Thanks to American Express for sponsoring my writing today about small businesses. American Express is presenting Small Business Saturday, a way to honor the local merchants who are the backbone of the economy, this Saturday, November 27.
They're offering statement credits to people who shop at small businesses, advertising for small-business owners, and donations to Girls Inc. for "Likes" of the Small Business Saturday page on Facebook. Join the celebration by clicking the "Like" button and then visiting the Facebook page to learn more about the program and read the terms and conditions that apply.
All Photos in this Post Used With Permission
of Jean Roth and Rotem Design Studio & Rotem Gear
Prior to researching the impact of small businesses, I had no idea of how staggering the statistics would be. Yet, when I checked the website of the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) today, I was blown away to discover that in 2009, 99.9% of all businesses were small companies with fewer than 500 employees. The fact that a full 52% of those small businesses were home-based which was even more amazing.
With small business being the backbone of the American economy, as American Express points out, it's easy to see that during down economic times such as now it's really important for consumers to show their support for small businesses and solo entrepreneurs whenever you can while doing your holiday shopping.
Who are these faces behind smaller American enterprise that we should patronize whenever possible this holiday season? They're passionate business owners like Jean Roth, whom I met through our mutual involvement in Martha Stewart's Dreamers Into Doers (DID), the online community that celebrates talented and creative women who turn their dreams into careers they love.
Sitting down to get to know Jean, I learned that about 8 years ago she started working freelance as a graphic designer. Today, she works solo running a successful graphic design company in Los Angeles called Rotem Design Studio and its Internet-based t-shirt and apparel store known as Rotem Gear. As of now, she has created and merchandised more than 400 original designs for her brand, including the designs pictured in this post which are among her personal favorites.
Jean's journey to entrepreneurship has been an interesting and circuitous journey indeed. Seeing her design work, it was immediately apparent to me that her background and education, including a master's from UCLA in Japanese Language and Literature and a B.A. in Asian Studies and the experience of living in Israel for 8 years, has had a great influence on her design work.
How this talented designer got from point A to point B to where she is today is fascinating. She explains, "People often ask me how I got from being a specialist in Japanese language and culture to a designer and editor. The linear answer is that my Japanese skills landed me my first marketing job years ago in a Japanese audio-electronics firm and later a stint in the Public Information and Cultural Affairs section of the Japanese Consulate General in L.A."
As her career progressed Jean started exploring computer graphics while working at a software company in Tel-Aviv. It wasn't until she returned to the U.S. and starting working at local architecture and design firms that she really started learning lay-out, graphics, and paying attention to the principles of design. Rotem Design Studio and Rotem Gear are the culminations of all that diverse experience and exposure to various cultures.
Jean believes that her work truly reflects what design and communications should produce -- words that evoke images, and images that convey ideas and emotions. She concludes, "All of it -- the media, the marketing, the intercultural experience -- has come full circle for me and makes its own special sense."
What are the top challenges you face as a small business in general? And in the current economy during the upcoming holiday season?
"Not surprisingly," Jean answers, "the main challenges are financial. Sole proprietors and freelancers are particularly vulnerable, as we must pay our own self-employment tax and are not eligible for group health insurance rates.
"During the holiday season," she continues, "especially when the economic climate is not at its healthiest, it can be difficult to know how much to invest in marketing/distribution costs and inventory, especially since the holiday season is so critical to small retail businesses like mine. This year, while still nothing like 6 years ago, has been better than the past three years so far, so hopefully that is a good sign for small business owners like myself."
What's your favorite mom and pop store or online business? Please leave a comment and share why it's important for consumers to support your favorite small business this holiday season.