Brenda Riley has been an entrepreneur for a while - she has owned a women's consignment shop and she has been a marketing consultant - but the one challenge that has been consistent has been getting her name and company known in the community.
So her latest venture is targeted at helping small companies get their name in print. Focus Magazine is a new publication celebrating the creativity and talent of people of African descent and keeping a finger on the pulse of blacks in communities between Baltimore and Washington.
The tabloid-style quarterly magazine, due to publish 2,500 copies of its first 20-page issue by the end of the month, is to be distributed free in bookstores and office buildings at 100 locations between Baltimore and Washington. In Howard County, it will be in public libraries, the Howard County Center for African American Culture and Savage Mill.
While its mission is to take note of creativity, Riley said the magazine is not tuned to the visual or performing arts. Although one of Riley's goals is to help small business, the magazine is not a business publication. However, many of the articles in the first issue feature black entrepreneurs who have particularly creative businesses - such as a group of businesswomen who teach American sign language using music.
"I think to start your own business, you have to have some kind of creativity," she said.
While the motivation for the publication was to give small businesses an affordable advertising outlet, generating enough revenue to sustain the publication and make it a profitable venture will be a challenge, said Gary Matthews, the national advertising consultant with the National Newspaper Publishers Association - a trade group of African-American-owned publications.
Small publications generally struggle to verify their circulation for advertisers. But today, national advertisers are looking for more proof that the publication is reaching the market. Without it, national advertisers are reluctant to spend money, Matthews said.
"The giants are saying they're no longer giving advertising to minority publications. They have to prove the effectiveness of their publication," he said. "Some don't have the staff or money to give them what they want. [Advertisers] can narrow the market if it doesn't measure up."
National advertising is important for quarterly magazines, he said, because local advertisers alone cannot support a publication. For a new publication, Matthews suggested national retailers with local presence could be good targets.
"Nobody is touching retail," he said. "Those are the kinds of people a new publication could approach and say, 'I've got a very valuable message. This is what I can do for you.' "
Riley said she is taking it slowly and learning as she goes.
The first issue of the magazine has been almost a year in the making. She started selling advertising - for as little as $25 for a classified ad - in June in the hope that she could publish by the end of the summer. But Riley said she has learned that in publishing, nothing is as easy as it seems when you are starting from scratch and doing everything on your own.
But volunteers helped hasten the publication's birth.
"People have been very supportive, very eager to help," said Riley, who teaches health in Howard County public schools four days a week.
Riley said she hopes the need the magazine fills will prove profitable, and that it can grow into a monthly glossy format. She is counting on the low advertising rates to be a boost for her and for others.
"I'm thinking if it were more affordable, more small businesses could afford to advertise - even if nothing other than a small business card," she said.