episode 58: Women Owned Presentation Businesses (with Sandra Johnson, Lori Chollar & Nancy Duarte)

  • Sandy: Today it is just the women of design – no Nolan or Troy today (thanks for joining me to talk about studio projects and presentation industry news and happenings!). I am joined by Lori Chollar of TLC Creative Services, and Nancy Duarte of Duarte Design join The Presentation Podcast for our Women of Presentation Design conversation.


  • Describe your business; location, business and design backgrounds:
    • Sandy: I’ve owned my presentation design business., Presentation Wiz since 2001. I work with individuals and corporations across the globe to ensure that they PowerPoint responsibly. I am based in the mid-west, and I first earned the Microsoft PowerPoint MVP Award in 2008. I’m currently one of 13 people in the U.S. with that distinction.
    • Lori: TLC Creative Services, which is made up of Troy, myself and our design team. We label ourselves as a boutique design studio. We are located in Southern California and have been in business as “TLC” since 2003. I personally have been in business since graduating design school, starting my career in the print industry. So, I’ve experienced being a design student, an employee in the art department, a freelance graphic designer, being a sole-proprietor and now being the CEO of our corporation.
    • Nancy: I own Duarte Design, with my husband, Mark, headquartered in Silicon Valley, with 140 people headquartered in the Silicon Valley and now 8 in New York. We’ve been in business 30 years. Mark started the business as a technical illustration firm and I joined and brought in a lot of business, so much that we started to grow a lot. He wanted to develop the business using the “new” Macintosh personal computer and I thought the idea was stupid and did everything I could to abort his dream. However, he persisted and when I sold in Apple, NASA and Tandem as new clients, he succeeded in making it work. We embraced and figured out successful ways to create charts and graphics whereas graphic designers of the day were still using electrical tape and press-on letters. I worked him to the bone!


  • How did you get into the presentation business?
    • Sandy: I grew up in the Minneapolis, St. Paul ad agency world. When I decided that the agency life was no longer what I wanted, I was considering getting back in to nursing, when an outsourcing firm named the Creative Group, sent me to American Express Financial Advisors (now Ameriprise), and I got my first presentation gig.
    • Lori: One word – Troy. When we started we focused on your typical graphic design projects – anything from brand identity and identity system pieces, brochures, ads, catalogs, large format printing, etc. but then a colleague called Troy about a need for graphic designers to work in PowerPoint and that one meeting lead to literally a shift in our life. So I can thank him, or blame him depending on how the day is going.
    • Nancy: I’ve always been fascinated with content, and presentations grew naturally out of our work.


  • What type of business structure do you have, and what is your official (and unofficial) position?
    • Sandy: I’m an S-Corp and the CEO and Secretary. Jeff, my husband, is an unpaid director. At work, I’m creative director and presentation designer.
    • Lori: TLC Creative Services, Inc. is a California S Corporation, with myself being the CEO and CFO and Troy as President and Secretary. That’s the official side of things. In reality, I’m the creative director, head of HR, head of accounting, and chief snack/food organizer. Troy is our head of sales, marketing director, technology guru and to quote the job title of a dear friend, chief trouble maker – in addition to being a fantastic designer.
    • Nancy: I’m CEO with 51% ownership with 5 people on my executive board, we are an agency.


  • Do you actively design?
    • Sandy: Yes. My business was really growing and I found myself managing people and events and that is a role I didn’t enjoy as much as designing presentations and working hands on with presenters, so fairly recently I adjusted things so I am more focused on design projects again.
    • Lori: Yes! But not as much as I would like sometimes. I probably spend over 50% of my time managing projects and tending to business needs. When I wear my creative director hat, that falls under design time – even if it’s just my brain doing the creative work.
    • Nancy: I never was a designer, I always loved strategy and content…I love to swizzle content and conceptualize with our team.


  • What is a women-owned designation? Any advantages?
    • Sandy: I think anyone can designate themselves as woman-owned, but certification validates that a business is at least 51% owned, controlled, operated and managed by a woman, or women. I’ve never received business because of the designation. The networking is awesome and that’s probably the biggest benefit. My large corporate clients DO like the certification. I have not sought out additional designations.
    • Lori: There are a variety of woman-owned designations and they can vary by state and/or federal, and they also vary by what organization you’re getting the designation from. For example, I know Sandy and I both hold women-owned certifications, but I’m certified through the State of California, while Sandy worked the WBENC organization.
      As for advantages, I can honestly say being a certified woman-owned business has not brought in any new clients…yet. Large corporations have mandates from the government to do business with a certain percentage of minority and disadvantaged businesses. Women Owned designation is within that classification, so our certification has made some of our existing clients happy. And, of course, adding the little logo and designation to our website is pretty cool too.
    • Nancy: It’s been an interesting process – we avoided it because I felt since Mark started the company he deserved the 50%. But our clients knew I was running the business and were asking that we get certified. People do try and take advantage of certifications and so it’s a big process that includes a lot of paperwork and in-office visits and interviews to prove that the business is truly woman-owned. Mark is Hispanic so we had to choose between minority or female. We chose woman-owned so I had to purchase 1% of the business from Mark which was a process. About 2 years in Cisco called and invited me to their protégé program that introduced me to executives AND they sponsored me to get my MBA from UCLA.
    • All: We haven’t necessary received new business (yet) from being certified, but our clients are grateful that we have our certifications.


  • What are the types of certifications:
    • Lori: There are many; small business, women-owned, minority-owned, LGBT, disabled veteran-owned are just a few I can think of right now. .
    • Sandy: The small business association will certify you to qualify and compete for government contracts.
    • Nancy: WBNEC


  • What was the Women Owned certification process for you?
    • Nancy: I hired a consultant for $2,000 to shepherd me through the process. I actually lost our certification for 1 year because a previous receptionist had been mishandling my mail, but we were able to get it back (which is great since it’s been said that once you get denied in the certification process it’s extremely hard to come back and get that certification).
    • Lori: Our local Small Business Development Center walked me step-by-step through the certification process. I attended a 2-day certification class, and spent a lot fairly busy few months gathering documents, but in the end it wasn’t too painful. We obtained 2 certifications; a small-business certification directly through the State of California and also a women-owned business certification – but through a separate entity, The Supplier Clearinghouse which is governed by the California Public Utilities Commission.
    • Sandy: I’m certified by the Women’s Business Enterprise National Council (WBENC). The process seems easier now, especially when I am renewed. When I first applied 4 years ago, the process was intimidating took me more than a year to push through.


  • Do you find the presentation design industry more women- or men-centric?
    • Nancy: I say its’ 50/50, but I think a lot of women drop out when they have kids.
    • Sandy: The most recent Presentation Guild salary survey showed that our industry is nearly 55% women — globally. In the U.S. that puts us right in line with the design industry as a whole, where 54% of designers are women (AIGA 2017).
    • Lori: I feel the design industry is very woman-friendly, maybe even slightly woman dominated. Troy and I attended an AIGA conference in San Diego last month, and there were 7 women presenters versus 3 male presenters, which matches what I see in the design world. Drilling down to the presentation industry specifically, I’m seeing more women in a presentation design role, but in specialty areas, like showsite presentation designers and tech Ops, I see more men. I read an article in Forbes magazine recently that said, “Women-led businesses are one of the fastest-growing segments of entrepreneurship. Between 2007 and 2016 the number of woman-owned businesses increased 45% according to an American Express report.” 


  • Is pay different between men and women?
    • Sandy: According to the Guild’s 2018 Salary Survey report, unlike general graphic design as an industry where the median annual earnings of women is 20% lower than men (2011 NEA), gender has very little to no impact on presentationists’ annual earnings. I did not see this disparity addressed in the 2017 AIGA survey. I read an article stating that as more women entered the graphic design industry, the average salary declined. I can’t remember the source.
    • Lori: An interesting article from a while back in Communication Arts (or was it Print?) suggested one core reason for a pay gap is that at the interview phase men will typically ask for more pay whereas women typically take what they are offered… that women don’t negotiate nearly as much as men do.
    • Nancy: It’s a challenge here in the Silicon Valley and the pay is completely out of control. The cost of living is very high and so attracting and keeping employees requires some creativity like flexible working locations and clever retention things.


  • What about running your business?  
    • Sandy: I have a small, small business. My account execs manage the initial client relationships, and project assignments and subcontractors. I outsource my IT department and bookkeeping. And for all accounting, and also as part of my project management, I use QuickBooks Online (QBO).
    • Lori: Project management has been a huge focus for us over the last 5 years. Going from a dozen projects to dozens of projects, many with dozens of separate tasks, each a full design project, made us invest a lot of time and resources into getting this aspect of our business under control. We’ve tried out several software and cloud-based management options and have settled on Workflow Max by Xero. Project management is huge!
      I wear many hats, and I like some of these hats more than others. I kinda like my accounting hat – maybe it’s also a control issue or the fact that I’m very organized and like knowing where everything is. Like Sandy, I will say that Quickbooks Online has been a great decision and asset.
    • Nancy: We have a lot of costs just to comply with our MSAs and to keep up our security measures – I have to pay someone every year to try and hack into our system! We have some massive overhead, partially due to the compliance requirements of some of our huge clients (with huge industry secrets). We have been a bit stuck in regards to our HR for many years, and employee happiness is incredibly important. We hired a whip of a gal who has put so much energy into our HR and she has helped us weed out the deadwood and is making us into high-performing team – this is so important because we are in a people business.


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