Business success begins with a blueprint

Here’s a new kind of New Year’s Resolution to consider for the coming year. Why not mark the start of 2017 by starting to formulate a plan for going into business for yourself?

No doubt, timing is key for launching any profit-seeking venture. Getting off on the wrong foot when you’re getting off the ground can greatly extend the time it takes to hit your stride, or even prevent it altogether.

But it’s never too early to start planning, even if you know you’re nowhere near ready to launch an enterprise.

“The more homework you can do, the more research you can do to find out about the industry and the markets you’re heading into, then the more successful you will be,” advises Jen Dangelo, director of the Tennessee Small Business Development Center in Cookeville.

Gathering information and organizing intel with respect to business development and potential markets is guaranteed to enhance your startup’s strength when you finally do take the entrepreneurial plunge.

“We prefer people come to us when they are in those beginning stages, so that we can help point them in the right direction,” said Dangelo. Her office, which is affiliated with Tennessee Tech University, offers free counseling and seminars to small businesses in all stages of development and operation.

“It takes a lot of time and thought to do a good business plan, which should be a full feasibility study on paper,” she said.

Is Starting a Business for You?

The reasons people give for going into business are diverse. Making your own schedule, making important decisions for yourself, making more exciting and rewarding use of your time and making more money — all are common explanations people offer for making the decision to strike out on their own.

All have merit, too — but with caveats, said Dangelo.

For example, thinking about going into business because “you don’t want to work for somebody else” is shortsighted and unrealistic, as novice entrepreneurs tend quickly to discover, she said.

“We have to remind people that, while they may not actually have a boss telling them what to do, there is the federal, state and local governments telling them what they can and can’t do,” she said.

And, of course, clients and customers always get their two cents worth in — or else they’ll take it, along with the rest of their spending money, somewhere else.

“At the end of the day, you’re the only one responsible when something goes wrong,” said Dangelo.

Interested in making big bucks in a big hurry?

“People are often surprised to discover that entrepreneurs usually don’t draw a salary from their business for at least the first six months to a year,” said Dangelo. She noted that it is helpful for one domestic partner to continue holding a fulltime job to augment family income in the lean startup phase.

And all that free time you’ll find when you start “setting your own hours”? Don’t count on it, said Dangelo.

“The amount of time it takes to run the business — it does tend to spill over and become a lot bigger job than most people realize,” she said. “It usually takes years to get to the point when you have employees under you to man-the-shop when you want a day off.”

Sometimes startup operators fail to size up the government’s bite that they’ll be on the hook to supply. “People who don’t anticipate how much they’re going to pay in taxes don’t price their products at a level that makes them money,” said Dangelo.

There, again, planning and anticipating well ahead of time is critical.

Talk to any successful entrepreneur and they’ll usually describe a host of things they’d have done differently were they awarded a do-over. But likely as not, many of those early-on difficulties could have been avoided, or at least mitigated, with better frontside planning.

“You want to do what it is that you love. But you want to make sure it makes you money at the end of the day,” said the John Woodard, who leads seminars for SBDC.

Think of it this way, said Woodard: “Business is a game, and money is how you keep score.”

SBDC introduction seminars are held on the second Tuesday of the month in the agency’s offices at the Regions Bank Building, 10 West Broad Street.

Northfield Vineyards specializes in linking people with fruit of the land

Sustaining a profitable farm-based business requires an ability to move with the times and think outside the box.

Realizing a rural property’s full value and working potential may mean using it to produce something new and unique. Or it may entail rediscovering something that’s been there all along.

For Mark Ray and his sister, Marty Luna, who own and operate Northfield Vineyards in White County, it was a good bit of both.

They’ve built their 30 acres of highland farmland, located a couple miles east of Burgess Falls, into a flourishing destination for visitors to come taste Tennessee country wines and sample some rural flavor and scenery away from the hum of population hubs.

In addition to their tasting-room and a Pick Tennessee store that’s open to the public daily, Northfield operates an event hall that caters to family-focused events like reunions, weddings, baby showers and birthday parties. It is also an ideal location for business conferences, organizational retreats or other kinds of group meet-ups in which the participants will appreciate pastoral charm and bucolic views.

Everything about Northfield says “country” – the surrounding hayfields, the rustic barns, the old tractors, wagons and vintage fuel pumps and especially the resident draft mules, Burt and Rube (short for Reuben), who serve as the winery’s readily identifiable mascots.


Mark Ray, Marty Luna and Belinda Elsberry of Northfield Vineyards serve up down-home hospitality at White County’s highland country winery.

Northfield is a great country escape both for tourists passing through or for local inhabitants looking to get out and enjoy some sweeping views while sipping an assortment of down-home vino flavors.

Northfield tends to specialize in fruit wines. “Sweet, but not syrupy,” is how Ray describes them.

“A lot of these country wines are the ones that get people out, because they like something different,” he said.

Especially popular is the mild and mellow rhubarb wine. “Everybody seems to like it,” said Ray.

Another crowd-pleaser is a cranberry wine that’s very popular around the holidays. “We sell the world of it this time of year,” he said. “People put mulling spices in it and warm it up. And you can mix ginger ale in it and it really makes a good spritzer.”

With the grape wines, Ray’s preference is to avoid going overboard on the oak tones. He doesn’t like it “when you can’t taste the grapes.”

Reuben’s Red, named after the mule, is more in the vein of a traditional hearty table wine. Ray noted that Burt doesn’t have a namesake wine yet. “But he will — we’ll do something for him later on,” he said.

But of all the wines Northfield bottles, the the biggest source of pride to Ray is the Mule Shoe Muscadine, which won a silver medal at the Wines of the South competition in Knoxville this year.

“Muscadine is a Southern thing,” he said. “We’re at the far northern end of muscadines range. You get up into Kentucky and they freeze out — and they even freeze out here sometimes if we get a real hard winter.”

It was especially gratifying, because muscadines were his first foray into winemaking years ago and resulted in a tub of undrinkably foul hooch. “That batch was awful. I poured it out, it was so bad,” Ray recalls. “But it got me interested.”

If you’d like to see for yourself just how far Ray’s handcrafted, award-winning Northfield wines have come after years of trial and error and tasting and tweaking, Northfield is open Monday through Saturday, 10am to 6pm, and Sunday, 1pm to 5pm. Look them up online at or Facebook, or give them a call at 931-761-9463.

Newly elected House GOP caucus chief in prime position to champion Upper Cumberland issues, potential

Congratulations, Cookeville. Your state representative in Nashville is arguably the most popular member of the 74-member House Republican supermajority.

He’s also now among the most powerful.

Just days after winning a landslide re-election bid on Nov. 8, incumbent state Rep. Ryan Williams won appointment to serve as chairman of the House GOP caucus for the next two years in the Tennessee General Assembly.

Williams earned selection to the position by beating Rep. Kevin Brooks of Cleveland in the intra-party caucus elections that Republicans held in Nashville on Nov. 17.

Williams won 47 votes to Brooks’ 23.

The job of majority-party caucus chairman in either the House or the Senate is among the most politically influential roles in the Legislature.

“In the last three weeks, I’ve met more with the governor one-on-one than I did in the previous four years,” Williams said in a phone interview on Dec. 1. “That’s just the difference it makes.”

Williams said his new assignment will likely benefit not just Putnam County, where his district is located, but the entire region. Having “a voice for the Upper Cumberland” involved in setting the state’s policy agenda will ensure that issues important to citizens of the plateau and Highland Rim won’t get overlooked, he said.

State Sen. Paul Bailey, a Republican from Sparta, said he’s very pleased a regional lawmaker has assumed such a high-ranking role. “It’s wonderful news for the Upper Cumberland,” he said.

Williams’ ascension to caucus chairman bodes particularly well for farmers and forestland owners and others who live and work outside urban population hubs, said Bailey. His Senate district includes Putnam, White, Cumberland, Jackson, Overton and Bledsoe Counties.

“Ryan is someone who can definitely speak up for the rural communities of Tennessee, and especially the Upper Cumberland,” said Bailey. “He knows our values and he appreciates the challenges that we face. He will be able to take that message to Nashville.”

During the caucus elections, GOP lawmakers also tapped members for other leadership posts, including a new majority leader and a nominee to serve as speaker of the House, which will again be Beth Harwell of Nashville.

Williams won more caucus votes than any other Republican seeking a House leadership slot.

He replaces Rep. Glen Casada of Franklin, who served as caucus chairman for eight of the last ten years. Casada this year sought and won the title of majority leader, beating out Rep. Mike Carter of Ooltewah, 42-29. That position was previously held by Gerald McCormick of Chattanooga, who didn’t seek it again this year.

Speaker Harwell turned away a challenge from Jimmy Matlock of Lenoir City, 40-30, thus ensuring her third term presiding over the House of Representatives.

In an interview with Center Hill Sun after the caucus votes, Casada described Williams as “the face of up-and-coming leadership in the Tennessee House of Representatives.”

“I am really excited about Ryan’s tenure in the leadership,” said Casada. “He will bring in fresh ideas, fresh legs and hard work to the job.”

Likewise, Speaker Harwell praised Williams as a capable legislator whom she expects will excel in his new capacity.

“Representative Williams will be an asset on the House Republican leadership team, and I look forward to continuing to work with him,” Harwell said in an emailed statement. “The next two years we will do all we can to ensure that Tennessee is the best place in the country to live, work, raise a family, and own and operate a business. Ryan has done a great job representing Putnam County and will continue to be a strong advocate for the entire Upper Cumberland region.”

Williams, who is married and has two children, also works as a salesman for J&S Construction Company in Cookeville. He was first elected to the Legislature in 2010. He’s also a past member of the Cookeville City Council and the city’s Planning Commission.