We Create Birmingham: Alisha Ruffin Brown

"There are a lot of achievers and brilliant minds in Bessemer. Because of lack of support and misrepresentation in the media, we have the idea that we will boom in different cities, so we go to different places. It didn't make sense to live here and transplant my business somewhere else. There's nothing wrong with branching out, but I don't want to be a stranger in my hometown. I want to claim where I'm from."

Interview: Viola Ratcliffe
Photos: Ambre Amari

Hi Alisha! It is so wonderful speaking with you this morning! You describe yourself as a serial entrepreneur. What drives you, and how did you get your start?

First, let me say that I’m super humbled and honored that someone cares enough to interview me and ask. How I got my start? I would say that it started in middle school. Everyone wanted to buy snacks from the teacher’s lounge, but no one could get in. My grandmother would go to the store and buy snacks for me, and I started selling them. I discovered that I had the gift of gab, and I even stopped eating lunch to sell my drinks and snacks to classmates. I always wanted my own money. My parents were giving, but I didn’t like to ask.

What drives me? That has changed over the years. My number one drive has been being able to take care of myself. I also wanted to be able to provide for others without putting myself in a bind. Leaving a legacy for my kids is also important to me.

You currently own and operate several businesses, including ARB Enterprises and Balanced Boss Woman. What inspired you to start these businesses?

I’ll be honest. I got fired. I’d been fired once before, and I’d also been put in situations where I was given the choice to resign. In 2022, I was wrongfully terminated; however, I was already dabbling in entrepreneurship, and thatstarted seriously in 2015. I also got serious about prayer, not just hoping and wishing but dedicated prayer. When I got fired in 2022, it was freedom. Do or die, what do I have to lose? I needed to bet on myself. In 2015, I had a haircare line, and then, in the fall of 2022, I worked with a nonprofit that needed a personal assistant. That experience led to the start of ARB Enterprise Consulting. I wanted to work with this nonprofit as a contract employee so that I could provide consulting services under my own LLC. It worked out that I had already reserved a name and EIN for this business, one that God told me to create a year and a half prior. So, when that opportunity arose, I was ready.

You were born in Texas and raised in Bessemer and Lipscomb, AL, and your businesses are based in Bessemer. Why was it important for you to be an entrepreneur here?

My desire for health & wellness and passion for the people around me made it important. I saw the greatest need in Bessemer, and I want to help Bessemer see what they need. Bessemer is the underdog. There are a lot of achievers and brilliant minds in Bessemer. Because of lack of support and misrepresentation in the media, we have the idea that we will boom in different cities, so we go to different places. It didn’t make sense to live here and transplant my business somewhere else. There’s nothing wrong with branching out, but I don’t want to be a stranger in my hometown. I want to claim where I’m from.

So tell me about your collaboration with Solcial Veg and ShaeJae’s Wellness?

The Social Veg collaboration started with the owner of Grade A Cafe and Lounge. Fatimah connected me with Eric Kennedy and wanted to initiate a wellness collective at the building. We’ve had to put a pin in this initiative at the moment. All of us at one point were housed at Grade A, but we have branched out. Shae is no longer there but is still doing great work in the community. Grade A is also a commissary kitchen and is home to many local businesses in the area. We are restructuring, and Eric has given us the freedom to do that in a different way. We are looking at the fall to reintroduce the wellness collective.

What led you all to create the wellness collective?

A lot of us are tapping into the fact that Bessemer can be considered a food desert and lacks variety in shopping options because so many businesses have left the area. I think what some of us newer entrepreneurs struggle with isfinancing and how to properly structure our business. A lot of women entrepreneurs are very passionate but have to provide stability for themselves and their home in order for their business to grow. We’re living and working here, and we’ve realized the lack of options for ourselves and our families. We just want to contribute our part. We are passionate about our businesses; we see the people and have heard the reviews of the individual products that people enjoy from us. We wanted to come together in a way that not only brought us more business but made it easier for our customers to find us. Other businesswomen and entrepreneurial women who come into Bessemer also see the same need, and that’s great. When you see that there are five to six fast food restaurants and none of them are traditionally healthy, you know, finding affordable fruits and vegetables can be a challenge. We have a large elderly community, some of which may not be mobile or able to drive. So we’re looking for ways to solve a problem.

Thank you for answering that question. I really want the readers to understand the things that are happening in Bessemer, not just surface level, but what people are actually doing and engaged in. I also want to talk more about what you are into now in terms of consulting, website development, and the connections that you are making politically and among other entrepreneurs.

I must start and talk about the impact that Create has had here in really bringing attention to entrepreneurs in a big way. I was passionate about starting my business in Bessemer, but I didn’t really have a direction or a way to find other entrepreneurs in the city before Create Birmingham came here. I was familiar with CO.STARTERS and your work in Birmingham, and I was ecstatic that these opportunities would be available in Bessemer. You all have provided me with the opportunity to network with other people in the city that I didn’t know were here. Bessemer has a unique ecosystem, itcan take a minute to implant yourself in that ecosystem to understand how it works. I hope to shake things up a littlebecause it shouldn’t be hard for us to serve our community. It shouldn’t be hard for us to network with other entrepreneurs.That should be the goal. I’m not down for gatekeeping. Even if I have to do some hard work on my end, I’m ok with that.

So ARB Enterprise, is really just my name, Alisha Ruffin Brown. To be honest, I had something else in mind when I started it, and I wanted it to be an umbrella company for my other ventures Purely Elevated Health & Wellness, and N2N Logistics. At the time I was already thinking big, even when I didn’t have a lot. When I was asked to work with the nonprofit, I knew I wanted to be paid as a consultant, not take on the role of an employee. I knew that if this was going to be my pathway into entrepreneurship, that I wanted to start off on the right foot. My contract with them lasted through May of 2023, and once that contract ended, I needed to figure out what was next for me. I’d already started building websites and had built my own website for ARB Enterprises. I had done some market research and understood what types of services a consultant needed to be able to offer. I started updating the websites for my other businesses as well, including my personal brand, Balanced Boss Woman, which caterers toward mom entrepreneurs. I describe myself as a Kingdom entrepreneur. What I mean by that is I am a Christian, and I believe that God gave me the vision for the businesses that I have. My moniker is that these aren’t my businesses, these are God’s businesses. I’m the COO (Chief Operating Officer), and He’s the CEO.

You are also a mother to two beautiful young children. How do you balance motherhood with being a business owner?

Grace is the one word that I can think of in all of this and one that I truly had to learn.  I’ve had to learn to give myself grace through all of this, and I’ve had to give my children grace. It’s their first time being a child, and it’s my first time being a parent, so we’re all new to this. I apologize to them. A lot. For when I am not present– or when I am physically present but not present for them. I apologize when I react out of anger. I talk to them, I let them see what I’m doing. I used to think I needed to shield them from this or that they needed to go play. And sometimes they still need to goplay, but I really try to be intentional about making sure they know how much I love them. I network with other moms who have more successful businesses than I do. And I’m always looking for tips on how they do it. One of the biggest lessons that I’ve gotten is that nothing is ever going to be done. My house may be a wreck, but downstairs is clean. I focus on areas, and I want to make sure that there is one area where we can always find peace. The dishes are washed, thekitchen is clean, and the living room is clean, but Mommy’s office is a madhouse. It won’t all get done. That’s what I would tell any entrepreneur mom… grace. You’re new at this, and they are new at this. I saw a quote on Instagram that stuck with me, “We are our children’s inner voice.” And that got me because I was doing a lot of yelling, and I didn’t want to be a yelling mom. I asked them how yelling made them feel, and they said, “Not good.” Kids will really teach you something when they start repeating you. The best way to change their behavior is to change how I respond to it. I am a lot more patient with them, and it’s working. I had to reinforce that.

That is so important to remember because it is so hard to give yourself grace, and I’ve even had to realize that I need to try to be a more patient parent.

So you know the thing about it is it’s important especially for moms to realize that there are some inner child things that we had to heal. It is us, it’s not them. I can’t put my issues on them. My issues are not their issues. Sometimes I ask them to give me a minute, and I’ll tell them that Mommy needs a minute. Or hey, let’s have a silent ride. Mommy needs a chance to think. They understand that. And now, even my son will say, “Mom, I want to give you a hug.” We’ve come home and had movie nights. Totally rearranged the living room, and whatever else I had to do, I had to scrap it. So that’s what I would say to moms: listen to yourself. There is nobody’s standard that you have to uphold, and if there’ssomebody in your life who’s causing you to live up to a standard, reevaluate that relationship. I don’t have anything but entrepreneurial or career moms around me, and we all understand each other. I don’t have friendships that press me to be somewhere. My friendships are able to grow and evolve, and we encourage each other. And I’m intentional about surrounding myself with those types of people.

Yes, intentionality is key. I also want to talk about CO.STARTERS because we are so excited that you are facilitating our Bessemer cohort. I would love to hear from you about what makes the Bessemer cohort unique and whyyour experience has been like as a facilitator?

My experience as a facilitator has been awesome. I grew a lot. What I appreciate about Create and CO.STARTERS is that they are very supportive. It’s a very wash, rinse, and repeat type of program, so you get familiar with it, you get familiar with the flow, and the consistency helps with people coming in who may not know what to expect. And that’s unique to the Bessemer area because people don’t traditionally cater cohorts to Bessemer. There are a lot of cohorts that go on in the city of Birmingham, but they are not extended to us. For those of us that are parents, caregivers, or full-time and part-time employed, it’s not feasible all the time to travel to Birmingham for these types of programs. I like that the Create allows the cohort to establish its own culture. As participants, we are able to set the standard for what the culture is like in class. And I hope that as a facilitator, I allow the cohort to do the same thing. Even though the CO.STARTERS curriculum was pretty heavy, because my first round at facilitating was with a smaller group, it helped me learn the flow of things. I’ve followed up with a few people, and people are doing well. I think they’ve gained a lot of value and learned a lot of information from the program. For the graduates that I talked to, it kind of reinforced their passion and belief that they could do this.

I’m so glad to hear that!

I went to school for social work, so the social worker in me wants to advocate more for resources for businesses in Bessemer, and honestly, the way that the business licensing works in the state of Alabama. You can go to other states, and once you are licensed for the state, you don’t have to pay for every jurisdiction and county. This affects small business owners. It doesn’t make sense; as close as Bessemer and Birmingham are in proximity, you should be licensed for a five-county radius, at least, if not the entire state, depending on your business. So that’s definitely something that I’ve got up my sleeve, to figure out how that can be lobbied for. This is one of the reasons that I am very passionate about facilitating. A lot of times, business owners don’t know what they’re getting into until they are in it. And once you’re in it, and you’ve created an LLC, and you’re licensed, and you’re starting to operate, and then you show up somewhere, and someone says that you need to pay state tax or city tax, or you need a peddlers license. So, I want to really work on a policy that is more uniform for a greater area.

I’ve also gotten bitten by the campaign bug. I’ve designed some of the election signs that you’ve probably seen around the city, and I’m really excited about that. I’ve also designed some election cards and mailers.

That is fantastic to know. I love what you’re doing to support local election campaigns.

I really want to be more involved in getting out the vote. I was a partner at an event with the Dannon Project called Party with the Candidates, where candidates were able to speak about their platforms, and members of the community were able to ask questions about what the candidate’s offices actually did. I am really, really excited that I was able to take part in that. I design a newspaper for Brother William Muhammad, called Urban Community News, and they post a lot of information about upcoming elections, things that are going on with the city, ect. It’s my goal to be more diligent about using ARB’s social media to share information about things that are happening in our community that people may not know about because there is so much that I didn’t know about until I got involved.

What advice would you give to other entrepreneurs out there or aspiring entrepreneurs?

Don’t do it for the money. Do it because it is something that you are willing to invest your time in. You can always get more money; you can never get more time. Find something that you love to do, that you would do if you didn’tget paid. The things that I do, I love to do. I love helping business owners, and I love coordinating events.  Everything I do for other businesses, I do for myself. When you can stand behind your work, it keeps you motivated. You’re not always going to be motivated; some days you don’t want to get out of bed, and some days you take a loss. My kids can’t be my motivation, it has to be an internal reason. I WOKE up this morning excited, I was excited to see the day come. It’s a privilege to do what I love. I’m living my dream life.

Do you have any projects in the works that you can tell us about?

I’m currently working on upgrading and redoing website for ARB Enterprise Consulting, and building automations so that I can automate things for entrepreneurs. I’m will be more visible with my brand, and be more vocal. Collaborate and build good partnerships. I’m also an ambassador for the Bessemer Chamber of Commerce!

That’s incredible, congrats! You’ll be amazing in that role. So how can we find and follow you?

You can find me at www.arbenterpriseco.com and www.balancedbosswoman.com.

I’m also on Facebook at Balanced Boss Woman, Alisha Ruffin Brown, and ARB Enterprise Consulting. And on Instagram @arbconsulting.co