BRAND HUSTLE | Protecting the Vision

“Good business leaders create a vision, articulate the vision, passionately own the vision, and relentlessly drive it to completion.”

– Jack Welch, Former Chairman and CEO of GE

In my years of experience in working with new entrepreneurs, I’ve found that many pitfalls arise at the onset of their vision due to failure in protecting it. Below, I have shared a list of legal must-haves that will get you started in the right direction:

Trademark Protection

If I could shout from atop the highest mountain, the greatest way for entrepreneurs to protect their brand would be to protect their name or logo under trademark law. A name or logo is a source identifier that consumers associate with your brand. By obtaining trademark protection, you are securing the right to use your name through commerce. Although trademarks are not a requirement by law, it is very necessary.

Here’s why: If you fail to protect your mark under trademark law, you are exposing your brand to potential infringers. Someone may take your name and register it for their own brand. Under this scenario, you may challenge that person’s registration but this will cost you more in legal fees. I am here to help you save some coins. Trust me, if you protect your brand at the onset, you are preventing the likelihood of infringement by third parties. Not sure where to begin? Always consult an attorney.

Copyright Protection

The second way to protect your brand is by copyright protection. One of my passions is teaching creative entrepreneurs how to protect their works. I often tell clients that it is necessary to create a quarterly, if not monthly, schedule to submit their works to the copyright office. The U.S. Copyright Office does allow for multiple submissions. This means that if you pay for one application, you can submit multiple entries under that one application. As a creative your content should be protected. Some copyrightable items include, but are not limited to: business plans, curriculum, paintings, books, songs, and software.

“As a creative your content should be protected.”

-Shaunette Stokes, Esq.

Trade Secrets

Do you have a recipe for something you created or customer lists that have helped your business grow? This can be protected under contract law. If by any chance the secrets of your company is leaked, courts will first ask about the measures you took to protect your intellectual assets. If you did the bare minimum of protecting the information shared with your staff or others, then the courts would likely see that you did not take the proper measures to ensure that your intellectual property remained a secret. For instance, if you have a recipe for your favorite product, you should make sure that anyone that has access to that recipe signs a non-disclosure and non-compete agreement. This prevents them from disclosing any secrets they acquired about your company during their employment or business relationship with you.


Lastly, I have found that budding entrepreneurs often like to pitch their ideas to potential investors and potential partners. It is often that they go into these pitch meetings empty handed. Ideally, prior to agreeing to meet with a potential investor, you should have them sign a non-disclosure agreement. This prevents them from disclosing what was said during the meeting. If you wish to take it a step further, you can also add a non-compete clause. This will prevent them from listening to your idea and executing the same exact idea in the same market. Presenting these types of contracts to potential investors or potential partners may pose as a challenge because not many people take too kindly to bound by contract for something they have not financially invested in. However, it is worth using this tactic in negotiations.

Always remember, never delay in getting your vision protected, it is all about being proactive. If you want more information on how to take one of the courses available through my firm on how to protect your vision, please email

Tampa-based attorney, Shaunette Stokes has substantial experience in contract law, business transactions, intellectual property law and civil litigation. Currently, she works with a diverse group of clients, assisting them in understanding and navigating the law so that they can effectively manage their respective businesses. Attorney Stokes has also assisted individuals in Family and Civil law.

Learn more about the legal services and entrepreneurship courses offered by Stokes Law Group by following them on Instagram here or visiting the firm’s official site by clicking the logo below.

THE STANDOUT KID | Excelling in the Average World of Social Media

“Be undeniably good. No marketing effort or social media buzzword can be a substitute for that.”

—Anthony Volodkin, founder of HypeMachine

Lasting creative brands leave delicious aftertastes. They linger in the minds and hearts of their audience. Being average is not an option.

So, how do you create a brand that consistently stands out? When we say “stand out” we’re not talking trending or the number of followers you may have.  Don’t get us wrong trends are important, but we’re here to encourage you to create trends and not join them. That is how you become a Standout Kid of your industry. Below we share some lessons the crazy world of social media has taught us over the years.

1.  Don’t be discouraged by your following (or lack there of)

If you’ve visited our Instagram lately you will notice that we have yet to break the 1K mark. There was a moment in time when this was a true concern of ours. In fact, we obsessed about it. As a result, our brand’s purpose became lost in translation. Remember: Slow and steady always wins the race. Giving your followers exclusivity is an advantage.

2.  Select the visual representation of your brand with care

Creating consistent social media content is overwhelming. There is nothing shameful of using stock images as feed fillers. Ensure that the chosen content compliments the overall aesthetics of your feed’s timeline. Keep the layout clean and to the point.

Two of our go-to stock image databases are Pexels and Unsplash. The photographers who share their gifts through these websites are a godsend.  Be a dear and give credit where credit is due, each image has the photographer’s social information for you to share.

Image | via Pexels

3.  Know your audience

Do you use your social media app’s analytic tool? If not, IT IS A MUST! The more you know about who’s attention you have, when they are engaged, and what they’re most attracted to makes your work much easier. We’ve recently found that although our target audience includes men and women — our actual Instagram audience is primarily women. Now, we’re adjusting our content to be more attractive to men and explore other social media platforms where men are more likely to engage with us.

4.  Use a Social Media Content Calendar

Ok…this may be the most resourceful piece of information that we can give you. Hell, it took until November 2017 for us to get with the program. When creating a social media calendar be sure that it reflects exactly what you need. Consider these things when posting to two or more platforms: know the peak posting times for each platform, observe what type of content will work for each platform, and always, always create your caption or tweet ahead of time.

You’ll thank us later!

The key to enjoying social media is to create a plan that will make it work for you instead of leaving you feeling that you are working for it. None of us claim to be social media experts, but we have experienced the rewards of these tips firsthand.

Loved this post or have questions? Feel free to chat with us in the comments!

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Feature image | via Pexels

Best of 2017: Fahamu is Indeed the $#@%

One of the most genuine and authentic people that I’ve met in Atlanta is Fahamu Pecou. It was important to me to feature him in our Summer issue of CHF Magazine. Our contributing writer, Jamilia Fortune sat down with Fahamu to learn more about his journey as an artist. Of course, his story was our TOP post read in 2017! Enjoy!

Written by | Jamilia Fortune  Photography | George Clarence

Styling | Rasheed Crawford  Make-Up Artistry | Natalie Nicole Johnson


We met at Ria’s Bluebird, a small café in Atlanta, GA. He looked exactly like what I’d seen online from my research, but way more laid back and almost timid. We went inside where he was met with hugs and excitement. It turns out that I was with a celebrity and I suddenly forgot everything that I wanted to ask!

Once seated, I threw out my icebreaker.

Jamilia (J): Where are you from?

Fahamu (F): I was born in Brooklyn, raised in South Carolina, and I’ve been in Atlanta for over 20 years.

He explained that he’d lost his mom at four years old and was raised by her aunt. Aside from his grandfather, positive men were void in his upbringing. His community urged him to be everything but what he really dreamed of… “You should be playing sports!” they would say; but who were they to talk him out of his dream?

Fahamu was a natural born artist, and art was the only thing he wanted to do.
He shared a story with me about how he’d read the World Book Encyclopedia C-Ch and looked up cartoonist, Charles Schultz, the late “Charlie Brown” artist. He read that cartoonists could make $1000/week and that’s when he decided that no one would persuade him to be anything else.

In 1993, at 18, he graduated from high school, gathered his belongings, $40, and moved to Atlanta where he enrolled as a freshman at The Atlanta College of Art. He said leaving there was about college but also about survival. He is now a PhD candidate at Emory University, a prestigious university in Atlanta.

Next, I wanted to delve into his creative process.

J: What does your creative process look like?

F: It’s natural. I’m always on. I might see a car passing by and get an idea from it. I have a long list of notes/ideas on my phone so I don’t forget or in case I need a new idea or name for a piece, I can refer to the list.

J: What are you saying with your art? Who are you speaking to?

F: I’m speaking to the masses but my focus is on black masculinity. People always have an idea of what it is but I’m saying that it’s so much more. Black masculinity, our feelings, and struggles have to be humanized.

The birth of his son prompted him to focus on this reality. He knew he wanted to be the type of parent who’d tell his children that it’s okay to be exactly who they are, especially his son.

F: It’s easier for girls to express their feelings, but boys are taught to swallow theirs. It’s as if their feelings don’t matter and they’re often times not even asked about them.

“Black masculinity, our feelings, and struggles have to be humanized.”

It’s with this in mind that Fahamu partnered up with Atlanta Public Schools to form (ad)Vantage Point,a community of black, male students from Maynard Jackson High in Atlanta. They create an environment for the boys in which they are encouraged to tell their stories through art. It empowers them to feel and to share. It also shows them that they are not alone. In the future, he hopes to expand this program into a nonprofit targeting young men who have been exposed to any sort of trauma.

We had to talk about the presence of hip hop in his work. Being Brooklyn born gave him an upfront view of the genre’s unfolding. He likens it to the blues, in which it was not well received but later embraced. He’s obsessed with the storytelling aspect of it, as well as the story that the music tells. He’s hugely inspired by Andre 3000 of Outkast due to his complexity in verse and style. Some of his favorites also include, Special Ed, Big Daddy Kane, “for making chocolate men in again,” The Roots, and Goodie Mob. He also has respect for up and coming artists such as Rich Homie Quan and the Migos because they’ve created a new wave of music that’s not relying on sampling and instead uses their voices as the instrument. Hip hop is so important because it tells the realities of being a black man in this world. He agrees that perhaps there are some stories, that many rappers tell that could be rewritten a bit more positively, but respects it nonetheless.

Understanding his outlook on hip-hop and consciousness, I needed to ask who he prefers, J.Cole or Kendrick Lamar, two very conscious and at times, controversial artists.

The answer, an overwhelming Kendrick Lamar! He’d written an article, entitled, “Are You Not Entertained? Kendrick Lamar and Black Resistance” documenting how the rapper took aim at white priveledge during his 2016 Grammy Award Performance, effectively addressing misrepresentation of the black experience in this country’s history.

J: What is it in Kendrick’s art that you connect with the most?

F: I really appreciate the fact that he is a “writer” first. The art of rap has become really pedestrian, in that everybody’s doing it. Kendrick goes beyond rapping into literature. His albums are reviewed in literary journals and compared to the canon of great American authors. Beyond that, he also literally transforms into an instrument. He works his vocals, improvising and deconstructing rhythms and patterns the way Coltrane would with his sax or Miles does with his trumpet. As a visual artist, his writing and musicality are all very visual and visceral. It’s really avant garde and frankly refreshing.

From Brooklyn to small town South Carolina, and now a living legend in the art world, Fahamu Pecou is creating a voice for the voiceless and letting them know that it’s okay to emerge from the shadows and tell their story. It’s okay to be themselves, unapologetically, and empowering men to not accept the narrative about who they are, but become what they are meant to be.

For all of these reasons, I can undoubtedly declare, “Fahamu Pecou is Indeed The Shit!”

Best of 2017: Mommy a la Mode

Being a mother has been the most exciting and rewarding role of my lifetime. Since having my son, I have shared much about how his arrival has reshaped my thinking about being an entrepreneur. Our second most viewed post was the first feature that I did with my son, Kevin. It was AMAZING! Continue on to see the great looks curated by Rasheed Crawford and I for this fun shoot!


Photography | Evan Carter  Styling | Rasheed Crawford  Make Up Artistry | Natalie Nicole Johnson

A Style Story:

Based on the life of a #MomBoss

with Editor-In-Chief, Crystal Lariece feat. Kevin Elijha + Clifford L. Johnson

“You are my SonShine / My only SonShine / You make me oh so happy…”
“Relax..Relate…Rick Ross”

“There is something magical that happens when your ‘Mommy’ switch is turned on. ”

-Crystal Lariece

“Just look over your shoulder honey…”
“…I’ll be there!”
“Never knew love like this before!”

Additional Credits:

Haircut | Joseph Jackson + Hair Color | Hair by Carmen

Best of 2017: The COLLECTIV | Monica Blaire

One of the primary qualifications for anyone selected to be featured in The COLLECTIV series is to be truly authentic. I mean down-to-the-bone true in the way they create, deliver, and live their gift in this world. Singer/Actress/Songrwriter and everyone’s favorite soul sister, Monica Blaire has one of the most authentic souls I’ve encountered in my lifetime. Believe me, one listen to her music and a read of the following interview…will make you an instant fan.

-Crystal Lariece

Originally posted  June 1, 2017

Photography | Clifford L. Johnson  Make Up | Natalie Nicole Johnson  Styling | Crystal Lariece

If my words were to fail me and I was only able to define authenticity through sound, it would be her. Despite growing up in neighboring cities, our paths did not cross until we were both well into our adult lives and I subsequently had my LIFE given to me as I delved into the melodic world that is Monica Blaire. At at time when music leaves so much to be desired, the freedom that erupts from her art is breathtaking and much appreciated.

Please allow me to introduce to you to our first 2017 Honoree of The COLLECTIV, Monica Blaire.

Crystal Lariece (CL): Where do you draw most of the inspiration for your music?

Monica Blaire (MB): From life, when the water is running, when things are happy, when things are challenging, friends, family, conversations, travel, people watching…LOL, from EVERYWHERE. For me creation is more a constant rumination in spirit than anything else. The goal as an artist is to stay open and in the flow of awareness. Inspiration is everywhere when you stay open to access it and are willing to drop whatever you are doing to receive it.

CLAs an Independent Creative, what has been your greatest challenge in developing your brand?

MB: ​My greatest challenge has been trying to convey the randomness of my creative process to my audience. Commercialized creativity is a homogenized version of what true creativity is all about. It’s a refined shadow of the range of emotions, effort, and work that an artist puts into their work. People often only experience the final product. When art is your life, and creativity is happening moment to moment, the end result can look disjointed especially when you create in more than one medium. My biggest challenge has been connecting the dots for my audience so that they fully understand the why and the how of what I do.

CLDescribe your Creative Renaissance. When did you recognize your creative purpose?

MB: ​Very early on…let my mom tell it I sang before I spoke, LOL. I’m not certain that there was an “aha” moment for me because I don’t remember a time when I didn’t want to do this or I wasn’t working towards it. I always wanted to create. It was always cathartic and I always wanted people to feel free in the presence of art and sharing it with an audience.

Actually giving words to my platform as an exercise in freedom and love came much later. When my first project came out (‘Portraits of Me’ Silent Riot 2006) I was very much championing women and young girls to be multifaceted instead of the one dimensional model of women that society perpetuated. That journey has brought me to where I am currently which is self-actualization through my art. Being able to own and love my individuality no matter who is present in my life and what is going on around me. I guess the answer to your question is creative renaissance happens over and over in an artist’s career if they are continuing to grow in their art.

Commercialized creativity is a homogenized version of what true creativity is all about. It’s a refined shadow of the range of emotions, effort, and work that an artist puts into their work.

CLMillennial Creatives are often faced with ridicule when it comes to pursuing a non-traditional career path, what would be your best advice to those who are ready to take the leap, but is ​​ fearful of failing?

MB: ​My best advice would be to listen to your inner voice. Creatives are so tapped into that little voice because it’s where the art comes from. Listening to that voice will inform you of all you need to know and how you can make it manifest in the world. Most people do not commune with themselves in this way and are fearful of those who move on things yet to be seen. If you create a plan out of what you know to be your path and stay consistent with the plan all the nay sayers will turn into cheerleaders. Be true to yourself and create your own convention. Nurture it and watch it grow and watch the conversation around what you do change.

….creative renaissance happens over and over in an artist’s career if they are continuing to grow in their art.


Eclectic is the way to describe Monica Blaire. Classical, Rock, R&B, Soul, Gospel, Funk, Hip-Hop, Techno, and Pop playfully coexist freely in the world she creates one stage at time. In every performance, her need to connect with the listener comes first. After becoming a 2010 Kresge Artist Fellow in the Performing Arts and touring in 2014 with Tyler Perry’s Hell Hath No Fury Like A Woman Scorned (available everywhere on DVD) Monica Blaire is gearing up to take the world by storm with her powerful performances and uncanny musical expression.

Monica has worked with artists ranging from Roy Ayers, PPP, her own band the RackPack, Dwele, Black Milk, ZO!, and rocked historical venues including Joe’s Pub (NY), The Shrine (CHI), and the DIA (in her hometown, Detroit). Her latest project is experimental music with a minimal approach that is dubbed “sound art”. She is playing with the everyday around her and creating audio snapshots of her experiences. This music and the process of making it is introducing Ms. Blaire as much more than just a singer. She is solidifying her place as an ever evolving creative presence.

Video courtesy of Monica Blaire | Filmed by Clifford L. Johnson

Experience more of Monica’s music on SoundCloud here.
Instagram | @mBthelight
Facebook | Monica Blaire Music