LAKE STEVENS, Wash. – You get what you negotiate, not what you deserve, and Abe Martinez was not a good negotiator. After Workforce Development of Snohomish County heard what he planned to charge for doing a short video to highlight one of their programs, they withdrew the offer.
That’s not sustainable, they told him. Go do some market analysis, figure out what other people are charging and come back with a higher number.
It was good advice, but the next piece of advice was even better: Talk to Peter Quist at the Washington Small Business Development Center (SBDC) located at Edmonds Community College in Lynnwood.
The Washington SBDC Network (http://wsbdc.org) includes more than two dozen certified business advisors working in community-based offices across the state. Washington State University and the U.S. Small Business Administration are the primary sponsors of the network, with additional support from other economic development agencies and institutions of higher education.
From job seeker to business owner
Martinez’s last full-time job in broadcast journalism had ended in 2006 and – despite his drive and resourcefulness – he’d been underemployed for the past four years, a casualty of the recession and upheavals in media markets.
He was offered the video project by Workforce because he’d already done one video for them pro bono. As a participant in WorkSource Snohomish County, he did volunteer projects as a way to network and get his work in front of potential employers.
When he first met with Quist, he said, his goal was still to get a job, not own a business.
At least he thought that was his goal. But in conversations with Quist, he realized that his real goal was to do meaningful work that used his skills and talents as a storyteller and that allowed him to work in Snohomish County rather than commute to Seattle.
With those goals in mind, the scope of work Quist and Martinez agreed on expanded from figuring out how much to charge for video production to setting up a small business offering media production services including script writing, video production, audio production and voice-over.
Considering value to client
Owning a small business is fundamentally different from working in small business, Quist said, and not everyone has the drive, resources and grit to make the transition.
“Abe was great to work with because he accepted that he was no longer an employee,” Quist said. “Many others in the same situation remain tied to their previous job frame of mind. Abe was ready to take charge of his new situation and build a business instead of a job.”
North Sound Productions (http://northsoundproductions.com/) was created as a partnership between Martinez and his wife, Susan, with Martinez handling most day-to-day production but Susan providing creative input as well.
There was more to it than Martinez imagined, from figuring out his brand to bookkeeping systems to liability insurance to sales taxes.
As expected, setting up a pricing system was difficult. Quist advised him to think about his value to the client, not about what his time was worth.
Help to move ahead
As a veteran and journalist, Martinez was more comfortable advocating for others. Learning how to market his business and sell his own brand is an ongoing process, he said.
Martinez, who calls himself a “reluctant entrepreneur,” said he believes more and more people who do creative work are going to have to become business owners as well “more or less out of necessity.”
He likes both the freedom and the responsibility of being his own boss. His business will succeed or fail based on his own efforts and that’s a strong motivator, he said.
“I’ve learned more creative skills in the last year than I have in the last 20,” he said, “and that’s a good thing.”
When it comes to developing business skills, Quist and the SBDC have been key resources, Martinez said. SBDC advising “was exactly the kind of thing that encouraged me to move forward, not pull back.”
Affirming skills and talent
North Sound Productions officially opened for business in April 2013 and earned about $25,000 in contracts in the first six months.
“The point is that I’ve gone from nothing to that,” Martinez said, and he is back to doing the work he enjoys and is good at. “This has been a really good way to affirm my skills and talents.”
Moreover, many of his clients have been nonprofit agencies or organizations, which means he’s been able to use his talents to help worthwhile organizations tell their stories.
“Up until about six months ago I wanted someone to hire me,” he said. “But then I realized, no, actually I like this.”
Martinez was looking for a job, but with the help of the SBDC he has created a business, one he and his wife look forward to growing for the future.
Abe Martinez, North Sound Productions, firstname.lastname@example.org, 501-772-5626
Peter Quist, Washington SBDC, email@example.com, 425-640-1435