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Employee Turned Entrepreneur – Mike & Rhonda Rivera

Posted Under: Entrepreneurship, Our Heroes

Today, in the “Our Heroes” series we are graced with the presence of two successful entrepreneurs, husband and wife founders of Top-Tier Tutoring Mike and Rhonda Rivera. Mike made the change after the company he worked for collapsed and he felt empowered to start his own company, while Rhonda escaped her corporate life as an attorney because she felt trapped in a profession that she did not enjoy. Mike and Rhonda hired a business coach who helped them set up the company as well as organize advertising, a website, and location…the rest seemed to just fall into place…let’s read more about how it all happened…

DD: Who are you and what kind of corporate job were you at?

RR: Mike Rivera worked as a compliance officer in the financial industry for more than 16 ½ years, most recently at Bear Stearns before starting Top-Tier Tutoring in 2008.  Rhonda Rivera was a practicing attorney for 10 years at 2 large New York and New Jersey law firms before leaving the last firm in 2002 to start a wedding consulting business, Bride Ideas, followed a few years later by Gala Ideas (event planning).   I continue to do my wedding and event planning, but now focus a majority of my time with Top-Tier Tutoring.

DD: What made you leave the job? When did you realize that you wanted to be an entrepreneur & why?

RR: For Mike, it was the fact that Bear Stearns was taken over.  Mike’s prior employer, Prudential Equity Group, had closed down in August 2007 and Mike searched for another job, until he landed one at Bear Stearns in January 2008.  By March 2008, that company was taken over.  While he worked at Prudential Equity Group, he had started to do tutoring and college counseling at a friend’s center and really enjoyed helping the students achieve their goals.  It wasn’t until Bear Stearns collapsed that he felt empowered to start his own company.  For Rhonda, she did not like working as an attorney even though a partner was starting to discuss the possibility of her becoming a partner with the firm.  Feeling that I did not want to be trapped in a profession for the next 20+ years that I did not enjoy, I knew that was the time for me to start my own wedding consulting business.

DD: What did you do to break the corporate jail? How did you prepare yourself for the employee to entrepreneur transition?

RR: For Top-Tier Tutoring, Mike and Rhonda hired a business coach well before Mike’s termination date in October 2008.  Working with the coach, we set up the corporate structure for Top-Tier Tutoring and worked on advertising, our website, finding a location and preparing for the Grand Opening in January 2009.  For Bride Ideas, Rhonda took classes with the Association of Bridal Consultants (ABC) and became a Professional Bridal ConsultantTM through that association.  I also went to seminars and networking meetings sponsored by the ABC.  Mike felt a degree of confidence in his journey to become an entrepreneur due to Rhonda’s prior experiences.

DD: What are your top five tips for employees who want to be entrepreneurs but are hung up on something?

RR: 1-Begin networking, as word-of-mouth is the best referral source.  2-Work with professionals to help you streamline the set-up process.  Bookkeepers, accountants, lawyers, business coaches all require fees but save you time and money in the long run.  3-Attend as many seminars/webinars/conferences as you can to learn about your business.  4-Read books about starting/operating a business.  About 20% of your time will be spent actually doing the core business (i.e., tutoring or college counseling or planning a wedding or event) while the remaining 80% is all about marketing your business and bringing in clients.  Unless you are an expert in business operations and marketing, books will give you the tools you will need in this arena.  5-Maintain a positive attitude because there is quite a bit of stress involved when creating a business from scratch.

DD: How are you now? Are you still in the same business, and how do you feel?

RR: Mike and I are still running Top-Tier Tutoring and Rhonda is still running both Bride Ideas and Gala Ideas.  The wedding and event planning businesses have taken a backseat to Top-Tier Tutoring, mainly due to the economy and also the demands of the tutoring business.  It took Mike an adjustment period to transition from working in New York City in a large office to now working at a center 5 minutes from home with just his wife and a few other tutors.  For both of us, we had to learn how to be both husband and wife as well as business partners.  However, we both are happier now than when we were working in corporate America.  Although we miss the steady paychecks, we are better people and much more fulfilled in doing what we love.

DD: So there you have it folks, Mike and Rhonda Rivera, founders of Top-Tier Tutoring. It is wonderful to witness how happy they truly are outside the borders of corporate America. Their advice about the importance of branding your business is lingering: “About 20% of your time will be spent actually doing the core business while 80% is all about marketing your business and bringing in the clients.” So people consider where to focus your energy and remember to make the best use of your time and efforts.

Success to all!!

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