If you’d like to upgrade your business moves in 2015, take a page out of the notebook of Tonya Coleman, president and CEO of Soiree Event Design. The company provides unique, personalized event design ideas and products for you to use at your next gathering. Coleman is on track to becoming our generation’s B. Smith or Martha Stewart. However, what puts her in a category all her own is that her foundation is firmly rooted in graphic design.
While other companies partner with designers, Coleman is both designer and brand. Instead of going to retail outlets and shopping for products for the event, Coleman creates and designs those items exclusively for her clients. For example, she recently secured a trademark for one of her creations, “Girlyz Lil’ Princesses,” a set of biracial cartoon characters displayed on party paper plates, cups and other decor for youth. With her trademark in hand, she can now shop her brand to retailers to carry in their stores.
As a graphic designer, Coleman started her career off nearly 20 years ago in Atlanta working closely with leaders in the music industry. Soon however, the recording industry experienced major downsizing with the growth of the Web.
With companies cutting back, Coleman found herself at a crossroads. But instead of panicking, she used her strengths and re-invented herself by expanding her brand into the events design and planning industry. She freelanced with Target over the years and took some of the lessons she learned from the retail giant and applied it to the second chapter of her career.
Here is some advice she shared for starting a business with loads of talent, but limited funds:
1. Barter your services to build your portfolio. Graphic designers are some of the lucky few who can say their work “speaks for itself.” When Tonya was starting out, she had limited resources and a small portfolio. So, she volunteered to do a few assignments without pay to prove herself. She was really good. It worked. Soon, she was setting her prices on par with the industry’s leaders.
2. Become allies with big brands. Target. Magic Johnson. Jamie Foxx. Hostess of the Mostess. These are brands who are leaders in their respective fields. Coleman astutely sought them out and now her business is forever associated with those strong brands.
3. Write as an authority in your industry. The internet is at your fingertips. Use it to discuss relevant topics within your area of expertise. When Tonya wanted to rebrand her business and focus more on event design than graphics design, she started writing a blog focusing on various themes and events she developed over the years. Additionally, she asserted herself as a leader in the industry by also writing a book titled “Guide to My Party Planning Biz” where she details the steps on how she started her company.
4. Protect your brand. Get a trademark. Simply put, designers’ products are extremely vulnerable to copyright and trademark infringement in the internet era. Visit the United States Patent and Trademark Office’s website at www.uspto.gov or the United States Copyright Office at www.copyright.gov. These sites can assist an artist with understanding what the registration process entails as well as the value of protecting one’s work with a trademark and/or a copyright.
5. Join a trade association. Trade associations are the first stop for anyone seeking to open a business in his or her respective industry. With regard to graphic designers, the Graphics Artists Guild is immensely helpful for artist who want to know everything from setting prices to drafting work for hire agreements. https://www.graphicartistsguild.org.
Nicole Cober, Esq. is a partner at Cober Johnson, a law firm focusing on trademarks, brand licensing and small biz consulting. She is a former small biz owner of the award winning chain, Soul…Day Spa and Salon. She is also a Legal Consultant for Washington DC’s NewsChannel 8 and author of the soon-to-be released book: “CEO of My Soul: The Dos and Don’ts of Small Biz.” Follow her on Twitter @CoberJohnson and like her on Facebook.com/coberjohnson Visit her Website at CoberJohnson.com.