Monday, October 28, 2013

Q&A with Gail "Maa-t" Manker, Veteran & WBO

Gail "Maa-t" L. Manker will be part of a panel discussion at Women Veterans Marching Forward: Call to Entrepreneurship on November 2 on the Seton Hill University campus. Manker is an Army veteran and the owner of two businesses:  Gail Manker Photography and Maa-t's Righteous Sweets. In this Q&A she shares about her businesses and how her military service prepared her for entrepreneurship.

How did your military experience prepare you for entrepreneurship?
I knew nothing about photography when I joined the Army. Actually, I cried when it was offered to me. I wanted to go into computers. However, once in school I realized how much I enjoyed it. One of the best things I was taught in school was that no matter who you’re photographing (Colonel, Private, General), as long as you have a camera in your hand, you're in charge.

My first duty assignment was Camp Zama, Japan, where I photographed events soldiers were taking part in: marathon races, musical festivals, cherry blossom festivals, Officer’s Wives Club teas with Japanese women, and joint exercises with the Japanese Ground Self Defense Forces. My base commander was Gen. Roscoe Robinson, Jr., the Army’s first black four-star general, whom I photographed many times. It was there I learned how to respect those in high ranks and how to gain respect as the photographer.

My other assignments were Ft. McClellan, Alabama, and Ft. Bragg, North Carolina, where I was the only military person in the lab/studio. I worked freely on my assignments, and was given freedom to control when and how long assignments were to be completed. My military experience taught me to think and work independently. 

Why did you start your own business?
I started my photography business because I wanted artistic control over my work. I am also a hard worker and felt that an employer would not compensate me for the long hours I put into my work. I also wanted to bring a higher standard and quality of work to the African American community.

I started my baking business by accident. I was asked to bake a carrot cake for a small restaurant and it took off from there. I wanted to bring healthy baked treats to people. Treats that are not full of dyes and artificial ingredients, but made with organic, natural ingredients and are vegan.

What do you find most challenging and most rewarding about being a business owner? 
In today’s world everyone owns a digital camera and thinks of themselves as a “photographer,” which makes it difficult to find clients willing to pay what I’m really worth without going through the details of why I’m worth the money: I have a degree in photography, I own all the latest software needed to produce the highest quality product, etc.

It is challenging to keep up with the latest equipment, software and trends in the industry. Overall, the biggest challenge is funding. I have many ideas for artistic photographs and shoots, but I'm unable to produce them because of lack of funds. Funds are needed to rent the studio space and rent or buy props, and pay models. Lack of funds also hinders my ability to advertise.

The biggest reward is the ability to control my time. I can travel when I want, for how long I want. My business travels well; it’s always with me, it’s mobile, and I love that. I can accept assignments that suit my style or that offer artistic challenges.

When I think about the old photographers -- Gordon Parks, Ansel Adams, Mary Ellen Marks or Carrie Mae Weems to name a few -- they were able to prefect their craft because they had benefactors, be they through the government or private funding. This allowed them to live, breath, sleep photography. Oh, I would love to be able to do that, but in today’s world I have to have multiple streams of income, thus I have the baking business, as well.
But money is the biggest challenge with the baking business, too. Having more funds would allow me to rent a commercial space to bake and package my goods. But again, the most rewarding thing about the baking business is being able to control my time, and seeing people enjoy my products.

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Join us on November 2 to hear more from Manker and other women business owners. Registration is open, and this event is open to both men and women, regardless of military experience.  

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