Small business owner offers tips on starting and growing a successful company.

The Orlando Public Library has free services for people who want to start and grow a small business.

ORLANDO – Looking at the nation’s Gross Domestic Product – the amount of goods and services produced in the United States each year – R. Brek Dalrymple noted that it amounted to $14 trillion before the nation plunged into a steep recession.

Dalrymple, a small business owner who operates The BrekGroup, was meeting with a group of people at the Orlando Public Library who either had just started their own business or were thinking about it.  Dalrymple asked the crowd to guess just how far the nation’s GDP had fallen since the recession started.  The answer, he said, might surprise everyone.

“In our terrible economy,” he said, “we dropped to $13.9 trillion.” Even in what many would consider the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression, he said, the drop was relatively small.

The bottom line, he added, is that even in a bad economy, there’s still plenty of money that people have to spend – even if they’re more guarded about what they buy.

“There is a crapload of opportunity out there still, even when the economy is bad,” Dalrymple said.  “The good news is there’s money to be made.”

With Central Florida facing a double digit unemployment rate and the number of jobless still high, an alternative for some job seeking may be to create their own business, even they have the skills to offer a viable product to the public.

But before anyone jumps into becoming an entrepreneur, Dalrymple said, it’s important to know what to do first – and what not to do.

“When you go to start your own business, the first thing people are going to talk to you about is a business plan,” he said.  “My thought is to forget all of that.  Your business plan should be one page.”

Business plans are usually required by banks before a loan can be approved, but Dalrymple noted that following the bank crisis and the subsequent tight lending standards that it produced, “a bank isn’t going to loan you any money.”

Instead, he added, people need to start by looking in the mirror and asking themselves some tough questions.

“It’s managing your emotions,” he said.  “You don’t have anybody else to help you.  If you’ve been depressed – and it will happen – and if you’ve been beaten down – and it will happen – you have to remember that for the ones who succeed, they’re really, really determined.  They don’t quit.  For some reason, they have a burning desire not to quit.”

If that’s you, Dalrymple said, you’ve got the potential to operate a small, and perhaps one day thriving, business.

“If you can just keep going, chances are you can be successful,” he said.  “How are you going to convince me to buy something if you’re feeling crappy about yourself?  But if you’re the kind of person who can control rejection and handle chaos, that’s a sign that you can make this happen.”

On Wednesday, the Orlando Public Library hosted a program called “Small Business Help,” an opportunity for business owners and those considering starting their own company to learn about the free library resources and services available there to help them.

It was the brainchild of Librarian Kris Woodson, who said far too many people don’t know they can tap into assistance at the downtown library.

“This is a program I’ve wanted to do for a long time now,” she said.  “Those resources are free for you to use.”

They include an online Virtual Library that offers an e-guide to starting and growing a business.

The Orlando Public Library has a Virtual Library that contains an e-guide explaining how to start a business.

“It’s just a wealth of information, and I encourage you to explore it,” Woodson said.  “It will take you through everything you need to know about starting your own business.”

Woodson also invited Dalrymple to host a program on helping small business owners and entrepreneurs.  Dalrymple said he understands from past experience what it takes to become a small business owner.

“I’ve worked for companies that employed six or seven people, and I’ve worked at companies that have employed 40,000 people,” he said.  “I’ve flipped burgers for a living while working my way through college.”

He started The BrekGroup three years ago, he said, because, like most other entrepreneurs, “I wanted to be able to control my own destiny.  But the problem with people with small businesses is they don’t like to take advice – and I count myself among them.  We all have our ideas of how our life is going to go.  What I’ve found is it doesn’t work that way.”

Dalyrmple said any small business owner needs to begin with a firm idea of what they can do – but they should also keep learning, and researching, and reaching out to others for help and ideas.  Be aware, he added, of what it is that other people want.

“I’ve found that if you can tune yourself in to what your friends are talking about, you’ll find some opportunities there,” he said.  “You have to find a way to think like your client.  That’s really, really hard.  It’s not easy to do.  You’ve got to figure out how to deliver your message quickly.  That’s a big challenge when you run your own company.”

It helps, he said, to avoid pretending to be something you’re not.

“One of the things I see a lot of small companies do is try to pretend you’re a really big company,” he said.  “Your being small is your strength – which is you’re adaptable, as long as you have a product that has something unique to it.”

In addition to talking to friends and family about their ideas, Dalrymple said business owners should also talk to their competition – a lot.

“If you’re going to open your own business, you have to know your competitors,” he said.  “How do you beat your competitor? If you go into your business, know about your competitors.  Call them.  I’ve done that.  That’s really important.  You want to be able to differentiate yourself.  Know your competitors’ pricing.  What are they good at and what are they bad at?  Then figure out what you’re good at and what you’re bad at.”

A big mistake that small business owners make, he said, is to assume that if they lower their prices compared to what competitors are charging, they’ll have a clear advantage.  It doesn’t work that way, he said.  Instead, stay competitive with other prices in the field, but offer better service, better delivery, better results.

“There are 10,o00 businesses out there that will cut down your price by a nickel,” he said.  “Don’t focus on price, number one.  I don’t want you doing that as a rule, because you won’t be in business for very long.  Small companies know that there are people out there that don’t know what they’re doing, and they underprice to get the job.”

The public library is one of several places to get free help on starting a business.

There are some other local resources available to people starting a business, he added.  The Small Business Administration has an office near Lake Eola in downtown Orlando, where entrepreneurs can take a business plan seminar and meet with a business counselor.  The University of Central Florida has a business incubation program.

“Most of the resources, I’ve found, I’ve been disappointed with,” he added.  “I don’t belong to any networking groups because the ones I went to just wanted to sell me insurance.”

But he also said business owners shouldn’t be afraid to go it alone, at least in the beginning.

“The right time is never going to come, so if you want to do it, just do it,” he said.

Most of all, he said, remain determined to succeed, no matter how many road blocks you stumble over in the short run.

“The reality of the world is you’re going to get a lot of rejection,” Dalrymple said.  “Tell yourself, ‘I’m not going to go into the black hole of despair.  If you think you can do it, if you have passion for it, then you can do it.  Pick the best thing you’ve got, pick something you’re passionate about.  Be different.  Be unique.  Status quo is death.”

To learn more about Dalrymple and The BrekGroup, call 407-841-3391 or email BrekD@BrekGroup.com.

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Orlando artist calls Henna intimate, inspiring tattooing art for couples — and weddings.

ORLANDO – It dates back 6,000 to 7,000 years … and it’s popularity is growing today, particularly during wedding ceremonies.

“It goes back to ancient Egypt,” said Ron Jaffe.  “It was an art used at ceremonies.”

And it was a tradition that slowly found its way to the United States, and has become increasingly popular in recent years.

“Indian women in particular brought the tradition and culture over here during ceremonies like the ones they did back home,” Jaffe said.  “In the 1980s and 1990s, the cultures started intermixing.”

Jon Jaffe runs his own Henna tattoing art studio, Red Moon Henna.

Henna is an art form that Jaffe himself discovered, which is why he now has a studio – Red Moon Henna and Body Art, at 812 E. Anderson St. – where he does it.

“My particular take on Henna – and I’ve been doing it for about 12 years – is to do both contemporary and traditional art,” he said.  “There will be a mixture of different motifs and different things I try.”

Henna – also known as Lawsonia inermis – is a flowering plant used to dye skin, hair, fingernails and sometimes clothing.  It also applies to dye preparations that come from this plant and can be used for the art of tattooing.

“I was on a trip to Morocco in the 1980s, when my wife and I saw a bridal Henna (art) on a woman there, and I thought it was interesting,” Jaffe recalled.

When he got back to the U.S., he decided to visit an Indian shop, and convinced the owner to show him how to make the paste used for the dye. That turned out to be a turning point for Jaffe, the start of a strong appreciation for this unique form of tattooing art.

“I just fell in love with it,” he said.  “It’s a very interesting art base.”

For one thing, developing skills at Henna enabled Jaffe to begin learning more about different social cultures, including Indian culture.

“Henna is used like a tattoo,” Jaffe said.  “A lot of people use it at weddings.  It’s used to decorate woman – and men, sometimes.  Most people know about Henna from weddings, in fact.”

In that sense, he said, it may be one of the most romantic tattooing art forms – a symbol of a woman’s love for the man she plans to marry.

“For the most part, it’s going to be teen to adult females,” Jaffe said of his current customer base. “Eighty percent of them will be teen to adult females.”

Until recently, Henna was more likely to be used by people with links to Eastern culture – although the popularity of Henna is making it more universal today, he added, regardless of the customer’s heritage or ethnic background.

“For people that are doing traditional eastern weddings, it’s a normal thing, like having a wedding cake,” he said. “It can be a whole big, elaborate thing. Couples can do it together, and it can be very personal for them.”

Henna comes from a bush that grows in the desert, and when the ground powder is mixed together into a paste, it gets applied to the skin and turns it red.  Henna stains can last a few days to a month.

“Slowly it fades away,” Jaffe said.  But before then, what goes onto the bride’s skin depends entirely on the bride’s imagination and the talents of the Henna artist.

“The patterns are really elaborate,” Jaffe said.  “There are a lot of artists around who create pattern books for Henna artists.  It takes time, once you do shows, to decide what people want, and what to show.”

It’s also a great way to meet interesting people, he added, including those caught up in the joy of a wedding ceremony and the future they’re looking forward to with a chosen mate.

“Henna, because of the intimate nature of it, you’re constantly interacting with people,” he said.  “You’re in a fairly intimate environment.  I enjoy the experience of being able to interact with other people.  It’s just really inspiring to be able to interact with people.”

To learn more about Jaffe and his Henna art, call 407-256-0904, log on to www.redmoonhenna.com, or email Ron@redmoonhenna.com.

Contact us at FreelineOrlando@gmail.com.

A day in the life at Probation Court: freedom revoked, and some mercy

ORLANDO – They form a continuous parade as they march into the courtroom, wearing orange or dark blue jail jumpsuits, their legs shackled and hands cuffed.  They represent people who committed crimes and were judged guilty, then given a second chance to prove they could still play by the rules.

But if they show up at Courtroom 9D at the Orange County Courthouse in downtown Orlando, it’s because the state wants to prove they didn’t follow those rules, and probably can’t.  Many of the inmates in the courtroom look dazed and depressed.  They know what’s likely to happen.

Probation offers those who have committed crimes the ability to live on the outside world, but if they violate the rules of probation, it means jail time awaits them.

This is Probation Court, the room where Circuit Court Judge Alice Blackwell presides over inmates who were given that opportunity to live on the outside, to hold jobs and to do whatever they wanted to – as long as the obeyed the strict rules of being on probation, which includes meeting once a month with an assigned probation officer.  Their appearance before Judge Blackwell means they were rearrested for violating their probation, and have been sitting in the Orange County Corrections jail, sometimes for days, sometimes longer, waiting to learn their fate.

It’s up to Judge Blackwell to decide if these inmates who were given that second chance blew it and should have the terms of their probation revoked – or if there are extenuating circumstances that suggest they really can handle being on the outisde, among those who never committed a crime to begin with.

In most instances, the judge doesn’t even make that decision – the inmate has agreed to plead guilty, or no contest, to the violation, and if it’s up the judge to decide if she wants to accept the punishment worked out by the inmate’s lawyer and the state prosecutor, Shannon Corack.

Jeremiah Autry is just 20, but with his boyish face, looks even younger.  He quietly answered the judge’s questions after agreeing, through his attorney, to plead guilty. He’d been arrested in August 2009 on drug charges, and placed on probation in January 2010. But he failed to make the court ordered payments, had his driver’s license suspended last June, and the Lakeland resident got picked by Polk County Sheriff’s deputies earlier this month and was transported back to Orange County jail. He entered a plea on violating the terms of his probation, and agreed to a 90 day jail sentence.

In sentencing him, Judge Blackwell imposed a $100 court cost, then asked when he could pay it after his sentence has been served.

“I’ll pay when I get out of jail,” Autry said.

The judge also noted that Polk County had charged Orange County $5.50 to transport him, and added, “I also have to impose $5.50 for the cost of your transport from Polk County, so the total will be $105.50.”

Hector Rosa was brought into the courtroom in a wheelchair, his hands and feet still cuffed.  Just 18, his original charges included grand theft of a motor vehicle, possession of marijuana and cocaine, attempting to elude a police officer, aggravated battery on a law enforcement officer, and resisting an officer without violence. Now he had probation violation to add to the list.

Judge Blackwell decided to send him back to jail, but also made note of the fact that when he completed the sentence, he would be a convicted felon. At his age, she wondered aloud if his attorney had fully explained to him the implcations of that.

“Is that acceptable to you as a way to resolve your case?” she asked. “Your face says yes, your mouth says no.”

As a felon, she said, “You won’t be able to vote. You won’t be able to own any weapons or any kind of ammunition. You will not be able to enter the Armed Services. You won’t qualify for certain types of jobs where you need a bond because you won’t be bondable.  Did your lawyer explain all these consequences to you?”

Rosa said he understood, and the judge sentenced him to 10 months in the Orange County jail, where he’s been since Dec. 31.

Several inmates, picked up recently on probation violation charges, were told they’d have to wait a little longer in jail, until February, when the judge would meet with their attorney for a status hearing.

“That will give your attorney some time to talk with you and make some decisions about what to do about your case,” Judge Blackwell told one defendant as she set the status hearing for Feb. 2. In the meantime, the inmate remains in jail.

For others who agreed to plead guilty, the judge noted that she was terminating their probation, which had allowed them to remain outside of jail, to hold a job, support their family, go to movies and do whatever they want, so long as they attend a monthly meeting with their probation officer. Now, having violating the rules, “There won’t be any further probation to follow,” Blackwell advised them. Other times, she would sternly warn, “This is a no excuses situation – are we clear?”

She also made a point of advising inmates to start paying their court costs as soon as they get out of jail.  They’re routinely given 30 days to reintegrate into society and “get your life reestablished in the community,” Blackwell said.  Then they would need to start making monthly payments, even small ones.

“Your driver’s license can be suspended or revoked if you don’t follow the rules of Collection Court,” Blackwell said.

Not everyone had their probation revoked. Terri Lynn Pittman, 36, of Apopka, violated probation by missing two of the monthly meetings with her probation officer.  Pittman told the judge she had three children to support, and a job with Habitat for Humanity.  She had been placed on 18 months of probation in July 2010.

When the judge asked Pittman why she’d missed the meetings, Pittman tearfully said “Because of work.  They were going to cut our hours because things were slow.”

Fearing that she might lose the job, she stayed at work and called her probation officer to reschedule.

“She said, ‘Be here first thing in the morning at 8 o’clock,’ and I was,” Pittman said.

Pittman told the judge she’d been with Habitat for a year, that it was a good, stable job, and she would lose it – and the ability to support her children – if she went back to jail.

“I really love it and I’m really good at it,” Pittman said.

The state wasn’t convinced. Corack noted that her probation officer had been forced to go searching for Pittman.

“A probation officer went above and beyond trying to locate her,” Corack said.  “Despite numerous attempts, she did not show up in October and November. The state believes six months in Orange County jail.”

The judge agreed that inmates on probation can’t expect their probation officer to chase them.

“It’s your responsibility to go to probation,” Blackwell said.  “They’re not supposed to go looking for you.”

The judge did agree to reinstate Pittman’s probation, but only after warning her that any more missed meetings, and there would be no more mercy to hand down.

“I’m not going to put you back on if you just avoid it again,” Judge Blackwell said.  “You can’t wait for her to issue an invitation.  You have to go.  I’m willing to give you another shot at it, but it’s a no excuse situation.”

That prompted Pittman to promise, “You’re not going to see me again.”

After imposing each sentence, the judge concluded by offering the same parting comment to every inmate, including those headed from freedom to incarceration:

“Good luck to you, sir.”

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