Hampton woman, Aspinwall man team to help small businesses succeed

Deborah Deasy
| Wednesday, April 16, 2014, 9:00 p.m.

Enterprising Sarah Mayer of Hampton knows the pitfalls that imperil small businesses.

“They're all working really hard to make a living,” she said. “One thing they leave to the end is marketing and communication.”

A hand-drawn, hard-to-read “sale” sign or poorly written menu, for example, might discourage customers.

To help owners of small business, Mayer and Erik Sloss of Aspinwall cofounded UpTo Know Good — to connect small business owners with graphic designers and writers willing to inexpensively create logos, signs and promotional materials.

“I came from small-business owners,” Mayer said. “I grew up in a hair salon on the main street of Etna. I answered the phone. I took appointments. I put signs in the business that I hand-wrote as a 15-year-old.

Sloss, 40, is former director of communications for the Carnegie Mellon University School of Fine Art.

Mayer, 34, used to work for the Pittsburgh Downtown Partnership.

Sloss described UpTo as a social enterprise. “We have a strong commitment to our social mission,” he said.

Mayer said she thinks their UpTo venture is unique. “We have not bumped up against anyone doing this,” she said. We saw a need.”

A goal is to provide small-business owners with creative services that otherwise might be too costly.

Mayer and Sloss hope to eventually schedule visits by UpTo designers and writers to business districts from Morgantown, W.Va., to Connellsville, Fayette County. They typically arrange four-day visits and set up shop in empty retail spaces with electricity.

At each site, Mayer and Sloss set up a meeting area for consultations with walk-in clients and areas for writers and designers to work at laptop computers.

Last September, Mayer and Sloss used a one-time dress shop to offer marketing services to small businesses in downtown Butler.

“I think it was a great opportunity for our Main Street community,” said Meredith Glendening of Butler Downtown, a nonprofit revitalization group.

“There were many businesses that participated — from an ice cream shop that dabbled in a new logo to a nonprofit (group) that signed up for a communication consult,” Glendening said. “I believe UpTo is giving small business owners an opportunity to get a lot of bang for their buck.

“For a small business owner who is working on their business 24 hours, seven days a week, marketing efforts can sometimes take a back seat. UpTo gave them the opportunity to brush up, tweak or start something new at a very reasonable cost.”

This month, UpTo will offer its graphic-design and public-relations services from April 28 through May 1 at 619 Penn Ave. to serve small business owners in central Wilkinsburg.

It eventually could schedule similar visits to downtown Millvale and Etna.

UpTo offers, for example, writers and graphic designers able to help business owners produce everything from new business cards and menus to Facebook pages and news releases. Fees generally range from $25 to $150 and include a 30-minute consultation.

“If somebody needed a logo, they would come and meet with us for a half hour,” Mayer said. “We would sit them down with a designer and probably a writer.”

The designer and writer then would discuss the business with its owner to come up with a visual representation. The designer then would create a logo and give the business owner a digital file for a sign company or printer to use to reproduce it. The UpTo cost for a logo is $150.

“If you go to an agency, the average cost is between $2,500 and $5,000,” Mayer said. “We want this to be accessible to business owners.”

To learn about UpTo services and upcoming UpTo visits to business communities, go to www.whatareyouupto.org.

Deborah Deasy is a staff reporter for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at ddeasy@tribweb.com.

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