Local Investing Resource Center launches
A brand new press release confirms we’ve made it to the finish line, which is really just the beginning: “Website Helps Main Street Take on Wall Street; Local Investing Gains Nationwide Resource.” A team of web developers, graphic designers, media consultants, editors, donors, and colleagues, with yours truly at the helm, has been hard at work for three years, building a unique online resource that’s designed to help investors connect with local small businesses and nonprofits that offer investment opportunities. We’ve created rich, in-depth educational guides tailored to our three primary audiences: investors, entrepreneurs, and community leaders that want to kickstart local investing in their communities. We built a news feed, forums for discussion, and a directory of local investing groups and practitioners nationwide. We also disseminate information through our social media channels and local investing E-newsletter. The purpose of all this is to scale up the local investing movement nationwide. You can check out the fruits of our labors at local-investing.com. Here’s the story of how it came about.
In 2008, while living in Port Townsend, Washington, I was invited to join a newly forming group of citizens that wanted to invest a portion of their money with local businesses. Being a fairly isolated and small town of 9,000—located on a peninsula jutting off of another peninsula, surrounded by water and mountains—Port Townsend has a history of being a tight-knit, relatively self-reliant community. Neighbors are accustomed to working together to get things done, including investing in one another when needed. But when the financial crisis hit, local banks pulled in their credit lines to local businesses just as the off-season arrived. It was an anxious moment for our community and the country as a whole. Our group’s response was to launch the “Local Investing Opportunities Network,” or LION, with the mission of building a more prosperous and resilient local economy by keeping investment money in our community. The word spread, and pretty soon, local business people were hearing about us as an alternative source of funding. Several of them reached out to our members, and the first local investment deals were struck. New businesses were launched, existing businesses were expanded, jobs were created, and relationships built. Local investing created an exciting new community conversation around how neighbors could invest in one another in a mutually beneficial way.
Over the next few years, LION grew, and started receiving some attention from outside our community as a replicable model for local investing. We were written about favorably in two books, Locavesting by Amy Cortese, and Local Dollars, Local Sense by Michael Shuman. Inquiries started coming in from communities around the country, asking how our model worked. I found myself answering many of the same questions over and over again, and wished that there was a high quality online resource that people could consult to learn the basics of local investing. At some point, it clicked in my mind that such a resource really just needed to be created, so why not just do it?
If I had any idea what would be involved in bringing that dream to fruition, I’m not sure I would have started. First, there was the decision to structure it as a nonprofit project, getting a fiscal sponsor, forming an advisory board, and drafting a strategic plan and a budget. Then we began fundraising, approaching individual and institutional donors, and running an online crowdfunding campaign. Funding was successful, so we started building our team. Graphic designers expressed our aesthetic vision of how the site would look. Web developers used free “open source” software to build the functionality of the website and all of its many community-oriented features. Consultants crafted our social and traditional media strategy (otherwise known as “how to get the word out”) and designed valuable content to help journalists and social media friends learn about our offerings and share them with the world. Which reminds me, be sure to “like” Local Investing on Facebook and follow @LocalInvesting on Twitter!
Meanwhile, we had to create content and develop a framework for sharing information online in an easily accessible format. We decided to shoot video interviews with local investing practitioners to inspire and teach our audience. Instead of hiring expensive film crews, I spent weeks researching and buying the equipment needed for a portable video studio. Then, I spent weeks learning how to use all of the equipment, including video production software that would enable us to publish polished videos to embed in our website. Soon enough, I was interviewing friends and colleagues in front of the camera and producing videos. I began writing our comprehensive educational guides on topics like Local Investing Clubs & Networks, Organizing Business Showcases, and Evaluating Local Investments. I gathered information from practitioners around the country in order to present the best practices to our audience, giving people clear models that they can follow in their own communities. The process of writing and editing these guides took the longest of all, but everything came together in the end, and we were able to launch our site in early 2015. What a journey!
Though it’s amazing to think about what it took to get to this point, we are really just at the beginning of a whole new experience: operating and gradually expanding the site. With a bit of luck and a lot of support from others, we will inspire people and communities around the country to invest more locally and help revitalize our local economies. I hope you will join us by visiting the brand new Local Investing Resource Center at www.local-investing.com, subscribing to our E-newsletter, and spreading the word!