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Birth of a Notion

How to Start and Maintain a Successful Home-Based or Small Business
by Brad Marshall

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More than 80 people convened at Atlantic Video on October 19th, 2000 to hear four fascinating, successful entrepreneurs talk about how to create and maintain a home-based or "small" (in name only!) business. Many attendees stayed and talked after the panel discussion finished at 9 P.M. Although there's no book of rules to follow towards success as an independent, each of the paths taken by the evening's four panelists have led them to success in many of its definitions. One definition they agree they've fulfilled: they're doing what they want to do - and getting paid to do it!
Moderated by Lynn Falcon, who, along with her husband Paul, runs Bella Faccia, the panel discussion combined prepared questions and direct inquiries from the audience. The evening's panelists - Steve LeHuray, founder/publisher of iCOM Magazine; Jay Schlossberg, President/Owner, Media Central; Bill Parks, Jr., President, Dominion Post; and Sandy Cannon-Brown, President, Videotakes - covered a wide range of topics.

Mighty Oaks Grow From Little Acorns
LeHuray, a self-professed "boat bum," displayed 1960's sensibilities in the 1980s. Taking a page from Jimmy Buffett, he changed his latitude and attitude for three years and lived on a boat in the Bahamas, before happenstance took him to Annapolis where he started his first magazine devoted to the local film and video community. He sold that one and started iCOM in 1997. It has since become the Bible for the mid-Atlantic production community, with a high percentage of subscribers are in NY and LA. "As a writer/editor/publisher, I'm free to mingle in all parts of the local video community, and be an observer," he said. "I'm thrilled with this community." LeHuray said the Washington market is strong, compared to Richmond and Baltimore, in part because "there's a totally different mind set here with marketing." According to LeHuray, business owners in Richmond and Baltimore are afraid that if they talk about their businesses, someone will steal their ideas. LeHuray encourages would-be entrepreneurs to go with their gut. "It's an advantage to plan things out, but it's not the only way. The most successful people are those who respond to their inner drive; if you have an idea, run with it."
Bill Parks, Jr. reminded audience members, however, that because it takes hundreds of thousands of dollars to start a post-production company, banks and investors expect a business plan. "You need to plan and prepare for all sorts of contingencies, like taxes, insurance, workman's compensation, health and dental plans, purchasing, etc." Parks should know: he and wife Barbie started Dominion Post in 1993.

Jay Schlossberg, whose Media Central is a strong seven figure sole-proprietorship, with clients like HBO, Microsoft, Dick Clark Productions, Showtime & RealNetworks, is more proof that business plans work. Seven years ago, he went to the library, checked out three books about "how to write a business plan" that seemed sensible, and then used the most appropriate model as a guideline. Within a few days, he had a complete business plan. "The business plan is just a way to write down what your goals are the first year or two," says Schlossberg. Some of the best advice he gets is from reading magazines directed at small businesses. "The best nuggets of information are often in the little sidebars you'll read...just ideas that make you think and that you can apply."

Schlossberg's top three rules for success? "Service, service, and service. Parks agreed, noting that part of the success of Dominion Post can be derived from their commitment to their customers and giving them what they want (including a massage chair in their editing suite!).
Another important tip: be professional. Schlossberg recommends small business owners opt for separate phone and fax lines, business cards, letterhead, real invoices, a website, and a simple but effective marketing plan. "If you're working out of your home, you really should have a room that is separate from the rest of your house and family andd serves only as your office," says Schlossberg. Do you really want your five year old answering your business line and screaming MOMMY!! TELEPHONE!! while you shudder in the distance? The idea here is to demonstrate professionalism and at least give the impression that you're a larger company than your client or potential client might suspect."

In addition, Parks said one of the best things you can do as a business owner is out-source "whatever you don't enjoy doing (or don't have time to do), if you have the money to do that." That's advice Sandy Cannon-Brown, puts into practice. Canon-Brown, who started Video Takes 15 years ago, had ten employees at one time, but now works with a staff of four and a network of freelancers and independents. The leaner staff, she said, minimizes the need for her to be a constant marketer for work to keep the employees busy.
Canon-Brown also spoke of the all-consuming nature of being an independent. "When you go out on your own, it's important to know yourself and how much you really want to commit to the business. The minute you decide to go on your own or start a business, you'll work 24 hours a day. In the shower, at breakfast, even in bed, you're always thinking about the next job. And once you have employees, you'll find that one-third of your revenue goes to salaries, one-third to overhead, and one-third to grow the business." Canon-Brown encouraged newcomers "to consider all your expenses before you jump into business. And it's important to remember that the hourly rate only applies when it's billed to someone. Your time for marketing, invoicing, and other chores need to be factored into rates and budgets."
LeHuray echoed Canon-Brown's comments on the personal sacrifice you are required to make when you start your own business, saying, "There's a terrible price to pay for entrepreneurship because it's very demanding. If you want to lead a normal life, grow your business big enough so that you can take off for a weekend, or just enjoy a lunch away from the pressures of work." His highest recommendation for budding entrepreneurs: establish and maintain relationships. "That's how you get and keep clients." To learn more about starting a business visit biz

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