Lessons from a serial entrepreneur
By Elaine Simon
Bold and tenacious – that’s how Dee Clemmons describes herself in terms of entrepreneurship and leading others to success. And she has quite the track record to back that up. Clemmons is a business owner and franchisee, a business coach and consultant, a former county commissioner, a community advocate, an angel investor, a wife and a mother.
But these titles just scratch the surface of what Clemmons has been involved with and accomplished over the course of her career.
Clemmons currently is chief strategist at DCL Public Private Solutions Group and certified franchise broker and CEO with Atlanta Franchise Brokers, both of which she founded. She also is a featured speaker at Red Roof’s upcoming SHE Leads Forum on Sept. 28-29 in Dallas, where she will be presenting a session on the New Markets Tax Credit Program, which incentivizes community development and economic growth through the use of tax credits that attract private investment to distressed communities.
While Clemmons is a serial “She E O” now, her first job was as a child helping her grandfather with his fruit and vegetable business. He and his five sons would drive around South Georgia selling the produce out of the back of his truck, and young Clemmons handled the money.
“He taught me to count the money, pricing the fruits and vegetables and counting before we got on the truck how many we had and how much money we were going to make. He was a huge part of that journey of understanding entrepreneurship—watching this man with a sixth-grade education raise 12 kids (and a granddaughter),” she said. “We always had a home and we were never hungry. My mom was able to go to technical school and my other aunts were able to go to technical college. I was the first to get a four-year degree. But he raised them on a business where he could really decide how much money he needed to make to take care of his family.
“And that was a huge part of me knowing that I had to have a reliable source of income to make it and that was the start for me.”
Clemmons became involved in public service in high school, as well as leadership, and planned a career in law. She ended up teaching for 18 months when funds ran low and realized that the educational system wasn’t really working and that she could do a better job in a different way.
“So at 23 years old I went to this lady who had two childcare facilities. I said to her, ‘I don't have the money. I have the ability. How much do you want to sell it for? I said you can keep all of the money until you're paid and when I start to make money then the business will become mine.’”
The owner said yes, and before her 30th birthday, Clemmons expanded to 10 childcare centers, which brought more than $2 million in revenue annually.
From there, Clemmons tackled franchising, as well as other industries, and her portfolio has encompassed a cattle farm, a skating rink, a car wash, food-and-beverage outlets, restaurants, management services, haircare products, Painting with a Twist and Club Z! In-Home & Online Tutoring franchises, among a variety of other endeavors.
Her success in these businesses led to her becoming a certified executive coach and helping hundreds of other entrepreneurs and companies become successful.
“There are certain characteristics of certain types of leaders that are good in spaces like where I am, so you have that strong leadership field and that leadership is transformational, meaning that I look at the problems. I'm a problem solver. I am action driven and that is the type of leader that's going to be good at multiple different areas.”
Her newest offering is a government relations piece, helping business owners to maneuver, create relationships and understand the government affairs side of their business.
“I would not have been able to open up those childcare facilities like I like I was able to if I didn't understand fire marshal codes, building inspections, land use—like when a building closed down, just because it was a hotel before doesn't mean it'd be a hotel again,” she said. “There's a lot that happens that no one is watching for [the hotel owners]. There’s really no advocacy on their behalf.”
When it comes to hotels and her advice for women at the SHE Leads Forum, Clemmons said it all comes down to why they want to be in the industry.
“If you don't know why you're doing it, if you don't have a reason to do it, if there's not going to be a way for you to measure your success in it, then you might as well go get a job somewhere else,” she said. “Is it because you want to build generational wealth? Are you doing this because it's been passed down to you? Are you doing it because you want to establish a platform or become a role model for other women in the space?”
After the “why” is the “how,” according to Clemmons.
“Once we determine the why, we have to then create what it looks like when you're successful at it,” she said. “You can't create a plan for doing something when you don't know why you're doing it. Once you decide what it is, then you create the roadmap. You can't create the roadmap when you don't know the direction that you're going.”
Once those pieces are in place, there are options for financing, Clemmons said.
“I would first ask them, how much access to capital do you have? And it can be zero but if you can identify a deal and create your own company and the deal is cash-flow positive, then you can get the deal financed,” she said. “If we bring a deal to the [Small Business Administration], we can get up to $5 million. The government will allow $5 million in SBA loans. If they want their own deals, I can help them do their own deals.”
Visit www.she-leads.com for more information about Red Roof’s SHE Leads Forum and for tools to help you manage your business, rise in the ranks and find the confidence to become a successful business leader.