Women In Business Q&A: Hannah Paramore, President, Paramore

Hannah Paramore

Hannah is an entrepreneur, international speaker, digital marketing expert, and the President of Paramore | the digital agency in Nashville, Tennessee, a $6 million, 15-year-old company of about 25 people.

Paramore works with a variety of organizations throughout the country including a stronghold in tourism in Tennessee, Florida, Georgia, New Jersey, Washington, Virginia and West Virginia. Paramore's clients include Vanderbilt University Medical Center, Vanderbilt Owen Graduate School, The United Methodist Church, The Britt Hunt Company, CapStar Bank, Lipscomb University, Trevecca Nazarene University, Meharry Medical College, the US Soybean Board, Missouri Agri Tourism, Verdesian Life Sciences and Cracker Barrel Old Country Store. Paramore is a strategic partner of Osborn + Barr, the leading agency in the US focused on agriculture.

Paramore | the digital agency is an active member of the Southeast Tourism Society and US Travel Association, the US Global Leadership Council, the International Council of Museums, a member of the Nashville Future 50 Hall of Fame and on the Honor Roll for the Inc 5000, having made the list for 5 straight years.

Hannah has been featured numerous times in national press including Fast Company, Business Insider, Inc. Magazine and The New York Times.

Hannah serves on the advisory board for the Synovus, The Bank of Nashville, The YWCA of Nashville and Middle Tennessee, Fisk University School of Business, Downtown Partnership and is the new chair of the Nashville Chamber's Public Engagement task for on Transit. Hannah's passions include golf, travel, the YWCA, The Frist Center for the Visual Arts, and more golf.

How has your life experience made you the leader you are today?
I was raised in a very conventional family. My father was a preacher and my mother was a housewife so we spent a lot of time in church. We were a serious family. I studied classical piano for 15 years even through college. My parents were busy and we were expected to do right and perform better than most no matter what. Their standards were very high. Still, I didn't have great aspirations beyond playing the piano. I was the responsible child in my family, the peacemaker

But I was a single mom very early and I was responsible for my children, and myself so I was highly motivated to succeed. For me, success meant independence.

How has your previous employment experience aided your tenure at Paramore?
I worked in dot com startups in the late 90's and through the downturn in 2001, some more successful than others. The downturn was painful for the whole industry but particularly for those who didn't live in a major market. The jobs that were left here were often under-funded or under-supported by the corporate office and didn't provide the team environment that I craved. Companies trying to make it through that time often promised more than they could deliver which was frustrating for me since I was always on the marketing and biz-dev side. National companies who had reached into second-tier cities to try to broaden their footprint just couldn't make it. After losing 4 jobs in 2 years I decided I was safer on my own. That was in March 2002.

You learn a lot about how to run a business by working for a start-up. The team environment and excitement of doing something new is wonderful. Everything feels like success when the industry is brand new. Then when you work for one that doesn't make it you learn the other side. You learn how to end respectfully and honestly. You take the good and the bad and learn how to move on.

The big lesson from that time is that relationships are the most important part of business. In fact, for the first 5 years of the company, every Paramore client came from somebody I had met at those 4 jobs I had lost in 2 years.

Relationships in the business community are what sustain you through lean times. Having a banker who knows your business and other business owners who can provide insight and advice is extremely important.

From a personal standpoint, I've been a 'leader' all of my life. My personality profile says that I'm inspirational. My sister might say that I'm bossy. But the truth is that I've always been willing to take on a lot of responsibility. That helps when you decide to start a business.

What have the highlights and challenges been during your tenure at Paramore?
There are a lot of highlights and challenges when you start a business by yourself. Landing big accounts, making a profit, seeing team members grow in their jobs are all fulfilling. I love it when we make it through a tough patch with a client but retain the relationship. Now I am enjoying the transfer of leadership to the senior executive team which gives me a different perspective on the business.

The challenges have always been around loss. Losing a client, losing a valuable piece of business, losing your profit margin. That is tough to take when you are an independent business owner. You ride the highs and lows of the business almost every day.

The rising cost of business is challenging to me at this point. Senior staff need and deserve higher pay, but client budgets don't always keep pace with that. When you are a small business and you lose a major client, there's not usually another one waiting in the wings to take its place. That creates a frantic workplace and sometimes means that tough decisions have to be made. It's challenging to take a longer-term view while having to survive in the short-term too.

What advice would you offer to women who want a career in your industry?
My advice isn't any different from what I'd give any woman or man who wants a job in any industry. Work hard. Be honest. Put people first. Do something you love.

What is the most important lesson you've learned in your career to date?
I've learned that expertise doesn't always increase and business doesn't always grow. Learning to deal with both of those realities and retain a positive, healthy environment has been a huge lesson.

How do you maintain a work/life balance?
I have a great marriage and the greatest of all hobbies, golf. As a business owner, you need a hobby that requires concentration, costs a lot of money and requires a lot of time. You need something to look forward to, to work for, besides just the business. People will disappoint you, but that golf ball is always there.

What do you think is the biggest issue for women in the workplace?
Balancing the needs of family and a career.

How has mentorship made a difference in your professional and personal life?
I've had great mentors through the years who take time to coach me through the big questions. They fill me with confidence and tell me I can do it. They take my call, meet me for lunch, listen. They provide a perspective that I don't have and encourage me to keep going.

Which female leaders do you admire and why?
The female leaders I have the most respect for aren't people on a national stage. Rather, it's Gail Lavely, a 97-year-old retired nurse who was the first employee at Vanderbilt's Division of Infectious Disease in the 80's. She traveled the state educating people on how to deal with AIDs when we didn't even have a name for it. She had a wonderful marriage and still goes to jazz every Sunday night. She has a zest for life even 25 years after her husband's death.

And Byrd Helguera, about 88 years old, the former medical librarian at Vanderbilt who lost her daughter to AIDs in the 80's and then traveled with Gail on those educational jaunts and who can name that jazz tune in 3 notes.

And Billie Stuck, who spent too much time in the sun as a youngster and battles skin cancer because of that, but who still, also at 97 years old, kicks it up at jazz weekly.

These women are leaders and models to me.