Fran Tarkenton Shares His Winning Small Business Game Plan Credit: Fran Tarkenton

For many professional athletes, the transition from the locker room to the boardroom is a challenging, trying and humbling experience. That is not the case for pro football Hall of Famer Fran Tarkenton.

Tarkenton, who is best known for his scrambling ways in quarterbacking the Minnesota Vikings and New York Giants, says it was easier for him to adjust because he never had to make the transition from football to business.

"I built businesses and worked while I played football, so business wasn't a new concept to me," Tarkenton said. "I had my own paper route at age 7, and I have been building businesses ever since. In college, I played baseball and football, but I didn't have money to enjoy college life, so I got my insurance license and began selling insurance."

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That business prowess continued throughout and after Tarkenton's illustrious football career. Tarkenton says he has lost count of how many businesses he started in his lifetime, but estimates the number to be somewhere between 20 and 30. Not surprisingly, building those businesses has taught Tarkenton a great deal about the right and wrong way to go about the process.

"First of all, you have to have a passion about your business and what you are doing," Tarkenton said. "If I didn't have a passion about football, I could have never put in the work or the hours to be able to do the things I did in football."

The same holds true for business, Tarkenton said. However, passion must be guided in order to be effective.

"Passion comes from a belief system," Tarkenton said. "To me, the mission of business is to help other people. Everyone else says the mission of business is to make a lot of money and become rich. If your passion is to help people that means you are going to make sure your product is relevant, you are going to make sure your customer experience is great, you are going to make sure you treat people the right way. In my mind, that is a sustainable model."

Even with that formula, failure is an important part of the process of forming a successful business, Tarkenton said.

"The first few businesses I started didn't work, but I learned from those experiences and was able to move them into another area that made them work," Tarkenton said. "You have to understand how to lose fast. If you stay with a business ideabeyond what you should, you are going to do more permanent damage to yourself."

Tarkenton also credits his business success to the mentoring he has received from the likes of Sam Walton, founder of Wal-Mart; Bernard Marcus, co-founder of Home Depot; and Roger Milliken, former CEO of Milliken & Co., among other mentors. That is one reason for Tarkenton's passion for mentoring and coaching other business owners.

His most recent venture, SmallBizClub, which was formed in partnership with Office Depot, gives business owners free advice and help when they need it most. Though he likes to mentor as a way to give back to other small business owners, Tarkenton also notes that he has not lost his own willingness to learn.  

"I could not have made it in football without great coaches and mentoring, and I could have never made it in business without mentoring," Tarkenton said. "You have to be curious and engaged, and you cannot be satisfied or think you have all the answers. To be relevant, you have to be ahead of the curve. Nothing stands still, especially today."

Originally published on BusinessNewsDaily.