What was your first job?
My story starts at the very young age of 13. I started working at the local pawn shop sweeping the floors and keeping the showcases clean. I thought I was setting the world on fire at $1.70 per hour. I worked every day after school, usually 2 or 3 hours before they closed and all day every Saturday.
How long have you been an entrepreneur/business owner?
I went to summer and night school for two years and earned enough credits to graduate high school sophomore year. I decided to go for one hour my junior year to compete in DECA (Sales) and then continue my senior year so I could graduate with my peers. However, I only went to school twice my senior year: for registration and graduation.
Ten months later at the age of 18 I opened my first pawn shop, Aaron’s Jewelry & Loan Company. I am over 50, and I have not worked for anyone since I was 18 years old.
What exciting things are you working on now?
I’m the Founder of “View From The Top” a life and business coaching/consulting firm. I’m writing a book titled “An Eagle’s View” and I’m compiling an educational module with 6 lessons about how to live a successful and significant life. I’m the owner/facilitator of a men only mastermind group called “Iron Sharpens Iron” where men from around the globe participate weekly in a video conference setting.
How did you get started as a business owner?
When I was 17 years old, I approached two men that had a very large Insurance Agency in Nashville, Tennessee that had invested in diamonds with me for about a year. I proposed the idea of partnering with them to open our own pawn shop. After much consideration, all involved decided it was a great idea and we moved forward with starting our first of soon to be four pawn shops. This seems a bit unusual at such an early age I know, but I concluded that no one else was going to approach me with an idea, and if I was going to make something of myself I was going to have to take the initiative. It’s available for the taking if you are willing to go for it. The problem most of the time is people are afraid. I always say that I fear missing an opportunity more than I fear failure.
Did you struggle to believe you were capable?
When I was a child, my mom would always say, “Can’t couldn’t do it and could did it all.” Growing up under that mindset gave me a lot of self-confidence. There were many things I could not do and was not successful at, but it was only discovered through trying. I never had to wonder if I could do it or not, I knew because I tried it. Success is not determined by gaining more, success is decided in if you tried or not. Don’t let the public decide for you what success is, only you can decide that.
Did you feel fear as you started your business?
Absolutely I felt fear. I feel fear now as a 54-year-old man who has owned 8 successful businesses and if I open number 9 I will experience fear again. You may as well embrace fear, it’s not going away. Fear is a real emotion just like anger, love, envy and pride. Do you think it’s possible to never get angry again? It’s the same with fear. We have these emotions to keep us centered. We have fear to guide and direct us, to keep us from doing something really stupid. I want you to manage fear and keep it in perspective in a healthy way. Manage it like you do any of your other emotions.
Was fear a good or a bad thing?
Fear is good, and you had better pay attention to it. Manage fear. Don’t let it manage and ruin your life.
In your opinion, does owning your own business allow you to affect more people for good than a more conventional career?
Sure it does. With a conventional job, you are very limited in the decision process. While you may have limited control, being a business owner gives you total decision-making abilities. I can decide today what I do with 100% of my resources. I can craft any plan I chose and decide to affect many or none at all.
How are you working towards leaving a legacy through your business?
We are all leaving a legacy whether you are trying to or not. It’s just a matter of what your legacy will be. I’m very intentional about helping other men reach their goals and dreams. I help ordinary men become great. I empower and encourage men to do things they never dreamed possible. In assisting men to personally assess where they are at, decide what they want out of life and carry out daily steps to a productive life will leave an unprecedented legacy for me.
As you started your business, was there tension between your role as an employee and your role as a business owner?
Yes there was a huge tension, I was nervous and scared to death. I asked:
- What if it doesn’t work?
- What if I don’t make enough money?
- What if I fall flat on my face?
All these questions kept me awake at night. I wrestled with more ideas of why not to do it than I promoted ways to do it. I would get a sick feeling in my stomach and want to throw up. But here is the conclusion I came to. One way for sure, it’s not going to work 100% of the time is if I don’t try. This I knew for sure. I didn’t want to lay in bed at night and always wonder would it have worked? For this reason, I went for it.
How important is your relationship with your ex-employer now?
We went on to become business partners in later years after I sold out to a Fortune 500 company at the age of 27. I went back and bought half of his company, and we spent the next decade sharing the work week. If I had not left, this opportunity would have never availed itself. We can’t see the full picture at the time and that’s why being an entrepreneur is so exciting. I heard a great quote I love, “Fire the gun and ride the bullet.” I’ve been riding different bullets now eight different times.
What is your best time management habit?
I make every move count. I think through the day before it begins. I’m very intentional.
What do you wish someone had told you about time management when you were starting out?
To have much more focused blocks of time. Saying you can multi-task is a myth. If you want to get a lot done over a specified period, you need to focus your entire energy on that task.
I have written a document titled “Steps to a productive day”. This document walks you through the day step by step making sure you complete the vital tasks. I will give it away free to you. I really wish I’d had this at an earlier time in my career.
Did you borrow money to start your business?
I’m a huge believer in debt free but honestly I could not have started my business at such an early age without a loan. If I could do it over, I would do it the same way. It’s always better to not get a loan, and I’m not suggesting you put your family in harm’s way at all. I feel about loans the same way I do most everything, we need to use common sense. You need trusted advisors that are non-biased to present your business plan and get a general consensus. Be wise.
Would you recommend others do the same? Why, or why not?
I can’t put a blanket decision out there for everyone. Every tub sits on its own bottom. We would just need to evaluate your personal circumstances.
What is the best advice about money that you’ve ever received?
Money is a tool, use it like one. Don’t let it control you anymore than you allow other items to control you. Money is very important, but it’s not most important.
How important is friendship to your success?
Relationships are without question your number one resource. This asset is the most important by far to your success. I have spent and will continue to build valuable relationships very intentionally. I want to pour into others and help them be successful, and the natural reciprocity act happens. If you want to be successful in life be very intentional about building meaningful, long-term relationships. My #1 advice for success hands down.
How do you recommend others handle those critical of their dream of owning a business?
Don’t waste your time, it’s not their dream.
Where should aspiring entrepreneurs look to find others who will champion their dream?
Get into groups and around other Entrepreneurs. I never needed a cheer-leading squad. I’m sorry, but are you living their dream or are you living your dream? If it’s your dream, then muster up the desire to carry out a well thought out plan daily that will lead to success. If you are counting on the exhaustible resource called motivation, you will fail miserably. What you need is a plan.
Share a story about a decision you had to make “in the dark.” Perhaps it could be about starting your business, did that feel like a leap of faith? How did your faith (or lack of it) affect that decision?
These are two entirely different questions here. Concerning making a decision “in the dark” is crazy. Let me be the first to tell you, if you step into the traffic without looking both ways, you’re going to die. If you are leaping off tall buildings without adequate research, I hope you have an S on your chest. I don’t call that faith; I call that stupidity. I take a lot of risks but it’s calculated. I gather data, and I ask a lot of questions. And I might add that I ask questions to successful people in that arena. Your uncle Billy may not be your best resource. If you have a financial question, you don’t need to ask broke people for advice. If you want to know about small business, don’t ask a toll booth operator. You get the idea.
After you’ve done due diligence, does it take faith to make a decision?
It takes faith to make a decision. We can’t know anything for certain about anything. I place my faith in Christ and count on His leadership in my life and business decisions. I have faith and confidence that He wants best for me, and I trust the outcome to a divine supreme intervention. I’m glad that the final decision is not mine. Often I would trust my desire and not what’s best for me and my family. So, does it take faith to make a decision? Yes.
Do you believe in God? Is faith in God relevant to running a business?
100% Yes! God is my savior, redeemer, and guide. I rely on His leadership and guidance in all that I do. God is my moral compass, provider and the source for all things good. My first allegiance and priority is God. Above all relationships including my job, friends and family is God. This is the first place I go for all direction.
When did you most want to give up on your business? How did you persist through that time?
Business is not an emotional decision; it’s a very calculated intelligent decision based on metrics and data. If you want to get your clock cleaned, make it an emotional decision. I want to give up on a business when it no longer makes sense based on factual data. When you start letting your pride get in the way with your decisions prepare yourself for some government aid, you’re about to need it.
Is there ever a time it is good to quit? How do you know when to quit?
Yes. Listen to a general consensus of your trusted advisors. People who are experts in their respected fields.
What is one mistake many new business owners make? How can we avoid it?
They ask for the sale prematurely. There needs to be many conversations and consideration to meeting the needs of the client. Normally we try to sell what we have and not meeting the need of the client. If you want long-term clients, provide what they want. Under promise and over perform. Always give a little extra.
What has been your biggest business success?
This should not be measured by financial returns. My was when I was elected President of the Tennessee Pawnbrokers Association at the age of 25. Pretty cool when you’re 25 to represent the state. Oh yea, I retired at 27 also, can’t let that slip by. (LOL)
Is success a destination, or is it part of the journey?
I don’t look at success as a point. If you measure against others in any way, you will never be as successful as they are. A better question than are you successful is to ask yourself is your life making a difference? Are you content? I don’t mean complacent, I mean content. If you are making a positive impact on others and you have a sense of contentment, you are successful. Learn not to use $$$ as your measuring stick.