Do you ever talk about leaving your corporate job “one day” because there’s this hobby you want to make into your career / idea you want to bring to market? Have you been saying that for the past 10 years? The thought of taking your career in a direction of self-employment and can be an exciting one, though leaving your well-paid corporate gig to start your own business can be a daunting proposition.
It means not having a regular pay check and the very real possibility of burning through copious amounts of your saved-up cash before your business begins to generate an income – and then possibly even returning to the workforce after the business has failed.
The Start Of Chelsea Jackson’s Journey
It all started when Chelsea Jackson was looking for something to dedicate her life’s work to that gave her fulfillment while allowing her to build a solid financial foundation for a family of her own one day. Jackson knew that as a financial advisor in Corporate America she would always have limitations, so she decided to combine her passion for helping those in need with her love for good southern cuisine and create something that would also allow her to be financially secure.
From this, Jackson risked EVERYTHING: all of her life savings, her house, bonuses, and many of her possessions. She found a property in a rapidly growing town and that’s when Howard Station Bar + BBQ was born. Jackson found two like-minded and equally passionate people to partner with, and they started planning.
Jackson and the two rooted themselves in the mountain town of Boone, NC that is bustling with tourism, the growing student population at Appalachian State University, and the thriving environment of many small businesses and non-profits. Jackson is incredibly excited to partner with the many non-profits that feed those in need who live in the surrounding communities.
The goal with Howard Station is to ensure that unused food does not go to waste, but rather to help those less certain of where their next meal will come from. To do this, she needed the right property in which to build Howard Station. Of her years in finance, one of the most important lessons she has learned is to “work smarter, not harder” which can be translated to many different scenarios. For Jackson, it means making money work for her instead of spending all her time away from her family to work for money. Investing appropriately is one way to do this, and another is having multiple streams of income. Instead of purchasing the property through Howard Station, she created a real estate company (Lucarne, LLC) to purchase the first of what will eventually be many properties in the future.
Chelsea Jackson, what can you tell our readers about yourself?
In short, I’m a humbly raised Southern woman in my twenties who took my passion for helping people without many resources (much like my own family growing up) and turned that into a business I’m passionate about. The journey to get here involved me exploring a career in Corporate America, realizing that wasn’t for me, and risking everything to be my own boss and create a vision and culture that I can be proud of. I love it when I’m told “you can’t” or “that will never happen” because I love to prove the naysayers wrong and be able to show people that they CAN do something even if all the odds are against them. My real estate company Lucarne, LLC made its first purchase in 2018, and my restaurant Howard Station in Boone, NC is due to have its grand opening in 6-8 weeks.
I was raised very humbly on a farm in rural North Georgia by very hardworking people. My grandparents were very involved in my life and instilled in me a strong work ethic along with a passion for good food. I was the first person in my family to attend college, and I earned two degrees – English Literature and Spanish Language. Through my studies, I was able to travel the world and live abroad and begin my exposure to many different cultures and cuisines outside of my southern comfort food norm. The biggest thing that stood out to me from my family to the many different populations of people I interacted with in college and abroad, is that there are a lot of good people making sacrifices in their lives because they don’t have the resources or education to impact their socioeconomic situation. From this, my original goal to make a difference was to translate for people who need financial support.
I was hired in a customer service capacity at a large corporation in Raleigh, North Carolina and earned many financial professional licenses to help those who need to learn even the basics – how to budget, set up emergency savings, prioritize spending, etc. What I learned from working in Corporate America is that the goal of any for-profit organization is, of course, to make money. What that meant for me was that in order to progress in my career, I would not be able to spend the time necessary with those who don’t already have assets. While I believe everyone needs to have a plan regardless of the amount of wealth accumulated, I knew that I wanted to be somewhere to make a difference in peoples’ lives on even the most basic levels, which I believe can be the most impactful.
Both of your companies are very different, how so?
Lucarne, LLC owns the real estate that Howard Station operates out of. While I own both companies, Lucarne gives me the ability to branch out into various types of real estate in the future. On the other hand, Howard Station is very industry specific – it is a restaurant and bar that will frequently partner with local non-profits, and also does event catering. This is my main focus as a start-up, but once it is running like a well-oiled machine in a few years I will be able to expand my real estate holdings through Lucarne that aren’t necessarily rented out to a single industry.
You left Corporate America to be your own boss. What are the cons and pros of working in Corporate America?
Working for an established corporation comes with its perks – you have security and consistency in your salary, paid vacations, health and retirement benefits, tons of feedback for professional growth, and the opportunity to be surrounded by people with different perspectives working toward the same goal. These companies will also be well equipped to provide training programs for newly hired or promoted employees, which is fantastic. While that is a great fit for some people, the negative aspects include working toward someone else’s vision that you may or may not necessarily agree with and working alongside those who lack passion and a strong work ethic.
It is difficult to do your job while navigating around people who truly do not care about the work they do. Being my own boss put me in control of directing the company’s vision and surrounding myself with those who want to work hard. As an entrepreneur, you don’t always have someone around to give you feedback. You find yourself questioning everything you do to assess what you’re doing well and what opportunities exist, and I’d say this is what I miss most frequently about Corporate America.
What sacrifices have you had to make during life to become an entrepreneur?
Some of the biggest sacrifices I have made include selling my home, investing my life savings, and changing the way I live daily. Every penny saved makes a huge difference when you are starting your company from the ground up! I’ve sold most of my furniture and possessions, and fit what was left into the 250 sq ft space I live in. When you believe in something so strongly and remain driven, the sacrifices aren’t a daily focus. Some days when I miss going out with my friends or travelling to visit my family, I have to remind myself that these sacrifices are going to be worth it and that the “start-up life” is temporary.
What 5 steps would you advise and give our ladies who are working towards becoming an entrepreneur?
1. Clearly define your vision/goal, including why it’s necessary and what impact it will make, and why it’s important to YOU.
2. Make a thorough business plan. Include financials, market research, timeframes, and an exit strategy for the worst-case-scenario.
3. Do not take NO for an answer! People will tell you “no” and that’s normal, but there is always a way to get what you need if you work hard enough and think outside the box.
4. Network. The more people you know, the better connections you have in the industry you want to be in as well as the geographic area. Some of the most impactful connections on my business have been outside the restaurant and real estate industry.
5. Ladies, get so good at staying on your toes that you can be mistaken for a ballerina (figuratively, at least). Your days are not structured and can change on a dime, so being flexible while maintaining good time management is key. Also, stay on your toes when talking to other people. You may not always know what to say, but practice thinking quickly and responding off the cuff. Strong communication skills command respect, but what I’ve learned is that it is even more important for us women. You will run into people who don’t take you seriously because of your gender, sex or age. Remember that is no reflection on you and learn how to respond appropriately.
How do you improve your financial knowledge?
As an entrepreneur you will not have a retirement plan provided to you in the same way as if you work for a large company with plenty of resources, so knowing how to plan financially for yourself is crucial. The best way to improve your financial knowledge is to find your preferred method to receive information – via podcast, reading, talking with someone, watching videos, etc. The other important factor is starting with information that meets you where you are at. I didn’t start with reading about investing in the market, I started with how to budget and went from there. The key is making time for it, finding a source that excites you and that you trust, and prioritizing what you should learn first. A good place to start is budgeting and emergency saving, then learn about long term savings.
Do you believe in destiny or do you think you can control your fate?
I believe that you can control your own fate to a realistic extent. We ALWAYS have the power to change our circumstances; however, it takes a great deal of introspection to learn what it is you are good at and marry that with your passion. Drive and grit play a huge factor in this as well. If you give up easily or accept the falsity that bad things happen to me and that’s just the way it is, you will be destined to stay in your same circumstance because you didn’t take control and work to make a change.
I personally was a poor kid from an uneducated family, I lacked confidence and self-esteem, and I was an incredibly terrible communicator. I am the farthest from perfect, believe me, but if I had settled for that version of myself and not deliberately worked on my personal growth, my life would be much different than it is today. Your past does not dictate your future unless you allow it.
How do you think modern women can be fulfilled in their lives?
Modern women can be fulfilled in their lives by not placing a timeframe on their lives or accomplishments. There is no rule that you should be at a certain point in your life at a specific age, and your life is not supposed to mirror anyone else’s journey. If we as women can pursue our goals without that added pressure we put on ourselves, not only will we find fulfillment in our individual paths but we also shift the constructed societal belief that continues to put a schedule on our lives.
What is the one piece of advice that has impacted you the most?
I would have to say there are two pieces of advice that I reflect on daily and have had the most profound impact on my life, both professionally and personally. The first is to take time to know myself. I’ve been told before when asked this question that my answer is “hokey” or “too new-age” but for me, it has been the most powerful key to my continued growth. I have spent time in silence just acknowledging my thoughts without judgement, I’ve journaled, and I’ve shared with others inside and outside of a professional setting.
I have learned more about why I am the way I am, gained tools to deal with challenges, learned how to construct appropriate guard walls to protect myself and ultimately found that knowing myself better allows me to relate to others with a kinder and more open approach. The second but equally impactful piece of advice is to define your own measurements of success – do not allow other’s definitions of success define how well you are doing. Learn to measure small steps in your journey as well, not just the big milestones.
What are your current areas of focus?
Howard Station is near opening, our construction should be completed in 6-8 weeks. In the meantime, I’ve been finalizing the menu, begun team building with my newly hired staff, working on my liquor license, and doing local events to begin creating familiarity with our brand and building excitement for our opening. While that is just a fraction of the work on my plate, what I am most excited about is the training we are putting our staff through. We have just completed a sexual assault awareness training, facilitated by local non-profit Oasis, that taught our staff how to identify and respond to assault in a nightlife setting and aided in structuring our policies.
I’ve also put a lot of thought into carefully crafting the daily role training program in a way that teaches the applicable skills while simultaneously creating the culture that fosters hard work in an enjoyable way. I’ve begun to discuss with each staff member what they feel their under-utilized talents/skills are and find a way to incorporate that into their daily responsibilities and also find ways to keep them engaged to impact the usual attrition rate you see in the restaurant industry. I’m excited to measure how that impacts the retention numbers in our restaurant contrasted to local competitors and industry averages. If we are financially successful, partner effectively with local non-profits to put our excess to good use, and if our employees enjoy working at Howard Station then I believe I’ll have found the proudest moment of my career. Then it will be time to switch my focus to Lucarne and acquire some exciting properties to expand my portfolio.