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Small Business Success: From counterterrorism to the real estate market

Professional photography skills first developed while financing college and honed surveilling terrorists across the Middle East and Afghanistan underlie Bob Hubbard’s marketing support to Connecticut real estate agencies.

Opened in the teeth of the pandemic and closed by state-mandated COVID-19 shutdowns before he could build momentum, Hubbard’s Forefront Media Productions in Madison battled through the crisis, as did other businesses large and small. Hard-earned prosperity is now hisreward.

The firm provides real estate agencies with still photography, the necessary baseline in their business; 3D imaging; overhead video shot by drones; and associated photographic and computer-generated marketing visual aids, including interactive virtual tours, virtual staging, and schematic floor plans. The full product offering is displayed on his website, www.forefront.media.

By doing his own photo processing and relying on U.S.-based video studios and hosting servers, he offers clients a high degree of control of production values.

Hubbard started the company in 2017, when he reached mandatory retirement age as an FBI special agent, in order to support his wife’s thriving real estate sales business. In 22 years with the FBI, he had pursued terrorists in war zones in Iraq, Afghanistan, and many other Eurasian and Middle Eastern countries. He captured photographic intelligence on some of the most elusive people on earth, in some of the most dangerous and inhospitable environments on earth. This endowed him with a unique skill set.

His wife had been retaining commercial videographers and taking her own still photos with a point-and-shoot camera. Bob suggested they invest in high-grade, professional equipment, and he employ his years of photographic experience. Over time, he expanded to help her friends and associates.

In November 2019, Hubbard established Forefront Media Productions as an LLC and began to formalize his organization and operations just as COVID-19 erupted.

A neighbor told him of SCORE, a nationwide, nonprofit association and resource partner of the U.S. Small Business Administration that offers free, confidential advice to small-business owners. He connected immediately with SCORE’s Southeastern Connecticut Chapter.

At the urging of SCORE mentors Laurie Warshavsky and Tony Raucci, he narrowed the focus of his business, concentrating on a tightly defined suite of services he could deliver profitably. He avoided trying to be all things to all people.

The daily constraints imposed by the virus and the state’s required public-health restrictions encouraged a planned, methodical business opening.

Hubbard says his SCORE mentors provided advice in specialized areas such as bookkeeping, human resources, and marketing, where he had been able to rely on the expertise of staff functions in the highly compartmentalized corporations where he worked before his stint with the FBI.

Hubbard found that each of his three distinct careers before opening his business provided a vital knowledge base. Working in fashion photography in college with professionals like Stephen Calhoun, whose international reputation was built on Mademoiselle covers and similar credentials, taught him the basics of composition and lighting.

In those first jobs after graduation, in engineering, manufacturing and operations in Rust Belt Connecticut, he developed managerial skills, along with goal-setting and budget control.

FBI assignments such as the U.S. Special Operations Command and the Combined Explosives Exploitation Cell, locating unexploded ordnance in Iraq and Afghanistan, taught him to work nimbly and efficiently in environments vastly more dangerous and challenging than any he would face in the United States.

With the economy reopening and his business in real estate prospering, Hubbard is poised for measured, sustained growth. His first planned expansion will be marketing support to builders of luxury yachts, those selling for $10 million and more, offering his full media packages, including 3D imaging and virtual tours.

This new market will entail travel again, this time not to Iraq and Afghanistan, but rather the more peaceful and family-friendly climes of Monaco and Fort Lauderdale.

Hugh M. Ryan is a certified mentor for the Southeastern Connecticut chapter of SCORE. He can be reached at hugh.ryan@scorevolunteer.org.

 

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