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Out in the ecosystem: Kathy Bechtel from Italiaoutdoors

Posted by Chad O'Connor  January 7, 2013 11:00 AM

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As an avid cyclist, I was excited to have the opportunity to interview Kathy Bechtel, owner of Italiaoutdoors Food and Wine. Kathy’s company is based in the Boston area, but focuses on personalized bike tours of Italy. Kathy had some great insights on the travel industry, and how to run a global business from right here in Boston.

TC: Kathy, tell us about your business and how you got into it. I think it’s something a lot of us dream about doing to run something like yours.

KB: I run Italiaoutdoors Food and Wine out of Boston with my partner Vernon McClure, who is based in Italy. By trade, I am a chef, cooking instructor, food blogger, avid cyclist and ski instructor, but I have channeled this into creating very special, personalized experiences for travelers in Italy. I enjoy sharing the amazing foods, wonderful wines, and the stories behind all of them.

I’m lucky to have found a business partner who is different in many ways but that compliments me perfectly. Vernon is an ex-Army Ranger with 20 years of experience creating and leading cycling, skiing and hiking adventures in Italy.

Vernon provides his expertise in all things fitness – personalized coaching, route selection – as well as history and culture. He has been an avid student of Italian history since making it his home 20 years ago.

TC: The more I learn about the cycling tours industry from running Bike Tour Buzz, the more you realize there are a lot of sub-contracting and reselling business models. You see a beauty to running a small business.

KB: That’s right. We don’t plan to expand to other countries, or outsource our trips to other guides. These are not ‘canned’ tours, but trips we adapt for each and every group we lead. If you want to ride 60 or 90 miles a day, and do some climbs, we’ll find some for you. If you are happy with 20 miles, stopping along the way to take pictures and visit a market, we can make that happen as well. We are there, and we can make changes and handle any issues, from lost luggage to a desire for a rest day, to a sudden craving for a great pizza for dinner tonight.

TC: Tell us about the growth of cycling in Boston and New England. There seem to be more riders than ever.

KB: It’s a great sport, and very accessible for all. It gets us all outside - we truly have a beautiful area for cycling, with the seacoast, country roads, and some nice hills as we head west. Local cycling clubs are a great way to meet others, and I’ve ridden with some wonderful cyclists in their 70s and 80s. It’s also great to see programs like the Hubway spring up and bring cycling into the city. In Italy, we see cycling as a primary means of transport in urban areas – I’d love to see that happen here as well.

TC: Where are most of your customers from?

KB: Most of our customers are from the New England area, but now we are getting business from Canada, the UK, and Australia as word of mouth about what we do spreads.

TC: How do you run a global business from Boston?

KB: Most of our marketing is web based, so I can do it from virtually anywhere. But here in Boston, my home since I was 9, I have an easy flight to Italy, a great place to cycle in the summer, and a short ride to my winter home at Sugarloaf, ME where I teach skiing.

Before entering the culinary field, I spent 15 years working as an engineer and marketing manager in the telecommunications field. I’m now finding myself having to become an expert in web site design, SEO, social media, and blogging. I use Joomla for my web site, WordPress for my blog, and subscribe to a bunch of newsletters on promoting yourself on line. I use Constant Contact (based in Waltham) for my monthly email newsletter.

I also promote on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, LinkedIn. All have their uses, and the trick is to use them regularly, but not allow them to become a time sink. I spend a lot of time on SEO for my web site, researching key words, and most importantly, writing my own unique content for both my site and my blog. Luckily, I enjoy the research that goes into writing about the wines and food of Italy! It takes a lot of time, and a lot of patience, but thing are starting to happen on line. I recommend Stephen Woessner’s book, Search Engine Optimization in Just 15 Steps.

Lastly, I donate cooking classes to charities as a company as a way to get the word out on our tours. I have a great time, meet some wonderful people, and support worthy causes!

TC: What special advice do you have for the entrepreneurs who want to keep it small?

KB: From the practical standpoint, build a business case that includes your startup costs – web site, office equipment, marketing – and stick to it. There is so much today you can do yourself on line – web site, email marketing, social media. But as soon as you get out there, you will be inundated with people trying to sell you services – SEO, Twitter followers, backlinks, mailing lists. They will all make great claims about how quickly they can build your business. Avoid the temptation to ‘invest’ in one to build your business quickly. Many use techniques that Google frowns upon, and in the long term may cause more harm than good. There is no quick path to success, and your best bet is to stick with your own efforts. Write great content for your blog and web site, and take every opportunity to network.

Most importantly, delight each and every customer you do earn.

Ted Chan is Founder and CEO of Upward Mobility, Practice Quiz and Noyo, companies in the mobile education market. Ted is also a strategy consultant for Boston-based CSMG. His latest venture, Bike Tour Buzz, provides reviews, information, and destination guides for cycling vacations.

This blog is not written or edited by Boston.com or the Boston Globe.
The author is solely responsible for the content.

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