One can almost taste the sea salt in the air, feel the dew covered grasses and smell the wedding bouquet’s fragrance when gazing at Willa Kveta’s photographs. She is the creative mind and owner of Willa Kveta Photography, a Santa Barbara-based photography business.
“I never imaged being a wedding photographer,” said Kveta. Reminiscing on her current path as a photographer and business owner, and how it took shape by virtue of her desire to leave Whidbey Island near Seattle and see the world.
She recalls in the same breath, “I saw true happiness where I didn’t expect to find it…and I learned to believe in miracles,” said Kveta, who traveled solo for two plus years around Central and South America. She quickly acquired the gimlet eye of a seasoned traveler through her many indelible experiences. A couple of which were hitch hiking extreme distances and being caught up in a police raid – these life experiences were just two among the many she recounted along her travels. Kveta quickly learned Spanish, worked as an artesana making and selling jewelry, and lived with local families from the Amazon jungle all the way into the Andean mountains. She experienced previously unimaginable beauty with the people she befriended and places she lived while at the same time documenting her travels with her camera.
After her travels in 2003, she decided to make her passion for photography her profession and graduated from Brooks Institute of Photography where she worked her way through school doing primarily portraits. Following her business launch, she decided she needed some business education to go along with her education in photography. “I needed more business sense and needed to find out how to be a successful business owner and not just a successful photographer,” said Kveta.
From an advertisement in the local newspaper, Kveta reached out to Women Economic Ventures, a SBA Women’s Business Center located in Santa Barbara, California, and attended WEV’s 14-week Self-Employment Training (SET) course. SET courses are led by experienced instructors and supplemented by subject matter experts from the business community. During the SET course, Kveta gained skills and confidence through learning about start-up basics, feasibility, marketing, financials and operations. At the end of the course she submitted a complete business plan to get her business up and running.
“WEV helped me analyze my business in a way that I had never done before. All of the worksheets, lectures and speakers helped me to focus on my goals and more importantly, to figure out exactly what my goals were,” said Kveta. Another component of WEV was the encouragement and continuation of the Master Mind group. ”We met on a weekly basis for over two years after we graduated from the class…these women became some of my dearest friends in Santa Barbara.”
Now settled into her small business photographing one of life’s most frenetic days, “I love to capture real moments,” said Kveta, who for the last 10 years has continued to fulfill her desire for adventure through her blossoming business and five years ago, the birth of her twin daughters. “That [SET] class launched me into a whole different realm as a photographer and as a business owner.”
Her biggest challenge now is, “balancing time being a mom and business owner,” said Kveta. She has a few assistants who help her on her shoots but for the most part handles her own website updates, taxes and blog. “It’s challenging doing all that…keeping it all going all the time,” with her growing clientele. Kveta said, she often spends more time on the business side than the artistic side but loves what she does – every bit of it, from the creative to the logistical aspects of running her business.
After reflecting on her personal and business path for a moment, she said, “the reason I’m successful is because I know how to run a business not only take great pictures.” Her clients would agree. Kveta’s exceptional business sense and eye for beauty has propelled her into being one of Santa Barbara’s most desired wedding photographers.
“It’s important work,” said Josephine Gradillas, principal and founder of Gradillas Court Reporters, a licensed California court reporting and litigation support business. “Especially when witnesses are under oath…the transcripts are extremely important and are used to come to legal decisions and conclusions.”
Gradillas Court Reporters was founded in 2001 but more recently in 2010 the growing firm entered into the U.S. Small Business Administration’s 8(a) Business Development Program, which helps socially and economically disadvantaged individuals gain a foothold in government contracting. The program is divided into two phases over nine years: a four-year development stage and a five-year transition stage.
Although Gradillas was steadily growing and maintained non-governmental work prior to becoming an 8(a) certified company, Gradillas would receive only occasional request from government agencies requiring court reporting assignments. That would all change after she met David Sutton, director of small business utilization for the Department of Justice, at a SBA seminar. Sutton advised that Gradillas should seriously consider becoming a certified 8(a) firm. “Well, I wasted no time and pursued, and received my 8(a) certification,” said Gradillas. “Very shortly after becoming certified…I called the regional director of a large government agency and explained I was a court reporter and a certified 8(a) firm. The response was, ‘You’re a court reporter and you’re an 8(a) – I have been looking for someone like you!’”
That phone call would begin long-lasting relationships with a number of government agencies including the Department of Treasury, Internal Revenue Service, Department of Labor, Department of Homeland Security, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the Securities and Exchange Commission. Gradillas said, a large part of her work is through the 8(a) Program. “My only regret is that I did not become 8(a) certified sooner,” said Gradillas.
“That phone call resulted in immediate job settings for us….which have been increasing in quantity and quality ever since. This may not happen each and every time but it reflects that with serious research and follow up effort, you may find the right person to talk to that needs your services,” said Gradillas.
Speaking about her growing company and contracted court reporters, Gradillas said, she enjoys working with the U.S. Government and finds it especially rewarding to provide job opportunities for people.
Gradillas’ firm has also earned a positive reputation as a, “go-to” firm when agencies need a court reporter the next day due to any number of circumstances. She has gained this ability from 30 years of experience within the legal community and from her relationships with court reporters all over the country.
“I’ve been a businesswoman for a long time, but I still feel the thrill of grasping new ideas and new tools,” said Gradillas. The leading edge technologies they employ are: real-time transcription that uses software plus the court reporter’s electronic dictionary that transforms machine stenotype into plain English so attorneys can have direct access and ask questions; and the real-time transcript synched with the video of the witness to allow instant word searches that display the video linked to any word or phrase. Gradillas mentioned that technology is making court reporters’ work more accessible for government agencies and international clients, and also provides opportunities for court reporters who like to do this type of work.
“It’s a rewarding experience to help companies like Gradillas take advantage of all the opportunities afforded by the 8(a) Program and strongly encourage other small business owners to contact their local SBA office for more details,” said Sandra Vasquez, business opportunity specialist, and Gradillas liaison within the 8(a) Program in the Los Angeles District Office.
Referring to the 8(a) Program, “It’s been a good fit for our business…because there are many government agencies that use court reporting services,” said Gradillas. “I’ve made it a priority to go after 8(a) opportunities…to those small business owners out there who are good candidates, I would certainly endorse and recommend that they consider the 8(a) Program…it will be a new marketplace for them.”
Gradillas and her court reporting business has also empowered her to give back to the community as well. She was recognized as a “Women in Business Advocate of the Year” by the Beverly Hills Chamber of Commerce and she also received the “Woodbury University Heritage Award.” We look forward to hearing more about Josephine Gradillas in the years to come.
An amusing aspect of Kris Hart, founder and president of Royal Riding & Accessories, is she manufactures flawless and comfy motorcycle seat pads but hasn’t had much time to sit on one since founding her company in 2010.
Four years ago in early 2009 began a turning point for Hart who was then working two jobs, one for a motorcycle parts dealer and another as an administrator running group homes for young women in the foster care system. “I was working for someone else while I was running homes for youth…I was afraid to go out and do it on my own but I looked at these brave young women and decided to go for it and take out a $17,000 bank loan through Santa Barbara Bank and Trust. I bought a truck, trailer and dove into business,” said Hart.
In 2009, for nine months straight, she drove her truck and trailer to every motorcycle show she could find to promote and sell her idea of a better motorcycle seat pad for rider’s bottoms. It wasn’t until the end of 2010 that she knew her self-made products were highly desired by riders and drove back home to lay out her business strategy.
“I probably need a business plan,” said Hart, referring to her decision to contact SCORE – Ventura Chapter, a SBA Resource Partner, located in Westlake Village, California. “That was when I met Michael Scotto.” Scotto was the chapter chair of SCORE – Ventura Chapter and signed Hart up for a business plan workshop. Before the workshop’s second session, she had already written her business plan. “They saw how hungry I was to succeed in this business and that’s when they directed me to the Economic Development Collaborative - Ventura County.” EDC-VC is a SBA Small Business Development Center and is located in Camarillo, California.
Funding Royal Riding & Accessories was a group effort with Joe Palmer, a loan officer with EDC-VC, leading the way. Palmer recommended a Business Assistance Loan through the City of Ventura that assists small business owners overcome some of the hurdles to becoming a successful entrepreneur. Within three weeks, Hart had financing for inventory.
“They are such a wealth of information for me,” said Hart. “I was so blessed to have the support of SCORE, EDC-VC and the City of Ventura. No matter what I asked they were there…Bruce Stensile and Ray Bowman helped me with freight forwarding, and in 2012 Marvin Boateng [a finance service specialist at EDC-VC] assisted with financing the launch of my new Cool Tush line of seat pads. I get choked up talking about it...they helped me take my business to the next level.”
Hart’s ambitions are to continue to grow and expand her business. She is proud to be women-owned business and to have all of the company’s manufacturing done in the United States. Plus, Hart hires local youth from nearby group homes along with disabled veterans to help with packaging new shipments.
She now has 32 products on the motorcycle side and in the coming months, will be launching a similar company specializing in hunting and all-terrain vehicles (ATVs) with 16 new products called Royal Outdoors. Recently, Hart hired Mary Ann Rooney to help keep Royal Riding running smoothly and she still keeps SCORE and EDC-VC on speed dial as her business grows with new product lines and increasing sales. “David Pollack [a business plan specialist at EDC-VC] helped me get together the business plan for the new business and Marvin helped put a valuation on the new company,” said Hart.
“It’s truly amazing,” said Hart. “I just sell what I make - I used to carry other people’s products but now I don’t need to…I listen to my customers and what they want and I strive to provide a quality product and exceptional customer service. We started in a recession and had to take our company’s values that much more to heart. Trust, respect and integrity that’s our company’s mantra and that’s what we want to have for our customers and employees.”
In 2012, Kris Hart won the Women-Owned Business of the Year at the Spirit of Small Business Awards event hosted by Pacific Coast Business Times and the U.S. Small Business Administration, Los Angeles District Office.