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From Dream Chaser to Dream Maker

Meet 3 entrepreneurs who never "made it big" until they started helping others reach the same dream.
November 25, 2008
URL: http://www.entrepreneur.com/article/198856

Americans are known for many things, but perhaps our most prevailing characteristic is our can-do attitude. No dream is too big, and no goal is impossible to reach. As Barack Obama so famously said, "Yes, we can!" It's this American spirit that has made entrepreneurs the backbone of our economy and why small businesses account for 99.7 percent of all businesses.

But no matter how much American spirit you have, sometimes your dream just isn't in the cards. Sometimes you're dealt a hand you never knew you wanted--until you start beating the house. For these three entrepreneurs, their ultimate dreams may not have come true, but they realized they could become even more successful by helping others make it big. Here's how they found success once they stopped reaching and started teaching.

A Business Home Run
If baseball is as American as apple pie, then pursuing a career in baseball could be considered the ultimate American Dream. Since they were boys, Rob Nash, 40, and Joe Luis, 41, dreamed of turning their little-league dreams into major-league success as Major League Baseball players. The two grew up together and both worked hard through high school and college to reach their dream. Although neither one made it to the big leagues, they were both good enough to play in the minor leagues. But after several years, varying circumstances led both Nash and Luis to leave professional baseball.

Despite leaving the arena they always dreamed of playing in, Nash and Luis still shared a passion for baseball and continued to host clinics and give private coaching sessions. It didn't take long for the two to realize that something was missing for kids today: a safe and structured environment to play in.

"When we were growing up, it was 'go to the ball field at 8 a.m. and make sure you're home when the streetlights come on.' That just doesn't happen too much anymore," Nash says. "We quickly found out that parents will spend money for their kids to give them a greater advantage skill-wise or give them a safe place to play."

Nash and Luis started Extra Innings, an indoor baseball and softball training center based in Middleton, Mass., in 1996. Kids loved the structured learning environment and nice equipment and facilities, and parents loved the price. Nash and Luis began franchising their business in 2004 and now have close to 40 franchises across the country and system-wide sales of close to $15 million.

But the biggest payoff for Nash and Luis is the ability to teach kids the same skills that helped them become successful. Many of their students have become stars in high school, college and beyond, including a former student who made his major-league debut this spring with the San Diego Padres.

So You Think You Can Dance
Helping her students reach the same dream that she once had is something Jodi Vaccaro shares with Nash and Luis. Vaccaro, 40, began studying dance at the age of 10 and was a dance major in college. With dreams of Broadway dancing in her eyes, Vaccaro began aggressively auditioning after graduation but realized after two years that auditions weren't paying the bills.

"I gave up my dream so I could make money, because I just couldn't survive," she says.

Vaccaro never dreamed of being a teacher, but she began teaching classes at a local dance school to make a living. "I told myself I'd teach just to make some money while I was auditioning, but it turned out to be something I really loved doing," she says.

Vaccaro never considered herself to be business-minded, but her two years as a teacher gave her enough confidence to start her own dance school, Starlite School of Dance, in Patchogue, N.Y., in 1993. Vaccaro says she learned through trial and error, but that she never would have become successful if she didn't enjoy teaching her love of dance to others.

"If you don't have a passion for dance in this business [of teaching], it won't work," Vaccaro says. "If you go into this just thinking you're going to make a lot of money, you won't be successful. It has to be about the kids and their dreams and making them feel confident and passionate."

Vaccaro won't disclose her annual sales, but says she teaches close to 300 students a week.

"I've become successful because I really have a passion for dance and I can emanate that to my students," she says. "All my students see it in me. I always promote that you can reach your dreams, as long as you work harder."

Making the Leap
Making the decision to stop reaching and start teaching your dream to others can be a difficult one to make, but it can be just as rewarding--if not more rewarding--to help others succeed at making it. If you've decided to make the leap, consider these three steps from business coach and consultant Erik Luhrs.

Step 1: Look at your talents on a macro level. "Look at whatever you're doing and ask yourself, what is this on a bigger scale to somebody else?" Luhrs says. If you're an actor, maybe it's your ability to fully express yourself; if you're a screenwriter, maybe it's your ability to mold stories for marketing, selling and training. "By looking at your talents on a macro level, you'll open up vistas of opportunity."

Step 2: Create a clear and compelling message. Before you publicize yourself, know who your target market is, why your target market should listen to you and how you want to work with that market.

"From this you can create a compelling message or sound bite that will draw people to you," Luhrs says.

Step 3: Get the word out. Let the world know you're an expert. Attend networking events, speak for free at seminars, or write an article or newsletter. Get the word out that you have a business by doing free publicity, such as calling a radio show, setting up a website and doing a weekly blog or podcast.

Finally, have confidence in your abilities to teach. "Realize that your combined experience and talents are unique to you," Luhrs says. "This is how anyone can become a leader, expert or guru."