These aren’t the easiest times to be an entrepreneur. Banks aren’t lending. Customers aren’t buying. Funding for even the best ideas is about as easy to find as four-leaf clovers and winning lottery tickets. And yet never have entrepreneurs had to shoulder so much responsibility. As even America’s biggest companies drop into receivership, it’s becoming increasingly clear that small businesses and talented individuals – people with smart plans and the drive to succeed – will be the ones who will create the recession’s green shoots and encourage new growth.
That, at least, was how things looked to Allana Taranto, a professional photographer. After attending an entrepreneurial workshop in January of this year, Allana decided to use her skills to create what she discovered many of the entrepreneurs at the workshop lacked: a professional portrait that was compelling to their target market and which provided a narrative to their brand.
At the same time, she realized, taking those pictures as she and her husband, Trent, drove 4,000 miles across the country during a relocation move, would give her a unique opportunity — a chance to capture the face of today’s ‘American Entrepreneur.’
“The idea of the American Entrepreneur Project was a way to get more involved and give back to the entrepreneurial community by bringing attention to how entrepreneurs are dealing with the economy and by providing portraits free of charge,” Allana explained to us by email. “Trent and I had a once in a lifetime experience, met inspiring entrepreneurs across the country and the entrepreneurs we met will receive professional photographs to use for their Web presence and great exposure… We hope this will continue to grow their businesses.”
Finding the Cash
As any entrepreneur knows though, having an idea is always the easy bit. The difficulties come when you start looking for the cash and putting the plan into action. Allana started by telling a friend at LaunchSquad, a boutique PR company, what she wanted to do. Her friend put Allana in touch with Infusionsoft, a software company that caters to small businesses.
“It turned out that our idea for the project was perfectly in line with Infusionsoft’s message – that this is the age of the entrepreneur and that small business growth will be the key to bringing the country out of our current economic situation,” said Allana.
Infusionsoft accepted her proposal so with funding secured, Allana then turned to Mike Michalowicz of Toilet Paper Entrepreneur, one of the speakers at the Monetizing Your Passion conference, where Allana had first had her idea. Mike put up a blog post and sent an email to his subscribers inviting entrepreneurs to take part in the project. With additional input from Infusionsoft and word-of-mouth recommendations from friends in specific communities, Allana’s initial plan to photograph and describe twelve entrepreneurs in cities across America grew to twenty. Profiled on Allana’s blog, they include Adam Theurer and Alex Wander, founders of Lone Oak Organics, an organic hydroponic greenhouse, Paul Scheiter, founder of Hedgehog Leatherworks, a leather design firm, and Tom C. Zdunich and Dan Debenham of LENZworks, a video production company.
Altogether, the entrepreneurs cover a huge range of different types of businesses, different niches and different ways of working. All of them though, Allana said, had shown tenacity, self-determination, a willingness to adapt in the face of change, support from family and community, and a passionate belief in the importance of their work, characteristics that make up much of what it means to be an entrepreneur in America today.
“Although individual entrepreneurs definitely have unique ways of approaching life and business there is an undeniable mindset they generally hold in common,” Allana explained. “The ‘American Entrepreneur’ has a surprising and inspiring capacity to harness any fear or anxiety and create energy, passion and excitement. The ‘American Entrepreneur’ uses that energy to face challenges. The ‘American Entrepreneur’ doesn’t take work, clients, or paychecks for granted. All of the American entrepreneurs I met were interesting to talk with, passionate about what they do and very much alive.”
A Photographic Entrepreneur
Many of those characteristics, of course, apply to Allana herself. A graduate of the Photography and Media Studies departments at Hampshire College and a Master of Arts in Art Education from Massachusetts College of Art, Allana had spent several years as an art teacher before setting up as a professional photographer. Like many of the entrepreneurs she interviewed, Allana points to the support, optimism and advocacy of her family during her first years as a sole proprietor. She could also point to the challenges met in raising the funds for her project, planning the logistics and putting together the content, all challenges familiar to anyone trying to create a small business.
The final stage is yet to come though. Allana is working with Infusionsoft to create a more exciting online presence for her images and interviews than the project’s current life on her blog, and she has to capitalize on the publicity and the branding that the project is bringing her with the help of LaunchSquad.
And in that too, she’s following a strategy that she says is vital for every small business:
“[B]eing willing to outsource what you aren’t good at in order to focus on what you are good at doing is difficult for many entrepreneurs, but is absolutely essential,” says Allana. “Focus on the value that you love to create and support your business by hiring experts in other areas. From my observations, it’s the smartest way to create a profitable business that can grow.”