Editor Amy Walters at The Scout Guide Chattanooga launch party. Photography by Marlee Robinson.

The primary job of each TSG editor is to produce a guide that distinctively showcases small business owners in their communities. As is true of all new endeavors, the first go-around tends to be the most challenging, whether it’s launching a guide in a new market or taking the reins from a former editor in a previously scouted town. Doing new things is scary, but it’s also exhilarating, and that proved to be true for Amy Walters, the current editor/owner of The Scout Guide Chattanooga, Tennessee, who bought her TSG franchise in March of 2020, just as the world went into lockdown. With a background in marketing, design, and photography, Amy was well positioned to produce a gorgeous guide and succeed as a small business owner herself; she also had passion and a clear vision for her guide, which helped guide and drive her along the way.  

Every editor brings their own unique lens to their guide. Amy’s biggest goal for The Scout Guide Chattanooga, Volume 8 was for it to reflect diversity. “My top priority was to produce a guide that was a true representation of our city, not just in skin color, but in all ways of diversity inclusion—sizes of business, areas they were located, racial background, and what age range they reached,” she explains. Guided by this idea, she set about capturing the small business community of Chattanooga, a multifarious city settled on the banks of the Tennessee River in the foothills of the Appalachian Mountains. 

Walters with the contributors that helped bring The Scout Guide Chattanooga, Volume 8 to life. Photography by Casey Yoshida.

The first order of business in producing a guide is the sales cycle, which involves reaching out to local businesses to gauge their interest in inclusion in the next volume. Amy’s experience as a new editor scouting Volume 8 was unique, as her city was essentially shut down due to COVID-19. “Everyone was reeling from the pandemic racing across the world,” she recalls. “An email went out to all Volume 7 members announcing me as the new editor and no one cared. It was crickets. I understood; everyone was struggling to figure out how to keep their doors open.” With that in mind, Amy paused and allowed everyone—including herself—to take a breath. 

During this time, Amy and her husband decided to literally put boots on the ground and made “scouting walks” a part of their quarantine routine. “The vantage point you get when you walk is so different than when you’re driving,” she says. “I had so many ideas while slowing down and experiencing my town in a different way.” On their strolls, Amy would write down all of the businesses she encountered and come home and research them, then contact the business over the phone or via an Instagram direct message. 

Knowing she needed help to diversify her book, she brought on Bri Garza, owner of Chatt Taste, as an ambassador, who proved to be an invaluable partner. “She offered wonderful advice and opened me up to many businesses I would not have otherwise known about,” Amy says. 

Being social media-savvy, Amy knew she also wanted partners in her guide that had invested in digital marketing, and sought out businesses with robust websites, e-commerce platforms, and frequently updated social media feeds. Of course, she also pursued businesses that she personally loved, and always kept diversity, inclusivity, and an equitable representation of categories in mind. Throughout her research and outreach efforts, Amy sought to be a partner herself, and to help her potential members grow their business. 

While putting on her sales hat was admittedly a step out of her comfort zone, Amy was validated by how many businesses she approached were grateful to have been asked, even if they decided to pass on participating. 

Behind the scenes of client Erin Rayburn’s photoshoot.

One of the first things that attracted Amy to The Scout Guide was the visual and creative style of the guides that spoke to her personal aesthetic. With a background in photography and design, getting down to the nuts and bolts of the creation of her guide was the area where Amy felt the most comfortable, and most enthusiastic. 

Her process began with a creative meeting with each client in which she delved into what made them tick, what they were passionate about, and what excited them. “I wanted the book to tell a story with every turn of the page,” Amy recalls. “The only way you can do that is to take the time to get to know the people behind the business. 

In order to bring her vision to life, Amy teamed up with Casey Yoshida, owner of Brightside Creative, a creative agency in Chattanooga, who has an editorial background and is renowned for his creative genius. He acted as her photographer and co-creative director, and together they came up with ideas for each client’s photo shoot. They’d then pitch the concept to the client and collaborate with them on the final plan. 

Once it was time for the photo shoots, Amy pulled out all the stops, booking hair, makeup, and wardrobe for every shoot. Each photo shoot was unique, creating a wonderful synergy for the entire guide. At every shoot, in addition to advising on creative direction, she shot behind-the-scenes photos and video that she then shared on social media, recognizing this as a great way to give her clients early social media exposure and to create buzz about the upcoming volume. 

From the intense shooting period of her guide, Amy learned many things: the importance of the interview process with her clients, her crucial “dream team” to pull off each shoot, and the need for connection. “No matter what stage of the process you’re in, or how differently you might see the world, you just have to find a way to connect with people,” Amy says. “When you connect, the sparks start to fly and the magic will come.”

Erin Rayburn’s final spread as seen in The Scout Guide Chattanooga, Volume 8. Photography by Casey Yoshida.

Once all the photos had been shot, it was time to design the book. As a graphic designer by trade, Amy was clear with her graphic designer, Mackenzie Schwenig at TSG HQ, that she would do her best to empower her, but that she was going to have lots of thoughts and opinions. “Mackenzie was a wonderful collaborative partner,” she says. “I tried my best to let her have creative freedom, but was clear that there were some spreads I planned on having a big hand in.” 

One area of this stage that Amy didn’t foresee as being tricky was the photo selection process. With so many wonderful images to choose from, it was often difficult to choose the perfect one. And it was especially challenging when she had her heart set on an image and the client didn’t agree. “I ended up fighting for five photos that I really wanted in the book,” she reflects. “I was so emotionally attached to this project, but I don’t think I could do it any other way. That’s what makes the final product amazing.”

The Scout Guide Chattanooga client Cue The Champagne at the launch party. Photography by Marlee Robinson.

Amy had TSG HQ rush her two boxes of the newly printed guide—then kept the books in her trunk for 48 hours because she was too nervous to look at them. “I finally fessed up to Casey and I drove over to his house and we opened one of the books together,” she says. “I was in awe. Seeing it all come together larger than life, with that gorgeous paper, every spread just jumped off the page.” 

At her launch party a few days later, when her clients first saw the guide, the feeling was mutual. The feedback she received from her members was the most rewarding part of the process. “My clients expressed how loved they felt, from being included in the book, to the attention they received over social media, to being honored at the launch party. It was the perfect culmination of all my hard work.” 

Looking back, Amy acknowledges that there were certainly some challenges, especially right after the city shut down, when she questioned if producing a guide would even be possible. But through it all, she found that fighting for what she wanted paid off. “I learned a lot of valuable lessons, like owning my failures and making a commitment to being authentic and transparent,” she says. Already, many of her clients have already signed on for her next guide, and Amy will go into producing it with her eyes wide open, armed with hard-earned experience that will no doubt make Volume 9 even more successful than her last one. 

The Scout Guide Chattanooga, Volume 8. Browse the guide here.

To learn more about Amy’s journey, follow The Scout Guide Chattanooga on Instagram.