Archive | Business

We’ve Crossed the River!

By Brett Cafferty

We are excited that this edition of Everything Knoxville is reaching new readers in portions of Oak Ridge and additional neighborhoods in the quickly growing Hardin Valley area.

For those who are receiving Everything Knoxville for the first time – we are celebrating our 15th year of promoting and sharing the services and expertise of area professionals and entrepreneurs, publicizing cultural events, local interest, history, what to do around town, and the good and giving work of non-profit and community organizations.

The idea to expand our readership was proposed by John at Surface Doc, a long-time advertiser who plans to establish a greater presence in the Oak Ridge area and suggested we consider widening our distribution. We thought it was worth exploring, and an inquiry among our advertisers to reach new readers and potential customers came back with an enthusiastic yes!

We appreciate the cooperative spirit among our advertiser/business partners and their support of this expansion. For our new readers, we trust that the resources and information available through Everything Knoxville will be well received, and we encourage you to support the small businesses in our communities.

As we continue to share the small business stories of Knoxville and beyond, we invite your feedback and comments as we seek to do the best job possible for our clients and readers.

Have a Happy 4th of July!

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Business Note

An Unlikely Training Ground

By Brett Cafferty

Last week I was speaking with the general manager of a local restaurant group. He’s in his 20s, and I asked about his background in preparation for his current job. In addition to his business degree, he spent several years working with Chick-fil-A, learning a great deal about customer service, being coached and coaching others, and the basics of business – all equipping him for the role he is in now. This conversation reminded me of all the lessons I learned at one my first jobs, where I had no idea of the importance and application of what I was learning until years later.

The summer after high school, I started work at a family-owned, full-service Exxon station in Charlotte, NC. We pumped gas, cleaned windshields, checked the oil, and made service calls to fix flat tires and start cars with dead batteries. After catching on to the basics, responsibilities were added, leading to oil changes and minor repairs, ordering parts, maintaining inventories, and handling money. At the time I thought nothing of it.

But outside of the actual tasks of the job, it was an excellent education in learning about people. The business was located at the corner of a busy intersection, allowing contact with every type of person imaginable – business professionals, travelers asking for directions (long before GPS), young and old, wealthy and not.

In a short amount of time, I had been involved in thousands of interactions with people of all types, learning to understand, get along with, and communicate with others. I had no idea that would be of any value, it was just the job I did.

I started my first outside sales role in my early 20s, and although it was not apparent to me at the time, all of that “training on the corner” had allowed me to be far more comfortable in dealing with people. In the sales and management roles that followed, I continued to realize how much of the “business basics” learned at that corner service station were applicable to my then current business role and still apply today.  

At a wedding in 2010, I ran into that service station owner from 25+ years ago. The first thing that came to mind was to let him know that the time I worked for them was a tremendous training ground that prepared me for the “adult” business world. I owed him a big “thank you!” Accounting, management, and professional development courses certainly added to this, but looking back, the real-world experience and coaching I received was instrumental in allowing me to develop and be equipped for later professional roles.

My reason for sharing this is to encourage those who may think that a first job, or a short-term job that may not seem relevant, could end up being a very important chapter in your life’s story. It was in mine.

And to all of the small business owners who invest the time and effort to “train up” the next generation – thank you!

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We All Win

By Brett Cafferty

There is a definite air of optimism in the small business community. After an entire year of shut-downs, limited capacities, new ways of conducting business, and interacting (while avoiding) each other, it’s refreshing to hear that business is picking up! Spring events are being planned, and expectations of gathering with friends and family, combined with the nicer weather, makes for a welcome change!

An example of this enthusiasm was evident during a recent meeting of the Sweetwater Main Street Board, comprised of local businesses, property owners, and City of Sweetwater staff. The level of participation and cooperative spirit was impressive! They work together to plan and support awareness of the unique businesses in town with Main Street First Friday, Takeout Tuesdays to support local restaurants, and collaborate on creative ideas to bring people and businesses together. The recently announced the Blooms, Bluegrass & BBQ Festival is set for next month and is sure to be a hit! (See their ad on our inside front cover.)

Perhaps it’s the smaller town perspective of knowing your neighbors. Observing the goodwill and positive outlooks present at that meeting reminded me of the significant value and benefit that can be realized by being involved within your community.

This was reinforced in a subsequent visit to Sweetwater when I spoke with several local business owners who confirmed that my initial impressions were accurate. The City of Sweetwater does an excellent job of encouraging and helping their local businesses to thrive, the business owners recognize they are valued and heard, and the entire community benefits.

An observation from Main Street, USA, just down the road, and an encouraging reminder that working together, works.

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Getting Ready to Get Ready?

By Brett Cafferty

As I write this note to myself, I am reminded of a most basic human character trait we can easily accept as being part of our nature – procrastination. Put if off until later, deal with it tomorrow, awaiting more information, deferring to others, or simply not acting due to being unsure of a positive outcome. There are many professionals in the small business world who are creative, capable, hard-working people that fully believe in the work or service they offer but have a difficult time translating good intentions to tangible actions and often spend far too much time getting ready to get ready. Sound familiar?

In speaking with a fellow business owner recently, I was reminded of some basic principles from my early days in sales that I thought were worth sharing as a gentle reminder, myself included:

Swing the bat – Having been in sales roles in several industries, and also experiencing the challenge of hiring, managing, and coaching, this is the #1 rule that can be applied universally in all aspects of life. From a business perspective – the more activity, the more contacts made, the greater the chances for success. The learning curve is greatly improved, and patterns of behavior are established that reinforce a “get out and do it” mentality. It also develops a resiliency that, when the days (or months, or year) get tough, the default mindset is to press on, get up, and keep going.

When all else fails, follow the plan – The business owner I was speaking with is starting a new venture, and we talked about the challenges of a new industry and a sole proprietorship – from making new contacts to how to market yourself and all the uncertainties of “will this actually work out?”

Referring to lessons learned over the years that have been reinforced by mentors, co-workers, and authorities on the subject, when discouraged or in doubt, do the next thing. Regardless of the type of business or venture, there should be a basic “recipe” of activities that, when done on a daily, weekly, or monthly basis, will lead to results. This plan should be simple, easy to track, and easily shared with others for feedback or accountability.

When the days are long and you get discouraged, the simple act of following your plan by doing the next thing will result in a mental “boost” to help your attitude and perspective.  

From one procrastinator to another (and isn’t that all of us at one time or another?) – keep it simple, have faith in your plan, and swing the bat!

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How Are You Defining Things?

By John Smith

Recently, I heard it said, “It’s our definition of great that’s the problem.” While it was shared in a specific context, that statement prompted me to think of how I define other things in my life. Whether it’s greatness, success, wealth, love, or any other such concept that people often hope to achieve, the definition can make all the difference in the world. 

Take success for example. It is often measured by the size of the house, cost of the car, brand of the clothes, and/or the degree or title that follows one’s name. Yet, what we often don’t know is if that person is in debt up to their proverbial eyeballs, if they’re over-extended, or possibly an overlording micromanager only focused on dollars, for whom no one wants to work. The surface things point to “success,” but beneath the surface, it may be a much different story. 

What about wealth? It’s historically associated with money or possessions; yet, I’ve heard too many stories of people who have more money than they know what to do with but are unhappy or have lost relationships with their loved ones because of it. Is a person wealthy if they have financial wealth alone? What about the person who has little in terms of possessions or wealth but has a loving, caring family? Again, it goes back to our definitions. It’s not to say that there aren’t financially wealthy people with loving families – there are. The point is that we need to review our definitions from time to time. Review what we are using to measure things like success, wealth, love, influence, friendship. Take the long view so you can look back over a life that hasn’t been superficial but one that’s been invested in others, meaningful, and worthwhile. So, let me ask you… how are you defining the things that matter?

Our guest columnist this month is John Smith, an Operations Supervisor at Fleenor Security Systems. Originally from Michigan, John lives in Knoxville with his wife and three daughters.

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Many Advisers Bring Success

By Tom Irmen

This ancient proverb goes on to state that “plans go wrong for lack of advice.”

It has been two decades or more since the popular Marlboro man commercials were barred from television. The iconic Marlboro man portrayed in these commercials was a rugged individualist whose independence was viewed as courageous by many. However, in the years since, this same independence is now perceived by some as a major character flaw; an individual who placed his reliance on his own independence rather than on the advice and recommendations of trusted friends and mentors.
As an entrepreneur, it is customary that the final decision on issues comes down to your choice. But it can be a huge mistake to make your decisions in the absence of the recommendations and advice of a few trusted advisers.

I’m always surprised by the number of small business owners that elect to go it alone, much like the Marlboro man. Some entrepreneurs prefer the freedom of independent decision making instead of relying in part on the advice of others. But unless you possess the wisdom of Solomon, this type of decision making seems ill advised.

Seeking the advice of knowledgeable advisers on important decisions is not only critical to your success in making important decisions, but it can also avert the consequences of poor choices. Confiding in others is not always an easy thing for free minded entrepreneurs to do, because it requires the courage necessary to place your trust in the wisdom of others. Little courage is required to act alone.

But caution must also be exercised not to overthink your decision, waiting for the stars to align. I’ve often observed small business owners who seek out endless advice in order to avoid the fear that can result from making an important decision.

Courage is the trademark of the successful entrepreneur, but the entrepreneurs that exhibit the greatest courage are those who are fearless in seeking the advice of trusted counselors and mentors.

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Technology Doesn’t Replace That Human Touch

By Tom Irmen

There’s no question that improvements in technology can help businesses enhance the customer experience. But it’s unlikely that this technology by itself will ever replace that human touch. While technology can help improve the customer service experience delivered by humans, reliance on technology alone can result in the absence of that human experience that is the foundation of a meaningful, long-lasting relationship. Unless you are in a generic marketplace where you are unable to successfully differentiate yourself and where low prices dominate, the absence of genuine customer relationships can severely impact your bottom line.

Because technology is playing an ever-increasing role in our daily lives, creating and maintaining genuine relationships are all the more important to your customers today. And the more you reach out to your customers on a personal level, the greater the trust and loyalty that results.

Meaningful relationships help you better understand your customers and their competitive marketplaces. It also places you in a much better position to assist them in a way that will truly differentiate you from your competitors! And when competitive situations arise, as they inevitably do, your customers, whose loyalty you have earned, will likely confide in you. Remember that the lack of human relationships in business makes you particularly vulnerable.

I joked recently with a new client who, in his first email to me, asked me to call him personally. I asked him his age, suggesting that he was probably at least 50 years old. When he asked why, I explained that it has been my experience, as well as the experience of a great many of our clients, that a growing number of potentially new customers choose to conduct business exclusively via text or email. This is particularly true of many younger entrepreneurs. It seems that they have chosen to conduct their businesses in a generic world. While perhaps appearing efficient on the surface, just imagine how this generic environment deprives these same entrepreneurs of the very relationships that might have helped their businesses to prosper.

Don’t ignore the power of the human touch, as genuine relationships will trump any advancements in technology.

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Graphic Creations

Helping Our East Tennessee Business Community to Expand Their Brand

“I believe that what Graphic Creations does best is to help area entrepreneurs successfully differentiate their products,” said Jim Caughorn, owner of Graphic Creations. “By combining our more than three decades of in-depth graphic expertise with our corporate experience, we are able to assist both large and small businesses to successfully navigate today’s ever-changing business landscape.”

First launching in 1987 by former co-founders Debbie Billings and Jim’s father, James Sr., it’s unlikely that either Debbie or James could have envisioned all of the marketplace changes that would occur or the impact from rapidly evolving technology that resulted.

“I truly respect what Debbie and my dad accomplished,” said Jim. “Our team looks forward to the future and to continuing to help our East Tennessee business community thrive.”

From its most humble beginnings as a print center copying and selling UT class lecture materials, Graphic Creations has evolved into a full-service graphics source for all of your branding requirements, including:
» In-house design & creation
» Digital printing
» Copying
» Full bindery
» Signage & display
» Print – market – mail
» Apparel
» Promotional items
» Vehicle graphics
» Die cutting
» Foil stamping
» Embossing

“What’s even more important than the multiple services we offer is our in-house marketing expertise and our intimate knowledge of East Tennessee’s business community,” said Jim. “Our familiarity with our community helps us help your business successfully navigate this unique marketplace we call home. You simply can’t accomplish this with any other out-of-area source you may have used in the past or are contemplating using in the future.

“Regardless of your current or future graphic requirements, I invite you to discover how Graphic Creations can partner with you to expand your brand. We would like to offer you the opportunity to tour our new 12,000 square foot facility. We also welcome the opportunity to listen to you and your dreams for your business and to learn just how we can help you achieve your goals. We invite you to dream and grow with us in the New Year.”

Graphic Creations
213 East 4th Avenue
Knoxville, TN 37917

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Plan – Action – Success

By Tom Irmen

First launched on July 5, 1994, as an online book seller, Amazon founder and CEO, Jeff Bezos, has been at the helm of this incredible success story navigating this garage start-up to the largest online retailer in the world.

Amazon’s mission statement:
“Our vision is to be the earth’s most customer-centric company; to build a place where people can come to find and discover anything they might want to buy online.”

Amazon’s mission statement has become the guiding force behind its success, and the unwavering commitment to this mission on a daily basis by its 400,000+ associates makes this success a reality.

Many small business owners recognize the importance of developing their own mission statement, but the mere existence of a mission statement is no assurance that your business will prosper or that your customers will benefit. A truly successful mission statement must be customer centered and be embraced by all of your associates. It must become deeply embedded in your company’s culture. A successful mission statement will differentiate the spectacular from the mediocre.

For an example, examine Apple’s entry into the brick and mortar retailer store marketplace. Apple stores are located in upscale shopping areas and feature a professional, high-tech look and are amply staffed by highly trained associates that appear to genuinely enjoy what they do and interacting with their customers. Not focused on selling, Apple associates instead focus on building long-term relationships while helping to improve people’s lives.

Contrast this experience with Comcast/Xfinity. You have to love the newly branded Xfinity name. Their new retail stores are a vast improvement over their earlier stores, featuring the same upscale, high-tech look as Apple stores. But this is where the similarity ends, because their customer service is abysmal. If they do indeed have a company wide mission statement, they need to communicate it to their associates and encourage them to fully embrace it. They have emulated the Apple “look” but little else. They have chosen form instead of substance.
A well-thought out and carefully implemented mission statement can catapult your small business toward long-term success for both you and your customers. But a mission statement with no substance that is not embraced by your associates will ring hollow and result in a generic experience for you and your customers.

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Staying on Target in 2019

By Tom Irmen

Most self-employed individuals look forward to the day that they can retire. They look forward to waking daily by the sound of their home’s irrigation system rather than the alarm clock next to their bed.

But like managing your small business, retirement doesn’t just happen. A secure retirement is the result of careful planning, savings, and well-thought out investment strategy for the future. Done properly, it becomes a well-directed symphony. Done poorly, it may require a significant downsizing of your future retirement dreams.

One area of retirement planning that proves to be troublesome for many would-be retirees is just where to invest their retirement savings. Should you seek the advice of a trusted financial advisor, or should you go it alone? Do you have the time or expertise necessary to make your own investment decisions? What should your investment allocations be? How aggressive or conservative should you be? What is your risk tolerance? How much money will you require in retirement? Will you possibly outlive your retirement savings?

If you haven’t already begun saving for retirement, the time to start is today, regardless of your age. Later on you will likely regret each year that you postponed planning for your retirement.

Here’s an easy way to begin. Determine how much money you wish to allocate monthly to your retirement savings and then open up a brokerage account with a reputable investment company like Vanguard or Charles Schwab. Both companies offer Target Retirement Accounts. These are convenient, low-cost investment accounts that are professionally managed by experienced advisors that will allocate your retirement savings into a variety of investment options based on your personal target retirement date. Your investments are periodically rebalanced to reflect existing and anticipated market conditions, as well as your risk tolerance, which typically becomes more conservative as you near retirement. What could be easier?

These target retirement accounts are a great place to start, but keep in mind that there are many more moving parts to a comprehensive retirement plan that only a trusted Certified Financial Planner™ can help you plan for. You’ve worked hard for your retirement dreams. Make your retirement dollars work hard for you.

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