Sunday, December 20, 2009

Sharon Lechter – Entrepreneur, Author, Educator

A couple of months ago I was privileged to meet Sharon Lechter, probably most recognized as the co-author of the international best-selling book “Rich Dad Poor Dad,” and just recently “Three Feet from Gold.” In reality, she is also an entrepreneur, philanthropist, educator, international speaker, CPA, and member of the President's Advisory Council on Financial Literacy.

Marty: Welcome to Startup Professionals interviews. Tell us about your current passion.

Sharon: For a long time I have been a financial literacy advocate. In 1992, my oldest son, Phillip went off to college and got into credit card debt. At the time I became more angry with myself than I was at him…because I thought I had taught him about money. It was at that point that I dedicated my professional life to the cause of financial literacy and the development of tools to help teach financial education. As Founder and CEO of “Pay Your Family First” I strive to create products, like the “ThriveTime for Teens” board game, that educate families and young people on how to become masters of their money…instead of slaves to their money.

Marty: How did you first decide to add entrepreneur to your many accomplishments?

Sharon: My father, with only a third grade formal education, had a successful career in the Navy, and later became an entrepreneur. His goal was for me to receive a college education and have a great career. After three years of a successful career in public accounting with Coopers & Lybrand, the entrepreneurial bug bit me and I have been starting and building companies ever since. When offered the first opportunity to become an equity partner in a company, I asked myself “why not?” Ever since, “why not?” has become my personal motto.

Marty: Have all your business ventures been positive and learning experiences?

Sharon: This answer was written after a good laugh ... No, not all of my business ventures have been positive ... but they have all been positively learning experiences! Napoleon Hill once wrote that the “Greatest Success comes just after the Greatest Failure.” As we quoted Evander Holyfield in my new book “Three Feet From Gold,” “You never feel or remember the blows. You only feel the victory.” Many people allow a business setback to paralyze them while successful entrepreneurs take those setbacks and become even more motivated to succeed with their next business venture.

Marty: What’s the most challenging aspect of being a woman entrepreneur from your perspective?

Sharon: I believe that women are natural entrepreneurs and can achieve great success. The most challenging aspect that I find for women is simply time management. Women are natural multi-taskers but are challenged when they need to focus and concentrate on building a business to the expense of other tasks and responsibilities. This is crucial especially in the early stages of the business. This is the one area where I believe women tend to give up too soon…just before they reach the level of success that will actually give them MORE time. I believe there still exists the “glass ceiling” in corporate America although it is beginning to crack. However, there is no glass ceiling for women entrepreneurs because they are their own bosses and there is no limit to their success!

Marty: How has the business world changed since you first started?

Sharon: When I first entered the business world in the late 70’s entrepreneurs were looked down upon. I remember people referring to small business owners as “drop-outs” from Corporate America jobs. It was truly the age of big business. In contrast, Americans today look down upon big business and have lost trust in Wall Street and corporate executives. As a result of the current economic downturn, I see a new age of entrepreneurship dawning. It was entrepreneurs who helped bring America out of the Great Depression and it will be entrepreneurs again who help get us out of the current economic crisis. There has never been a better opportunity to become a successful entrepreneur!

Marty: What is a key personal attribute you see in successful entrepreneurs?

Sharon: The key attribute that I see is the “why not?” attitude. Successful entrepreneurs challenge the status quo, they are excited by the unknown…by the unchartered territory. The most successful businesses are created when solving a problem, or serving a need. Combine the “why not?” attitude with a “never give up” persistence and you have the core of a successful entrepreneur.

Marty: Any advice you would like to give to someone contemplating a startup?

Sharon: “Why not?” The question is simple...the application a little more difficult. If you have an idea…go for it. Many people try to “go it alone” when truly successful businesses are built by teams. Find your team early and make sure their skill sets compliment yours…which means they are really good in the areas of your weaknesses! Then set goals for yourself. Divide your goals between short-term goals and long-term goals. Don’t forget to celebrate each time you reach a short term goal! This will make the path on the way to your long-term goals a lot more enjoyable. Above all, never give up three feet from gold!

Marty: Sharon, thank you very much for your insights and your role-model leadership for all of us! You can find out more about Sharon’s entrepreneurial activities through her business site (http://www.payyourfamilyfirst/), or you can contact her directly via her personal website (http://www.slechter.com/).

Marty Zwilling


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Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Should Your Startup Be a Franchise?

By Donald Cranford, Franchise Direct

Starting or buying a business is one of the two or three biggest decisions you will make in your life. The investment and risks involved are great, and have increased with the economic challenges of the last few years. One of the ways to reduce the risk is to buy a pre-defined concept, rather than invent and implement your own. This is the franchising approach.

Franchising offers a kind of compromised independence where the costs of partnering with a popular business include fees to franchisor and less direct say in how the business is run. From McDonald’s to the local cleaning company, franchising has spread across the world because it allows business owners to invest in a proven concept and brand.

At Franchise Direct, one question we get asked all the time is ‘What makes a successful franchisee?’ It’s a question of nature versus nurture: is the ability for franchise success a temperament you are born with or is it something that can be learned on the job?

In our experience and research, there are no fixed laws about who can or cannot succeed with a franchise, BUT there are a few strands of what I call Franchise DNA. I’d like to discuss two in particular. If a franchisee possesses both, all the better.
  1. The Innovator. Franchisees are the public face of a franchise, the weather vane, the person who knows which way the wind is blowing. Franchisors may be regaled by daily market research power point sessions in their oversized offices, but in truth the only person who will really know how your business is faring is you.

    A franchisee who can pool all of the accumulated knowledge of dealing with customers on a day in, day out basis and turn it into special offers or deals is someone who will survive in franchising. Look at the ramifications of Subway franchisee Stuart Frankel’s decision to implement the $5 dollar foot-long at his store in Florida. The whole country knows about it now. An innovative franchisee takes the reins of his or her business and truly adapts it to their area.

  2. The Conformist. This might seem to contrast with The Innovator, but in reality they are simply like Yin and Yang. Franchising in a way is like a marriage: you are signing a social contract and must abide many laws. A maverick streak will always come in handy when running a business, but in reality, if you’re bad at taking orders and abiding by someone else’s vision for the presentation of the business, you’re going to find franchising a very frustrating experience.
Going back to the previously mentioned ‘market research power point’ sessions, franchisors have expended an enormous amount of time and money on considering how a franchise will look and exist. You need to be able to take commands from on high and cater the business to someone else’s vision. American business people pride themselves on their pioneering, frontier spirit, but in reality, a small touch of submissiveness has led the way for the success of franchising, which has helped shape the American marketplace over the past half century.

F Scott Fitzgerald wrote that a true artist is someone who can keep two contradictory thoughts in his mind at one time. In a certain way, it’s the same with the truly successful franchisee. You’ll need that ruthlessly independent streak, but you’ll have to match it with a respect for someone else’s business vision. If you can do that, a franchise could be right for you.

Franchise Direct is one of the world’s leading portals for franchise and business opportunities. Started as a single website for the promotion of franchises in the US market in 1998, Franchise Direct now operates a suite of six multilingual sites targeting North America and Europe. You can reach Donald directly at donald@franchisedirect.com.


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