Bethenny Frankel on Her Approach to Business and Negotiating Deals: 'I'm Good at Concepts, Not Contracts'
'If you really are passionate and driven and you work hard, that's what it takes to be successful,' Frankel tells Entrepreneur.
It’s hard to hear Bethenny Frankel’s name and not immediately think of the word “business woman” — she’s been the example for so many budding entrepreneurs that you really can have everything you want if you work for it.
“If you really are passionate and driven and you work hard, that's what it takes to be successful,” Frankel tells Entrepreneur, point blank.
But if you ask her, labels like “entrepreneur” or “business woman” or even “author” don’t apply to her and they never have. For Frankel, it’s about executing what you want to get done and doing what you love to do, and whatever category that puts her in, she’ll roll with it.
“I don't take myself too seriously,” she jokes.
It’s this unorthodox approach to business and her career that has helped carve her into not only a businessperson, but a philanthropist (her charity initiative is called B Strong), Podcast host of Just B, TV producer and New York Times bestselling author (multiple times, at that.)
Frankel has most recently become an investor in Bright, a new live video conversation platform that will offer fans virtual face-to-face access to industry experts and celebrities.
“You can speak on something that you have knowledge and expertise in — and most people don't realize that it’s the thing that I love doing the most. Not the podcasts and writing books, it’s doing speaking engagements. I just find it (no pun intended) very engaging,” Frankel says of the platform. “I think it's great to share the knowledge that I have in the sort of circuitous path to success that I've taken, which is kind of what my podcast is about. But it's other people telling their stories. So this is more about my story. And I think it's a great concept.”
Her Bright sessions will not only enable her to dole out advice and answer questions, but also truly connect with other budding entrepreneurs and fans who look to Frankel as inspiration — it's like hopping on a Zoom call with her.
“I think it comforts people to hear about non-traditional success and I think it's also comforting that there are no shortcuts,” she says. “It's sort of like health and wellness, there really aren't shortcuts and there really aren't gimmicks. You cannot Instagram selfie your way into a career or any sort of great success with longevity. So I think that gives people comfort and solace.”
Frankel herself knows the value of talking to others and seeking advice when she needs it, calling everyone from her fiancé to Mark Cuban when she needs a gut check on a potential investment or business concept or whatever it may be.
In fact, it’s something she’s been doing since the beginning of her career.
“When I was nobody, I called emailed and mailed and called many people and you would be shocked at how many people responded. This was before social media,” Frankel explains to us. “Most people that are successful business people are smart, they don't want to miss out on something and on other entrepreneurs. So I've always been someone who is teed up, organized and is ready for that elevator pitch. At all levels I've found — from when I was literally a broke nobody to now — people are accessible.”
Frankel says that she “didn't achieve any sort of success by anyone's definition” until her late 30s, when her Skinnygirl empire really took off. In 2011, Frankel sold Skinnygirl Cocktails to Beam Global for an estimated $100 million, still maintaining control of the intellectual property of the Skinnygirl name itself.
“I said, I'm not doing that — you guys only specialize in liquor, so keep the liquor,” Frankel tells us of her negotiation with the acquisition. “You have to trust me, I have to trust you. I'm keeping the rest of the piece, you can take that one slice. So [Beam] paid me and bought a brand, which is really unprecedented. That really doesn't happen … I was just thinking logically about that. And I've had so many things in my career that have been like that.”
It makes sense — if a company only specializes in one arena (in this instance, liquor) it isn’t logical to invest in a company (Skinnygirl) that touches multiple arenas (like food) where the company investing has no expertise in. To Frankel, business isn’t about signing papers and making deals based on numbers and hard facts — it’s about thinking about the larger picture: How will this benefit my business? How will it hinder it? What can be done to make this work in the best way that it possibly can?
“I always say that I'm good at concepts, not contracts,” she explains. “You never can assume that anyone is smarter than you. And you know, people come to you who are major business people and you have deals on the table. And you have to step away from it and try to think about what it all means and what you want to get out of a deal. Be creative about it.”
Thinking creatively, which paradoxically has helped her become a no-nonsense businesswoman, is something that comes naturally to Frankel. If she wasn’t leading her own business enterprise, perhaps her life path would’ve taken her down a more creatively driven road, she muses.
“I’ve always been very creative. And I always wanted to be a copywriter. I was good at slogans and marketing and ideas and campaigns. And so I wanted to be sort of in an advertising, Madmen-type room coming up with ideas like that,” she says. “Maybe then a host of something, or maybe a comedian. I wanted to be on TV.”
Frankel is currently writing her latest book, Business is Personal, an endeavor she carves time out for whenever she gets a free minute.
Spoiler alert: Raising her eight-year-old daughter, Bryn, while running her Skinnygirl empire while working on philanthropy, while hosting her podcast, on top of hundreds of other meetings and engagements doesn’t really leave many free minutes.
But it’s no sweat to Frankel — she’ll make it happen.
“[You learn how to] be efficient with your time and never waste time, time is precious. It doesn't mean that every second of my day, I'm working — sometimes I'll decide I'm laying in bed for eight hours in pajamas and watching movies. But that's the way I choose to use my time,” she explains. “But you know, this morning when I wake up at six o'clock, and I'm jet lagged from Italy, I go in the other room and I write chapters of the book. I never procrastinate. I'm always on top of whatever it is.”
It's these little moments and extra hours that all add up and what sets someone with Frankel's level of success apart. Besides, she enjoys looking back and watching it all come together.
“You lay the groundwork one brick at a time, you don't sort of eat the whole meal at once, you just sort of take a bite at a time and put one foot in front of the other, and you get there,” she says. “And it's never the journey you thought it was going to be — it's more interesting. And all these steps, even if you think they have nothing to do with what you want to do, they teach you something. So really business is about the journey.”
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