Interested in starting your own entrepreneurial journey in food and beverage but unsure what to expect? Then read up on our interview with Kylie Barnett, Owner of Raising the Bar Communications, located in Walnut Creek, CA, USA.

What's your business, and who are your customers?

I am the owner of Raising the Bar Communications, a wine and spirits public relations agency that blends traditional PR with new-age social and digital media. I exclusively represent wine and spirits brands. Clients span the gamut from small-production luxury wineries to widely distributed national wine & spirits brands.

Services include traditional PR like press releases, new product launches, and media relations, as well as social media account management and influencer integration. I currently have a roster of four retainer clients, in addition to recurring project-based clients. Most of my clients include a hybrid of my services, for example, a combination of PR and influencer programming or social media management and influencer integration.

Tell us about yourself

I have specialized in wine & spirits communications for more than 15 years. Prior to going off on my own, I spent time on both the agency and internal winery side of the business. On the agency side, I had the opportunity to manage a portfolio of luxury beverage alcohol brands, where I learned the importance of understanding the industry and the intricacies of growing and making wine in order to effectively pitch my clients’ wines and stories to the media. After working on the agency side, I went on to work in-house, directing the PR efforts for one of the country’s fastest-growing ten wineries. In this role, I was the one hiring the PR agencies to manage my brands instead of being on the agency management side. And what I found is that I couldn’t ever find the right agency to fit the bill for what I was looking for.

Either they were too expensive, didn’t understand the first thing about wine, or were too stuck in their old-school approaches. After several years of feeling frustrated and unsatisfied with the caliber of agency options available – and hearing similar sentiments from industry colleagues – I decided it was time to take the leap into small business ownership. Raising the Bar Communications was founded with the goal of providing a cost-effective and reliable resource for brands to creatively express their story to the media, consumers, and industry gatekeepers. As a seasoned communications professional in the industry, I understood the challenges that many wine and spirits brands were facing – both financially and situationally – and my goal was to leverage my industry background, media relationships, and little-to-no startup overhead to provide big agency results at a fraction of the cost.

Today, the majority of new clients seeking my services come to me with a similar shared experience. After wasting tens of thousands of dollars on a big, expensive agency fraught with false promises and few results, they are instead looking to partner with an expert in the niche field of wine and spirits communications who understands the modern-day digital and media landscape and how to efficiently deliver quality results. After once being in their shoes, I understand these frustrations, and it’s conversations like these that motivate me to continue to be the go-to agency to fill the void that so many wine and spirits brands are looking to fill.

What's your biggest accomplishment as a business owner?

So far, my biggest accomplishment as a business owner isn’t one specific thing. In particular, it’s more of the bigger picture perspective that I am living the vision that I had hoped for back when I took this risk in 2016. I get so busy in the day-to-day of running the business that it’s good sometimes to take a moment and reflect on how far I’ve come. I remember the first check I received in the mail from my first client. I was so proud.

I think I checked the mailbox 100 times to see it, in the flesh, written out to Raising the Bar Communications, LLC. It was so surreal. And here I am, six years later, scheduling invoices, routing press, managing press trips, running influencer campaigns, fielding new business inquiries, and being the proud owner of a successful wine & spirits PR agency.

What's one of the hardest things that come with being a business owner?

For me, one of the hardest things that come with being a business owner is setting and enforcing boundaries. I am so passionate about ensuring that clients are satisfied that I can be, at times, too accommodating and available, which has led to several periods of burnout over the past six years. Whether it’s taking on additional uncompensated work that falls outside of the retainer or project scope, doing a favor here and a favor there, or taking on new business with an already full book of business, these small extras start to add up and can take their toll.

Owning a business is a perpetual work in progress, and the notion of boundaries is something that I am consciously working to improve upon as I continue to develop and grow my business.

What are the top tips you'd give to anyone looking to start, run and grow a business today?

  1. How much time do you have? Ha! Here’s a good place to start:
    You should be able to articulate what makes your business, service, or product unique or superior to the competition—and reinforce this wherever and whenever possible. Why should I choose your service or product over another? You started your business for a reason. What’s the reason? Does your business offer something that others don’t? Does your product offer better or faster results? Is your product organically made? For me, I started Raising the Bar to offer a nimble, results-focused, economic agency alternative to brands with great products but limited budgets. After working in the wine industry for over a decade, a common misconception is that wineries have large, bottomless budgets when, in fact, this is not the case. This, coupled with an oversaturated market, makes standing out from the competition a challenge. And Raising the Bar has sought to solve these challenges by getting brands’ stories in the public eye without breaking the bank in the process.
  2. Make yourself and your company visible. Before you launch anything, make sure you’ve got a digital presence established – and keep the look and feel consistent (ex: logos, colors, taglines, etc.). Once you launch, potential customers are going to want more information about what you’re all about. Much of this can be done at no cost. Create a LinkedIn Business Page, Google Business Page, Yelp Business Page, Facebook Page, and Instagram Page. Business owners often underestimate the power of social media. However, this is a free, easy way to share information and engage new customers. Create a website and email (there are several user-friendly, affordable options that make creating a web page easy to do). Are you a local business? Consider reaching out to local news editors that cover new business openings in your area. Getting all my digital assets lined up before launching was the first thing I did so that when I started prospecting and sharing the news about my new business, folks would be able to find out more and supportive friends would be able to easily share out links as well.
    Layer in a support network. Starting, running, and growing your own business can be incredibly rewarding, but it can also be exhausting and lonely at times. I am a very independent person, and this quality has served me well as a solopreneur. However, I have also learned that I can’t do it all on my own. If possible, network with others who understand or participate in your business niche. If you are a restaurant owner, network with other restaurant owners. Suppose you are a freelance writer and network with other freelance writers. For me, I have several other PR pros – both solo and those who work at larger agencies – whom I will often lean on for advice, tips, or even to just vent about a particularly challenging situation. Additionally, I have several other female friends who own their own businesses in other unrelated fields and who are also great friends to talk shop with and bounce ideas off of, namely because they get it. And believe me, not everyone is going to get it!
  3. And one last bonus tip. In addition to cultivating a support network within your niche, never be shy about sharing your business/what you do for a living with others! It’s a common conversation topic, and I’ve found that simply mentioning what I do, has opened doors for my business that I never saw coming! A few years ago, I mentioned to my mechanic that I owned my own wine and spirits PR agency. And wouldn’t you know, he was just months away from launching a new family winery in Paso Robles with his wife’s brother. That one conversation resulted in a new client. Never underestimate the power of networking with people outside of your work bubble. You never know where a random conversation can lead! Good luck!

Where can people find you and your business?


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