Passionate about international education and providing diverse academic options to committed learners, Franklin (a native of Cincinnati, Oh) has worked in West Africa and the United Arab Emirates in the development and implementation of several international branch campuses. Franklin has extensive professional experience working with international partners to develop collaborative programs. As the Director of Chez Alpha Books, she actively works to identify short and long term study opportunities to educate and empower international students. In addition to education initiatives, Chez Alpha Books provides English language training, test prep, and features a bookstore with multicultural fiction and non-fiction books.
The Best Advice I’ve Received | Someone once told me that an educated person should never have to tell people that they are educated. The fact that you have completed a Bachelor, Master or PhD should be evident in your behaviour. This is not to say that one should walk through life acting as if they are better than others, but a result of your education is that we should become more open-minded, be exposed to new ideas and cultures, display improved and varied communication skills and more. Education should also help one understand that ultimately it is not a destination but an ongoing life experience. Most important, the skills and qualifications we take from our education experience should be transferable enabling us to utilise them in a variety of venues. Also, when we have received education in the classroom, we should also be open to all of the educational opportunities life can provide in day to day situations. As I work to build Chez Alpha, I often tell people that I can learn from anyone. The man on the street selling sunglasses, the small school in Mongolia, the woman who cleans the school can all be my teacher.
This advice allowed me to realise when cherished and utilised in the best manner, education should be treated as a valuable gift that provides one a greater sense of freedom to make the best life choices.
On Inspiring Others | I have always believed that there are two kinds of workers. The first group are those best prepared and interested in working with a well-recognised, existing institution complete with glitz, glamor and hi tech. The second group are those who can work with you shoulder to shoulder to build a business and keep it sustainable, they respect the vision and can seem themselves as part of it. Based on this idea it is imperative to know which group you are hiring from.
At Chez Alpha Books, we are a small but thriving organisation with a team of 3 full time and one part time worker. Because we are small it is imperative that skills be interchangeable, and that while we each have specific focus areas we need to be able to carry on if another team member is busy or out of the office.
I don’t believe that team members should be expected to have the same commitment as the entrepreneur or business owner. Realistically for them, although they can come and give 100%, it is their job and your dream. I can share the vision but I need to respect that they have their life. At present, I have two very hardworking, committed and engaged women at Chez Alpha Books. They give their 100% and are good team players.
I believe that it is important to both thank and acknowledge your team and also when possible provide a level of flexibility in their schedule. The team I now have in place are good workers, and this is directly related to the fact that I am better able to select carefully those people who are there to build the institution and not merely use the institution to build their name or future, or worse have no respect for the institution.
A team player, with excellent oral and written communication skills, and a commitment to quality customer service are just some of the qualifications we seek. Most important, it is imperative to build a team with workers who respect the African community. This may seem like an automatic-but too often I have seen workers who are only happy when they are mingling with, networking or serving European clients. This cannot happen at Chez Alpha Books. We serve a diverse community, but the inflexible rule is that all clients are to be treated with respect and our customer base reflects the local Senegalese community, along with African expats from other countries along with clients from Turkey, Iran, Korea, U.S., UK, Asia and Europe.
The Best Advice I’ve Received | Establishing Chez Alpha Books in addition to my professional work experience has taught me some valuable lessons. In fact, they have become life lessons to live by as I often recall these lessons in a variety of situations. Some people must go through the actual experience themselves in order to learn, but I can benefit from the advice and guidance of others.
Best lessons include: Create a business that serves a range of incomes. People with 1 USD want to buy a book as much as people with 100 USDs. We strive to have books at a variety of prices and to keep in mind the buying power specific to the communities we serve. Simply stated, have something for everyone!
Build a clientele from day one that is not dependent on family and friends. If you open a business assuming that your family and friends will be your best clients you may be in for a surprise. While I am the type who will support a friend in business, I cannot assume that everyone else I know is the same way. Enter the business arena with the energy, innovation and skill to market and build an enterprise for a new and untapped community without believing that your clients are already in place.
The African American educator, Booker T. Washington in his 1895 speech at the Atlanta Cotton Exposition, urged his people, “to cast down the bucket where you are.” Meaning do not keep seeking some other place, (people) or circumstance in the idea that such will make everything better, rather, use what you have, where you are, to its best advantage and in so doing you will gain what you are seeking. I keep this quote in mind when I think about building a clientele. It is very common to view businesses in Dakar, cater solely to the expats believing this is the only viable clientele who have money to spend. Validation from the expat community is seen as a passport to success while other communities are often ignored. The flip side is that the expat community is often a transitory people and in addition they often guard strong links to their home country and may not freely spend money in Dakar. Also, if there is a crisis such as ebola, currency devaluation, school closing, etc. they may be the first audience to leave. With this in mind, a sustainable business must build and develop from within the local communities to a best mutual advantage.
Embrace innovation and new ideas-Be fearless – The focus of your small business should not be to repeat what has already been done but to explore new ideas that would attract and serve your target audience. Someone once told me that “scared money, won’t make money!”. This is the truth. If you are afraid of new ideas or ventures you will probably find yourself in the same place five years later.
Critical Skills I Develop | I believe that skills should be consistently upgraded and further developed. Two years ago, I completed a second Master Degree in Online Education and Leadership Management. It was a wonderful opportunity that further enhanced my ability to utilise new technology and social media successfully. I believe that social media is not merely something we can like or not like. It is a necessity for effective and sustainable business development. I believe that every entrepreneur should know how to best market their business and encourage people thinking of starting a new business to invest as much time and energy in developing their marketing skills as they do in developing a good business plan.
Providing good customer service is also a critical skill and is most effective for Chez Alpha Books when we understand and implement international standards within an understanding and appreciation of local culture. Most important, there should never be an attitude of providing a lower standard of customer service based on the belief that the community you serve will be flexible and understand. Monitoring and evaluation is also important to Chez Alpha and not just for non profit organisations. I think that many small businesses can benefit from a clear system of monitoring and evaluation. When students complete a class we ask them to complete an evaluation that is confidential, yet this information allows us to gauge the effectiveness of the instructor and student overall satisfaction. Networking is also crucial and I think it is important to clarify the difference attempting to use people for your own personal needs for that moment versus building a collaborative relationship. Networking is a give and take between people able to share resources, connections, etc.
The Characteristics Of Success | Small business develop anywhere in the world is challenging, however I think Senegal has added challenges. The possible challenges and obstacle should be addressed up front as part of your analysis of risks and challenges. Then these challenges can be viewed as opportunities. At Chez Alpha, as we do not have massive amounts of money for marketing, it is necessary to be innovative. We marry this innovation with what works best with the community here. For the programs we offer, the books we sale, the manner that we market and the language we use to market it is all relevant to Chez Alpha clients. We recognise and value our clients and can say that it is about 75% Senegalese, 15% Africans from other countries and the remainder are expats from Europe, US, Asia, etc.
I believe having a “can do” attitude has been a life saver for me. It seems cliché but it is true that some people see the glass of water as half empty while other see it as half full. For me, there is always a way forward and the glass is half full. It may take a moment of thought and reflection but there is a solution. If you are going to do business and achieve then you must have a can do attitude.
Also, in terms of team building there will also be that moment where you will need to let a team member go. I absolutely avoid people with a “civil servant mentality.” By this I mean the kind of person who comes to work and feels if they do some work or not they should still be paid. No! I cannot support this. I have my team provide end of month reports and we discuss regularly what has to be done immediately and what is in the 2-3 month future. We try to set our calendar of events for 6 months leaving some room for flexibility.
Dealing With Doubt | Everyone working to build a small business will have moments of self-doubt. For me when you are in the business it is hard to see the development but people from outside can see that you have a larger space, more products available, increased staff, etc. For you as the entrepreneur you may only see the day to day issues related to business and survival. In order to move beyond these self-doubts and remain both positive and effective it is imperative to surround yourself with other strivers and achievers with a positive attitude. In addition, it is a MUST that business team in place be positive and problem solvers. There is nothing worse than someone working for you who is always negative, complaining or worse gossiping. I do not allow this energy in my space.
I think there was initially a moment of doubt based on trying to sell books in English in a country where the majority of people were educated in French. Many people saw it as a waste of time and told me that people would not buy books. This is when I had to re-examine my business plan, philosophy and target audience. It was important at this time to keep a small circle of people in my corner who offer clear objective advice, have a positive attitude and a shared vision of success. This may never be a huge circle but even 2 or 3 consistent people in your corner is crucial. The circle I spend time with seek solutions and find it within their power to move beyond problems. They believe in the power and necessity of working as a team and they bring good ideas.
With a focus on building a community of readers, identifying those who love books in English and those who want to read English we moved forward to establish an institution that is becoming a go to space in Dakar, Senegal.
My Future Dreams And Ambitions | I would like to one day work to develop a school in Senegal that has a strong emphasis on reading and interdisciplinary education and most important is developed and funded in a manner that it is not solely for children with money. I view education as a social equaliser and via the acquisition of education along with other 21st century skills students should be able to position themselves to change or alter their direction of their life. I would like to implement an institution that invites and demands parent/family involvement and provides a quality bilingual education.
This desire is based on almost twenty years of experience working in the implementation of international branch campuses in the areas of strategy plan development, student recruitment and admissions, student advisement and student services. These experiences allowed me to see that while it may be challenging, quality education can be provided in an affordable and equitable manner. In addition, I want to see Chez Alpha have smaller satellite spaces in other regions in Senegal.
My Definition Of Success | I believe this quote really sums up my attitude towards success, “Success is neither magical nor mysterious. Success is the natural consequence of consistently applying the basic fundamentals.” Jim Rohn
This is it! Society tends to believe success comes over night, but it is often a long and arduous journey. The issue is that the public only sees the exterior result. They are not privy to all that happened behind the scenes. They do not realise that this “perceived” success is a result of many years of working long hours, updating your skills with various courses and programs, focusing 100% on this dream to the point where you may have some time passed over events with friends and family, living frugally to fund your dream, etc.
For me success is not solely related to money, I see it as related to the freedom to have options in your life, the joy in bettering your opportunities and the ability to help others without the need to seek any public recognition. Expensive houses and cars may seem like success but for me it is a shallow pursuit and will draw the same type of people to you. Success is quite personal and I think people should definitely develop their personal definition and not simply embrace a definition the world hands to you.
Also, because I am so passionate about education, I view this a symbol of success. I would love to have my PhD and believe once I have this I would feel that I have pursued and completed my highest dreams. I always have and always will equate knowledge to freedom. Education and knowledge can never be taken from you. It offers you the power to speak up and address both local, regional and national issues if you choose.
The Legacy I Would Like To Leave | I would like to leave the legacy that business can be sustainable and socially responsible. When we started Chez Alpha it was merely to sell books and then we saw that students from various schools and the universities would sometimes come but not have the money for the new books. In response to this, we started a lending library where students could take a one year membership and then visit every day of the week and read books. We do not have all the same books in the lending library but it does offer English reading materials for those who are learning English and also for English native speakers. The membership. Some people said to me if you do this then no one will buy the books, but I could clearly see that it was two different audiences. We also did not want to sell used books as we could see that the expat community could easily buy them all and we wanted a way to have the books available and in circulation for the masses. Lending library members have a library card, receive book updates and at present we have university students and families who participate in this program.
I believe that a business can provide effectively to a variety of audiences and also if you are ONLY in business to make money then I believe you may have limited success. Community matters. Over time the lending library members have started buying books and the book buyers have joined the lending library. It has definitely been a win-win situation. I would also like for young people in Senegal to have more interest in entrepreneurship and small business development. We cannot all work for Orange, Sonatel an Citibank. Somebody has to start small businesses in order to fuel job development, innovation, new services, etc.
1.) Again, we started as a book store only but then also became a lending library
2.) Then when people started coming who wanted to learn English in order to read the books we added and Education Section with English classes
3.) We also added SAT, TOEFL and GMAT prep in response to requests
4.) Based on demand and recognising I have the experience to provide this service very well, we also added University Admissions assistance to the Education Section.
5.) We have sent numerous students abroad to the UK, UK, Malaysia and now
are working more to assist students study in Canada and the UAE.
Services and programs can be added based on audience needs and interests, but…. only add these if you can provide quality services. Never insult your clients by assuming that they will just accept this. Provide the best and the response + word of mouth will propel you forward.