Beautiful New Business Cardholders

Entrepreneurship

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For all the mind-numbing busywork of starting a new business, certain tasks come with real  emotional rewards.  That’s certainly the case in choosing this new business card holder.  Like practically every other piece of start-up research, this one took time and shoe leather.  After visiting four physical shops and nearly two dozen Etsy stores, I finally settled on this handsome handcrafted wooden piece.

What clinched it for me was the manufacturer, Inelastic Goods, is a one-man operation based right here in Madison.  Steve, the creator of the line, delivered the item himself, eager to show me six or seven different models.  I jumped at the chance to buy two additional cardholders at a discount.

I’m keeping the white oak for myself and have bought two of the darker wenge wood models for gifts.  The wenge wood model is striking in the contrast of two dark planes sandwiching a lighter maple side piece.  The white oak does the opposite, playing up the continuous grain and color, as if the box were carved from a single block of wood.

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All models come with a magnetic closure that clicks shut oh so satisfyingly.  I catch myself playing with it constantly.  Plus, beyond the visual delight of the hand-finished hardwoods, Steve’s execution of the clean, minimalist design is unparalleled.  Each piece feels stunningly smooth in the hand, the joinery, edges, and curves so silky and organic.

By day, Steve works as an engineer for the state of Wisconsin.  On his own time he exercises his entrepreneurial spirit, refining his craft, streamlining his processes and tools, with the aim of not only perfecting the product, but boosting productivity.  His woodshop has become so efficient, he’s recently made good on a private order of sixty business cardholders to a private individual.

Head over to Steve’s Etsy shop for a look at the different models:

https://www.etsy.com/shop/InelasticGoods?ref=l2-shopheader-name

A Quality Color Laser Printer + Great Customer Service = Dell C1760nw

Entrepreneurship, Media

for blog - color printer review

Ah, researching office equipment–one of my favorite pastimes.  (Not!)  I took my time with this one, going back and forth with my decision tree (for instance, shifting my budget from $200 to $600, and back again).  I ultimately ordered from Staples.com, so I could return any lemon locally.  That’s a sign of me bracing against all the ways a purchase like this can go wrong.

I’m happy to report my good fortune:  not only do I have my new color printer up and running, but I found Dell customer support highly competent and remarkably responsive.

After setting up the printer, my initial test run appeared problematic:  underscore was showing more like strike-through.  Contacting Dell tech support through live-chat was instantaneous:  Niegel, the support analyst, came online the very moment I opened the chat dialogue.  Niegel was great.  His troubleshooting helped me isolate the problem to a specific application; the underscore issue only appeared when printing from Evernote.  Yay!  I wouldn’t have to return the printer, after all.

After closing the live chat module, I received an email from Niegel offering his direct contact info in case I had further questions.  He even included the contact info of his supervisor.  Now that’s transparency!  To top it off, the following day, Niegel followed up with another email, offering further assistance if I had come up with other questions.

The photo above shows the excellent quality of the printer’s text output.  Oddly, two separate PC Magazine reviews of this printer clashed in their assessments of the printer’s text quality.  Review A praised the “unusually good graphics quality” and called its text output “outstandingly sharp.”  But Review B was lukewarm, calling it “a touch below par,” further specifying the text output to be fine for “general business use, though not for uses requiring very small fonts.”  As you can see in my photo, text looks great in even 7-pt. font size.

Good show, Dell!

How to Create Pre-Press PDF Files on a Budget

Entrepreneurship, Media
bus-card Adler GRACoL 2006

Need to order a commercial print job from an online printer, but don’t have Adobe Illustrator ($560)?  That’s my situation.  I’ve laid out a nice business card in PowerPoint (above), including the logo I also designed in PowerPoint.  But Powerpoint does not produce vector graphics.   Printers need vector graphics.  They also recommend submitting PDFs that have been “pre-flighted” using certain Adobe Acrobat presets, such as PDF/X-1a.

Huh?

That’s what I said.  What a bear it was to research this.  And for an additional challenge, I wanted to see if I could accomplish all this on a budget.  I assumed I could find some vector-graphics freeware with which to reproduce my designs.  But the question remained:  how to  save the graphics file in the “pre-flighted” PDF  format that online printers specify?

(In case you’re considering skipping the preflighting step, know that preflighting helps avoid printing glitches such as font substitutions and color alterations.)

Turns out, the key to all this is Adobe Acrobat.

Some of this terminology rang a bell, as I used to  own the Adobe Creative Suite (ACS; back then, $1500) when I ran my photo equipment rentals business.  ACS includes all the programs that produce file formats press printers require, such as .ID (InDesign), .EPS (Photoshop), .AI (Illustrator), and of course .PDF (Acrobat).  I needed all four of them to design marketing materials for that business.  But that was four years ago.  For the past four years I’ve been running my healthcare business, with no need for ACS, at all.  Now that I’m starting up my freelance commercial writing business, I’ve been crossing my fingers that I won’t need to spend $1000+ on design software.

The bottom line is, yes, one can create vector graphics using freeware/shareware (I used Inkscape to recreate my PowerPoint designs).  But for press printing, you need to create properly preflighted PDF’s.  For that, you must have Adobe Acrobat (price varies depending on version and how purchased, $100 – $429).

I verified this by downloading the free trial of Acrobat 11.  With Acrobat installed, the Acrobat Virtual Printer will appear in your list of devices and printers.  (This is in Windows, obviously.)  You simply design your graphics in your vector software, then follow these steps to preflight your PDF:

1) “Print” your file (That’s right, “print” not “save”!)
2) In the print dialog, select Adobe PDF as the “printer.”
3) Click preferences (or printer properties).
4) In Preferences, the “Default Settings” area offers a drop-down menu of PDF format presets.  For business card printing, Moo.com specifies the preset PDF/X-1a:2001.  For printing a brochure, Vistaprint.com requires PDF/a-1b:2005 (CMYK).
5) Click okay to get out of preferences.
6) Click print.  You’re done.

Now you have your vector-based,  properly pre-flighted  PDF to upload to your online printer.

My Rental Studio Business: Big Multiday Photo Shoots

Entrepreneurship, Media
Magazine cover shot in my rental studio business

Magazine cover shot in my rental studio business

My Rental Studio Business:  Big Multiday Photo Shoots

Weddings in Houston, the city’s premier wedding vendor resource, shot many of its covers at my photography rental studio, Silver Street Studio.  Editor and publisher Radhika Day put together a crew that fired on all cylinders over the three-day shoot.  Crack stylist Summar Salah plied her stagecraft on three different glittery sets and twelve wedding gown wardrobes.  Hair and makeup by The Perfect Face transformed the models into showstopping brides.  And photographer Larry Fagala captured all the drama with technical expertise.

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One of three sets during the three-day shoot

Favorite Clients from My First Small Business

Entrepreneurship, Media

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While running my rental studio, Silver Street Studio in Houston, it was exciting to work with photographers and agencies of international renown, like Mary Ellen Mark and Mark Seliger, Art Department and Greenhouse Reps.  But it was a special pleasure to work with those photographers and crews that were at bottom simply great human beings.

TONY D’ORIO PHOTOGRAPHY

I think immediately of Tony D’Orio, of Altoids fame.  (Note:  Tony’s photo used in the ad above was not shot in my studio).  How refreshing that, in a profession so rife with jealously guarded tricks of the trade, Tony instead offered a broad openness and generousness of spirit.  Over the course of a two-day shoot for McDonalds, he showed me a couple of studio equipment hacks that made my job easier and that would be enjoyed by other photographers in my studio for years to come.  For instance, he showed me how to switch out the hand-crank machine clamp of an Elinchrom Octabank–which have infamously weak grip—with the more robust clamp from a Matthews C-stand.

http://www.tonydorio.com/

FULTON DAVENPORT, PWL STUDIO

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Lucky for me I like photographer Fulton Davenport as much as I do since he was perhaps our biggest repeat client over the years.  With his busy creative firm, PWL Studio, Fulton was shooting in our space practically every other week for years.  One of his specialties is product photography, which was also a specialty of ours.  Take a look at the photo above, of Fulton at work for a high-end antique shop client.  The tabletop set is comprised of expendables and hardware we kept in stock and offered at no extra charge.  Even more to the point of product photography was our studio’s unsurpassed natural light.  Heres Fulton on shooting day light in our space:

“I love the highly technical work, like photographing objects with intense detail, a la Irving Penn shooting for Saks Fifth Avenue.  You’d normally need (or have to build) a light tent.   But here, you’ve got such huge windows on north and south, the light is perfect.  Tents are used just to simulate this.”

http://www.pwlstudio.com/

JUSTIN CALHOUN PHOTOGRAPHY

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One of my favorite people, photographers or not, is Justin Calhoun.  Justin brought us a big job one summer, and one could tell how much the crew liked working for him.  The makeup department, the photo assistants, even the kraft service people were obviously inspired to work hard for Justin, with smiles all around.  What you see here in the two photos above is a Polaroid test shot (the client wanted Justin to shoot film, not digital) and one of the direct mail pieces ultimately produced from the images.

http://www.justincalhoun.com/

FELIX SANCHEZ PHOTOGRAPHY

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Another of our busy-busy clients was Felix Sanchez.  Felix was one of the first to shoot in our studio in the early days, and he continued to bring interesting jobs into our space over the next seven years.  (He has his own beautiful new studio now.)  Before becoming a photographer Felix played in a touring Tejano band, so naturally he’s photographed many musicians throughout his career.  Early on with us, Felix was kind enough to help me assimilate the vast expanse that is studio equipment.  He’d report on all of his new experiences experimenting with lighting equipment.  I based many of my equipment acquisitions on Felix’s information.  The job in the photo above was for Walmart, for which Felix transformed our cold, empty space into a warm and cozy living room.  Go check out his handsome new website.

http://www.felixsanchez.com/

Prepaid Wireless: How to Save $800 This Year

Entrepreneurship, Media

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Entrepreneurs are always looking for ways to economize.  I’ve recently found prepaid wireless to be a great source of savings.

A few months ago I left Verizon for Virgin Mobile, and I couldn’t be happier.  I was lucky a friend had persuaded me to give it a try.  Before then, prepaid mobile service wasn’t on my radar, at all.  Why is that?

For one thing, there’s the stigma.  I’d always thought of the prepaid market as being for the credit-challenged among us.  This understanding was accurate at one point.  Prepaid cell service began as a way for someone with bad credit or no credit to essentially put down a “deposit” (hence, pre-paying for service).  By contrast, if you were middle class and credit worthy, the major carriers trusted you enough to give you service and take your payment at month’s end (aka, “post-paid”), even gave you a free phone.  It’s a little-recognized symbol of socioeconomic status.  Even more to the point of stigma:  prepaid phone cards and disposable “burner” phones purchased in convenience stores were associated with drug dealers who needed untraceable hardware for illicit communications.

There is admittedly a somewhat sketchy feel to using prepaid service.  My experience is with Virgin Mobile (VM), but I imagine this applies to most of the prepaid sector.  VM clearly insulates itself behind the Internet, encouraging all customer contact to happen through their website.  And even on the website, there is no traditional “bill”– no “statement”, no calls log, and most importantly, no account number.  If you’re able to figure out how to get an actual human being on the phone at Virgin Mobile, you’ll find them seriously cagey upon you requesting your account number.  Ask them for your account number, and they ask you why you want it.  I guess most customers seek their account number when they’re jumping ship to another carrier (you need it to port your number to another carrier).  For my part, I wanted my account number to set up VM as a “payee” at my bank to schedule automatic monthly payments.  Guess what?  Virgin Mobile doesn’t deal with banks.  They only accept credit / debit cards or “Top Up” cards purchased at drugstores and big-box retailers.  They do not accept paper checks.  Nor can you register a bank account with them for electronic payments.  (Not that I would ever do that, but since when does a company not want your bank account info?)

So what convinced me to try them?

How about saving $70 every month?  Yep, my Verizon bill was $107 each month.  I’m now paying only $37 a month to Virgin Mobile.  Sure, this is for only 300 minutes.  But $107 only got me 450 minutes from Verizon.  And with VM I get unlimited texting and data.  My $107 with Verizon only gave me 4 gigs of data.

The unlimited data has been a big plus.  I now get to watch Netflix on my phone anytime I want, without worrying about my data plan.  With Verizon, that 4 gigs of data was good for only about eight episodes of “Breaking Bad.”  One caveat for heavy data users:   there have been reports of data “throttling”.  I have yet to experience this, but I’m actually not that heavy of a data user.

How do I manage with only 300 minutes on my plan?  The same way I managed with only 450 minutes on my Verizon plan:  I make most of my calls via the Internet.  I use an inexpensive ($5 one-time purchase) VoIP app called GrooveIP.  GrooveIP uses Google Voice to make and receive free calls over the Internet.  It works best over Wi-Fi and 4G, and it does work well enough over 3G, as well.  VoIP setup is somewhat complicated, but here’s how:  http://www.addictivetips.com/mobile/make-free-wi-fi-voip-voice-calls-with-android-guide/

I’ve definitely encountered some drawbacks.  Make special note of this one — although there are a number of BYOD (bring your own device) prepaid carriers, Virgin Mobile isn’t one of them.  You have to buy a Virgin Mobile phone, whose offerings are somewhat limited.  Better than in the past (they carry iPhones, now).  But still limited.  There’s no contract, so there’s no discount on any of the phones.  So I limited myself to a $200 phone budget.  I chose the Samsung Galaxy Reverb.

The Reverb was VM’s top-of-the-line smart phone a year ago (now $130).  It sports a great feature set; by comparison, my Verizon phone was the vaunted Motorola Razr, and the Reverb has every feature I ever used on my Razr.  But, like so many of the lower-cost Android phones, the Reverb has only 2 gigs of RAM memory, and this is the source of my one regret:  with such limited RAM, my Reverb slowed to a crawl once I loaded it up with apps.  Why not install the apps on the external SD card?  Current versions of android (all versions since Froyo 2.2) have allowed users to move apps from internal memory to the external SD card.  The only problem here is, in order for this work, the developer of the app must enable the app to run from the external SD card.  Most app developers have not taken the time to do this.

But, wait, there’s a solution.  It takes some doing.  And customer service certainly doesn’t endorse this since it is essentially a hack.  But here’s how to move almost any app to your external SD card:  http://www.bongizmo.com/blog/moving-all-android-apps-to-sdcard-apps2sd-froyo/  It’s worked great for me.  Now my phone has regained its zip and pizzazz.

So despite some drawbacks, if you’re pretty handy with cell phone configuration, and you don’t rely much on mobile carrier customer service, then going prepaid is not only doable.  It’s great.  What’s not great about saving $840 every year?

(PS:  What does the photo above have to do with prepaid wireless?  Not a thing.  I just think it’s hilarious to see people talking on phablets.)

Favorite Thing About My First Small Business?

Entrepreneurship

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I’d be hard-pressed to pick one favorite thing about running old rentals business, Silver Street Studio, LLC. Working with photo crews? Tasty catering? Both, awesome. But our Fotofest Biennial exhibits really stand out for me.

Every two years we’d donate our space for a month to house one of the thirty Fotofest Biennial exhibits. The Fotofest Biennial, according to their website, is “the largest event of its kind in the world”. . . a “platform for ideas and discovery, combining museum-quality art with important social and aesthetic issues.”

In the photo above you can see why I loved temporarily transforming my workaday photo studio into an elegant, clean modern art gallery. There were always anxiety butterflies in that first hour of the gallery opening, when only one person would show up (above).

That one person was of course the advance guard of the army that would follow. Ever have 500 people hanging out in your house? (My photo studio was in my backyard.)
Fotofest gallery crowd

Said army out in the bar in my carport.
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My wife and I enjoy throwing parties. It’s safe to say our Fotofest gallery openings were our best attended shindigs. And at the end of the night, as the last of the army would be marching out, and our volunteers could take their first much-needed break (below), my wife and I would smile at each another, a bit incredulous we had really pulled off an event of such complexity and magnitude, and had a thrilling fun time doing it.
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How Madison Healed an Ailing Entrepreneur

Entrepreneurship, Health

awesome pup(photo credit needed)

Madison has made me whole again.  A phoenix rising from the ashes?  Check.  And not a moment too soon.

I was recovering from a serious loss:  grieving the death of my first beloved small business to the cancer of the Great Recession. Obstructing the grieving process was the insane work schedule of my new small business, a nighthawk radiology service.  Nighthawk radiology is third-shift work, 7 PM to 7 AM, seven days on and seven days off.  Each night my two-man team would process (receive, read, and report on) the ER imaging of 130 patients per night from nine regional hospitals.  Then we’d sleep the day long, eat “breakfast” at 5 PM, and do it all over again.  Needless to say, the intensity and Sysiphian nature of my work week allowed for little reflection or meditation.

But at the end of workday seven, I would fly from Houston to Madison to spend my off-week with my wife, who had just gone back to school for graduate studies in public health at UW Madison.  I was greeted each week by the magical sight of Tenney Park (below; photo credit needed), which is essentially the gateway to Madison coming from the airport.

Tenney Park

We lived in UW married student housing, called Eagle Heights.  Each Monday morning I would have the cab stop short of the complex and let me off at the bottom of the hill for a nice stroll up the bike path (below).
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Eagle Heights was a throwback to mid-century institutional community design, with 1200 units housing over 3000 people essentially off in the woods.  It was separated from the main UW campus by a mile-and-a-half of the lake shore, which insulated us from the famously hard-partying undergrads.

It was a quiet hideaway, shaded in summer by 150-foot white pines and old oaks of ten-foot girth.  Summer mornings could get a bit rowdy, as hundreds of the children of grad students ran wild in this bubble of safety and open space.  Summers in Eagle Heights demonstrate the occupation of little kids to be the playtime mimicry of working adults.

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The adults spent a lot of time in the dirt, as well:  Eagle Heights has the largest community garden in the United States (below).
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Our two-bedroom unit was “cozy.” We had brought our king size platform bed with us from Houston, and we were lucky to assemble it with the bedroom door open because, once the platform was screwed together, it blocked the door. Tiny, yes, but the 650 square-feet of space had been laid out so well that we had all we needed.

That tiny apartment, with its single entrance and instantly surveyable floorspace, both swaddled me in warmth and encouraged me to spend time outdoors (which I took to include all the quality beer bars in the area). For us coming from a 3000 ft.² house in Houston, Eagle Heights living forced us to pare back. It was a cleansing consolidation, sorting and culling the piles of material possessions one collects over the years. I was astonished to find myself able to let go, even of items from my childhood that had an irrational hold on me, like this model ship which found a very good home in the bedroom of one of our favorite neighbors (below).
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I feel the emblematic patterns of Middle Life–moving out of state, changing careers, gaining weight, losing hair. Yet I feel it’s in Middle Life that one can make certain choices one couldn’t have made years ago. I feel I’ve traded an old sailing vessel that wasn’t doing me any good for a new one. (Have I mentioned I’ve joined the sailing club?)

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Joining the UW Hoofers sailing club  is something I never would’ve done before.  My pre-Madison worldview was that of consumer first.  And what do good consumers do when they want to go sailing?  They buy a boat of their own.  That probably explains why I’d never chosen to sail:  the concept of owning a boat, and a trailer with which to tow it, and rented storage, all presented a barrier to my entering the world of sailing.  The UW Hoofers Sailing Club leverages the resources of the community to provide the boats and infrastructure and volunteer efforts for maintenance.  For a modest $295/year, I can sail any of the 100+ boats (from dinghies to sloops, on up to six different keel boats), windsurfers, and even snow kites in winter.  Perhaps best of all is unlimited instruction at no extra cost, which is how I learned to sail.

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Speaking of winter, I ride my bike year-round.

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In fact, when my wife and I moved to Madison, we sold our cars and left them behind in Texas.  Madison is compact enough, we can go nearly everywhere we want on our bikes.  When we do need to go farther, the Metro bus system is superb, with seemingly more lines than one could ever need.  Also nice, there’s no bus stigma.  To see the bus carrying individuals of many different income levels is to see a city that confronts its traffic problem as adults:  rather than ever-widening streets at the expense of all else, the city actually restricts traffic in various ways, chiefly by restricting parking.  Instead of encouraging more cars into the city center, the city provides great public transit and some of North America’s most admired cycling and pedestrian byways.  The true economic elite in this town still of course drive luxury cars to work every morning.  But if they work in the city center, they park at a premium.  Everyone else enjoys free (with any current student ID) or cheap and highly efficient trips by bus, bike, or on foot.  I recently took the heavily used route #70 nine miles to the west side during rush hour, which took twenty-five minutes.  That same trip on a woefully under-funded bus system in Houston used to take me a punishing 45 minutes each way to and from the college campus where I taught.

Rather than prioritize the individual in his or her own car, Madison coaxes individuals out onto the streets, preserving great public spaces for more people to enjoy.  The site of its lively sidewalk culture and busy bicycle commuter paths could be mistaken for one of the nation’s great cityscapes, like Portland or Seattle or Berkeley.  Madison is a small, compact place.  Competing interests collide.  Hard choices must be made.  It’s clear the city is making many of them well.

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There is also Community Car, a car sharing club that rivals the amazing value of the Sailing Club.

CommunityCar logoFor a one time $35 sign up fee, we joined the club and can reserve any of the Priuses, pickup trucks, Honda Fits and Civics, five of them kept in various spots within a mile of our apartment.  The cars are fully insured and fully fueled at no extra cost, save for the hourly fee, which is only $7.50/hour or the $3.75/hour Night Owl rate after 11 PM.  Mileage only costs extra beyond 150 miles in a day.  My wife and I rent Community Car to the tune of $20/month on average. The service hits that sweet spot that’s  triangulated between the bus, the bike, and walking.  The car isn’t the symbol of American individualist freedom for nothing; it can be a real advantage to have a car for certain scenarios.  But not owning a car–not shouldering the financial costs (depreciation, fuel, interest on financing, insurance, sales tax, maintenance, repair; Consumer Reports estimates such costs for a Mini Cooper to be $5,800/year!) or the costs in lost time (dealing with maintenance or breakdowns or flats or dead batteries, researching the purchase, researching the maintenance/repair providers)–now, that’s a freedom in and of itself.  The catchphrase in the Community Car logo is “Own less.  Live more.”  I get that now.

This post is getting way too long.  Besides, by now one can see what I’m getting at about Madison.  Madison has shown us a paradox:  the riches of living modestly but deeply and without fear, in a place that values community.  In this town I feel awake again.  Again?  Or is it really for the first time, ever?