Words From The Wise

Photography by Vityl Media

So you want to open your own business? From developing your concept to securing customers, the road to entrepreneurship can be laden with stress and uncertainty. Here to help are several area business owners. Read on for their top three business tips that continue to serve them well today.

Travis Truett

CEO, Ambition

Don’t underestimate the importance of clear direction. While this seems (and is) obvious, starting a company is chaotic, and it’s quite easy to get “lost in the business” fighting fires and chasing opportunity. Create a one-page “Company Charter” that explicitly defines your mission, vision, values, annual initiatives (launch X product, sign up Y customers), and one-, three-, and five-year revenue goals. Ensure everybody is constantly referencing this when building roadmaps and making decisions.

Resist the urge to dictate “how” everything should get done. It’s far more effective and scalable to spend your energy ensuring that everybody understands the “why” behind a decision with a clear expectation of the “what” and “when.” Talk about this during the interview process because it’s also how you attract and keep the best talent.

Get out of your comfort zone as early as possible by investing in a business coach and a couple of veteran leaders. Surrounding yourself with the right people once your product or service is starting to resonate with users is easily one of the highest-leverage things you can do. But … be extremely wary … this is not the time to be a naive optimist. The key to getting this right is clarity and transparency. Talk through everything that’s keeping you up at night and how they’re going to help you solve it, then go deep on expectations. Map out and agree upon key activities, responsibilities, and how you’ll measure success. The right leader should be a wealth of knowledge during this process; ideally, they’re two or three years ahead of where you’re at and will be excited to “run it back” with a hard-earned playbook. Be careful not to over-hire, however. It’s important they can still relate to your stage and circumstance, which is rarely the case for candidates coming from much larger companies.

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Daisy Maurya-Ballard

Co-Owner & Real Estate Investor, Willowstreet Properties LLC

Learn to move on. Each and every person has a unique perspective and insight that they bring to a project or venture. If, after several attempts, you feel that your input is not being valued or appreciated, you have to find a way to move on. Understand and be confident with the fact that what you bring to the table is valuable. The world needs creative, innovative, and growth-oriented minds.

Remain curious. Learn to ask questions … constantly. Utilize your resources, and experiment with your ideas. Also, don’t be afraid to introduce yourself to someone who is doing what you think you might want to do and pick their brain. Regardless of age or industry, it can be eye-opening to learn how other people achieved their success. And I can’t emphasize this enough – READ, READ, READ.

Strive for innovation. Every time you hear the proverbial “we’ve never done it that way,” ask yourself why? When you hear “we’ve tried that before,” challenge that notion. If things didn’t work out in the past, try to understand why they failed. What did the organization or individual learn through that process? Sometimes all it takes for success is a different person at the helm, and occasionally you can receive resistance because others don’t want anyone to succeed where they have failed. Without taking risks, there is no innovation. Strive to be the first or do it better, regardless of what it is.


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Tiffanie Robinson

CEO/President, SVN | Second Story Real Estate Management and Co-Owner, Aslan Holdings, LLC.

Challenge your fear of failure. As entrepreneurs, our day-to-day successes will come when we can challenge the voice that plants doubt in our minds. We are privileged with creativity and vision. If we choose to give in to the human nature of fearing failure, then we will never experience the benefits of our successes. Being willing to fail is actually what will push you further than your dreams could ever take you. Do not be afraid to challenge the fear of failure.

Surround yourself with people wiser than you. I believe that there is a certain kind of strength that comes with being open to learn and grow and having the willingness to absorb new information. However, what I have learned over time is that there is a difference between knowledge and wisdom. Becoming wise takes experience, and it takes time. By surrounding yourself with people wiser than you, real knowledge can be gained, and you will open doors for yourself to grow past what you could do on your own. Be open to new ideas, constructive feedback, and looking at things through a new pair of lenses.

Set healthy boundaries for yourself. Make it a priority to set healthy boundaries for yourself. As entrepreneurs, we are go-getters with big dreams. Without boundaries and overcoming the fear of saying “no,” we risk experiencing burnout and loss of creativity. Learn to embrace the “yes, but…” mindset and make your work-life balance a priority.

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Jason Bowers

Owner, The Bitter Alibi, The Daily Ration, and Clever Alehouse

The great thing about advice is it changes with each new lesson you learn in business, but one thing that always remains the same is to start small. Too many people see their favorite restaurateurs and business moguls and want to reach their position immediately! Most of those people have spent their lives working to get there. Unless you get lucky, shooting too high can leave you stressed out about juggling a project that’s too large for your expertise.

The second piece of advice that I always give is, “Don’t be afraid to trust people.” While it’s possible for people to drop the ball on something, in my experience, if you train people well and they believe in your vision, they will want things to go well. Plus, it allows you to step away and be able to live a somewhat normal life too!

The final piece of advice I have for any business owner is, “Be a good neighbor!” We can sometimes get caught up in the “dog-eat-dog” mindset that we always have to be cut-throat with each other. My team works closely with dozens of other businesses and has had multiple entrepreneurs leave our businesses and start their own. It’s more rewarding to grow your family than to live on an island.

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Brandon Ellis

Owner, Chatter Box Cafe

Set realistic goals. When planning to start a business, we must factor in reality. Know how much time, money, and energy you really have to put into turning this dream into a reality. We all have obligations outside of working and running a business. In order for the venture to work, it must still allow for you to handle current and future responsibilities outside the business. When setting goals, always factor in room for the unknown! Very rarely does everything go perfectly. Planning with that understanding helps provide a cushion, and for the times when everything goes smoothly, enjoy it.

Be consistent. When starting a business, entrepreneurs always hit the ground running. We’re full of excitement, full of energy, and full of hope! After getting into the business, you learn that things may not come together as quickly as you had planned. Even if you become doubtful, keep pushing. Consistency will pay off in the long run. When you don’t hear your fans cheering, just know people are still watching. Learn to be motivated by the hustle and hard work it takes to be great. 

Focus on your strengths. Understandably, you may have to start off a business by handling multiple tasks. Very rarely are we as entrepreneurs strong in all aspects of our businesses. I’m good at sales and marketing and cooking, but my wife Natia is the lifeline of the business. She oversees bookkeeping, accounts payable, accounts receivable, contracts, etc. Prior to her coming on board, these were weak points for me. Find out what your strong points are and focus on those, but make sure you have the right people in place to handle the other aspects of the business. 

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Kim Shumpert

CEO, Chattanooga Women’s Leadership Institute

When you’re not sure what to say, ask a question. Questions spark imagination. They slow the pace of conversation. They give us permission to be curious – curious about big issues. They open the door for vulnerability and level the playing field between two people. They minimize the need for competition. A well-placed question opens the door for innovation.

Plan your brain breaks. There are day-to-day pauses that give your brain necessary rest, and then there are brain breaks. These are the times where you unplug entirely and the times that you look forward to. Every January, I reset my desk and purge information I no longer need. But most importantly, I go ahead and place as many brain breaks on my calendar as possible. I schedule my vacation, hair appointments, and dates with my family. I look ahead and “schedule” the fun and spontaneity. If I don’t do this, I will fail to plan time for my mind to heal and restore itself. Scheduling time to pause with those who support you is the best kind of medicine. This was good advice from a wise mentor, and it has served me well for several years.

Understand preparation is not the same as prevention. I’m a great planner, but I’ve been doing this long enough to understand that all of the preparation in the world does not equate prevention. When unforeseen circumstances arise, you have to summon the confidence to pause and reset and call upon your allies to strengthen the vision. If you spend copious amounts of time preparing because you are trying to prevent something you’re afraid might happen, take it from me that your energy is better spent cultivating relationships with people you can share the load with when what you are attempting to prevent happens anyway.

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Wendy Buckner

Owner, The Hot Chocolatier

Never stop learning. One of the best pieces of advice I can give someone is to do your research and never stop. I feel like I’m always putting myself through my own school. It’s so important to be aware of the current trends, and things are always evolving. That first business plan that you write is going to continue to grow, and when you open your business, it likely won’t look anything like that. Learning to become a lifetime student is so important. Even when I travel, I’m looking at how other shops run things. It could be the smallest little thing that they do differently that could mean the world to me.

Be honest with yourself. Goal setting is really important, but you have to set realistic goals for them to work. Learn to be nice to yourself. You have to think about what you can handle professionally, but also what your limits are personally. Set reasonable business goals, but also set some personal ones too; it could be as simple as taking a vacation. As long as I have a feasible goal and something to work toward, I’m able to stay motivated.

Surround yourself with inspiring people. Being a business owner can be extremely difficult, so you have to surround yourself with positive people. If there are people who are keeping you from looking up, you’ve got to move on. This could be partners, coworkers, employees, you name it. I would be nowhere without the support of my family, and my husband is the reason I’m where I am today. Just having someone you can work through problems with without getting caught up in the challenges at hand is pretty special.

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