By Alison Faulk
I caught up with a couple of Mississippi women who are running successful businesses in 2021. This is no small feat, being on the tail end of Covid-19 challenges that affected business across the entire country.
Jennifer Riley Collins
J Riley Collins Consulting, LLC.
When I spoke with Jennifer Riley Collins, she was leaving a rally intended to encourage citizens to get out and vote the following Tuesday in the local elections. She said, in her eyes, local elections are the most important, as they are where the “rubber meets the literal roads voters drive on.”
The Mississippi native ran for Mississippi Attorney General herself in 2019 and served her country in the US Army, in both active and reserve statuses for 32 years before retiring. She was the executive director of Mississippi American Civil Liberties Union for almost seven years prior to running for office.
While Riley Collins was living in the Fort Hood, Texas, community of Killeen, she transitioned from active duty. As a mother herself, the entrepreneur knew the vital importance of having quality childcare in the military community. Therefore, she purchased a property and opened what quickly became a very successful child development center. Riley Collins attributes much of the success to her innate ability to quickly grasp an understanding of regulations that allowed her to apply for governmental and philanthropic grants and implement changes that increased her capacity to provide quality educational programs, safe playground equipment, and provide nutritional meals.
Having done so for her own development center, she realized many of her colleagues didn’t know how to utilize these resources and she soon began to guide them to do the same as she had done. “I found most people don’t know what it takes to comply with the government requirements of the grants,” she said. “In a capitalistic society, one would not generally help a competitor but call me odd. I think helping others do well helps all of us do well.
Back in Mississippi, she has shared her expertise with a number of entrepreneurs and organizations to help them get started or on track. After five years of doing this informally, she decided to turn it into her official business in January of this year. “I have found that people, especially in the nonprofit arena, have a passion to impact something but they don’t know what it takes to start or run a business well,” she said. “What I want to do is help good folk do good work.”
Her firm is off to a great start so far. She has worked with established non-profits, government entities, an emerging nonprofit and for-profit businesses. Having met her financial goal for the year within the first six months, she is extremely grateful and pleased with her decision to open her solo consulting firm.
“I believe in living my values. I’ve been involved in organizations where I didn’t necessarily think our goals aligned, and I can say that one thing I have learned in 30 years as a professional is that if you can live your values and make a living, that is what you should do,” Riley Collins advised.
She said setting up a business in Mississippi is quite easy. The Secretary of State website has a lot of great resources for anyone wanting to set up on their own, including application for incorporation or LLC. “It’s not hard, but some may find it challenging if you’ve never done it before.”
For anyone seeking her services to get started in business, she begins by interviewing her potential clients to understand what they are trying to achieve in business and then customizes her approach to best support that individual client.
“I’ve run businesses before, and I am knowledgeable about business formation, such as setting up different entities and operational planning to include policy and protocol development to ensure legal compliance,” she said. “I can take all my clients’ information and file for them to take that burden off of them.”
If you’re thinking about starting your own business, she suggests putting pen to paper and write out a good old fashioned business plan. She recommends including:
- What are you trying to accomplish?
- What is the market like?
- What obstacles might you encounter?
- What charitable purpose are you trying to fulfill? (if setting up a non-profit)
Riley Collins is certified by Mississippi Alliance of Nonprofits and Philanthropy as an Excellence in Action trainer. If working with the Alliance, she uses their core curriculum. However, when providing training through her own business, she utilizes her own material and takes her own approach. Although you will get a sample of this if you use her for any consulting service, she pours this knowledge into her CORE Coaching and Executive Development program.
She has found that people usually know what they need when they come to her, and she provides competency and clarity around that though her CORE program. Her goal is for people to leave the training with a feeling of empowerment without being overwhelmed by all the information.
In addition to business coaching and business formation, she offers customized strategic planning for profit and nonprofit organizations. Overall, her goal for her business is to make sure business owners are equipped with the tools to be their self and best company. You can find more information about her services at jrileycollinsconsulting.com.
Lynette M. Suttlar
1Star Realty LLC
Lynette M. Suttlar’s effervescent personality was apparent from the moment she first spoke. A self-professed entrepreneur at heart, she said she is open to opportunities and has delved into several business ventures for the last 16 years.
Like Riley Collins, Suttlar is also a US Army and Army Reserves veteran—in fact the two served together and deployed overseas together in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom. Suttlar worked in the federal government space following her military retirement, but she really wanted something with flexible hours and that allowed her time to volunteer in her community.
It wasn’t long after being approached about real estate in the early 2000’s that she got her salesperson’s license and fell in love with the real estate industry. A couple of years later she obtained her brokerage license and ventured out even more, still loving every minute.
Around 2008, when the market dropped, she went back to work in the federal government space but kept working real estate part time. Over the years, she got involved in other business ventures, including a bookkeeping business, janitorial supply company and others.
Suttlar eventually came full circle back to real estate two years ago and opened her Ridgeland-based agency, 1Star Realty LLC. Out of all the things she has started and tried, she said real estate is the one that is near and dear to her heart. Even though she partners with other businesses, she currently focuses about 90 percent of her time on real estate.
Her desired business model entails creating a lifestyle where she can give back to the community and those less fortunate. “I get fulfillment from being involved in community,” she said.
Some of the organizations where she has served on a variety of committees includes:
- Ridgeland Chamber of Commerce (serves as a Diplomat)
- Women for Progress of Mississippi
- Make a Wish Foundation of Mississippi
- Alzheimer’s Association
Promoting others in business is another passion of Suttlar’s, and she wants everyone to succeed in their ventures. She plans to start a platform on her social media for other entrepreneurs to promote their businesses via live videos.
Suttlar recommended networking and partnership to anyone who is getting started in business. “Don’t just pass out your card. You have to build relationships with people,” she said, adding that she believes building relationships is a big component of what people miss. “Don’t just go in and sell. You have to see how you can serve.”
“I meet people who might not need real estate right now, but I still build a relationship with them over the years,” she continued. “People do business with people they like and trust. It doesn’t matter what you’re selling. They will call me when they do need a realtor. Plus, they have other needs and I might be able to connect them to someone I know who can help them.”
The biggest challenge she’s seen in setting up a business in Mississippi is that people throughout the state can be slow to change when something new is offered, but if you are building relationships and offer a solution to a problem, that is where they will see the value that you offer.
Suttlar works on personal development—mind, body and spirit—every day in order to be her best and give her best to her clients and colleagues. To learn more about Suttlar and her agency where “service counts,” visit 1starrealty.com.
For anyone on the fence about starting a business, Suttlar encourages them to let go of the feeling that you have to have a job working for someone else in order to pay the bills. “Many ladies, in particular, have the same story,” she said. “They feel stuck at a job, but women have it in them to use their creativity to build something substantial. Work for it and trust that things will fall into place when your season of working for someone else is over.”
She said she had to learn this herself when a friend told her it was her own fault to be sitting in a position when she had been called to do something higher! “You might be calling clients on the weekend to get started, but it can be done,” Suttlar said.
These women leave an inspiring legacy and encouragement to others who are considering their own business. Riley Collins’ business in particular is literally a resource to other entrepreneurs. If you’re looking to set up your business or want advice, she is poised to help you get started.