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Taking the Leap to a Better State

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Reprinted from Spring 2012 InterCom
By Erin Dooley

There's something to be said for the dreamers — especially in the harsh reality caused by the economic downtown over the last four years. As South Carolina picks up the pieces following the worst recession since the 1930s, some recent alumni of the College of Mass Communications and Information Studies have chosen to follow their own dreams — and in turn become a vital component of the recovery process — by starting small local businesses.

School of Journalism and Mass Communications 2007 graduate Kelly Gaskins created Charleston Girl Perfume Company in 2011 following a short broadcast news career. "I realized that if I put as much effort into my own business as I put into someone else's, then I would have to excel," said Gaskins. "I decided I wanted to create a product, focused on my passion for perfume and looked for a gap in the market." Lauren Landers, also an SJMC 2007 graduate, founded Utopia Invitations in 2009. Landers designs and sells eco-friendly invitations and specialty cards in the Columbia area.

Entrepreneurs are a critical factor in economic development as new businesses create jobs, consume local resources and provide an influx of new goods and services into the marketplace, which stimulates competition. "Small businesses are the engines of the economy," said David Weintraub, a SJMC instructor who designed and teaches a class about entrepreneurship.

After a period of in-depth research, Gaskins met with local perfume manufacturers and designed a fragrance that "captures the spirit of a true southern belle." In a short period of four months, 18 boutiques in South Carolina began carrying her perfume. Gaskins recently accomplished her first corporate sale as well, with CharlestonGirl now featured in the Discover Charleston shop inside the Charleston International Airport.

A new business not only creates variety for consumers, but also encourages the flow of capital in the marketplace. "I use only area printers and paper mills," said Landers. She hand-designs each of her products. "I purchase completely locally. It's a full circle process that can boost the economy."

"Although the economy is outside of your control, some people say the best time to start a small business is during a recession," said Weintraub. "You get established and as the economy improves, things only get better."Beach with girl perfume in Sand

However, recent years have been a difficult environment for established and aspiring business owners alike. "No one else was starting their own business," said Gaskins of her search for information and advisement. "In Charleston there are organizations that provide support to entrepreneurs, but it took a lot of research on my part to fully understand the current marketplace and best ways to break in."

Weintraub pointed out a high level of industry knowledge, solid mission statement and business plan, as well as careful maintenance of your valuable market position, as essential keys to entrepreneurial success. "Patience is a virtue and a necessity for self- employed people."

Both Landers and Gaskins detailed the amount of paperwork, multi-tasking, time-management, determination and mental preparation required for owning their small businesses. "It's definitely a mind-set," said Gaskins. "But there is nothing like knowing you are your own boss."

Both young entrepreneurs see a bright future of expansion for their budding companies. Gaskins plans to branch out across South Carolina, as well as reach out to national department store chains. And, although she recently accepted a job as marketing director at a firm in Columbia, Landers plans to continue Utopia Invitations part-time.

"It definitely doesn't grow magically overnight, but it's anyone's dream to have a little business," said Landers. "It's a scary leap of faith, but people are still buying. A recession is no excuse."

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