basic to bother with. But the fundamental importance of networking is frequently overlooked by entrepreneurs -- even those sophisticated about other forms of marketing. Networking is always critical for a growing business, but when you're essentially selling yourself -- as a pilot is doing -- it can be do or die.

    "It's surprising how many people don't use it," said Don Alanen, a retired engineer who coaches entrepreneurs with the Small Business Administration's SCOR program in Portland. "A lot of them, they stumble because they don't really pick up on the personalization of selling. When it comes right down to it, it's networking that gets the results."

    Alan Resnick, marketing professor at Portland State University, couldn't agree more. Not only do people not systematically network, Resnick said, but they don't view it as part of an integrated marketing communications program. They also don't identify the purpose of their networking. Are you building your reputation? Trying to get more business? Creating an image?

    The mistake most people make, Resnick said, is that they don't pinpoint the people and groups of people who will have the maximum effect on their business. Then they don't stay in touch with those people in appropriate ways.  "I have a whole scheme for doing it," he said. "I've rarely seen people do it effectively. There are good schmoozers, but there's very, very few people that do it on a systematic method."

    Almost every quick and effective marketing strategy involves forming relationships, said Pat Frishkoff, director of the Austin Family Business Program at Oregon State University.  "She's a pilot? I want to make sure this woman has her feet on the ground," Frishkoff said. "If I'm going to fly with someone in a small plane, I'd be a whole lot happier if I met them face to face. That's what Rosevelt is learning."

    With money she inherited from her uncle, Rosevelt bought her four-seater Skylane and then got her air carrier license from the Federal Aviation Administration to help pay for her expensive hobby. Three years ago, she launched Rose Air with help from a friend who does public relations.

    Rosevelt, a 55-year-old semi-retired nurse practitioner, still works part time, taking throat cultures and peering into ears for Kaiser Permanente when she isn't flying. The regular paycheck has made her entrepreneurial foray possible, she said, adding that she doesn't anticipate earning enough income from her service to quit her other job for several more years. Her long-term goal is to have her charter service support her.

    The past three years have been an extended experiment in marketing. Though she's dropped most of her advertising, Rosevelt continues to mail hundreds of postcards to prospective clients. Such mailings generated 20 percent of her business her first year, she estimated. Another chunk of bookings now comes from her Web site, www. roseair.com, which opened in March.

    But the most successful method, she said, was the one that was hardest: networking. As Rosevelt put it: "I fly better than I speak."

    She stumbled into networking six months ago, she said, when the Lake Oswego Civic Outreach group called her and invited her to a networking brunch. When she showed up at the Chinese restaurant in Lake Oswego, there sat 40 strangers. When it came time, Rosevelt gulped and introduced herself. She gave out 20 cards.

    Though she booked only one trip from that meeting, she decided to stick with it and now regularly attends six groups, including the Lake Oswego Chamber of Commerce, the Orcas Island Chamber of Commerce, the Portland Oregon Visitors Association, Portland Area Business Association and Lake Oswego Civic Outreach Committee. Rosevelt is considering joining the Oregon Entrepreneurs Forum.

    The meetings became less and less intimidating, Rosevelt said, but she still has a way to go.

    "If I were to get up at the microphone that would be another story," she said. "I'm awkward still. I'm still looking at my shoes."

    Alanen offers common-sense advice: Think about being in the other person's shoes, knowing nothing about you or your business. Focus on reaching out to them with simple information about what you can offer.

    As for Rose Air, those lawyers Rosevelt was aiming for are trickling in. A few weeks ago, she flew Portland attorney Gary Bullock from the Portland airport to Roseburg for a deposition.

    "He got back in the plane, and he said, 'You know, it's such a beautiful day, I want you to take me over this house I used to live in.' We took a little side trip down along a river outside of Roseburg, and he saw his house and he took pictures."

Window seat guaranteed.