That’s entertainment! That’s Latisha Simmons, a South Carolina girl with a love for hip-hop culture and all things entertainment. In the search for her piece of that entertainment pie, Latisha attended The Academy of Art in San Francisco studying motion picture editing, film and video editing, still photography, and honing her interviewing skills.
That path led her back to Myrtle Beach and Charleston and a career in radio broadcasting and production. In 2001 Latisha found herself back in California but Los Angeles this time, the entertainment capital of the world. She got a job writing hip-hop articles for one publication, and it quickly spread to many other outlets.
The launch of MahoganyGirl3.com began in 2003 featuring the much sought after celebrity interviews, reviews, photos, and hot trends. Her blog reached over 20,000 visitors in the first year. Latisha is proud to offer her readers celebrity news and information without the usual gossip and rumors.
Did you start Mahogany Girl with a blog or start right away with interviews and reviews?
Originally it wasn’t started as a business at all. I was working at 20th Century Fox and started it more as an online resume and portfolio to showcase my freelance writing. In the beginning the only things on the site were interviews I was doing for other publications. About a year into it, it took on a life of its own, and people were bypassing the publications I was writing for and contacting me specifically to get people on Mahoganygirl3.com.
Is the business full-time for you now?
Yes, it is. Now it’s real work with real problems. Before, it was more of a hobby, and I didn’t have to think about having a webmaster 24/7 or a hosting company that wouldn’t be down 90% of the time. Those are some of the things you don’t really bargain for when you’re just doing it for fun and the love of doing something creative. It was an adjustment, but it’s still fun.
Do you make your money through advertisements?
Yes, but because the site is getting more popular, it’s now opening up other revenue streams. Some of those are marketing other people’s businesses, books, and hotels because now there’s a group of business people that need to reach the people who follow me.
And now, as of today, I will be adding coaching. A lot of people approached me about showing them how I started my business, including the marketing aspects like setting up a website, running a Twitter account, etc. And, as CEO of my own company, I’m being asked to host workshops and speak to women’s groups, so it’s opened up revenue streams that I never thought possible.
Did you write a business plan?
I did later when it was getting out of hand. I created a business plan and was able to find a solid angel investor to help me when times got rough.
What was your biggest challenge in the startup process?
For me it was building the brand. It doesn’t matter how good your product is—if no one knows about it, they don’t care. I needed money for advertising and couldn’t get it. I was talking to a publicist, this was maybe 5 years ago, who reps bands like Hall & Oates and Toto. I told him I wanted to do things for CNN or E, and he said to me, “Latisha, no one knows you yet.” And I’m thinking, so what. So that was the hardest part—building the brand and getting people to take me seriously.
What was your first big success?
Not going insane. I worked so hard on the brand and being a good writer, getting good interviews and breaking news stories, and learning to market. I think that it wasn’t until people started coming up to me and saying, “Hey, you’re that girl from that website that you run, Ebony Girl, no no, Mahogany Girl,” that I thought, this might work after all.
How do you market your company?
I do various things, but the one thing that helped my business in the beginning was sending newsletters. I would send these emails to everyone I knew in the business, including friends that were bloggers and people I would meet throughout LA, and at the time they were considered spam. My email list now is at 10,000 strong.
One year when I was in Miami for the MTV Awards, my photographer and I went to another event, and I was on a red carpet waiting to talk to celebrities. Well, here comes Randy Spelling, Aaron Spelling’s son, and his publicist heading toward us. I told him I wanted to ask Randy a few questions. I’m thinking oh, I’m going to get rejected here, but who cares. She asked, “Who are you with?” I told her MahoganyGirl3.com, and she said, “Oh I get your newsletter emails; they’re so good. I have no idea how I got on the list but I did, so sure, sure.” So, I interviewed Randy and took a picture with him. Even the paparazzi’s mouths dropped.
What does the future hold for your online TV section?
I’ve experimented with that. I had one concept, it failed, had another concept, it failed. But, I’ve been talking to investors and my team, and we may shoot my own personal reality show. It will be on the site through YouTube. I’m playing with the idea and thinking that will be the next stage, probably in 2011 or 2012.
Is there anything you would like to add to your story or to help others in the startup phase?
I have another story that may motivate someone and show the progression of the Internet media business. About two years ago my photographer and I were invited to cover an event for Sony at the Playboy Mansion.
Usually at these events bloggers and website owners are at the end of the line, so when we arrived, we just started heading down there because I knew that’s where my little floor mat piece of paper would be. We couldn’t find it, so we headed back, and there we were—directly on the red carpet, before Entertainment Tonight and US Weekly. I literally had prime real estate, and that told me that the powers that be were starting to see that these small Internet companies pack a big punch.
Resources that helped Latisha:
A network for funding, investors, and service providers for startups or small businesses
An online magazine for small business
A list of Small Business Administration’s Women’s Business Centers
Latisha’s favorite quote:
“Imagination is more important than knowledge…”
- Albert Einstein
Cash in a Flash, Mark Victor Hansen & Robert G. Allen
Crush It, Gary Vaynerchuk
Delivering Happiness: A Path to Profits, Passion, and Purpose, Tony Hsieh
Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us, Daniel Pink
I Could Do Anything, If I Only Knew What It Was, Barbara Sher
No More Mondays, Dan Miller
Strengths Finder 2.0, Tom Rath
Switch: How to Change Things When Change is Hard, Chip Heath, Dan Heath
The 9-to-5 Cure: Work on Your Own Terms and Reinvent Your Life, Kristin Cardinale
The Complete Vision Board Kit (Book & DVD), John Assaraf
The Passion Test, Janet Attwood, Chris Attwood
The Vision Board, Joyce Schwartz
What Should I Do With My Life, Po Bronson
Are you ready to rush into the future you would most like to live, by doing what you love to do?
Follow Your Own Path – Rock Your Own World
Setting specific goals will help you get from Point A (I know what I want to do) to Point B (I can be successful). Example: Take a class to learn more about the field. Hire a coach if possible. They can help you through each step of your transition.
It’s very important to put your goals in writing. Make a list of your goals.
Websites that offer free worksheets on setting goals:
Follow Your Own Path – Rock Your Own World
Lay It Out: Clustering
Now you have several ideas of what you want to do. Hopefully, the “one” thing you want to do most. But you may need to take it a step further. For example, if it’s a career as a writer, you need to narrow it down to what type of writing. Try clustering by taking any interest and breaking it down into the different sub-categories that could arise from that interest. See example below:
Using clustering, you can break each interest down even further:
Articles: Tips, stories, facts
Books: e-Book, e-Books for others, ghostwriter
Scripts: Screenwriter, playwright, educational, corporate, commercials, podcasts, video games
Copywriting: Sales letters, advertising, websites
Blogs: for your own website, for others
In conclusion: The thing I’m most passionate about is ____________________.
Follow Your Own Path – Rock Your Own World
Define Your Talents/Strengths
Ask yourself these questions:
1. “What am I most passionate about?”
2. “How would I describe my perfect career?”
3. “If I didn’t need the money, what would I do for free?”
4. “If I knew I wouldn’t fail, what would I try?”
5. Where do my talents and strengths lie?
When starting a business, keep your strengths in mind and find a way to delegate the rest. To find your strengths, take a test.
Follow Your Own Path – Rock Your Own World
Do you have a desire to change careers or start your own business, but are unsure of what it would be?
Think back to when you were a kid and complete this sentence: When I grow up I want to be a _________________. Was it a fantasy or a true heartfelt dream that you let die as you got older? If that idea is no longer valid, there are other ways to pinpoint that new career or business.
Make a List
List the things you enjoy doing and then prioritize them. Start down the list and ask: Is #1 more important than #2? If so, is #1 more important than #3? If not, pick up with #3 and ask whether it is more important than #4. Continue the comparison until you come up with the career that excites you the most.
|1. Jewelry Designer||#1|
|2. Event Planner||X|
|4. Video Producer||X|
|5. Public Relations Consultant||X|
|6. Social Media Guru||X|
I want to be a Writer.
Make a list of all the things you think you would enjoy, but haven’t tried. Go through your list as stated above.
|2. Horse Rescue Operation||#1|
|4. Private Investigator||X|
|5. Start a non-profit business||X|
I would like to try running a horse rescue operation. But, think skydiving is just a sport? Here are a few ways to monetize a sport you love:
- Offer adventure packages that include skydiving
- Create an online store and blog
- Photography – take photos from the sky
- Write an e-book with instructions and/or stories of those who love the sport
- Be an instructor
Read up on the subject. Try www.fabjob.com.
Experience your passion:
- Find a mentor
- Offer to be an intern for a few days
- Check out www.vocationvacation.com
Follow your own path – Rock your own world
Cherry Wood Bed, Breakfast and Barn located in Eastern Washington’s wine country, is a working farm and horse ranch. They produce apples, pears, cherries and grapes. As Innkeeper and Trail Boss, Pepper Fewel, offers an assortment of adventure on the ranch, including a stroll through the vineyards or opt for a bike tour or a horseback ride to the many wineries in the area, and ladies there’s a Bunkhouse Boutique.
The adventure continues when you return to your room—a 22 ft. teepee, an experience all by itself. After a long day relax in the “Twilight Tub” experience and watch as the sun sets and the stars make their appearance. Cooking and telling stories over a campfire ends the night—just right.
You already had a successful bed and breakfast, why add teepees?
We wanted to share our experiences with others (horses, living on a farm). What better way to do this than to have somewhere for people to stay and get in touch with the outdoor way of life than in a teepee. My husband came up with the idea one afternoon as we sat and looked out over the valley.
What amenities and level of comfort will guests find in the teepees?
The teepees have double or queen beds. Towels, games, hair dryers, toiletries, refrigerators, shower shoes, robes, barbeque’s (wood provided), tables and chairs. We also like to place fruit, in season, on the patio for guests.
We have been very blessed, because we are so different the press has found us, but word of mouth is the best.
Do you have any expansion plans for the near future?
Yes, we are going to add a few more teepees and a bath house. We also have a few new ideas for some more Cherry Wood fun.
Sutton Parks moved to Nashville with the hopes of becoming a songwriter. To pay the bills he took a job in the mail room of BMI, which led to a promotion and the computer room, which he grew to hate. He also purchased a home he couldn’t really afford and added the pressure of a mortgage. He was surrounded by music, but not his own. He attained the “American Dream” which took time and energy away from his original dream, to be a songwriter. Sutton ended up losing his home, quitting the job he hated, living in his car for 9 months, and ended up with something much better.
What life lesson did you take from working a job you hated and losing your home?
I learned that happiness comes from within. I was happier living in my car than working a job I hated and living in a brand new house.
I learned that life is too short to spend a third of your life working a job you hate, for people you don’t respect.
Also to never take a job just for the money. I still struggle with this sometimes. It never ends up good and usually costs me more money in the long run.
I also learned that if you have your health, almost any obstacle can be overcome by being grateful for what is available. All I did was change my perspective. Instead of complaining about what I didn’t have, I gave thanks for what I did have. I had a roof over my head. It was the sunroof of 13 year old car, but it kept me dry when it rained. I had running water, even though I had to run across the truck stop parking lot to get it, I was thankful. I never had to clean a bathroom. Starbucks, Barnes N Noble, and the Brentwood Recreation Center all paid people to clean the toilets and showers for me. Living in my car I realized that the world was filled with people wanting to serve others. From the waitress to banker, from the police officer to the mayor, they all worked to provide a safe, comfortable environment for me and everyone else.
I didn’t have to worry about an armed militia roaming the streets late at night, or an outbreak of disease, or a shortage of food. Living in Middle Tennessee in this day is a true blessing in itself. I had more comforts living in my car than King Louis IV. In the history of the world the opportunities I have been given are truly remarkable. It is truly is a Wonderful World.
What led you to start your current business?
I’ve always been a better entrepreneur than an employee. I listened to Dan Miller’s podcast, “48 Days to the Work You Love,” and he talked about listening for opportunities that may be right under your nose. When I started to practice that I heard a friend of mine, who was opening up a new office, talking to his partner about hiring a janitorial firm to clean their office. I asked him if I started a business would he consider hiring me to clean. He not only said yes, he sat me down and showed me, step by step, how to do a marketing and business plan. He also showed me how to research the competition and their pricing structure. I followed his advise and my business took off.
Is your original dream, being a songwriter, still important to you or has it changed?
It has changed in the sense that my happiness is not contingent upon making a living off of my songwriting or being a “successful” songwriter. I am a songwriter. I write some great songs and many not-so-great songs. There is a great amount of joy I get from writing them and it is not fair for me to judge a song by it’s commercial success. It is the process of creation and completion that gives me fulfillment. Yes, I would love to have commercial success as a songwriter but when that was the end goal for me I was very unhappy.
This town has some of the best songwriters in the world working day and night to write commercially successful songs. They have pressures and struggles that come with the business. I don’t have to worry about all that. I can just enjoy the process at my own pace. And when someone comes up to me and says, “You wrote that? I love that song,” I feel like jumping for joy. That’s payment enough. Anything else is a bonus.
What advice would you give someone who has a dream, as you did, but life sends them a detour?
Steve Jobs said that it is easy to connect the dots looking backwards but you cannot connect them looking forward. I would tell someone to learn to be grateful for all things, good and bad. Sometimes good things turn out bad, and sometimes bad things turn out good. Don’t judge them or yourself. Be kind and find joy in every little thing. Embrace your struggles, because that is where the soul searching and deep commitments are made to change and grow. Everything in life is temporary, so when you are struggling wipe away the tears and look for the rainbow. Then get to work. Take action. And never stop dreaming and moving forward. And most importantly, slow down and take it one day, or one moment at a time. Lastly, listen to your intuition.
After David Arrick, a former asset-backed securities attorney for a major Wall Street law firm, was laid off he decided to take the cute cupcake and butch it up. He offers a cupcake sampler, The Butch Box, with 12 flavors including: Woodland Camo, Wood Grain, Houndstooth, Plain, Checkerboard or Marble. There’s also a B-52, a Kahlua soaked Madagascar cake with Bailey’s bavarian filling. Yum!
After being laid-off what made you think of cupcakes?
I thought to myself, “Why spin your wheels waiting for Wall Street to bounce back? The financial system is so fractured, and it is going to take years to recover.” I had read over and over that NOW (i.e. THEN – 2008/2009) was the perfect time for entrepreneurs to take advantage of a passion or avocation. I loved being in the commercial real estate world as an attorney, but also had a passion for all things food related in NYC. I continually saw cupcake bakeries opening on nearly every block, and every one was “different,” “better than the others,” “innovative,” etc. In truth, one was no different than the other. Bland cake, boring buttercream, lacking in innovation and concept. I decided to come up with something radically different with a completely unique target market i.e. guys—I became a “niche-preneur.”
Who came up with the names and flavors?
It was all me. I am obsessed with marketing and how business targets customers. Names of companies, logos, subliminal advertising etc. I was always more fascinated as a kid with the commercials. I knew that the name of my company would be memorable…and I knew the product names would be memorable as well. I consulted with some professional bakers as well to help me tweak my recipes some.
What was the initial response from customers?
Overwhelming. After my first national media appearance one month after opening, I was inundated with 1000 orders a day. From around the world. I knew then that I was onto something big. From that point on, book deals, TV deals and sponsorship deals started coming in. I never expected it so quickly.
What was the main obstacle in starting your business and how did you solve it?
Not knowing what I didn’t know! I thought I knew all I needed to know out of the gate about running a business. It took a few false starts and bruises before I realized that I didn’t know it all. I needed to get my ego out of the way, eat some humble pie, and ask more seasoned entrepreneurs their advice.
Alisa Bennett, President and Hard Hat Diva of Bennett Contracting was a bit worried when the recession hit and construction in Florida took a dive. It was with some very clever “outside the box” thinking that conjured up the idea of playing in the dirt as another revenue stream for her and her family.
How did the idea of People at Play come about?
The idea came to life in 2007 when we had a group of civil engineers come over to our shop for a cookout. We were celebrating the completion of a job with them and were hoping they would recommend Bennett Contracting on any new projects that were in the design phase. We decided to bring out a skid steer loader and a small excavator, with the thought that these guys (and gals) design the ponds, storm piping, etc. that we put in using this equipment. Why don’t we give them an idea of what it takes to do that work? Needless to say, they had an amazing time. They raved about it. That night Jason and I went home and outlined the business plan. Our kids were only 2 and 4 at the time so we tabled the idea until 2010. With the Great Recession happening we felt that we needed to come up with any way we could increase revenues. I wish we hadn’t waited!!!
How did you market the idea?
First and foremost we talked to our friends and family, then we created a website and did local publicity. We had an opening event that went well, but was not as successful as I would have hoped. People had a hard time understanding what we were doing. We rely solely on PR as we have bootstrapped the entire thing at this point. Social media is an important part of the mix, too, obviously. Our biggest coup came when Jenna Wolfe from The Today Show came down in April and her piece aired in July in front of 5.3 million viewers of The Today Show.
What was the initial response from the public?
Very positive. Once people understood what we were offering they were very excited!
Who is your typical customer?
Our typical customer is an adventure seeker who likes to do things out of the ordinary – whether that is sky diving, cave diving or fantasy baseball camps… I think we’ve even had a guy who loves to swim with the sharks. So far we’ve had 2/3 men and 1/3 women participate, our customers are people who like to live life to the fullest. Also many people (85%) receive our “Day of Play” in the dirt as a birthday or anniversary gift. Only approximately 15% buy the experience for themselves.
When the economy gets stronger, will you continue this revenue stream?
What tip would you offer others trying to keep their businesses afloat during these difficult times?
Don’t fall into the trap that you are a victim and there is nothing you can do. Think about where your strengths lie and what you can do with those strengths. Don’t let stinkin’ thinkin’ get you down. If you have an idea, talk about it with your friends. Test it out on the weekends. And most importantly, have fun.