Photographing nature from a train

Costa Mesa photographer, Matt Fitt, captured a number of breathtaking photos while riding on the Mackerel Flats & Goat Hill Junction Railroad at Fairview Park in Costa Mesa.

Lupine in bloom at Fairview Park, Costa Mesa, California

Engineer Hank Castignetti hosted and guided the group, providing Fitt and fellow photographers with unparalleled access to the site. The entire group was in agreement when one passenger said, “what better way to view the park in bloom, than by train.”

Thanks to a particularly wet winter, the early days of spring have yielded blankets of color across the fields of Fairview Park.

For a brief period, vivid fields of yellow mustard are now so high they almost seem as if they will soon grow as tall as some of the trees in the park. There’s a lot to explore in the park and for our train riding photographers — Matt Fitt, Terri Fuqua, Amelia Painter, and Diane Castignetti — the excursion left a strong sense of respect and appreciation for nature as they stood in isolated fields filled with spring blooms.

On the third of weekend of every month, from 10 am to 3:30 pm, Castignetti and his fellow Orange County Model Engineers give rides to the public. The trains are made up of 4-6 bench cars that seat 5 to 6 adults and children per car. Rides are free; however, donations are welcome and help keep the trains running.

Don’t be surprised if you come upon photographer Matt Fitt around the park, whether assisting amateur photographers, taking striking images of visitors, or capturing the fleeting beauty of a wildflower. He is and has been, a frequent visitor to Fairview Park since childhood.

Born and raised in Costa Mesa, Fitt has come to love all the beauty and the natural environments the city has to offer. He is a much sought after photographer with a busy shooting schedule, but still makes time for a morning or late-afternoon jaunt to Fairview Park for some much-needed nature relief.

To learn more about the photographic work of Matt Fitt, visit http://www.mattfitt.com.

Photographer Matt Fitt taking photographs of Fairview Park from train

Photo advice: A selection of lenses will help you capture a variety of perspectives on the flowers and grasses growing wild in the park. Bolting mustard flowers are one of the most common species of wildflower here, but you’ll also find blue lupines, Arroyo Lupines, Anise, wild daisies, Western Verbena, Bush Sunflowers, Short-pod mustard, flowering wild radish, and golden Yarrow.

Don’t Turn Customers Away, Go Mobile Today!

If you are a small business with a website that is not mobile friendly, you are mostly likely turning customers away. As each day passes, more people are using their mobile devices to access information on the web. If your small business website is not smartphone and tablet friendly — meaning content is easy to read and access on a smaller screen — then, your customers (and potential new customers) may be at your competitor’s site already.

In order to have a truly mobile-friendly website, you will want to keep these 3 simple rules in mind:

1. Place the most important information at the top of the page in plain text. This can include your firm’s name and contact information.

2. Don’t include Flash-based videos on your mobile site as it is possible they may only appear as a black box on the screen, because many mobile devices do not support Flash.

3. No cluttered pages. “Easy to read on a small screen” is the goal.

Microsoft and Google Suddenly Want to Be Like Apple

On Monday, Microsoft shocked the tech world by announcing a pair of Windows 8 tablets, both dubbed Microsoft Surface. But it wasn’t just the press event’s mysterious nature that made the news so stunning.

For the first time, Microsoft will make its own Windows PCs. The company will be in direct competition with hardware partners such as HP and Dell, and judging from early reactions, Microsoft is in a good position to win. The potential effects of Surface on the PC market can’t be understated. Click here to read remainder of article.

B&B Owners, How Loud is Your Marketing Voice?

If you own a Bed and Breakfast establishment, it is important to have a loud marketing voice in these times of high gasoline prices, economic uncertainty, and an unresolved U.S. credit crisis.

If you have not taken the time to give thought to your marketing voice in the past, hesitate no longer. Most innkeepers tend to work with relatively small marketing budgets. A smaller budget might reduce the volume of your marketing voice, but it doesn’t have to reduce its quality. To get your message through with the clarity of a string quartet, start by analyzing what your current message is saying to your potential guests:

  • Does your message tell a potential guest what you have to offer? More times than you might expect, innkeeper messages don’t really say anything at all, at least not anything a potential guest cares about. Cut through the noise by basing your message on what you know about the needs of guests.
  • Does your message say the same thing every time? Consistency is crucial, particularly in noisy, crowded marketing environments. Are your printed materials, online communications and everything else in harmony? If yes, then, resist the urge to change your message just because you’re tired of it — you hear it a thousand times more often than your potential guests. Remember, the goal of your message is to be Recognized, Received and Remembered by potential guests!

The importance of carrying the message to the Internet

Because research has shown that nearly 90% of new inn guests are now coming from the Internet, it critical that all B&B owners have an easy to navigate, informative and visually appealing website.

Last year, I visited a friend’s home in Seattle. And ever since my friend moved to this house, she has bragged about the view from her living room’s large picture window that looks into a massive yard filled with mature trees, striking exotic flowers and lots of wild life that she feeds regularly.

Well, the yard was everything she said, beautiful, peaceful and filled with friendly creatures. Once inside the house, however, she led me to the picture window. The yard remained spectacular, but, you barely noticed it. The inside of the window was dusty and there were fingerprints all over. The outside of the window was a target for bird droppings. It was difficult to ignore the window in order to appreciate the yard.

Your Web site might have much in common with this window. Your visitors come to your Web site to accomplish something — to research, to price your accommodations, or to make a reservation. Your site’s goal should be to become transparent — just like a clean, well-built window.

A window that’s cracked, or dirty, hung too high or too low only calls attention to itself. It doesn’t allow people to see past it and fully appreciate the view.

A Web site that’s inadequately planned and poorly executed, or a mystery to navigate, doesn’t allow visitors to accomplish what they’ve come to do. The site calls attention to itself and not the view it’s offering. Often, visitors will move on to your competition’s site because yours may not be helping them accomplish what they came to do.

A frustrating experience with your Web site tells visitors that they’ll probably have a frustrating experience doing business with you. A clean, efficient site tells visitors that you have a clean, efficient business. Here are some simple rules that will help you create a Web site in harmony with your goal to be Recognized, Received and Remembered by potential guests.

Tell your story on your Web site & in your print brochure
B&B clients that work with TotalWebDesigner.com have seen solid results from the practice of telling an easy to understand story in both their print materials and on the web, so I feel confident in telling you to use the same copy for your brochures and your Web site. You can refer inquiring guests to your Web site for more information on certain subjects appearing in your brochure. This practice creates a seamless link between your print and online communications. Use this step as a catalyst to also link your press releases, and other print materials to your Web site. The possibilities are endless. Here are a few pointers:

  • Always avoid having text that repeats the picture content – it should offer new information or place the picture in a new context.
  • Fast access is vital; research shows that if your site doesn’t load in 20 seconds most people will give up.
  • Content is Critical Provide only the amount of content needed to help your visitor reach their goal. People do not like to read volumes on a Web site. Reading from computer screens is about 25% slower than reading from paper.
  • People don’t want to read a lot of text from computer screens You should write 50% less text and not just 25%. Visitors don’t like to scroll: one more reason to keep pages short.
  • Skimming instead of reading is a fact of the Web It has been confirmed by countless usability studies. Web writers have to acknowledge this fact and write for scan ability.
  • The website must flow your message out when the home page first loads. Links to your rooms and the grounds will draw visitors into the site. Give people all the options to contact you. Be sure every page has a prominent link to a contact page. If you leave off an e-mail address because you do not want spammers to obtain it, then provide a form where a message can be forwarded to your e-mail account.
  • Be Inviting The site needs to be pleasant to look at and easy to navigate. Maintain a consistent look and feel that mirrors your brochure.
  • Provide Support A huge factor in the success of your Web site depends on you answering e-mail inquiries. If visitors send you e-mails and you do not return them in a timely fashion, you have lost a customer.
  • Showcase Your Company, not Your Designer!  Your site is about your inn, your services and/or your products. If your designer does not appear to understand this, find a new designer.
  • Include a Call to Action There is a precise point in the content delivery where you must include a call to action. The objective is to get a prospective guest to contact you for more information so you can realize your goal to have your message Recognized, Received and Remembered.

~Amelia Painter

Couples Can Reconnect During B&B Stay

Enjoy the company of your loved one at a B&B. It is natural for couples to become very comfortable with each other and reconnect when they plan a Bed and Breakfast getaway. Yet that doesn’t have to mean the two must focus on romance the entire stay — this too can be draining to a relationship.

Most quality B&B are very romantic in nature and the innkeepers usually enjoy catering to their guests.  At the typical bed and breakfast inn both you and your mate will get plenty of personal attention. You will also get that time alone that you have been craving. If you have jobs and children then you know that rarely happens. For most of us, we often use down time to catch a couple of hours of sleep before we start a new day. A bed & breakfast getaway can be the perfect solution.

These days just about every household has a home computer.  If you happen to be someone that has not yet jumped onto the Internet’s Superhighway, go to the local library so you can explore your options together. Decide where you would like to go and how much you are able to afford. You certainly don’t want to be worried about your finances while you are enjoying some time away. If you are tight on cash then plan to visit a B&B during the week when the prices are usually a little lower.

To help you save even more money, look for coupons or package deals online as well.  It is common for bed & breakfasts to be full on the weekends. Yet they often have empty rooms during the week so they offer a discount to entice people to fill them up. It is a business strategy you can easily use to your advantage.

You can also find great pictures online so you know exactly what your money will be buying you. This eliminates the risk of you showing up and the room not being what you thought it would be. That could really put a damper on this nice romantic time you are planning for each other. If you have a certain look or theme in mind then type that into the search engines to help you narrow down the possibilities.

If you need something in addition such as you want a certain bottle of wine or an arrangement of flowers in the room when you arrive contact them directly. Most of the bed & breakfast businesses owners are very willing to do these types of favors for you. If you call one and they don’t do these type of special favors, then consider staying at one that will. Of course you can’t leave such requests for the last minute and then expect them to do it so plan ahead.

There are many great reasons why you may want to spend some time with the one you love. It may be your anniversary or to celebrate a special time in your lives. However, you don’t need to have anything in particular going on to decide to get away like this. Be spontaneous and show each other you are still valued and very special to each other even with all the other commitments that have taken place in your lives.

Take some time to really nurture yourself and your partner by getting away. Booking a stay at a great bed & breakfast can help you get connected again in a way that you haven’t for some time. Get away from your daily responsibilities and really focus on each other. You will find that everything else is still there waiting when you return. Yet these short get always can do wonders for your mood and for your relationship.

Practically every state bed and breakfast association has a website these days.  Most are filled with photos and interesting facts about the member inns.  The Iowa Bed & Breakfast Innkeepers Association even has a special travel links page where visitors can find links to just about every other state association in the USA, here is a link to that page: http://www.iabedandbreakfast.com/travel_links.htm.