Congratulations! You’ve made it through 2020. This year has brought extreme circumstances that none of us could have expected this time last year. While uncertainty and fear spread like fire across the globe, a strong sense of courage, self-sufficiency, and determination have risen from the ashes. The new year marks a fresh beginning. For many of us, 2021 is the new start we needed and one we’ve looked forward to for months.

Developing personal and professional goals is the perfect way to start the year on the right foot, with a growth mindset. We have compiled a quick and easy guide to writing goals you can and will achieve, not ones that you’ll look back at months later – completely forgotten. Let’s embark on this new year together, accomplishing one goal at a time.

Here are some goal writing tips for success in 2021.


Brainstorming ideas is the first step in writing your goals for the year. You can “brain dump” a list of possible objectives you’d like to meet, and organize them from there. We recommend vision boards, which are made by collecting images and/or words of your goals to serve as inspiration, motivation, and a reminder to complete them.

Physically Write Them Down

It’s one thing to have a goal or task in your head, it’s another to manually write it down. The action of jotting down your objectives by hand makes them feel more tangible, more real. These written goals work together with the vision board you created to add to your aspirations for the upcoming months.

Voice Them Aloud

“Speak it out into the universe.” Sharing your personal goals with a close friend or your business goals with colleagues or employees not only serves as an accountability measure, but as another way in which to bring them to fruition. We are social creatures, and this team of support can aid you in achieving your goal or provide you the encouragement to follow through. 

CPT: Create, Plan, and Track

Once these targets have been set, a course of action is necessary to execute and fulfill them: the what, the how, and the when.

  • What are you hoping to achieve, personally or professionally?
  • How can you achieve this? What resources do you need?
  • When should this be achieved?

Deadlines are tricky whenever you are designing the intricacies of your plan. You should really take the time to evaluate your goals, and consider how you work best. Are you a procrastinator who needs a set deadline? Can your business successfully accomplish this task in X amount of time? Does your project need a loose date? These are but a few of the considerations you should ponder while drafting your goals. 

Once you have your plan set and scheduled for the upcoming weeks, few months, or year, be sure to track the progress and completion of each goal as it occurs. It may not feel like you’ve accomplished much, but taking a look over your progress will boost your motivation.

Celebrate Each and Every Goal Reached

No matter if your goal is walking outside for thirty minutes a day or increasing the revenue of your business by 10%, each goal is significant in its own right. Every accomplishment obtained deserves to be celebrated. This reinforces your achievement and keeps you moving on a successful path toward your other endeavors.

If 2020 has taught us anything, it’s that being flexible is important. Remember, these are your goals, and you have the freedom to change them. Stay intentional, be optimistic, and refuse to give up. Let’s not end 2021 with a sigh of relief that it’s over, but with the satisfaction that this was your year – your year of growth and resiliency. We wish you success and happiness!

Choosing the right domain name for your business is no small undertaking. These tips will help you find the right domain name for your website and set you up for success.

Now more than ever, customers are using websites to order from, learn about and interact with businesses that are being negatively impacted by the current pandemic. In addition to the ideas in our 7 Tips to Help Your Small Business Survive the COVID-19 Pandemic article, we believe creating or revamping your website is key in drawing business from your audience and customers. To begin this process, finding an appropriate domain name is a great first step.

Domain Names: The Internet Version of an Address for Your Business

To begin, let’s start with what a domain name is. A domain name is an Internet address for the specific, online location of your business. Domain names are purchased using a domain registrar such as GoDaddy. Establishing a good domain name will add credibility and positive brand perception for your business, and help you get discovered by search engines.

SEO and Why It Should Be Considered

SEO is an acronym for “Search Engine Optimization.” This is the ranking of websites on various search engines as determined by algorithms on platforms like Google, Bing and Yahoo. When creating a website, you will want to research and understand SEO to rank your site higher on search lists. For your domain name, the tips on what to do and what to avoid below are essential in optimizing your business online, and drawing traffic to your site. 

What to Avoid

Before you begin brainstorming and fall in love with a domain name, learn what not to do below. Remember, if your audience has trouble finding or accessing your website, you are losing business.

To begin, let’s view an example consisting of everything you want to avoid.

  1. Repeated Letters – When brainstorming domain names, steer away from adding double letters when it is not a part of the brand name itself. In this example, a user would more than likely type “books” instead of “bbooks,” taking them to a different site altogether or their browser not finding your website at all. 
  2. Numbers – If a number is not in your business name, you should reconsider adding it to your domain. has a number due to its relevance in encompassing our capabilities of website design, web hosting, digital marketing, and E-Commerce as a full experience for our clients. Avoid the addition of random numbers in your domain name to give it a polished look, unless, like us, it is in your brand or company name. These are not as easily typed, forgettable, and simply confusing at times if they have no meaning. If you do have a number in your company name, it may be helpful to register both domain names with the number itself and the number spelled out, in case your audience doesn’t know which way is correct and they can be sent to your site regardless.
  3. Hyphens – Hyphens are allowed, but should be avoided. This, just as the number used above, has the effect of causing your brand name to appear less credible, perhaps taken as an illegitimate company. In addition, it decreases the memorability of your name.
  4. Spelling Variants – Words that have different spelling variations should be avoided if possible. Words like to, too, and two, and hear and here are just basic examples of words that can be confused or typed incorrectly by users. Save yourself and your traffic the annoyance by purposefully not including this in your domain name.
  5. Being a Perfectionist – This one is a bit different, but it is important nonetheless. While this process might take time, don’t get caught up in immediately finding the perfect domain name. Having an average domain name is better than not having one at all. If anything, it will give you potential and space to grow.

With all that settled, let’s get into the fun stuff. Here are 10 additional tips to support you in your domain name hunt!

What to Do

These 10 tips are suggestions you should aim for from the beginning of your domain name creation process.

  1. Brandable – Your domain name is a direct reflection of your business. Try to make this your business name if you have one already. If you don’t have a brand name already established, think of a unique name that accurately represents your business. This is your brand. It should be thoroughly planned so it can stand the test of time and it is a name you are proud of.
  2. Short and Sweet – As this tip suggests, be sure to keep the domain name simple, but noteworthy. This ensures it is memorable and easy to pronounce. We recommend 6-13 characters and one to three words maximum. Just think:,,… all of these are short, but powerful.
  3. Keywords – Keeping SEO in mind, adding keywords to your domain name can boost the likelihood of your website ranking higher in search engines, meaning users will potentially see your website before others – free advertisement essentially. However, only do this if it’s appropriate and doesn’t overwhelm the domain name’s length. For example, if your business is selling candles, you’ll want to include that in the domain name if possible. Find your niche and own it.
  4. Synonyms, the Forgotten Hero – Stuck? Found a name you love but it’s already well known or taken? Meet a thesaurus, your new best friend. A thesaurus will give you many synonyms to choose from for a particular word and their definitions, ensuring you are making sure whatever synonym you decide on makes sense with the context you need it for.
  5. Extensions – Extensions, or top-level domains, are what come after the final “dot” in the entire website name. There are many different kinds of TLDs to consider, but the most common and effective ones are listed below. For more information on top-level domains, you can click here.
    • .com – any commercial business or profitable website (we recommend this 90% of the time)
    • .net – networking sites
    • .org – nonprofit organizations
  6. Domain Name Generator – When all else fails and your creativity is lacking to find traction on a name, use a domain name generator. Even if you don’t receive any names you like from the ones generated, this can help you in the brainstorming process to see examples related to what you envision. These potential domain names can be the one you use or help you find it. 
  7. Research Before It’s Official – What is going to really down your spirits is finally crafting what you think to be the quintessential name for your domain, only to find that it has already been taken. Don’t forget to double-check that it is not already being used. It just takes a few seconds to type into your URL bar, so please check before you have your heart set on a domain name, or find a tool that will search databases to see if it is already taken. 
  8. Secure Your Domain – Now that you have your domain name after thoughtful planning and double-checking its availability, use a reputable domain registrar to purchase your domain so no one else can grab it. Note: you will still need to find website hosting, but you need a domain name first.
  9. Social Media – You’ve worked this hard, add it to your social media! Whatever platform you are on, whether it be Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, or all of them, include it in your bio and be sure to link it in your posts when appropriate so it is readily available for your customers and audience. They can refer back to it for menus, viewing your products, inquiring about your services, or simply learning more about your business. This is free advertising on your own accounts – take advantage of it.
  10. Wahoo, It’s Done – Bask in the glory of finding your domain name to help brand your business. Be proud!

In all, if you take just a few things from this article, let it be these: URL readability is key for users locating your site, ranking your website higher in search engines can depend somewhat on your domain name, and branding your domain is important. Now that you know some important guidelines, the next steps are brainstorming, research, and checking to see what domains are available. As you go through this process, be sure to brainstorm a few back-up names in case the domain name you want isn’t available.

Your domain name will have a significant impact on the success and potential of your website. Be sure to put some careful thought into choosing yours.

With the threat of the COVID-19 pandemic and some entire regions being placed on lock-down and practicing social distancing, more and more companies are asking their employees to work remotely from home. This shift from working in an office environment to working from your house is a tricky transition to make, but these 10 helpful tips can lead to a productive and successful work from home experience.

Set Up Space for Work

The first step is creating a dedicated space for work purposes. This should be separate from your lounging area and be solely used for getting work done. Without differentiating between the two, you are likely to not be as productive and become tempted to procrastinate by not being able to “get in the zone.” Yes, your bed and couch are both comfortable, but if you decide to use these as your space while you work, you’ll find yourself caught in the trap of not wanting to do anything except relax. When choosing this separate workspace, pick a location in your home that has lots of natural light to combat the light from your screen. Choose minimal but inspirational decor you enjoy to motivate you while you work. Some folks enjoy inspirational quotes or bringing in greenery from plants to create a welcoming feel. This is a simple one but is often overlooked: have a good chair to keep you comfortable and ready to work.

Quality Technology 

Even though you’re at home, you need to make sure you have the equipment available to work successfully. Things to check off your standard technology list are: a reliable wifi connection, fast Internet from your provider, a high-speed router, a headset and webcam for video calls, appropriate software, and a quality desktop or laptop. If you do not have a reliable Internet connection, your phone may be able to act as a hotspot for your computer. Save yourself a headache by making a list and acquiring the technology you need to be successful.

Anticipate and Avoid Distractions 

While it may feel like a luxury working from the comfort of your home, you may find yourself more easily distracted than you did at the office. The ease of finding things to preoccupy your time are tenfold when you are in your own house. To combat this, go ahead and list what you know to likely be a distraction for you. As you continue to transition into working remotely this list will grow, and you should continually update it as you learn more and more about yourself through this process. Pro-tip: set app limits on your phone. For communication purposes, you do need to have your phone available. However, social media can be a huge distraction that can quite literally turn into hours of unproductive time. Setting app limits through your phone’s settings will ensure that you are not tempted to open an app you know will cause distraction.

Establish a Work and Life Balance 

Working from home can prove difficult if you do not set clear boundaries between work and your personal life. Designate times for each, setting aside time for office hours and personal hours. This balance can be met, but be sure to communicate them with others as well. This is more challenging if you have a partner and/or children, but being clear on expectations will help you in the long run to maintain times that work and to stay uninterrupted.

Create a Schedule for Yourself

Flexibility is a huge benefit of working at home. Whether you are an early bird or a night owl, find a schedule for office hours that suits you. Dressing up for these hours is beneficial, as you will be more productive than when completing work in your pajamas. It’ll maintain the normalcy of the job. This schedule can be adjusted, but try to nail down a consistent schedule as quickly as you can to keep you on track. Don’t forget to include break times in this, which are necessary to keep you fresh and actively engaged.

List Tasks

When looking at your schedule for the day, physically writing down tasks is an effective way to keep accountability in completing them. Nothing is more satisfying than crossing a project or meeting off of your list. Be sure to keep the tasks within reason so that you don’t become dismayed if you haven’t accomplished everything for the day.

Embrace Communication

Being away from bosses, coworkers, and employees will be a change to get used to. Maintaining communication is essential to avoid any confusion, frustration, or discrepancies that stem from working remotely. Embrace phone calls, messaging systems and emails to keep everyone on the same page.

Check Your Mental Health 

This is a big adjustment for most: take a breather. This takes time to adapt to. Remember that it is okay and normal to feel this way – we’re human and all in this together. If you find yourself feeling lonely, reach out to friends and make time to socialize safely. Even consider having talks with your coworkers that aren’t related to work, as you normally would while on the job. Remind yourself to keep a positive attitude throughout this, because your mindset is important to keep you healthy and productive.

Maintain Your Physical Health

It may have been routine to go to the gym before or after work, but now you find gyms are closed and you are working from home. Once routine is lost, that drive to keep yourself active quickly ceases to exist, motivation nowhere to be found. As you schedule your day or week, don’t forget to set aside time to go for a morning or afternoon walk or run outside, or even just a stretch break.

Establishing a proper diet takes effort and self-restraint as well. The fridge and pantry will become your master if you don’t establish control first. Fill them with options that are healthy and make your body feel good, and remember to drink plenty of water along with all the coffee you’re likely to consume. Exercise is proven to stimulate chemicals that regulate moods, relieve stress, and improve memory and sleep. This goes hand in hand in maintaining your mental health, so don’t underplay both physical and mental health’s significance in your productivity while working at home.

Find the Right Playlist 

Our final tip, and most important in my opinion, is listening to music based upon what you are working on. I have a hard time focusing without any noise in the background. Keep it diverse and find playlists that work for you, varying music tastes from instrumental, soundtrack, folk, or upbeat. My personal go-to is “Rainy Day at the Coffee Shop Ambience” on Youtube, featuring 8 hours of rain, background chatter and jazz music. Whatever the tune, try out this tip and see if it contributes to your focus and productivity levels. 

In all, these 10 tips will ensure your productivity during this difficult time. Don’t fall into the negativity of your situation. Instead, maintain a mindset that you will make this time as productive and enjoyable as it can be. Save your sanity: find what works for you and stick to it. Take control of this time and use it to your advantage. You may find that working remotely from home is your new favorite thing.

As the COVID-19 virus sweeps across the globe like wildfire, there is a lesser known victim to this crisis: local small businesses. The widespread fear of contracting the virus is palpable. While precautions of staying home to limit social interactions and contact are necessary, it unfortunately has the effect of lessening the amount of people that come through the door. This occurrence is inevitable with the progression of the pandemic, but fortunately for you, there are still some things your small business can do to help buffer the impact on your bottom line. 

Stay Active on Social Media

While people sit at home, the big draw may be to instinctively reach for phones to stay connected and entertained. Screen time will result in a rise in usage of both social media and viewing platforms. What does social media look like for your business? Has it been a while since you’ve updated your account? Now is the time to keep users informed of what is happening and sharing content that represents your business. This can be pictures of your products, an inspirational quote, or anything you feel highlights your business or helps your consumers. Building up your social media presence is key in broadening your customer pool and keeping people up to date. 

Write a Blog Post

Writing blog posts can drive traffic to both your establishment’s social media presences and website. By using these tips, your blog may rank higher in search engines. 

  • Be sure to include keywords in your title and throughout the content.
  • Write high-quality material.
  • Opt for words – and lot’s of them. Try to use 1,000+ words per article to boost your rank.
  • Increase readability of text for your readers. 

These posts don’t necessarily have to be directly related to your business, but be sure you are putting out content you stand behind. 

Google My Business

Use Google My Business (GMB) to boost your visibility and keep your potential clients informed. This free tool – yes, free – allows you to create a listing of your business that appears in both Google Search and Google Maps. GMB lets you connect with your customers, track how your customers are interacting with your business, and post updates to your profile with fresh content. Now, more than ever, your customers need to know when you are open, what is available and how they can support you. Be sure to give Google My Business a try and create your profile.

Consider an Online Store

If customers can’t come into your business establishment, consider opening an online store. This is a way they can support you from home, which is where they will likely be spending a majority of their time now and in the coming weeks. Concerned about potential exposure, customers can choose to order online instead. This may help keep sales up to avoid a decline in profit. This option enables customers far and wide to reach you, as it is available online 24/7. 

Come Out to Your Customers

With restaurants and cafes closing, the need to offer a drive thru or curbside delivery method is one to consider. Having consumers order ahead or an employee taking orders outside will help alleviate the concern of being in contact with others. Finding innovative ways to achieve this may help keep your business up and running during this trying time. People will want to come – it’s a matter of providing options for them to do so in a safe manner. 

Get in Touch With Customers and Clients

Speaking of customers, something as simple as messaging your clients and customers will provide that personal touch they may miss from coming to your business if it must be closed over this period. This is a way to keep them updated and feel appreciated. Your customers may be more likely to support your business in any way they can if you put in the effort and show your concern. 

Think Outside of the Box

Our final tip: think outside of the box. You know your business better than anyone could ever know it. Do your research and find what works for you, then fine tune it. Be creative! Rest assured, your customers want to come to your business and they do truly care. However, they must consider health first. Use your imagination to help them support your business.

As a business owner, now is the time to hunker down and think of what can support your business during the COVID-19 pandemic. Take what measures you can to ensure the safety of what you’ve spent your blood, sweat, and tears building. Keep pushing and finding ways to stay afloat and maintain normalcy during this difficult time.

Email phishing scams and attempts to steal your information are on the rise as the April 15 tax filing deadline nears, so how can you avoid falling victim to one of these schemes? Phishing attempts have become much more sophisticated in recent years, so it’s even more important to be vigilant in order to protect your personal financial information. In the month of February, Microsoft security experts saw an average of 300,000 phishing encounter attempts across its browser platforms – every single day. These attempted scams will only increase as tax day approaches.

Here are a few simple tips to avoid falling prey to phishing scams.

1. Watch for suspicious emails. Be suspicious of any unexpected emails, and avoid clicking on links or attachments, especially when the email seems “off” to you, or unexpected, like an email from a tax preparation service, your credit card company or a financial institution. Although the email may appear to be genuine on the surface, if it is not part of your regular interactions with the company, it’s worth further scrutiny. You’re always safer using the direct URL of the company and accessing your account from there to process any transactions or to check your account, not by accessing from a link inside an email. Also, any emails claiming to be from the I.R.S. are most likely bogus, as the Internal Revenue Service does not initiate interactions via email, phone, social media or text, and uses the U.S. Postal Service for nearly all communications with taxpayers.

2. Carefully inspect URLs. You can simply hover over links within the suspicious email with your cursor (without clicking it) to view the URL. See if it actually goes to the website where it claims to direct you. URL shorteners provide convenience, but they can sometimes make the inspection difficult. When in doubt, use your search engine to find the correct company URL and go from there. You can also hover over the email sender’s email address to see if it matches the sender you’re expecting.

3. Be wary of all attachments. If you haven’t just made a purchase for tax processing software or used a tax preparation service, don’t be fooled by getting an email containing an invoice from a tax preparation service or software company. Sending fake invoices for services or products is one of the top methods that attackers use to trick people into opening a malicious attachment that could automatically execute malware on your computer. Malicious attachments could also contain links that download and execute malicious programs if you click on them. PDF attachments that contain innocuous-looking links can lead to users accidentally downloading malicious software designed to steal their credentials.

4. Don’t rely on passwords alone. Whenever possible, opt to use multi-factor authentication like the Microsoft Authenticator app for managing your “manage service account” logins and Windows Hello for easy and secure sign-in to your Windows 10 device. They enable biometric authentications such as your face or your fingerprint to quickly and safely log in across devices, apps and browsers without you having to remember passwords. With a Microsoft account, you can also securely and automatically sign in to other cloud-based applications including Bing, MSN, Cortana, and Xbox Live (PC only).

5. Keep your software current. Run a modern, up-to-date operating system, such as Windows 10, and make sure to stay current with the latest security and feature updates, in conjunction with using built-in anti-virus protection like Windows Defender Antivirus.

Don’t fall victim to sophisticated phishing attempts via email. Protect your personal information by informing yourself about the latest scams. With just a little extra care and vigilance, you should be able to steer clear of “phishy” emails and other scamming attempts this tax season.


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Shooter Mother Earth Spirits Downtown Kinston North Carolina

Shooter at Mother Earth Spirits, Downtown Kinston. Photo by Jessica Braxton.

“Let us be-gin,” a phrase you may recognize if you’ve ever visited Mother Earth Spirits in downtown Kinston. These three words are emblazoned on a large canvas welcoming visitors to the distillery.

Kevin Graham, better known as “Shooter,” is the Head Distiller at Mother Earth Spirits, a position he’s held since October of 2014 when the first bottle of gin poured from the still. Originally from California, Shooter relocated to North Carolina prior to working at Mother Earth. Starting out as a home brewer, his passion led him to the soon to be famous brewery where he worked in all facets of beer production before taking on other roles. Over the years, Shooter has made many significant contributions to Mother Earth. He started the brewery tour program, built the souvenir store that is currently located at the brewery and developed the first gin recipe.

In January of 2013, Steven Hill was working to bring the idea of creating a craft distillery to life and was searching for the right person to take the lead. Shooter was instrumental in developing the first recipes and production.

Originally located in the same building as the brewery, consumer demand for the distillery’s products increased rapidly and they soon outgrew the small space. In early 2017, Mother Earth Spirits purchased more equipment and the building they are now operating in at 302 Mitchell Street in downtown Kinston.

Mother Earth Spirits Gin is unlike many other gins. It has a lower juniper and pine tree flavor opting for a more citrus finish. Shooter uses orange and lemon peel to get the award-winning citrus finish that the gin is known for. Since the 2014 release of gin and whiskey, Mother Earth Spirits has earned a total of 10 medals in national competitions.

Although currently available only in North Carolina, Mother Earth Spirits is looking forward to shipping gin to other markets in the near future. Demand has continued to grow and the company recently purchased more new equipment to increase production.

Mother Earth Spirits is also producing a single malt American whiskey. The whiskey is aged in charred White American Oak barrels for at least 24 months. Each batch is hand bottled and numbered, and features notes of caramel, fresh leather and toasted oak. The whiskey is already very popular, and was recently named Best Whiskey in North Carolina!

Shooter is still harvesting whiskey from the old location and it is currently in and out of stock due to the small production abilities from 2 years ago. However, by the end of this year, the whiskey will be properly aged and on the market without any further interruption.

Mother Earth Spirits works hard to provide the highest quality product. Distilling is different than making new brews. “It’s not harder, it’s different. It involves more chemistry than just allowing something to ferment and creating a beer,” says Shooter. “We ferment the wash similar to the beer process but then we extract all the alcohol and flavor discarding the rest, so we have to go through more processes to create the product,” he said.

In addition to creating award-winning gin and whiskey, Shooter’s other passions include fly fishing in the mountains, building and flying remote-controlled aircraft, and playing and listening to jazz, country and rock music. Shooter has always enjoyed music and playing musical instruments—drums, guitar, violin, banjo and bass. He even played once with the members of the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band in the 80s.

Shooter loves to show off the beautiful distillery. You can make an appointment online for a tour and if you’re lucky, you just might even get to meet his dog, “Whiskey!”

Mother Earth Spirits
302 Mitchell Street
Kinston, NC 28501


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Becky Whittington never expected she would be utilizing the experience and skills she gained as a marketing and business teacher to run her own business. She served as a high school teacher for more than 18 years before moving into the role of Testing and Accountability Director for Lenoir County Public Schools. Today, Becky and her husband Wynn run Just Add Salt, a contemporary ladies apparel and jewelry boutique in downtown Kinston.

Visitors and Kinston locals love shopping at Just Add Salt. “Becky makes me feel welcome and her store is a comfortable place to visit,” said Jessica Braxton, a frequent shopper at Just Add Salt. “It’s a place to feel beautiful.”

The idea to open a boutique started as a desire to develop a lifestyle brand. Wynn and Becky were attending a Jupiter Jones concert at the coast several years ago and noticed a variety of fishing and beach shirts. Guided by the premise that salt air and salt water make everything better, they had an idea for a name and Just Add Salt was born. They sat on the idea for three years until Becky retired from Lenoir County Public Schools.

Becky and Wynn opened their store on May 1, 2018. Located on Herritage Street across from Middle Grounds Coffeehouse, Just Add Salt currently stocks a wonderful variety of ladies apparel, jewelry, accessories, t-shirts, candles and other items that may be personalized with custom monogramming.

We recently caught up with Becky to find out more about what’s shakin’ at Just Add Salt.

Chris: “What inspired you to start your own business?”
Becky: “We felt that there was a tremendous need for another option for ladies to find affordable fashion and gift items in the downtown area. We saw the revitalization of downtown Kinston and wanted to be a part of it while contributing to the economy.”

Chris: “What has been your biggest challenge?”
Becky: “Because our customers are so awesome and shop with us frequently, our biggest challenge has been maintaining inventory levels. This is the best problem a business could have!”

Chris: “What do you love most about Just Add Salt?”
Becky: “The best thing about Just Add Salt is our customers.  We love being able to visit with our customers and assist them with finding items that add a little spice to their lives. We also enjoy meeting people from all over the United States and various parts of the world who enjoy spending time with us in Kinston.”

Visit Just Add Salt in downtown Kinston at 209 N Herritage Street.


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Google’s productivity software, G Suite, will soon cost a little more. Google recently announced that prices for both G Suite Basic and G Suite Business will increase for the first time ever. G Suite Basic will go up from $5 per user per month to $6, and G Suite Business will increase from $10 to $12.

Why charge more for G Suite? Google says it has been aggressive in developing new apps, features and benefits like increased storage over the last several years, and that they have tripled the value of G Suite via artificial intelligence, meeting tools and other features.

When cloud companies such as Google, Netflix, and Hulu start increasing prices, it raises a significant concern for consumers and small businesses about control over costs. Can cloud providers just raise their prices by 20% percent whenever they please? And if they do, what can small businesses really do about it?

In isolation, G Suite’s price-to-value argument makes sense. However, prices of cloud-based technology services are creeping higher due to everything from storage prices to trade wars. For a small business, it adds up. For example, a company with 5 users will see annual costs go from $300 to $360.

And for Google, these price increases could really add up. There are four million businesses on G Suite as of January 2019, and G Suite is estimated to represent half of Google’s cloud revenue. The price increase will take effect on April 2, 2019.


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Search Engine Optimization (SEO) has become an increasingly complicated and time-consuming process. If you don’t know where to begin, just thinking about SEO can be daunting.

SEO is not a big mysterious phenomenon. With a little planning, a little effort and consistent work, you can achieve measurable results. We’ve put together a quick checklist any small business owner can use to improve search engine placement.

  • Build content that is relative to your business and the consumers of your products or services.
  • Create/Update your Google My Business Page. Google My Business (GMB) is a free service offered by Google that lets you claim and update your business information at any time. GMB is different from Apple Maps Connect and review sites such as Yelp in that it allows you to upload photos and videos to enhance your listing. This gives you coverage in regular search, photos and videos for all search engines. Make sure your content, address, phone number, business hours and website link are all accurate.
  • Get coverage through local businesses, blogs, organizations and events. Choose places that fall in line with your brand. Local newspapers or media outlets may run stories on your business. Local bloggers with small followings in your area is another option. The idea is to get locals interested in your business and keep your name circulating online.
  • Catch customer attention by using compelling title tags and descriptions. Include your target keywords in your titles and bulleted lists.
  • Research Keywords and update your content. You should be analyzing how people find your site regularly. Knowing the keywords people use to find you gives you the ability to target your content for those search terms.
  • Fix technical issues on your website such as page load speed, broken links, duplicate content, site responsiveness and security.
  • Optimize your images. Every image on your site should be optimized to load quickly, named appropriately and include alt tags with keywords.
  • Use subheadings, such as H2 and H3 tags in your content. They break your content down into easily scanned blocks and give search engines structure for your site.
  • Check your competitor’s websites and make improvements. Find out what search terms they are ranking for, what content is getting attention and the quality of their website structure. Use this research to improve your content and structure.
  • Get reviews. Reviews were one of the leading local search ranking factors last year. You can improve your search engine performance and conversion rate by getting quality reviews and feedback from your customers.

Search Engine Optimization is a marathon, not a sprint. It takes time and consistency, but your effort will be rewarded with an increase in high-quality traffic to your website.


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Jessy at Middle Grounds Coffeehouse in Kinston

Accountant and part-time stand-up comedian turned barista and successful entrepreneur Jessica Dawson decided to pursue her dream of opening a coffee shop on Herritage Street in downtown Kinston in September of 2015. Fast forward three years, the birth of her son Arlo and thousands of frappés later, and she will soon venture into new grounds in downtown Goldsboro.

Jessy and her husband James, high school sweethearts, plan to open their second Middle Grounds Coffeehouse location in mid-January. Renovations have been underway for several weeks and excitement is brewing with Goldsboro locals. As someone who works downtown, it’s nice to see new and unique businesses open here. Downtown Goldsboro can use a place to get a good cup of coffee,” said Mark Blizzard.

We recently caught up with Jessy to find out more about her grind.

Chris: What inspired you to start your own business?
Jessy: “I wanted to give people a place to belong, a place to call their own, and I was attracted to the freedom and independence of running my own business.”

Chris: What has been your biggest challenge?
Jessy: “Finding and hiring the right people. I do my best to find people with the same love for others like I have. The people that work with me have to know how to brighten someone’s day. I can teach anyone coffee, but finding good people is hard.”

Chris: What do you love most about Middle Grounds?
Jessy: “The community and sense of belonging. I love when I walk in and everyone knows my name, and not just because I’m the owner. I enjoy seeing others make connections and spread the love in my shop. I feel like Middle Grounds has become a magical place in the midst of a world that can be so chaotic at times.”

Chris: What are some interesting facts about your business most people don’t know?
Jessy: “The renovation work was completed with a lot of help from my family. My mom and dad built all of the tables at the shop, and my husband James built the pallet wood wall and painted the MG logo on the brick wall feature that is framed by 100 year old tobacco barn beams. And, there are three hidden camouflaged doors at Middle Grounds.”

Watch the Middle Grounds Facebook Page for news about opening day in Goldsboro!

Middle Grounds Coffeehouse
212 N Herritage Street
Kinston, NC 28501

114 S Center Street
Goldsboro, NC 27530


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