In 2012, LaTaunya Howard opened a flexible work-space business with the goal of helping small business owners and entrepreneurs more easily achieve their goals. Six years later, she's expanded on that idea by self-publishing a book and volunteering as the host of "C-Suite On Your Street," a new monthly program on Laurel TV.
"As the business has evolved, I've learned that there are other opportunities and ways I can support businesses beyond the core business I have here," Howard said. "The business show with Laurel TV is another way that I can help business owners – by helping them identify resources and skills to help them on their entrepreneurial journey."
Howard's business, Howard Corporate Centre, LLC provides temporary and virtual office space to local and statewide businesses who need a corporate presence in Laurel. The center, located on the third floor of an office building just off Laurel Bowie Road near Patuxent Greens, offers a variety of packages, ranging from hourly office use to more permanent lease agreements to simply listing the center as a corporate mailing address.
The goal is to help business owners keep their overhead low while growing their empire, Howard said.
"Instead of having to take out a lease themselves or spend a lot of money for space they may not need all the time, they can use my services on a fractional basis as they need it," she explained. "It's a good way to add credibility and professionalism to the business. Instead of meeting out of your home or a coffee shop, which may make your prospects feel uncomfortable or question your legitimacy, you can work out of a comfortable and fully furnished environment."
For Ralph Hastings-Spaine, president of Simplified Insurance and Benefits Inc., Howard's business allowed him to grow from first using it on an as-needed basis, to having a permanent office there, to branching out into his own facility.
"It allowed me really not to spend a lot of money when I didn't have it and I could still look professional," Hastings-Spaine said. "Ms. Howard is very professional. She does a lot of work."
Demand for Howard's services was great enough that she doubled her space in 2015, from 2,000 to 4,000 square feet. Earlier this year, she self-published a book — "Kill the Rent, Grow Your Biz" — outlining the benefits of using virtual office space. And then, she decided to take her business one step further, by proposing a show idea to Laurel TV.
The pitch, Howard said, was to bring a wide range of business experts who could offer advice and inspiration to entrepreneurs, regardless of the size or state of their projects. The name — "C-Suite On Your Street" — reflects that goal.
"The premise is really to say that regardless of where you are on your entrepreneurial journey, you can still operate like a C-suite executive — like a CEO, like a CFO," she said. "That's the logic behind the show. Wherever you are, just because you're small, it doesn't mean you can't act big or think big or grow into something big. The show is aimed at answering that question in a very broad sense that is relatable to any business owner."
"C-Suite On Your Street" is one of dozens of volunteer programs produced, facilitated and owned by Laurel TV, including a handful shows that launched this year, according to Joyce Jackson, who oversees the day-to-day operations of the station.
"Some of our new shows include a gaming show centered on anime, and 'Meet the Author,' where we talk to local authors about their books," Jackson said. "We have several health shows, and we're getting ready to launch another financial show."
All of those shows, and dozens more, are hosted and produced by volunteers who approach the city with an idea, then learn what it takes to put on a successful program by participating in the behind-the-scenes production.
"We want to do that with our volunteers — have them come in and learn and present a show. If it works, it works," she said. "The idea is basically to give voice to the local community. You can come in, tell a story, and work with us to produce something of quality. We have hundreds of volunteers who not only work on shows, but also present local stories."
Howard has no background in television, which meant she faced a steep learning curve from pitching an idea to helping get a show on the air. Laurel TV provided the help and resources for that process, Jackson said.
"Development of the show was not a singular effort. Ms. Howard is heavily involved in that, but she is partnered with Laurel TV and we did the heavy lifting of the production of getting this on the air," she said. "I do applaud Ms. Howard for her persistence in wanting to do the show and her willingness in wanting to learn, but also in her humility to understand that she had to follow the experts here to get it on the air and show you how the TV is done."
But much of the content comes straight from Howard.
"I had no knowledge of the TV industry. I have interacted with the media, I have done speaking so I was very comfortable with speaking, and felt I had a pretty deep knowledge base — so I felt, with the right support and guidance, it would be a success," she said. "Ms. Jackson and her team, the camera crew, they provide a ton of support in terms of the logistics. But I am largely in charge of the content itself."
In the first episode, Howard interviewed someone from Maryland Small Business Development Center to discuss available low-cost resources for business owners. The second episode featured a guest from the city of Laurel's Economic Development Center to speak about resources available specifically in the city of Laurel. The next show will feature interviews about marketing and chiropractic care, Howard said.
"The intent is to be informative but also to be kind of fun and introduce things that people may not think are important as an entrepreneur," she said. "So the idea of chiropractic health is the idea of, 'Do I have the right type of seating and the right type of desks for employees?' When you're a business owner, you have to be all in. You have to take care of yourself and your employees as well as your business."
The show, along with the book, are a natural extension of Howard's core business philosophy, she said.
"The whole premise of why I do this is because I've always enjoyed business-to-business contact. I just love entrepreneurship, small-business owners in particular," she said. "These are people who take risks. These are people who are the backbone of the American economy. They're a much-needed element of our society. I love being a business owner and I love supporting business owners."