Using Story and Media to Help Job Seekers and Entrepreneurs in Southern Virginia: A Conversation with Natalie Hodge
February 19, 2021
Natalie Hodge has worked in the film and television industry for a decade. She owns a multimedia company, which she started in Martinsville, VA, called Rudy’s Girl Media, where she writes, does production consulting, and creates multimedia content. She has released two films including Sell, which follows the journey of a man recently released from prison seeking to connect with his work and find his passion, and Stolen Crowns, which concentrates on the cycle of domestic violence.
She is also a transformation coach and workforce development specialist, and works as a Special Projects Coordinator for the West Piedmont Workforce Development Board.
We talked with Natalie Hodge to learn about her work and current projects, challenges her community is facing, and what community needs are moving forward.
What projects are you currently working on?
I am working on filming a web-based reality show this year called Hometown Hustle, which is a combination of my film/media and workforce development backgrounds. The show will help uplift small business owners in rural Southern Virginia. Small business owners featured in the show will make video diaries talking about and showcasing their businesses as well as discussing their challenges and concerns. I will spend a day with the small business owner to talk with them and learn more about their business, and I will then connect individuals with resources they might need to grow and strengthen their business. For example, if someone needs a better web presence, I will help them get in touch with a web designer or social media manager. The show will work in partnership with local entities that support small business, such as the Chamber of Commerce and community colleges, and we will share resources these organizations have available with local entrepreneurs.
What are some challenges your community is facing?
Martinsville is a community where small business owners did not maximize e-commerce and internet use before the pandemic. Fellow business owners in retail and foodservice struggled because those systems weren’t in place. With foodservice, some places didn’t have delivery methods. Services prevalent in other communities such as DoorDash didn’t exist in Martinsville. Restaurants had to pivot quickly to those platforms to stay afloat and some didn’t have the technical ability or funding to make that shift.
Retail platforms like Etsy and Amazon are really important for businesses’ revenues now, and organizations are creating virtual workshops where they can coach small business owners on how to get their products online. A large challenge for small businesses is after the pandemic, it took some time for resources to become available. By the time resources are available, a lot of their revenue was lost.
How has your work been affected by the pandemic?
Film production has come to a halt around the country. It has been difficult to film projects as we need to make sure the cast and crew are safe. Speaking engagements and events showcasing films have also been impacted. However, I ghostwrote a couple of projects during the pandemic and released a book during the pandemic. The pandemic gave me time where I could focus on writing.
My book, From Unemployed to Unstoppable: A 30-Day Transformation Guide, assists people who are searching for a job, helping them figure out their next steps and reimagine what their work could look like. During this time, people are overwhelmed by health concerns, resources, and what they will do for money. Some are graduating from college into a world that is different from the world they knew…this book will help people take a small bite each day to make the job searching process much more manageable.
What resources, information, or assistance are most needed to support your work, or the economic recovery of your community in general?
One of the challenges I’ve had is accessing resources, as a lot of funding out there is geared toward people who have employees and not toward people who might contract labor. I contract a lot of work for film production, social media marketing, and web design. While I am supporting other people, that is not indicated toward a payroll.
I am auto eliminated from some grant opportunities due to the payroll element of it. It can also be a challenge for myself and small business owners to take time away from running their business to invest in researching grant opportunities. It would be helpful if there was a way to make that process easier.
What lesson or advice from your work and experiences might others find helpful?
My advice is to see every challenge as an opportunity, as difficult as it might be. Even though it has been a challenge to access resources for small businesses, I received a local grant through Henry County, where I could be a sole proprietor and access the funding. I utilized that money for the short film last year, and the funding helped me make that project a reality.