Niche companies connect with small businesses who can't afford the corporate world

PMG PHOTO: JOSEPH GALLIVAN - Cooper Warner (left) started Namaste Law for yoga teachers and has now spread to other female wellness companies.

As the economic development arm of the city of Portland, Prosper Portland tries to bring together entrepreneurs and people who can help them grow.

Sometimes that's investors, and sometimes it's everyday vendors: accountants and lawyers, graphic designers and videographers.

Recently, Prosper Portland put on Greet & Grow, a business-to-business trade fair to link its Portland A&O (Athletic and Outdoor) professional group with vendors from its Mercatus group. Mercatus also has a glossy magazine that tells the stories of female- and people of color-owned businesses in Portland. More than 120 people attended.

There are many tiny, niche players now in Portland. Many one- and two-person shops have developed a specialty and are working with small companies who can't pay high corporate rates.

Namaste Law

For example, Cooper Warner runs Namaste Law. She calls it her "solo law practice that focuses on providing business law services to women-owned businesses and holistic health and wellness businesses." Her clients are acupuncturists, yoga teachers and massage therapists, mental health counselors,

So why would a massage therapist need a lawyer?

"To talk about their business structure and to figure out how to protect their personal assets," Warner told the Business Tribune. "Many of them use template legal forms they've downloaded from the web, or have been forwarded to them." Some of those forms may not even be legal in Oregon, and that's what Warner helps small business owners sort out.

"(I make sure) their contracts, their liability releases, all that stuff is bulletproof, and is actually going to protect them."

Her rate is between $200 and $300 an hour, but some clients might only need a few hours of work.

She got into the alternative healing crowd in part because she likes to travel and work remotely. She's done it from the East Coast for a couple of months, and Portugal, Belgium, Hungary, Poland and the country of Georgia. Mostly she worked from an Airbnb. The other reason is she moved here to attend Lewis and Clark law school and didn't know anyone. Her communities became her yoga and fitness friends. "I got a very intimate look at all those businesses and realized that they didn't have somebody like me who could support them legally."


PMG PHOTO: JOSEPH GALLIVAN - Gloria Coleman provides human resource consulting to small and medium firms.

High Spades

Gloria Coleman started High Spades Consulting to help startups with their Human Resources and strategic planning.

"I work with small businesses to find them affordable technology solutions to manage their entire lifecycle," she told the Business Tribune.

Coleman's firm also does project management, transition planning, onboarding processes, and managing employee relationships.

"You can even do HR as a service," she said, flexing a buzz phrase. "Do you want HR just to push people in and out? Like you're in retail? Or do you want to maintain local relationships? And that's where you get more strategic HR, where I'm that partner to help you manage that relationship to keep people there."

A company with about six people might only need HR as a service. Once they get to 40 people, they might want a dedicated HR manager.

"We ask, 'Where's your organization going? How are you going to manage these people as you decide to scale? How are you going to manage their performance?' Because there's a lot of that, once you get them in the door, what next? And compensation, making sure they're staying up to date when benefits."

High Spades — named after the cooperative card game — is project manager certified and uses the software development term "agile approach."

"Having an agile mindset is that if this solution doesn't work, don't wait a year to change it, you change it on the fly. It's just teaching people how to have better communication and work together."

Coleman says people who don't have their performance managed often feel they're not growing and are more likely to move on.

She helps companies create plans, such as to protect themselves from bad hires. "When you're no longer friends with your fraternity buddy (whom you hired), I'm able to help you protect your intellectual property. I make sure they haven't taken anything, and protect you from retaliation, because those relationships are hard."


PMG PHOTO: JOSEPH GALLIVAN - Rob Alan's two-man company Monumental helps get retailers set up on the Shopify system.


Rob Alan's two-person company Monumental helps get retailers set up on the Shopify system. There are many online commerce platforms, such as WooCommerce and Magento, but having tried them all, he specialized in Shopify. He accepted their offer in 2011 to become a partner.

"Our services help optimize the customer experience. That's making sure their visual design, the user experience, the flow of the customer through their website, is optimal. If they spend money to advertise on Instagram, Facebook, and Google ads, we want to make sure that the customer, that if they click through, they're making it all the way through and making the purchase."

One client is sausage maker Olympia Provisions, but Alan is interested in small athletic and outdoor companies because they either own shops or know somebody who owns a shop.

He says Instagram has become a massive channel for advertising for e-commerce companies. "A big part of that is Facebook's (the owner of Instagram) algorithm, the ability to hyper-target individuals and say 'You must be interested in this thing because you were interested in something else similar.' There's a comfort there. If I'm looking at my friends' photos and things I'm interested in, and then I'm shown an ad, I must be interested in that too."


PMG PHOTO: JOSEPH GALLIVAN - Heather Zavala of Virtue Voice Talent was looking for creative agencies who need voice actors for their ad spots and video voice overs, especially e-learning.

Virtue Voice Talent

One business owner walking the hall was Heather Zavala of Virtue Voice Talent, which represents local voice talent in Portland. She was looking to meet marketing agencies and creative agencies, people who make radio and web promos.

"While everyone can have a home studio, they can have an iPhone, anybody can do a voiceover, but unfortunately, they're not really skilled," said Zavala, who was an actor in Los Angles before moving to Portland. "They're just part of the gig economy. So you're going to get something lower quality. I'm trying to get the local talent that are actually skilled and have high-quality home studios and are going to be better for the company's image."

She has Mike Vaughn on the books, who did the phone voice in the TV version of Scream, and Iggy Koopa & Ludwig von Koopa in the Mario games.

PMG PHOTO: JOSEPH GALLIVAN - Heather Zavala of Virtue Voice Talent talks to an online language learning company about voiceover needs.

"I'm actually looking for mostly e-learning and corporate instructional videos. There's a ton of that. It helps out the company and their employees and the talent can just pump those out all day long and really do well."

Typical videos are how to talk to HR when you have a problem, or how not to open spam email.

Virtue has around 15 actors on the books, and they're all friends, so they refer each other often.

Voiceover demands flexibility — like playing different characters.

"If you just do radio, it's hard to transition to doing voiceover. Voiceovers, in general, want you to be more flexible, not just the deep radio voice. In promos, they either want you to be a car salesman or to be completely bored and uninterested in the product."

PMG PHOTO: JOSEPH GALLIVAN - Sahra Abudakars Beauty Books specializes in accounting services for the beauty and health industry.

Beauty Books

Another niche vendor is Sahra Abudakar, whose Beauty Books specializes in bookkeeping and accounting services for the beauty and health industry. She was in cosmetics for seven years and realized the stylists and makeup artists and the lash artists needed accounting hep. She got her accounting degree at Pacific University.

Abudakar was an in-house auditor but left to be a freelancer in the beauty trade a month ago. "It's been slowly building." She saw a post on Facebook for the fair, and Prosper Portland reached out to her. Now she's learning about nonprofits and sustainable building companies to apply her skills more widely.

The beauty trade is often a cash-only business. Abudakar uses a "robust" Excel spreadsheet to build her financial statements. "At the end of the day, I'm doing what QuickBooks does."


PMG PHOTO: JOSEPH GALLIVAN - Dan Ostrander, digital agency Pocketknife's Founder and executive creative director.


Digital creative agency Pocketknife is so-called because, like a Swiss Army knife, the company brings the right tool for each job. Dan Ostrander, Pocketknife's Founder and executive creative director takes companies on a journey to branding.

"We go through a discovery process and learn about the brand, who they are, what they do, and kind of what the what kind of results that are looking for," said Ostrander. "

"We'll be talking about their brand values and building them a whole set of brand guidelines, and consistently activating that across all the different touchpoints and channels that they're trying to try to put in the market."

Those channels include the website, social media, and then "your traditional print stuff, from your collateral and business cards, anything you're putting out there."

The goal is a consistent omnichannel look and feel.

On a monitor behind him was a branding video at SXSW in Austin, shot for the independent Film Channel in New York City. He called IFC and got a meeting.

"They liked who we were and the work that we've done in the past," from Nike and Adidas to startups.

A small branding job can be from 20 to 30 hours, "To try to put something with a strategy, depending upon where it going to go. Is it going to be paid socials, or just going to be on your social media channels?"

Ostrander was at the fair to maybe meet some more creative people and add them to his Rolodex.

They work with a number of different agencies and freelancers to find the right creatives for each gig. "We're finding them as having the right tools and the right people in the right relationship."


PMG PHOTO: JOSEPH GALLIVAN - Rational Unicorn provides legal services to the entertainment industry, as well as to the new vegan food cart pod.

Rational Unicorn

A law firm called Rational Unicorn? It's real. Heather Harteis, the office manager, explained the name: "We believe in getting things done and having fun while you're doing it."

Rational Unicorn provides law services for small businesses, artists, entertainers and nonprofits. They aim to be approachable. Clients include the Unicorn Bake shop, Sightglass Photography and Shady Pines vegan food court (food cart pod).

Principal Michael Jonas explained, "For clients we offer contracts, contract review, commercial lease review, trademarks and copyrights. If you're just getting started and need help forming your LLC, or making those decisions all the way up through expanding your business, hiring employees and making independent contractor agreements."

They don't do hourly billing, they do project-based billing to help clients nervous of retainers and running up bills.

"We're at our below market rates for the business law services that we provide."

PMG PHOTO: JOSEPH GALLIVAN - Fair organizers Sucheta Bal (left) and Amanda Park of Prosper Portland.

Joseph Gallivan
Reporter, The Business Tribune
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