How to Recharge Your Brand in 2015
Black Enterprise Magazine September/October 2018 Issue

(Image: File)

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 or the United States Copyright Office at 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.

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 Visit her Website at

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As a trailblazer in the small business community for nearly a decade, Nicole Cober is an advocate for the small business community. For eight years, Ms. Cober owned and operated a day spa and hair salon chain that served as a revitalization catalyst in a developing area of the nation's capital. During that time, she received national media coverage regarding small business management and entrepreneurism in various publications such as People, Essence, Allure, Entrepreneur, The Washingtonian, The Washington Post, Upscale and Black Enterprise. Ms. Cober was also featured on the CBS Morning News, BET and the reality show, "Ambush Makeover." The salon and spa received recognition by the Washington City Paper as "The Best Stylist" and "Best Spa" and Ms. Cober's commitment to the community was on display annually when she used her business for philanthropy by provided complementary services to Rachael's Women's Shelter. Ms. Cober blends both her legal and business skills together to offer a uniquely powerful list of services for clients. Affectionately known as "The Lawyer-preneur," she now seeks to empower start-ups and local small businesses with by creating effective business, branding and growth strategies. Ms. Cober is a graduate of the University of California, Berkeley as well as Howard University School of Law. She was a judicial law clerk for the Chief Judge of the DC Court of Appeals and worked for a number of years at Dickstein Shapiro as a litigation attorney, specializing in employment and insurance coverage law. Currently, she is a regular contributor to Black Enterprise and Citibank's Women and Co. as well as a legal consultant for NewsChannel 8 WJLA. Ms. Cober is also a public speaker, coach, a contributor to Pulse Magazine, a publication devoted to international spa management, and soon to be author who will publish a book later this year titled “CEO of My Soul”, which chronicles the do's and dont's of her early days as an entrepreneur. Follow her on twitter @CoberJohnson