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Branding House helps community businesses through training, grants

Mark Parker



Branding House's four-week training course was administered by the St. Petersburg Greenhouse, one of its collaborative partners. File photo.

A community partnership between several St. Petersburg organizations is helping minority entrepreneurs expand their customer reach through training, coaching and $1,000 business grants.

The Branding House program began in March 2021 through a collaborative effort between the One Community Plan, Grow Smarter, the Greenhouse, the Pinellas County Urban League and the Florida Small Business Development Center. Branding House provides St. Petersburg-based, minority-owned businesses with training in marketing and branding through website creation, social media, graphic design and videography.

Latifa Jackson, CEO of Hurst Consulting Group and project manager for Branding House, said the goal was to provide a list of vetted vendors with the knowledge needed to expand their clientele and a $1,000 grant to put that knowledge to use.

“We realized there was a deficit of marketing exposure for a lot of local businesses,” said Jackson. “So, these organizations partnered together to fund this initiative and expand that.”

Before applying to the program, Jackson said business owners first had to meet eligibility requirements. Requirements included an active St. Petersburg business registration, and a location in the South St. Petersburg Community Redevelopment Area (CRA). Branding House also gave preference to those that previously received navigation services from the various community partners.

Jackson said organizers formed a separate committee to interview the applicants, and once that process was complete, business owners were required to complete a four-week training course. The St. Petersburg Greenhouse administered the training virtually, and attendance was mandatory. Jackson said each week focused on a different area of marketing and branding, and local experts in their respective fields led the training.

“There were some pretty in-depth training sessions that were required,” added Jackson. “Trust me – there was a lot of work that went into this.”

Jackson said the small, local companies particularly struggled with website development.

“Think about the demographic of the companies we are working with,” said Jackson. “You really don’t have the budget to get a fancy website created, so you’re just going to rely on your own talents.”

Jackson said many companies had community exposure but lacked the “it” factor. She said another common problem area was with social media awareness. Jackson noted the world is evolving into a new era, and a strong presence across social media platforms is vital to a company’s success. With that in mind, she said Branding House mentors helped create templates to increase cohesiveness and provide the appearance of a well-run company.

Jackson said that 30 business owners have completed the Branding House and received their grants thus far, and she is proud of how their marketing skills have developed since beginning the program.

“I am amazed at the quality of work that’s been produced,” said Jackson. “Just to see how these companies have grown … it’s fulfilling for me to at least have a hand in this.”

Jackson said Branding House graduates represent wide-ranging industries, from construction to catering. A production company, a plumbing business and two mental health facilities for local youth also completed the program.

Jackson said increasing a company’s exposure increases its target market and directs a larger client pool toward the business. Even as the program’s project manager, Jackson said Branding House has made her realize areas of her marketing endeavors that could also use improvement.

“You can market your business, but what type of quality are you putting out there,” she asked rhetorically. “Because people are judging you and judging the basis of your company based on your branding and image.

“That’s everything, and that drives your finances up.”

Moving forward, Jackson said Branding House organizers are putting the project on hold. She noted this was the first program of its kind in the community, and she feels an evaluation period is needed. She called this Phase One and said there are ongoing talks for Phase Two.

“And of course, Phase Two will be much better because we’ve taken a chance to stop and analyze where we were and what did we do right and what did we do wrong,” explained Jackson. “So yes, the committee is discussing rolling out another phase, but the date has not been released yet.”

For more information on the Branding House program, visit its website here.


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