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 1.  Take A Calculated Risk

HATTIE: Hi. This is where you need to be if you want to learn how start, run and grow a business. I'm Hattie Bryant. We're truly making the rounds here at Small Business School. We've taken you inside of hundreds of businesses, and we keep finding new types to explore. Monica Morgan Photography is a full-service photography studio in Detroit. You'll meet Monica and some of the people who have helped her build her business at the Wayne State Small Business Development Center.

If you watch us every week, you know we have a master class. It is not not taught by a traditional teacher. It's taught by a person who is doing what it is they're talking about. Like music and art students take traditional classes with traditional teachers, they also study in master classes presented by working artists. So join me now in Small Business School's Master Class with master small business owner Monica Morgan.

Students of the Hutchins Middle School (Voiceover):  This is a day in the life of Monica Morgan, owner of Monica Morgan Photography, a full-service photography studio in Detroit which she started in 1990. It was hard for us to move fast enough to keep up with Monica but we were determined, and I don't think we missed much. We started at Hutchins Middle School, just a few minutes away from her downtown studio. Here in the library, students had a chance to see Monica's traveling exhibit, which tells the story of South Africa's first free election.

MONICA MORGAN (Professional Photographer): I tried to get some sponsors to send me to the elections, but I couldn't find anyone. So what I did was take a loan out. I hopped on a plane by myself and went to South Africa.

HATTIE: You had this dream to go to South Africa, to be there for the first election, but you didn't have the cash.

MONICA: Right. It wasn't planned. It was about a month before the elections were supposed to occur, and some friends or some colleagues said, `Are you going to South Africa?' And I was like, `No, I'm not going to South Africa. That's not in the plan.'

And one day I kept thinking about it as the day got closer and closer. I was having lunch, and Dr. Ohlmeyer said to me, she said, `Would you say you choose not to go? Because if you really wanted to, you'd get there.' And I thought about it. I mean, I charge a lot of things. I charged an airline ticket. I went to a bank and got a loan, hopped on a plane and went over there.

And after that, I refused to allow anyone else to control my destiny. What happened, the photographs became a part of an exhibit, and a major corporation sponsored the exhibit. The money that I got from that exhibit, Harold and I talked about it. He said, `Put it in a trip fund, and that way, any time you need to go somewhere, you can go into that fund, get the money and go.' And it's worked. It has worked. I have not touched the money. Luckily the trips have been coming in from clients and they're paying for it. But in the event that they don't, I'm prepared to do it myself.

HATTIE: This is like building a spec house or something if you're a contractor, meaning you had no customer for those pictures.

MONICA: Right.

HATTIE: You had no money to go get the pictures, and that's an expensive trip. How much is a plane ticket to South Africa?

MONICA: Fifteen hundred dollars

HATTIE: Fifteen hundred dollars, and you were there for a couple of weeks?

MONICA: I was there for almost a month.

HATTIE: You were... which meant you gave up all the work that you had here.

MONICA: Right. I put the business kind of like on part-time, because I had someone working in the office, but I didn't have a lot of other photographers that I could rely on then. So I just had someone maintain the office, and I took a chance.

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Give Back To Your Community

Dr. STANLEY WALDEN (Principal, Hutchins Middle School): (Voiceover) And what a privilege for the students at Hutchins Middle School to see this, to be a part of this history.

HATTIE: (Voiceover) The school principal, Dr. Stanley Walden, tells us local business is involved with students at Hutchins.

STANLEY: And we are delighted to have Monica here today as a small business owner not only to talk with kids but to show them the exhibit.

MONICA: (talking to students) Well, all of a sudden I heard this loud noise, and then a succession of noises. And this woman turned and looked and saw that this young man--after they looked up into the sky, and we realized no one was shooting at us after we had taken cover, they went right back to register and to vote, because bombs and bloodshed had become a way of life.

They died for a right that many people here take for granted. So these are the photographs that occurred as a result of the bombing here. This particular picture was the front page of the Detroit News here. And it went all over the world. This is a woman who was actually searching for her child moments after the bomb had gone off.

HATTIE: (Voiceover) Monica's exhibit has corporate sponsorship and is a reminder of how important business can be to schools.

STANLEY: Small business is welcome in this school from the time we open in August through June, just either to work one-on-one or to talk with an entire class to explain the business, maybe provide an opportunity that we can take the class to the business.

HATTIE: Sure.

STANLEY: Because students do not always make a strong connection or the link between education and a career.

HATTIE: Oh, so we need to teach them...

STANLEY: And that's a bridge that can be gaped.

HATTIE: (Voiceover) Next on Monica's agenda came a press conference at a downtown hotel.

Unidentified Man: And then following afterwards, Bill and I will be available, along with our team, to respond to any questions that you might have.

Michael Jones, regional manager of corporate affairs for Anheuser-BuschHATTIE: (Voiceover) Monica is a mentor to several young people, and today one of her students shoots pictures, too. After the press conference, we made our way back to the studio for a photo shoot of Michael Jones. He is regional manager of corporate affairs for Anheuser-Busch, and Monica has been his events photographer for three years.

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Be The Best At What You Do

MONICA: Mike, I want you to take yourself away from here if you possibly can. Remember that a smile starts here, not here. Don't start here and then, you know--if you think about something that makes you happy, it'll show, and then the rest will fall into place, OK? All right.

HATTIE: What do small business people have to do to attract the attention of big business?

MICHAEL JONES (Executive, Anheuser-Busch Company): Well, I think first be very good at what you do, be dependable and proficient and get the job done. I think that as large companies look to contain their costs. Also, look to be flexible in the way they meet objectives. It's easier to work sometimes with small businesses. And most large companies – I know Anheuser-Busch is committed to diversity in the economic marketplace – we have a corporate policy of trying to encourage as much activity as we can with smaller businesses. A lot of our suppliers throughout our breweries are small businesses.

HATTIE: What advice would you give someone who would like to do business with a big company?

MICHAEL: I think what you almost have to do is like anything else in life, you have to work real hard and then be lucky. But the bottom line, I think, as you try to take care of the business that's in front of you and you do a good job of that, then referral or word of mouth is the best advertisement. So, eventually you come to the notice of people in larger companies who have a need that they need to have met.

So I don't think you can say, `Well, look, I'd like to have General Motors or Anheuser-Busch as a client.' I think what you do is what Monica Morgan has done and that is, `I'm gonna be the best photographer in the Detroit area.' And to the extent that I'm that, then an Anheuser-Busch or a Detroit Edison or anybody else in this area will seek you out.

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Be Bold

HATTIE: (Voiceover) What makes Monica so good at what she does? What causes people to hire her instead of someone else?

MONICA: I have a dream. And the dream is to be the best that I can be in whatever I choose to be. And so I'm just driven, and sometimes I don't understand other people who are not driven. And it's not that it's--that it's wrong because they're not driven, because I know everyone is different. But for me, I've always been one to just be on the track, ready to go, ready to move forward.

What's important is to act as if you belong.

When I first started out, I crashed many events. And if you act as if you belong, no one else can tell you that you don't belong. I remember when there was a reception going on at Manoogian Mansion and Mayor Young was mayor at that time. I went to the door and knocked on the door and I said, `I'd like to come in.' So security looked at me and they said, `Well, are you on the list?' I said, `No, but I'm sure I'm welcome. Please let the mayor know that I'm here.' And I knew that Mayor Young, being as outspoken as he was, that I possibly could get kicked out. But it was a chance I was willing to take. So the security walked in to ask the mayor, and all of a sudden, I got--oh, they let me in, they let me in so that I could pull out one of the mayor's assistants to say it was OK for me to be there. I dropped my earring, and Mayor Young picked the earring up. And I looked at the security like, `See?' So he said `OK, you belong.' But that's because he had seen me taking a lot of photographs, and I guess he thought it was OK.

A lot of times, being a photographer, we get branded. People think we just show up in blue jeans and that's it. But sometimes it's important to kind of dress for the occasion so that you're not real noticed. I wear black a lot because I think it's not going to stand out so much. But I also wear black in the sense where, you know, I walk with authority.

There were many teachers who played a part. I'd be--I'd hate to name any, because there were so many who were helpful to me throughout the years. But the main person that has been extremely instrumental in shaping me has been my grandmother. She's 85 years old and she's my best friend. She's always been there in my corner, she's always been one to tell me when I've done right, when I've done wrong, to always encourage me.

I've had a lot of different professions. I've been in public relations for the Detroit public schools. I worked with Domino's Pizza in public relations, and I worked very, very hard, and I noticed that I made a lot of accomplishments working for other people. And I said, `Well, if I work this hard for someone else, I can do the same thing for myself and even work harder. And as a result of a job that I had lastly right before I opened my own business, there were a lot of negative things that happened, that it made me know for sure that I never wanted to work for anyone else unless I chose to.

HATTIE: When you decided to leave a job and start a business, why this?

MONICA: Well, I was taking photographs on the side. I was writing for a local newspaper, the Michigan Chronicle. I was writing a column and taking photographs.

HATTIE: That was while you had a job.

MONICA: Yes. That was something I did in the evenings.

HATTIE: And you had fun doing that.

MONICA: I had fun. I went out, I met people, I went to all the events, presidential dinners, all kinds of receptions, and I met people. And what would happen, people would ask for copies of their photographs. So I said, `Wait a minute, maybe I can do this.' And the interesting thing is that when I first started working with the Michigan Chronicle, they would not pay for my articles, because I was really a writer, that was what I enjoyed doing, but they would pay for the pictures. So I said, `Wait, maybe this is what I need to do.'

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Find A Mentor

HATTIE: (Voiceover) Monica's father has never been part of her life, and her mother died when Monica was 19. But her talent attracted the attention of Harold Robinson. This is Harold Robinson, the first black photographer hired by a newspaper in the state of Michigan back in 1968.

HAROLD ROBINSON (Professional Photographer): Give me your eyes, right here. Down a little bit. Right.

HATTIE: (Voiceover) He's been a professional photographer for 50 years, the first black photographer hired by a newspaper in the state of Michigan back in 1968.

HAROLD: Don't hold it so tight, just relax.

I'm her consultant 24 hours a day. Regardless what city or state she's in, she'll call. If she's in a helicopter in the air, she'll call.

HATTIE: Wait a minute, Harold, so she's gonna call you and she's gonna say, `The sun is shining, there are two clouds, what f-stop...'

HAROLD: Mm-hmm--shall I do? What f-stop, what speed?

HATTIE: Well, are there people like you around for all of us? I mean...

HAROLD: Yeah, if they're the right people. Now, I don't want--I would not want to give anybody--I mean, I wouldn't want to waste my time to help somebody that don't appreciate it, don't put it to use. Monica takes every little thing and put it to good use. She's good, she's fast, she have class. See, at my age, I don't know how long I'll be here, so whatever I know, I'm gonna pass it on to somebody gonna take good use of it, take the advantage of it and make good use of it. So Monica's the only person that I've found that I felt like I could put my world into and be happy about it. So that's what--anything--that's what I'm saying--anything she wants to know, regardless of what time of day or night it is, she call me. If she need help, lighting, shooting, I'm with her.

MONICA: It's important to enjoy what you do for a living. And when you enjoy it, you can put more of yourself into it. That's extremely important.

People say that when you own your own business, you can do what you want, you have freedom. You do have freedom, but I work seven days a week. Even if it's not all day, there are things that I have to do. I have to check messages, I have to do some planning, I have to do soul-searching. So there's always something involved in having a business. But I can do it, again, when I choose to.

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Seek Operational Advice

HATTIE: Then when did you get to another level where you knew, `I need help, I need advice'? At what point did that happen?

MONICA: The business constantly grew. It was always growing. You know, someone was telling someone else. And I've had good people who have worked with me and inspired me to continue to just go out and get business. So one job led to another.

Well, I'd say probably back in 1994 when I went to South Africa, that's what really caused a change, because I became international then. So people wanted to hire me, you know, `She's been to Africa, she's international.' And that didn't hurt. So client after client--what happened was I wanted to be a photographer. That was what I had decided to do in 1990. But I knew that in order to stay with the business and be with it as it was growing and not let it just overcome me, that I needed to gain more skills as a businesswoman.

HATTIE: (Voiceover) Turning a hobby into a business takes an adjustment in thinking. Monica found the help she needed at the Wayne State University Small Business Development Center.

RON HALL (Director, Michigan Small Business Development Centers): A Small Business Development Center is a one-stop shop, if you will, for entrepreneurs, people wanting to start businesses and existing business owners, where they can go get some professional help in starting and growing a business.

HATTIE: (Voiceover) Ron Hall is the state director of the Michigan Small Business Development Centers.

RON: SBDCs are very easy to find all over the country. They're listed in the phone book, normally in the white pages or Yellow Pages. They can also be found by calling your Small Business Administration office, who's one of our major partners nationally.

HATTIE: (Voiceover) Pat Salo serves as a consultant to Monica.

PAT SALO (Consultant): An artist like Monica, angst is driving her to take pictures and be out there in the marketplace. To come back to the office and then take care of the books and all the nitty-gritty issues are really very important, but again, they cut into her creative time. And so we had to talk about how we could eliminate some of the bottlenecks and make the systemic part of her business easier and so that she could then be freed up to be more productive.

MONICA: And Pat was looking at me in amazement when I said, `Look, my problem is not getting business. My problem is maintaining the business.' There's so many things--the taxes, the accounting, just all kinds of things that don't even involve photography. And I'm still trying to learn photography.

PAT: Most small business owners are technicians. They do something very well, and it really is their passion. And Monica Morgan is a prime example of someone following their dream and their passion.

Unfortunately they cannot do everything themselves. When they first start out and volume is low, they can. So what that means is Monica spends her days taking photographs, spends her afternoons sorting through her negatives, and then at night has to go home and do her books. Now that's fine, but then it gets to a point where the volume of sales increase, and then things slip by the wayside because the technician is torn between, `Should I go and satisfy my customer, or do I spend time at home organizing and doing the books?' Now that's where we come in.

HATTIE: OK.

PAT: Because there are methods and procedures and things that can be implemented that will free the artist and a technician like Monica to do what she really should be doing, and that's to be developing her photography.

HATTIE: What did Pat tell you to do to solve your problem?

MONICA: Pat told me I had to raise my prices. I'm like, `Pat, oh, I can't raise prices. I have too much equipment, I have to pay the MasterCard.' Pat said, `Monica, you've got to raise your prices.' And I was a little resistant, but I did, I raised my prices. And I didn't notice a drop in my clientele. And I don't know if I ought to say this, but it's time to raise those prices again, because sometimes I do feel like a robot, because I'm shooting seven days a week. I mean, sometimes people call me to book me next year you know.

HATTIE: Are you having fun?

MONICA: I'm having fun. I'm having fun, but sometimes it's real difficult because it's lonely being a sole proprietor.

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Land Famous Customers

HATTIE: (Voiceover) In 1996, the Small Business Development Centers of Michigan recognized Monica as one of Michigan's best small businesses. In watching Monica work, I learned much, but listening to her, I learned why she impressed me so much.

MONICA: Because I am a person that I work 24 hours, 7 days a week, and you can't always expect that of other people. And as I've gotten older and I've been in business for a while, I've learned that. But I've always been a person who have always--you know, I always give more. I mean, I can stay up late at night to get the job done.

(Voiceover) Rosa Parks, the little woman who started a big movement, chose Monica to be her official photographer. While famous names fill Monica's client list, there is none more important than Rosa Parks.

HATTIE: By doing the South Africa event, you did it out of passion, you wanted to go to be a part of history, record history, but what you got back from it was people saw you completely different than what--you were the little hometown girl before, and now you're, as you said, international. What can we as small business owners learn from that? Well, we can learn that we can change the way people see us.

MONICA: Exactly.

HATTIE: You've done that.

MONICA: And I've been going back to Africa every year since, and someone else has paid for it. I'm on my way to Sudan, so, you know, the sky is the limit. You just have to believe and you have to stay strong, because a lot of times, you know, you just feel like you're so alone. No matter how many people are around you, you still feel alone because you know that ultimately, it's going to rest with you, whether you stay in business or go out of business.

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Change

HATTIE: Going to South Africa was a watershed event for Monica, both personally and professionally. What she teaches with this trip is to start a business, you have to take a risk, but you have to continue to take risks to grow. She didn't have the money to go on this trip, and if she went, she would lose the income she could earn back in her Detroit studio. But something in her heart told her to go. She went to the bank and took out a personal loan with no guarantee that anyone would buy anything from her when she got back.

(Voiceover) So off to South Africa on a hunch. Not only did she take pictures, she took extraordinary pictures. She was carried on the AP wires and her homecoming was a triumph. Now she's not just a hometown girl, she is an international photographer. With these pictures in her portfolio, she repositioned her business.

She has earned thousands of dollars over what it cost her to go to South Africa just on the pictures she shot there, but more than that, she is seen in a new way by her customers back in Detroit. She has raised her prices and now she is turning down work that she finds uninteresting.

If you're stuck at a certain level in your business, maybe it's time for you to take a new risk. Think of it this way. South Africa could be a metaphor for you to do something radical. If you keep doing what you're doing, you'll keep having what you're having. At SmallBusinessSchool, this concept is so important to us, we call our company Flying Leap. When's the last time you took one?

(Voiceover) At Small Business School.org there is self-help study for people who want to start a business and for people who want to grow the business they have. To learn more about this episode choose the overview. You can read every word you're hearing today when you choose the transcript and go deeper with the case study. And there's streaming video and access to interactive study guides throughout the site.

(Voiceover) In August of 2005 Katrina brought to New Orleans the largest natural disaster in American history. Her drive to document the human story moved Monica out of her comfortable studio to the watery saddness. To the shelters. To wherever in the world the story takes her.

MONICA: You have to take chances. And you can't always look at the dollar figure today. The dollar figure can be there tomorrow. You have to follow your dream.

There were a lot of people who told me, `You can't do it. Why are you going over there? There's nothing that you can get.' My second day there is when a bomb went off, and my photos ran all over the world on the AP news wire. The interesting thing about that was when I called AP and told them I was coming over to bring my film, they said, `Well, come on over, we'll take a look.' When I got there, another photographer, a male, said to me, `Oh, you're the other photographer that called? They've already put my images on the wire so you don't even need to go in.' And a part of me said, `Oh, well, he's probably much better than I am. Maybe I just need to go on back.' And then I said, `Wait a minute. At least I can get the film developed. I can, you know, do that.' I went inside and they looked at my photos, they instantly pulled some of his off the wire and put mine on.

They said my angles were better. And so that says that you can't let someone else tell you what you can or cannot do. You have to believe in yourself. And once you believe, then other people will start to believe.

HATTIE (In the Studio): What could be your South Africa?

To take a growth leap, Monica had to do something dramatic. She went to South Africa and even though there was no guarantee, the experience changed her and her business completely. She was no longer the girl down the street, she became a global presence. He name appeared in the world's newspapers next to her extraordinary photographs. You took a leap to start your business. Is it time to take another one to grow it?

We'll see you next week.

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