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  • Writer's pictureKimberly Reuter

Working for Oysters

Updated: Jun 12, 2020

When the COVID-19 shutdowns hit, like many small businesses, I directly felt the impact. My sales pipeline dried up, clients were hedging, and speaking engagements evaporated. I had recently relocated my business from Seattle to Virginia, with grand plans to fire up my east coast connections and leverage my new “bi-coastal” status. All those carefully laid plans were squashed with a single news conference.

As a hustler at heart, and not one shy away from adversity, I pivoted to focus on marketing and brand awareness. These were 'luxury' efforts when I had a full book of work. Now, I had the time to focus, blog, and podcast – an outlet for my creative energy. Yet still I was restless, frustrated, and worried.

Many years ago, I had adopted a mantra of, “In Times of Scarcity, Be Generous." I started looking for opportunities to help. While my income stream was as dry as a desert, I knew other people were suffering too. I began to investigate and discovered my community, those directly around me, were in bad shape, and with a future more uncertain than mine.

The Virginia seafood industry was in a death spiral. I’m not talking about the restaurant and raw-bars; those were hurting too. But closer to home, the watermen of Virginia had nowhere to sell their products. Crab, oyster, and fish sales plummeted. With nowhere to sell seafood hauls, the watermen stopped harvesting. Their income and, in many cases, their way of life for generations was damaged, and possibly forever.

I started making phone calls and sending emails. My early inquiries were met with complacency and derision. Some people believe the watermen community is uneducated, stubborn, and surly. People told me the watermen would never talk to me; that they aren’t interested in change.

However, I can be pretty stubborn and surly myself, so I soldiered on. I had decades of ecommerce experience, and my community needed a new revenue channel. Any watermen not considering DTC and ecommerce were facing an uncertain future. I kept making calls and sending emails until someone listened.

Finally, a local organization returned an email… BINGO! The first thing they said was, ”…I can’t get off the phone. Watermen call me every day talking about selling online. These guys are in a hard way… We don’t know anything about selling online; we cant’ help them…” And without a second of thought, I said…” I can, and I’ll do it for free.”

Two free webinars on building an online business led to hours of free coaching and advice. So long, as I didn’t have to do the grunt work, I would share everything I know. I sat in oyster houses navigating websites and suggesting packages. I talked to crabbers and pound netters about selling strategies. If they listened, I talked.

I kept my promise; I never asked for money. I never sold my services. But I never walked away depleted or empty-handed. Oysters, crabs, t-shirts, hats, and wholehearted gratitude were offered without restriction. There is no greater payment.

See, I grew up in watermen country. This is where I learned to give freely, without expectation. The watermen taught me about honest hard work and taking care of your kin. They also taught me to be stubborn and surly and never back down from adversity. These values propelled me through my corporate and executive life. I distinctly remember early in my big tech career people thought I was just a country girl from the marshes of Virginia… and they were right.


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