By Lynnette Hintze
Daily Inter Lake, Kalispell, Mont.
The first title on Maria Phelps’ business card is Web gal.
Then she lists herself as a SEO’er (SEO stands for search-engine optimization), a content strategist, a promoter and a people connector.
What doesn’t show up on her business card is that she’s also an entrepreneur, a business owner, the president of the Flathead Area Young Professionals, a married mother of two young children and a homeschool instructor.
And somehow, Phelps makes it all seem effortless.
“I have a supportive network,” she said.
Phelps, 31, founded Find it Montana two years ago as an online directory of businesses and services and then added a marketing component called Find it Marketing to help businesses with cost-effective marketing and Web solutions. She just launched MontanaFeed.com as a companion blog to her other two online platforms.
MontanaFeed.com has a wide variety of contributors who write about topics ranging from places where visitors can spot moose in Glacier National Park to legal considerations for starting a business in Montana.
“I love Montana and its people, which is why my team and I are continually looking for ways to help build up our local economy,” she said. “MontanaFeed.com is a way for businesses to market themselves in a whole new and different way. My favorite thing is to see talents from businesses and showcase it.”
Phelps’ three online services operate under the umbrella company, Find it for You, LLC, and have been gaining momentum among the business community both locally and statewide. Becoming a self-described “web presence strategist” isn’t what Phelps ever thought she’d do with her life, but it has evolved into a perfect fit.
A 2001 Whitefish High School graduate who still holds the long-jump record for the Bulldogs, Phelps headed to Montana State University on a track scholarship after high school, but came back a year and a half later because she was homesick.
She worked for five years as a certified nurse’s aide at Kalispell Regional Medical Center. Phelps loved the one-on-one patient care and contemplated becoming a nurse. But she also wanted to one day own her own business, so she veered into business management and marketing classes instead and got a degree from Colorado Technical University in 2011.
“It took me 10 years to finish college,” she said. Taking classes online “opened up my world to the Internet and the amazing things it could do.”
While she chipped away at her schooling she met and married Kevin Phelps, a longtime Iron Horse employee, and had two children, Jack, 8, and Abby, 4 1/2.
Phelps worked for a local company, American Web Design, for a while, specializing in search-engine optimization, but when her daughter was born in 2009 she decided to find a way to work from home.
“In 2012 I was visiting my in-laws and was brainstorming,” she recalled. “I thought, why don’t I do something in business?”
One fleeting thought was to buy a restaurant because she likes to bake. That was quickly dismissed, and Phelps ventured into online marketing with Find it for you Flathead.
She launched the local online directory on Facebook.
“At that point I gave a lot away,” she said. “It wasn’t profitable.”
Phelps also began offering consulting services, teaching businesses how to maximize their online presence. That quickly gelled.
On the one-year anniversary of Find it for you Flathead, Phelps launched Find it Montana, a statewide online directory that offers integrated Google maps and more connectivity. That service has two levels of membership: $35 a year for a basic listing and $145 a year for more photos and graphics. FinditMontana.com came after that.
Phelps kept finding ways to piggyback on other business organization online platforms such as chambers of commerce, adding links and broadening the appeal for business owners.
“I want it all intertwining,” she said. “I’ve put a lot of sweat into it.”
Phelps now has a salesperson in Bozeman and her mother, Lisa Hill, helps with the accounting and listings.
“My mom is a huge asset,” she said. “She quit her job and stepped out in faith. My family has been very supportive.”
Phelps is also using local contractors to complete online projects for her clients. Even though her business is rapidly expanding, Phelps makes a point of connecting with her business clients, giving her computer portals a personal touch.
“I love creating relationships,” she said.
Phelps is pleased with the initial response to the MontanaFeed.com blog, which was a suggestion from colleague Cassandra Sunell, a social media marketing consultant who helped coordinate the recent TedX event in Whitefish.
“Cassandra said ‘you need a new blog,’ and I thought about it. She was right; she’s a good strategist,” Phelps said.
It’s all about collaboration, she added.
“Marketing can be tough for small businesses as well as expansive,” Phelps said. “MontanaFeed.com provides Montana’s small businesses a chance to share their stories while discussing Montana-centered topics … The idea is to help the contributors gain more exposure by not pushing a product or service. Consumers don’t want to be lobbied; they want to fall in love with the story you tell.”
At her home in Olney, Phelps packs a full homeschooling schedule into three days — she teaches year-round — so she can focus on her various business endeavors. She’s also busy helping create new events for the Flathead Area Young Professionals, such as parent groups that include their children.
The Phelps family does a lot of hunting and fishing, too. It’s spring bear season right now, she pointed out.
Phelps said her overriding belief is that “you can do anything you want to do.” She’s got some other big projects in the works, but can’t yet reveal the details.
“Stay tuned,” she added.
Learn more about Phelps’ online directories and services at www.Findit Montana.com; www.FinditMarketing.com and MontanaFeed.com