Posts Tagged: entrepreneurs

Read the Driftless Food Guide Online!

It’s here! It’s here! We wanted to make sure you got a peek at it online because we are so. darn. excited!

So, without further ado, I’d like to introduce: the first-ever Driftless Food Guide! You can read the whole thing online here!

Let me tell you a little more about what we’ve got going on: At the heart of this publication are the stories of farmers, producers, restaurant-owners, cooks, beer-brewers, wine-makers, spirit-distillers and other foodie-type entrepreneurs who are busy at work, making the Driftless so amazing – and tasty! 

There’s something utterly magical about biting into a freshly picked fruit or vegetable, drinking a locally made brew, or tucking into a just-baked pie. You can taste the love, the family history, the hard work that went into it.

We created the Driftless Food Guide to help you learn a little more about the people behind that hard work, and so that you may be inspired (woot, woot), to make your food local this year. Supporting local businesses directly invests in your community, and building communities is one of the most important things you can do in this life.

Plus, you’ve gotta eat. You may as well make it fun and delicious…and make it count!

Looking forward,

Aryn Henning Nichols

Got a great story?

We’d love to hear more! There’s a finite amount of space in each Driftless Food Guide (DFG), but luckily we’ll make a new one each year. We can’t guarantee we’ll write every story we’re pitched, but can promise to learn more about and listen to your ideas!

Missed the ad deadline?

Darn, we didn’t get you in this year! No worries! We’ll make another DFG in 2019. Head on over to this page for more information about advertising or getting listed in the Local Producer Directory (see that on page 29).

Watch for the print version of the Driftless Food Guide showing up around the region soon, and in the meantime, please check it out here and let us know what you think! Thanks!

Sum of Your Business: Brittany Todd

Intro by Aryn Henning Nichols • Photos by Photography by Brittany

It’s lucky that Decorah photographer Brittany Todd “never gets sick of wedding cake.” Because in the nearly seven years she’s been running Photography by Brittany, she’s surely eaten a lot of it.

Of course, weddings aren’t the only moments Brittany’s team captures – there’s also engagements, families, graduating seniors, and a shoot option called… “All Up in Your Business,” where – you guessed it – Brittany photographs your business.

Business is something Brittany has learned a lot about over the years. What started out as a hobby post-graduation has turned into a real-life career, and now encompasses a team of seven photographers, two cinematographers, and one marketing/social media expert.

Plus, the 29-year-old mother of two busy boys offers photography classes to the public, is involved in the community, and manages to, somehow, cook actual vegetables for dinner (much to her boys chagrin). On top of all that, Brittany recently moved from a home office to a studio space in Downtown Decorah. (Update: AND now husband Nathan and Brittany have added the Decorah Sugar Bowl ice cream shop to their list of businesses!)

Surely more than once, this busy woman has been requested to, “Teach us your ways of life!”

“I try to do it all and not pull my hair out, but really I am better at styling the mess on my head to cover up the craziness behind the scenes,” she writes on “The main focus of my career is to capture YOU. Whether you are short, tall, blonde, brunette, married, single or anything in between: be that. My goal is to have you trust that being YOU is what makes you beautiful.”

The result is lovely, saturated images that speak honestly of life, love, and…well, the pursuit of happiness. We were excited to feature Brittany as our Sum of Your Business for this inspiring women issue because she is just that: Inspiring! Read on to learn more about how she manages to have her cake…and eat it too (what, too much?!).

The Basics:
Name: Brittany Todd
Age: 29
Business: Photography by Brittany
Years in Business: June 26 this year will start year seven of weddings!

1. Tell us about the “leap” moment. When/how did you decide to jump in and become your own boss?

After graduating from Luther College in January 2010, I was certain that my calling was in Residence Life. I went through a two-month marathon process of interviews with 15 different schools and became a finalist at two different colleges. We were certain we were moving to either Dubuque or Green Bay. In April, however, everything changed.  I was informed by both schools, within one hour of each other, that I was their runner up and therefore did not have a job. At all. Anywhere. As a couple, we decided to stay in Decorah for another year since we were getting married that July and at least had some connections to odd jobs while we waited for a full-time opportunity. During that waiting process my photo-shoots became more frequent and more substantial. I wasn’t just photographing my friends’ kids anymore; clients were actually hiring me to shoot their wedding day, and I was loving every second of it! In August 2011, our first son, Carter, was born, and we decided it would be much easier to raise a baby with a photography career than in a college dorm. I slowly stepped away from a career in Residence Life, to a newfound dream career in photography. Fast-forward to 2013, and shooting was officially something that paid the bills, supported my family, and gave me great joy on a daily basis. It was then that I became my own boss and officially launched Photography by Brittany… in an office next to our living room.

2. What’s the best thing about being your own boss?

There are countless perks! I get to travel throughout the United States doing what I love! I get to choose my own hours. Yes, sometimes this means I am the last one to leave downtown at 1 am, but it also means I can take a day off to celebrate my kids’ birthdays, go on a last-minute trip with my husband, or spend an entire day focusing on filling my own cup, whether that means a lunch date with a friend, yoga sculpt at Reefuel, shopping downtown Decorah, or binge watching online classes or even Netflix. I can dress up on days I am with clients and wear sweatpants and slippers on days in the studio. A major perk is that through this seven-year journey, my kids have been a part of almost every single work day in the office, whether that office was in our living room or downtown in the new studio. They have their moments, of course, but sometimes the brutal honesty of a three or five-year-old is exactly what I need when it comes to choosing a location, setting up a shoot or just choosing treats from Beyond the Bar or Java John’s Coffee House for a client meeting. I know not every profession allows the flexibility that mine does, but just think how much more productive everyone could be if they could work during their personal prime time hours (I am a night owl) and be with their family as much as possible?

3. How about the worst?

Some days this list seems longer than the previous one, but I promise the good always outweighs the bad! I am the HR department, secretary, coordinator, president, CEO, and maintenance crew all rolled into one person. There is no guaranteed salary. There are no work benefits. Nobody gives me health, dental, or life insurance. There are no paid vacation days, paid sick days or even a single moment of paid maternity leave. When I first started, I took on any shoot that would come my way, including a family shoot the day before I went into labor with Carter as well as a wedding 13 days after he was born. (That is a story for another time, but, in short, Carter did great. Pumping in the doorway of a boat bathroom? Not one of my favorite life moments. 😉 )

There is not anyone to celebrate successes with in person. Cake in the break room is just not as exciting when it is your own birthday and you are eating it alone. Do not get me wrong, I love my days alone when I can crank the music and sing aloud while I edit, but there are many days when I wish there was someone here to celebrate with during the successes, and someone here to always get input from.

4. Was there ever a hurdle where you just thought, “I can’t do this?” How did you overcome it?

Not a specific hurdle, but there are definitely days and sometimes weeks that I stare at my work and think that I will never be as good others already are. If you think Pinterest is hard from a parent or teacher perspective, try looking at it through the eyes of a photographer (or a photographer mother!). Pinterest is amazing, and Pinterest is awful. I often remind myself that if I didn’t think there was someone better than me, I wouldn’t have anything to strive towards. The moments I doubt myself are the moments that make me a better photographer, business owner, and family member.

5. Any mentors/role models you look to/have looked to?

I highly recommend everyone start following Jeremy Cowart on Facebook, Instagram, or any other way possible. If you haven’t heard of “The Purpose Hotel” look it up! Jeremy is taking his talents of photography and expanding them into a vision that will help MANY people for decades, if not centuries, to come. His ability to run a business, expand the business and yet keep his wife and family as his number ONE priority is not only inspiring, but something we should all strive toward daily.

6. What’s the one thing you wish you had known before you started?

Dear High School and College Self:

Your grades matter in order to keep your scholarships, but then they will be irrelevant. Stop writing down every single word that goes on the board and take a moment to truly LISTEN to those teaching. Social networking is everything. Relationships are going to build a business faster than money can buy one. Equipment is important, but without a solid work ethic, support from those closest to you, and an incredible client base, you will not be successful. That family and friend-base you have now? They’re going to support you every step of the way. Keep being kind to those around you, because those professors, classmates, mentors, friends, and acquaintances are all going to be clients of yours someday. Each will leave a photo session with a part of your heart, and give you a little more sense of self-worth.

7. How do you manage your life/work balance? You worked out of your house originally, and have recently moved to a space in downtown Decorah – what are the pros and cons to the move?

Working from home was fantastic. If you ever get the opportunity to do so I highly recommend it, even if it is just for a few weeks. While having a home office I would do laundry, make lunches, start dinner, vacuum, grocery shop, and play with my kids in between checking emails, editing, making phone calls, and creating online albums for client review. When the workday was over, so were all of our daily life tasks. Having a space downtown has been quite an adjustment to that, but I love it in a completely different way. I get to see more people (especially more adults) on a daily basis. I can still take my kids to the library as I used to, but when we return to the studio downtown I immediately have a sense to work, instead of picking up around the house. Although it is tempting to respond to an email as soon as I see that it has been sent, it is much easier to leave work at work, and be home when I am at home (check out Peter Awad’s “Slow Hustle” podcast for more on that concept!).

8. What keeps you inspired? Any quotes that keep you going?

It is a hard concept to perfect at first, but I have gotten better about telling myself that I cannot serve others if my own cup is empty. Giving myself an opportunity to remember that I will be successful today, in this moment, could be as simple as a 15 minute break with Pinterest or an hour long Skype chat with a friend to collaborate on fresh ideas. Occasionally, I feel like these activities put me further behind in my to do list, so I remind myself that if I do not take time to enjoy life, my family, and my friends, there is no purpose to my career. Yes, we need money to pay bills, but if we are not enjoying life as it happens, we are guaranteeing ourselves missed memories. I would be a hypocrite if I encouraged others to prioritize their memories, if I, myself, was not creating any. Because of this, my job inspires me during every shoot. Every client has chosen me over any other photographer to capture one of their most important moments in life. These occasions may be as extravagant as a wedding day or as simple as an annual family session, but to my clients, and to me, it is so much more than just a shoot. You never know when a session is going to be your last as a family, exactly are you as you are right now, so embrace the NOW! There is no greater inspiration than to know that this gift I have been given (and am constantly trying to perfect) is something that positively impacts those around me, with the simple click of a button.

Iowa Secretary of State interview with Aryn Henning Nichols (< that’s me!)



Aryn_Summer16Hi friends! I was contacted recently by Erin Bunce, the business services and social media intern at the Iowa Secretary of State’s office in Des Moines. She’s heading up a project that celebrates entrepreneurship by showcasing small Iowa businesses on their Facebook page… and they said they would love to feature Inspire(d) Media. Yay!

“We want people to learn about what it takes to start and run one’s own business, whether that be lessons learned, challenges faced, or rewards gained from his or her experience,” Erin says. “We want to share the advice, knowledge and wisdom you’ve gained from starting and running Inspired Media to encourage others to do the same.”

I loved answering the questions. Erin said they usually post just one answer on their Facebook page, though, so I thought it might be fun to share the whole interview here. Erin was on board with that idea too, so here you go!

Also, FYI, if you’re curious about what the Iowa Secretary of State actually does, here are a few things I’ve learned:

The Secretary of State office is a service center for businesses in Iowa, the nation, and the world and advocates for Iowa business, products, and the idea of making government more business friendly.

The Secretary of State is on the Voter Registration Commission, the State Insurance Committee, the Iowa Executive Council, and the State Records Commission. The Secretary (currently Paul D. Pate) co-signs, with the Governor, all commissions, proclamations, extraditions, and land patents. The Secretary of State is the state commissioner of elections and supervises Iowa’s 99 county auditors.

The Office of Secretary of State also preserves many original documents including the Constitution of the State of Iowa and the Acts of the General Assembly.

Iowa Secretary of State interview with Aryn Henning Nichols (that’s me) from Inspire(d) Media:

What does the word “entrepreneur” mean to you?

I remember the first time I heard the word entrepreneur – I was about eight, and my older sister casually dropped this big new word: “Dad’s an entrepreneur, Aryn.” I had always said, “My dad owns a sawmill and an auto shop and he’s a helicopter pilot in the National Guard too…” Entrepreneur, my sister said, meant a business owner. To me, it seemed a much quicker way of saying all the things a business-owner must do make life work. Or all the things they want to do.

These days, I think an entrepreneur is someone who finds a way to make the wants of life and needs of life interchangeable. We are all capable of creating our careers, as long as we have passion and talent. And I promise: Everyone has passion and talent – you just gotta dig for it sometimes.

What made you want to start Inspire(d) Media?

I was a senior in college when I read a biography (The Art of Life by Iowa City author Jennifer New) about a photojournalist named Dan Eldon, who was stoned to death in Somalia in 1993. His mother, Kathy Eldon, was an Iowa native, but Dan and his sister grew up in Africa. Dan was – by no means – perfect, but he still found a way – his way – to help people. I found this incredibly inspiring, and, surprisingly, it was one of the first times I felt really inspired.

I was no slouch of a gal – I did well in school, was involved in tons of activities, etc., so the fact that it took that long to feel really inspired seemed like a shame. It should be easier for people to find relatable stories that make them feel fired up to do something good. Thus, the idea of Inspire(d) Magazine was born. I wanted to create a local publication that features people in the community doing good things to change the world. Our audience can read the stories and say, “That’s my neighbor! They’re not any different from me! I can do something positive as well.” That’s the premise behind the name. Person one does something to inspire. Person two is inspired. Then person two inspires, and the cycle continues. So it’s a mash-up of the two words: Inspire(d).

What is the ultimate goal for your business?

Our ultimate goal is to change the world, honestly! But starting on a small scale, with small ripples. I’d love to see other communities with their own Inspire(d) Magazines eventually, so they, too, can start encouraging folks to volunteer, take notice of cool new opportunities, get involved in local government, support area businesses and entrepreneurs, etc. These are the changes we’re hoping to affect.


What is/was your greatest fear about starting your business?

After every magazine is published (ah, the permanence of print!), I freak out that people aren’t going to like the stories. I don’t know why – I know the stories are good – but I guess it’s human nature to worry about being accepted and liked. The fear gets smaller and smaller, though, as the years pass. On year one, magazine one, I cried because the finished product wasn’t exactly what I imagined – that’s one of the hardest things about creative work: living up to your own expectations. On magazine 46, year nine (our current summer 2016 issue), there was only a brief “Will they like it?!” And then, pride after looking through the pages. It looks pretty close to what I want it to these days, and that’s certainly good for the stress levels!

How does your business impact the lives of others in your community?

I hope it inspires people. I hope it gets people out in our community, talking to each other, connecting, and creating a better place to live.


What is the biggest obstacle you faced when beginning your business?

It’s tough being the boss, especially when the only other employee is your spouse! I love being the boss, but business and life can get really intertwined, especially when you work from home, as we do, and really love your work, as we do. So sufficiently compartmentalizing those things is a challenge. Plus also making time for yourself, to, you know…exercise and see friends. The priority pyramid has gotten clearer over the years, significantly so after having a kid.

Of course, there were other obstacles like the whole “decline of print” naysayers (which I never really worried about) and the logistics of it all –how do you actually design something (ha!), where do we print, how do we distribute, what will we do for racks, how often do we publish, etc? But you take one question at a time, and you figure it out. Then you get better at it, and you figure it all out again as the business changes.

How will your business support the community in five years? In 20 years?

I hope it continues to inspire people. Forever, really, even if the magazine isn’t around for all of eternity! It’s also a really great “community pride” thing. People living in our readership area are excited to share Inspire(d), and people visiting our communities really get a good snapshot of who we are from the publication. This is good for tourism, recruiting families to come live here, and for community and regional morale.


What do you think will be the most challenging obstacle you will have to overcome as your Inspired continues to thrive?

The biggest upcoming challenge is figuring out how to grow. We’re kind of at that point right now. Do we hire employees? Do we find an office out of the house? We’ve done things really efficiently, and I think smartly, so far. So taking that leap to the next level is a little scary. But our daughter will start preschool this fall and Inspire(d) will celebrate its tenth anniversary next year. The timing to grow seems good. We could keep going as we are, but change can be pretty fun and exciting!

ArynProfilePicOnlineWhat words of encouragement would you give someone who is on the fence about starting a business?

Start asking yourself some questions: What do you really have to lose? Are you passionate about the idea? Do you think it will really work? Do you have the skills and talents you need? Believe in yourself and your ideas – if you’re making something worthwhile, people will buy it. In my work, you’d say, “content is king”. I know I publish good stories, so I know people will read them. But that notion applies to everything. Good product equals good customers. Be your biggest cheerleader and then get the heck out there and start!

What is the most rewarding part about owning your own business?

The flexibility! Some days I hang out with my almost-four-year-old daughter. Some days I mow the lawn at two in the afternoon. Some days I work, literally, through the night. But I get to choose how I do it, and that’s pretty awesome.


Thanks for reading, friends! If you want to learn more about us, start here. Or just poke around online and let us know what you think!
Aryn Henning Nichols