CDRE 26 | Homeschool Hero

 

Sometimes, life puts us in sticky situations that often open us to opportunities for growth and success. Nathan Stearns is one who has been stuck in these, both literally and figuratively. In this episode, this homeschool hero sits down with Jeramie Worley to share his amazing journey—from growing up making his own maple syrup to working in the power company, White River Valley Electric Cooperative, as a Community Programs Coordinator. Nathan takes us across some of his greatest successes along with great tips on sales and investing and reflections about his faith and family life. Despite all the major highs, Nathan’s stories also give us a glimpse of the challenges that tend to come from climbing uphill. Tune in to discover how he found the courage to stand in the midst of adversity and more!

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Sticky Situations With A Homeschool Hero With Nathan Stearns

In a time where the only thing people are talking about is AI and technology advancements, I find myself craving more and more real, authentic people. I introduce you to Nathan Stearns who tells us how he grew up making his own maple syrup and how homeschooling sheltered him from the world but also gave him some of his greatest successes.

My new friend and homeschool hero shares tips on how to become a sharpshooter in sales and how your power company could be your greatest asset as a real estate investor. Trusting God to lead him from place to place, Nathan shares how his life has taken some pretty interesting turns. In fact, he may have turned me into an incredible resort deal. We take a look at it a bit, how to analyze it, how to fund it, and how to pitch it to a partner. Stay tuned. This is a fun one.

 

CDRE 26 | Homeschool Hero

 

I see you’ve brought an interesting topic of conversation.

I’ve brought an icebreaker of my own. I have brought us some pure New York maple syrup.

It’s interesting because you made it.

I made it with my hands.

That’s like collecting honey. How does one get maple syrup? How does it work?

To give you the long and the short of things, I was homeschooled. I wrote a homeschool report on tapping maple trees when I was twelve. I thought it was so cool that I asked my mom and dad if I could tap a tree, and they got me a couple of taps. I went out and found some sugar maples, which are a very specific tree. They have a specific bark and their leaves are specific. They are a five-lobed leaf. In between a leaf, there is a U in between the lobes. That is a sugar maple.

That’s how you tell the difference between a maple and a sugar maple.

A regular maple, like a silver maple, has a very sharp point in between the leaves. It won’t produce as much sap. There will be some sap, but you can only tap the trees in the spring when things are starting to thaw out. After a long winter, a deep thaw starts to take place. In the daytime, the temperature gets above the freezing point. Above 32 degrees, something starts to happen inside the tree. During the day, all that sap and all those minerals begin to drain out of the tree. At night, they are sucked back up through the roots.

The ideal tapping season is when the degree is about 40 degrees during the day and about 20 at night. When it hits that 40-degree day, it’s pouring out of the tree. Simply, what you do is you drill a little two-inch hole in the side of the tree. You put either a metal or a plastic tap into that hole. It collects the sap that’s dripping from the top of the wood to the bottom of the wood inside that hole. It runs down the wood through your tap into whatever you’re collecting it in. Some people collect it in tubes that run gravity-fed or vacuum-fed into huge tanks. Other people like us, we got milk jugs. We sterilize them. I cut little holes in the side and hung the milk jug on the tree.

How long does it take to get a gallon of maple syrup out of the tree?

It depends on the weather. Some days, we get half a gallon from all day. Some days, we would get three full gallons. It depends on how quickly it’s draining.

That is sap. The sap that comes out of the tree, does it look different than what you buy in the store?

Yes. The sap looks like water because it is. It’s 98% water and 2% sugar.

It’s runny. It’s very liquid.

It’s like you go and get flavored water at the store. There are companies that sell bottled maple sap.

You can drink it?

You can drink it like water. It’s awesome. It requires a lot less effort than making maple syrup. After you collect it, you’ve got to get it into your barrels or your storage container, and then you’ve got to boil it down until the temperature of the syrup is seven and a half degrees above the boiling temperature of water. That changes every day depending on the barometric pressure. The finished syrup is anywhere from 217 to 222 degrees Fahrenheit. You have to consistently monitor that.

How does it get to that thick and dark color that we expect from the temperature?

The boiling evaporates the water off, which makes it denser and thicker.

You’re distilling it.

The minerals inside of the sap begin to create that color. Early on in the year when it’s fresh syrup sap, it’s a really light amber. By the end of the year, it’s a very dark, what we would call traditionally syrup color.

It gets darker the longer it stays in the jug.

A lot depends on it. I’m not the best, but I did make it for ten years.

I’ve never met a person in my life who has ever made their own maple syrup. You are the expert as far as I know.

We were backyard operations. My dad and I built a literal sugar shack. We cut down random trees and nail them together. We got some random plywood from the barn. We put some rolled shingles on one side and felt paper on the other side and made a hole for the vent to evaporate out of it. We got an old oil tank that someone had welded cut in half and then put an angle iron around it. We cut a little door on the end to make a wood-burning stove. We had a 3-foot by 6-foot evaporating steel pan with two slats in it so there are three lanes where the sap would be.

Around here, that’d be moonshine. Up in Upstate New York, it’s a sugar shack. How much could you come up with in a year, in a season?

It depends on how many trees you’re tapping. My best year that I ever did, we made 32 gallons of syrup.

What’d you do with it?

I sold it to our local neighbors and the people in town, and I sold out of it.

Around here, people sell eggs for $5 a dozen or it goes up more. Was it like that? Was it below market rate or was it higher than market rate because it was homemade or handmade?

Whatever the store was pricing it at, I priced it a little bit higher because it was handmade. I made it myself. It wasn’t some big operation that could cut costs.

Is it better than what you can get at the store?

I think so.

Is there any difference between what you do and what the stores will do?

Yes. Typically, the stores are buying from large producers that have very dialed-in services. They’re getting in tanker trucks full of sap, like a milk truck full of sap

Let me ask you this. That property that you were talking to me about before we started talking on the show, how many acres was that roughly?

101.

It’s got a 100-acre lake on it. Do you think there are sugar maples on that property?

There is, for sure. I’ve seen them.

For $500,000, this can be yours, this property in Upstate New York. We should start a maple syrup operation up there and get people to come up and taste it and make their own maple syrup.

I’m in. Let’s do it.

It’s been decreed. I’m not joking either.

Let me give you guys a taste of this.

This is Nathan Stearns’ maple syrup. Do you have a name for it? Do you have a brand?

Yes. My dad coined the name of our little farm in Pine City, New York. He called it Mercy’s Harvest Farm. This is Mercy’s Harvest pure maple syrup.

I love it. Why do you call it Mercy’s Harvest?

It’s the fruits of the mercy of God in our life. He’s blessed us so immensely. It’s His mercy that we get to enjoy this life. My dad might have a different answer, but that’s mine.

God has blessed us with the fruits of His mercy. It is through His mercy that we get to enjoy this life. Click To Tweet

I love it, and I agree.

No way.

I’m sipping it, but you’re pounding it like a tailgate party. This is really good.

I know you’re pretty good with your taste, so you can probably taste some of the smoky flavor. It’s because it was in a non-contained pan. I burned the wood directly underneath it. I’m constantly opening the door and sticking fire in, and there’s an open pan. A lot of these other ones have heat. It goes directly into an evaporator hood and directly out. No smoke or anything ever touched the liquid.

I have my bins of sap sitting right next to the fire, which sometimes, we try not to, but some of the silt will rest down into the pan and into the sap. As we’re boiling it, it does end up getting mixed in and you can taste that smoky flavor. We filter it through t-shirts and cheesecloth several times until we get all the silt out. It’s clear, but it’s a red, amber type of color.

It’s much lighter than what I would expect from store-bought, but it tastes phenomenal. It is everything that I would expect, but it’s a little brighter. I’ve had the maple syrup that’s been aged in bourbon barrels and things like that. I do not enjoy it. I don’t like the extra flavor of maple syrup. The cool thing about maple syrup is you can use this as a sweetener in a lot of different ways.

You can use it in coffee and tea.

Maple is a heavy flavor. It’s a very distinct heavy flavor, but when you use it as a sweetener, a lot of times, that goes away. My son who has many dietary restrictions can’t have sugar but he can have monk fruit, honey, and maple syrup. They’re all safe, so I’ve been using this a lot for him. Maple syrup will be on the rise as an alternative sweetener because people can’t process it anymore.

The further we get into this business opportunity to create a maple syrup business. I grew up in Elmira, New York. I’m south, maybe about 40 minutes, from Cornell University in Ithaca, New York. Cornell had a guy who did a study, and that study produced the results that New York State has enough sugar maple trees to supply the world with syrup for 30 years if they’re tapped. It’s untapped potential.

That’s the name of the farm, Untapped Potential. What would you do differently if you were a proprietor of the Untapped Potential farm? Would you do what other maple syrup growers do or is there something you would do to make it special, unique, and different?

I would have to play around with that a little bit. What we did isn’t scalable. It’s very much a backyard operation. I would need to invest in some of the higher-end equipment. For instance, there is something called a reverse osmosis machine. What it does is you throw the sap through it and it reduces the sap to a much higher sugar content. It reduces about 50% of the water without boiling. It does take away a little bit from the mineral content because of the extreme filtering that reverse osmosis does, but it cuts down on the cost of boiling and processing. I’ve never done it. I’ve never compared what we produced versus what the others have produced. It’s still a great quality product.

Maybe we’re onto something here.

We are.

I like the property, I like the syrup, and I like you. We need to build a lodge up there.

Let’s do it.

We should let people come and retreat and experience a little mercy of their own.

We can dig into that a little bit deeper, too.

We should. You work for a local co-op. It’s a power company. You opened my eyes so much to the opportunities that a power company or a co-op and what they provide for their community. Every month, I get a newsletter. Maybe it’s every quarter. It’s from the co-op. To help people understand, when you turn on your lights, you have to pay your power bill.

My dad worked for a company in St. Louis. He was an electrical repairman. He worked for the power company. They generated their own power. There we turbines, dams, and coal-fired plants. There were a lot of different ways that they generated and made their own power, but sometimes, they didn’t make enough power so they would’ve to buy power.

I was talking to my dad. I must’ve been complaining about my power bill at one point. He’s like, “That’s because you live in an area where there’s a co-op. They don’t make any power. They buy power.” That was a new concept for me that you could buy electricity and ship it from place to place. It’s a huge organization, the power company here.

Tell us how you arrived there at the power company, and then teach us a little bit about some of the opportunities that an investor or a real estate agent might have that they don’t know they have. Things like grants and things like that that people have access to, it blew my mind that this department even existed at a power company. You have the department, don’t you?

I don’t. I am a big part of a facet of the communications and member engagement department.

That’s what it is. It’s fascinating to me that a co-op or a power company would want people to engage with them. You would think that they would be like, “Pay the bill, and don’t call and complain.”

We’re a different kind of power company.

Tell me about that.

I’ll give a little bit of the backstory. I won’t go all the way back to the day I was born until now.

Were you born in the ‘80s?

Yes. August of ‘89. I grew up in New York State. I am the oldest of eight. My dad was a pastor. I was homeschooled until I was a junior. I went to high school for two years. It was the shock of my life.

Was it because you were so smart that you tested out?

No. I had to go back a grade because the New York State laws did not accept some of my homeschool credits. I graduated two years later. I would’ve graduated as a sixteen-year-old as a homeschooler, but I wanted to go to public school to play sports. I wanted to play basketball, football, baseball, and run track and do the building trades program. I got to do that, all of it, for two years in high school. It was awesome. It was also the hardest time in my life, testing my faith in ways that I never thought it’d be tested.

How so?

I was super sheltered in the homeschool. I got into public school where I didn’t even know some of the swear words being said. I didn’t know the differences of alcohol. There were a lot of things I wasn’t exposed to and I was exposed to day one.

What is your opinion of that? Talk to me a little bit more about your experience. What meaning did you assign to it, and how did you get through it?

It was tough. I believe that I was raised in a great home. My parents loved me so much. They did everything that they could for us and gave us amazing opportunities. They formed a solid foundation in my heart and in my head. That was tested when I went into public school. There is locker room talk. There’s chatter. There are pictures that are passed.

That’s happening in junior high. My twelve-year-old is like, “Dad, look at this.” I’m like, “What the heck?”

There are things that you’re exposed to that aren’t godly or righteous. I struggled. It was a waterfall on me. At the same time, I was also a good student, and so I was picked on. I wouldn’t swear. I wouldn’t join in the bad jokes. People called me Goodie Two Shoes. They knocked me down in the hallway, wrote on my projects, and bullied me very toughly for six months. I contemplated everything. In the midst of all of that, I feel like God spared my life. He gave me the hope to continue on. That was through prayer, worship, and connecting with God to keep me in the same lane that my parents sent me on. After six months of testing and trial, my biggest adversaries became my biggest advocates and protectors.

In school, the individuals?

The ones that were beating me up, the ones that were bullying me, and the ones that were calling me names realized I wasn’t going to buckle under the pressure and the peer pressure that they were putting on me. They began to defend me when other kids would say, “Nate, do this. Do that.” They’re like, “Don’t mess with him. He’s good.”

 

 

Some of them came to me for prayer. I led some of them to the Lord. It was an amazing experience to see the faithfulness of God even in the midst of adversity. We may go through the valley of the shadow of death, but he’s there. I experienced that as a high school junior and many other times throughout my life.

This is very special. There is a regular conversation that goes on between people and high school kids. I’ve got two kids in high school. It’s interesting that we’re talking about homeschooling. I’ve got a lot of opinions about homeschooling and also respect for it. My opinions are positive towards homeschooling. With my kid’s dietary restrictions, we’ve thought about homeschooling him because his unique special situation doesn’t fit well with the rules and the regiment of public school.

Public school is a wonderful thing. I grew up in a public school. It’s free education for people. Education is a right. Most of the conversations that I’ve had with my kids have revolved around me being shocked at how they are so unappreciative of education because it’s provided to them so freely. In fact, as my kids began to get spoiled, I made them read Up from Slavery by Booker T. Washington because here is a man who so greatly appreciated education that he would do anything. All he wanted was to be able to read He worked his entire life to gain admittance to a school. He eventually became the president of that school and did so much for people and his community. He really brought a lot of people up with him. It was because of education.

My opinions about homeschooling have to do more with parenting. First of all, I could never homeschool my children. I don’t have the patience for it. I don’t have the mindset for it. Therefore, I greatly appreciate and admire people who do. It’s very special and seems way more efficient than public school.

Kelly and I have always talked about how important it is for us to prepare our children for the world and not necessarily protect them from it. Let me not assume. Would you say that your parents protected you from the world rather than prepared you for the world? At the same time, they gave you a different kind of preparation. You’re never going to be able to protect somebody from the world. They prepared you differently. They prepared you with Christ-centered training so that when you got tested, you did well.

The Bible says that we need to put on the full armor of God. After having put on the full armor of God, we need to stand and then continue to stand. The thing that we’re standing on is what makes the biggest difference. If we’re standing on the solid rock of Jesus, we won’t be moved. That’s what they gave me. In hindsight, maybe they could have had more conversations to help me understand our culture a little bit more, but as I’ve grown and matured and begun to appreciate everything that they did to protect me and to develop the Christ-centeredness that I have and will always have because of that sacrifice that they made, it’s priceless.

 

 

It was that relationship with God that brought you to the Ozarks, right?

That’s correct. Fast forward after high school, I went to Bible school for three years. I got my bachelor’s degree in Christian Ministry. I helped my dad plant a church. We moved to the North Country of New York and then I helped another church plant. I got a call that my friends were planting work here. We felt like we were called to help assist them in that. We helped them with that for a year.

We ended up at Bloom Church. We have been growing. Through the ebbs and flows of life, my wife and I and our five kids are growing in the Lord. We’re doing our best to have a balance of training them while also giving them the foundation so that when they face it, they can stand. We’ll have to wait and see if that works out.

I was going to ask you what you are doing differently. What have you learned from your life or what teaching are you adding to help prepare them for the world?

We’re adding exposure but from us.

You’re drinking and cussing in front of them?

Not exactly.

Not intentionally.

I wouldn’t put it like that. I try to never, ever cuss. I have on occasion, but we’re exposing them to things slowly. My oldest is only nine. We have a 9-year-old, an 8-year-old, a 6-year-old, a 3-year-old, and a 7-month-old. They’re still little. The older that they get, the more that we expose them to and bring in conjunction with them the teaching of the Bible. We show them examples of most of what they encounter in this life in the Bible. It’s all there. We can show them how to process it and how to talk to us about it.

We’re keeping an open door with them so that, hopefully, when the tough stuff starts to come in in junior high, high school, school, and later on as adults, they’ll have an open door with us to discuss that. I owe most of all of this to my wife because she is the chief initiator of all of this. I’m learning from her every day. It has been a wonder and a pleasure to be married to her.

She takes the brunt of the homeschooling?

She does. We’ve sent them to a public school for a little bit. We’ve sent them to private school for a little bit. We’re homeschooling and praying about what’s next. We continue to seek God and ask Him for His direction on what season we should walk in as we go.

It sounds like you’re doing the right thing, and it sounds like you take to heart your own personal experience. You guys sound like fabulous parents. Parenting isn’t easy, especially with that many kids. Somebody told me one time, “Never let somebody with one kid give you parenting advice.” I’ve got three kids, but I look up to somebody like you. You have to be okay with a certain level of chaos. There has to be a part of you that has to say, “I’m letting go of this result or of this outcome, or of this clean home.”

Jesus take the wheel.

Exactly. Is there a little bit of that to it?

There is. I’m still struggling with handling chaos. I grew up in it, so I should be pretty good at it.

You should be. It sounds like you’d make a fabulous real estate agent with that experience. You could handle all of the contracts, crazy relationships, personality types, and arguments, that he said, she said.

It has been crazy. If you follow my career, I’ve had a lot of sales experience. While I was in Bible school, I worked for Hertz Rental Car for three years as their lead sales counter rep, and then I went into building trades. I built some stuff.

Tell us some of your successes in your sales career because I know you’ve had quite a few. At one point, you were making more than the owner of one of the companies you were working for.

That happened.

Can you talk about that?

It didn’t end well.

Can we keep it anonymous and have you talk about it?

Yes.

A lot of people in the show love to read about recipes for success. Let’s dig in a little bit on some of that, what made you such a great salesman, and your approach to all that.

This goes back to when I was a kid and fundraisers for homeschool trips. My mom would plan fun historic homeschool trips to Philadelphia and Gettysburg, Washington, DC, Boston, and all these really cool locations. To go, we had to do all kinds of fundraising, whether it was wrapping presents at Walmart or selling cookies door to door, or popcorn, pies, or eggs.

Public school does fundraising. My kids are constantly raising money for that.

I built these wooden doll shelves. My dad and I built them and I took orders.

For doll houses?

They were doll shelves.

It was for people to put their dolls on display.

It’s a little shelf that you put on the wall and you set a doll on it. I made a bunch of those. I had 5 different sizes and 3 different colors. I’d stained them. For the backside, I put wallpaper on them. I was creating an item. I don’t know if I was 8, 9, or 10. I would be taking orders at church, sporting events, and stuff, and then producing them and delivering them.

This was back before Etsy had been invented.

This was way before we even had a cell phone.

You’re peddling them door to door.

That continued to grow. I soon started being the top salesman in whatever fundraiser it was at school. I got my yearbook free and my whole senior year trip paid for.

What was it that made you the top salesman at this time in your life?

It was part of the way God wired me to know people, to be able to negotiate and to initiate.

Did you know who had the dolls?

No.

You were knocking on doors. What’s the first question? Was it like, “Pardon me, ma’am. Do you have any creepy dolls that wake you up at 3:00 AM?”

I didn’t even ask about the dolls. I said, “This is what I’m selling. Will you buy some?” People told me that they used them for their dolls.

You were selling shelves. You didn’t know they were going to be doll shelves. People use them for dolls. You were like, “This is what I’ve got. Do you want to buy it?” You’re explaining what it is. It is very easy to explain and ask for the sale.

I’m like, “Which one do you want?” They’d say, “The little one.” I’d say, “How about this bigger one?” I was already assumptive sales. I was upselling. Sales was natural. I don’t mind walking up to anybody and striking up a conversation. It doesn’t bother me. That helps in sales.

You’re not afraid of rejection?

No.

Why not?

I’ve been through some seasons where I had a lot of noes, but it never got me down because I asked somebody else. I’ll find someone.

Don’t be afraid of rejection. If you get a “no,” just ask somebody else. Click To Tweet

Why doesn’t it get you down? Why doesn’t rejection affect you?

Sales rejection doesn’t affect me. Other rejection does. Relationship rejection and things of an emotional nature, that does affect me.

Business transaction rejection is just a transaction.

Rejection is just a transaction. Click To Tweet

It’s a transaction.

It’s a no.

They didn’t want it. Maybe they didn’t want it today, but maybe they do tomorrow. My biggest sales at Hertz was when I won a competition between Elmira Airport, Syracuse Airport, and Binghamton Airport. I got to rent a Mercedes C200 for the weekend.

How old were you?

I was 21. I wasn’t even old enough to rent it without a fee, but they let me anyway because it was an award. The very first car ride I took my wife in was in this Mercedes C200.

Was she your wife at the time?

No. I had only known her for three weeks. I put in my favorite Hillsong United CD. I put the windows down, opened the moon roof, and went on a curvy road. It was a cool moment. I can still see her in that moment. From there, I went into subcontracting for a few years, did some maintenance on Fort Drum Army Base, and then went into car sales.

New car sales or pre-owned?

Both. I worked for a Ford dealership. At 25, I told myself I was going to retire, and that’s what I did. I quit as a locksmith. I had been promoted to locksmith on the Army base. I decided I was going to quit and stay home and my wife would go work at the hospital. She’s an RN. I was like, “I’m going to retire. I’m 25. My wife will make all the money. I’ll take care of the babies.” That lasted three months.

I started selling cars. They told me it would take me about 1 year or 2 or maybe 3 to build a good book of business. Within my first three months, I was already the top salesman in that place. I was still learning what cars I was selling, but the joke around the dealership was, “Nate got another lay down. They were out there lying on their pillow next to the car they wanted to buy. Nate walks up to them and says, “Sign here,” and they take it.” It was the faithfulness of God.

You’re saying it was a favor. You moved to the Ozarks. At one of the first jobs you had, you were such an incredible salesman that you were making more than the owner.

I moved here. As part of how I got here, there was a church to help and a sales job to work in. I was going to accept what I thought was going to be some accounts that were already producing. I walked in and they were not producing. It was very little here and there.

You thought you were going to walk into a decent commission-based.

It was a very modest base.

You moved across the country. It’s what you expected. It didn’t work out?

No. Praise God. At the time, my wife was still working. She had a remote job that she brought with her for the first six months. That carried us. It was God’s faithfulness and how he orchestrated everything. I began to learn the items and learn the business. I feel like God gave me insight and direction on who to call and who to mine out. One of the things I was good at was finding new business and new customers.

Prospecting. That’s different than sales.

I love gold mining. We’ll have to talk about that another time.

I do, too.

One of my sales prizes at this company was a picture of a patent of an old-time mine from the 1700s. It’s so cool. I still have it at my desk at the co-op. I’m a miner. I’m a digger, and I’m going to continue to dig. I’m going to find resources. I’m going to find things for whoever I’m working for, for me, my wife, my kids, or my company. What I did is I found ways to increase sales with the companies that I had been given to steward. It came to me that one of the reasons why my pay continued to change was because it was found out that I was making more.

That is not a bad thing. You must incentivize your sales team. It’s okay because that CEO should have been focused on the legacy. He should have been focused on putting you in a leadership position so you could train ten other people to make that money. People think so small. The best thing that we could possibly do is build somebody to the point where they are making more than you.

I will tell you. The first time that happened to me, it made me pause for a minute. I had to be like, “This is what this is about.” In our fleshly nature and even in our tribal nature as a human tribe, we would share resources for the benefit of the tribe. If we don’t contribute to the tribe, then we are looked down upon. We have this innate nature to want to contribute. Yet, we’re so competitive, too, as people.

I wasn’t the only one that was making more than the CEO as well.

There were other salespeople?

Yes. My pay changed 10 times in 3 and a half years. In that time, I learned so much. I got to fly to some cool places and meet with some high-end vice presidents and executive buyers. I was in the textile industry. I learned the ins and outs of eCommerce. I did eCommerce the whole time I was there. I learned the ins and outs of what made a good listing and how you got it to rank on the first page of Google. I succeeded in a couple of different sales in managing some very big eCommerce platforms like Wayfair, JCPenney, and Zulily. I dabbled in a lot of others as well. That’s what I did for three and a half years.

It came to a point where the direction corporately was to pay me even less. I was given two months to find somewhere else. In the end, they did give me a different offer. I will give them that. They did come back and realize what they were letting walk out the door. They did come up with their offer, but it still wasn’t enough. It was an amazing thing because through all of my upbringing, my bible school time, my construction time, my sales time, and then even into this textile market and eCommerce, God was preparing in me skills I didn’t know I was going to need for the next thing.

I sent my resume to a guy I knew at White River Electric. They had a job open for an economic development specialist. I didn’t get it. A couple of days before my last day, I was called back for another interview for the community programs coordinator position. On the last day of my other job, their offer was a little bit below where I needed to be. In the last hour of my last day, they came up to where I needed to be.

The new company?

Yes. White River Electric Cooperative. I accepted this position to manage community programs. I had no clue what a cooperative was until I interviewed and did some research. I have found that the job that I’m in, the position that I was given is a perfect blend of my sales and business experience but also my ministry and compassion tendencies.

Also, your ability to connect with people in a truly authentic way.

It has been an amazing blessing, the last couple of years that I’ve worked for the cooperative. I would encourage anyone who is looking for a steady income with great benefits to find a cooperative and see if there’s a fit for you because it is an amazing place to work. They have a great culture.

 

CDRE 26 | Homeschool Hero

 

I’ve heard that time and time again from people. There are not many great places to work in the Ozarks, especially Branson, a tourist town. There are not many steady jobs that aren’t tourism-related unless you’re working for the schools, the hospital, or something like that. Everybody that I know who works for White River is very appreciative. I’ve never heard a bad thing spoken about it. That should tell you something. Let’s talk about some community programs. I never knew that they existed. My extent to getting involved with my co-op is paying the bill and sometimes getting a capital credit.

Here’s how the electric company has shown up in my life and business. We have a lot of solar companies that want to get in front of our real estate agents and talk about the benefits of solar powering your home and saving money. That seems to be one of the main reasons why someone will pull the trigger on adding solar panels to their roof. It is because they want to save money. There are savings there. Sometimes, people want to do it for green reasons or environmental reasons.

One of the major complaints that I’ve heard on the back end of that after the sale is that when salesmen are in front of an investor or a real estate property owner, they talk a lot about the savings that you’ll get because the power company is going to buy power from you. You’re going to produce so much power that the power company is going to buy back some power, but the rate is usually different.

That’s one advice that we always try to give to people. Before you sign the paper, you might want to call your co-op or call your power company to find out at what rate they buy power. I didn’t realize that they bought power, but now that I know that, that would be a good thing to check if you’re getting ready to go for solar.

That is the best advice that you can offer. I’m glad that you’re doing it. You’re right. A lot of these salesmen fit the classic sleazy salesman description. It’s not only industry-specific for solar. It can go for anyone. There are a few good solar salesmen that will treat you fairly and honestly. Most of the rest, they’re not in it for you. They’re in it for the commission.

There are a few good solar salesmen that will treat you fairly. Most of the rest are not in it for you; they're in it for the commission. Click To Tweet

At the co-op, I don’t manage solar. I used to do our rebates. People would constantly call for solar rebates and I’d explain that we don’t have any. We do help our members figure out their usage. We do help them figure out if they’re even in a good place for sunlight to hit. We have had some installs where the solar panels were hung in the shade, so they’re not going to work.

The biggest thing that we have is an energy services coordinator. That is a dedicated employee who is studying the industry who is able to articulate the processes of net metering, which is how you measure the bi-directional flow of electricity from your system and the grid, what you’re using inside your home, what the rates will be, and how your payback could potentially look with our given rate structure.

If you are considering solar, you should reach out to your power company or co-op. That department was?

It’s an energy services coordinator at our co-op. He works within our member engagement and communications department.

It is for the purpose of serving that member or customer on whether or not to make that decision or at least give them the opportunity to make an informed decision.

We are reliable. I’ll say that before anything else. We have reliable electricity.

How do you know if you don’t have reliable electricity?

The lights are off.

What’s the difference? Is it brownouts?

Yes. It is time to get power back on. We have one of the lowest rates in the state, if not in the nation. We’re very good. We have high rates of reliability. If you were to call my department, if you were to call and talk to me about the programs that I manage, I would give you an onslaught of funding programs and educational programs of ways that we are communicating with our community and trying to make it a better place to work.

What would you fund and how would you fund it?

One of the things that I manage is the White River Valley Electric Trust as a separate organization. It has its own 9 directors that are representative of our 5 counties. We serve electricity to Christian, Stone, Taney, Ozark, and Douglas County. All of those counties except for 1 have 2 directors and 1 has one director. They govern all of the funds and how they are used in the cooperative trust account.

What is an example of something that they would use the funds for?

Scholarships.

You can get a college scholarship from your co-op or from a trust associated with a co-op. How do you go about applying for that? What criteria would they use, in a nutshell?

Everything is funded by Operation Roundup. Every single one of our members has probably opted into rounding their bill up every month. You are probably donating about $6 to $12 a year. That goes into the trust fund for scholarships and all the other grants that I might get into. For a student to apply for a scholarship, they need to make sure that they’re in the scholarship application window.

In the last few years, we have asked students to write an essay on something that they have learned through community service that is going to stick with them and help them be a better person. In 2022, we had 182 applications, and we were able to fund 68 apps. We gave away 68 $1,500 scholarships.

 

 

That would buy some room and board and some books. For rural Missouri kids, that’s fantastic.

We give anywhere from $100,000 to $150,000 a year in scholarships.

That’s awesome. That is community service. I had no idea that was even available. It’s my fault. I get the magazine. I get invited to the annual parties and all that but I never go. If you were a real estate agent and you were engaged in this or connected with your co-op and somebody moved to town, you could get them plugged into some great resources that most people probably don’t know about. I see this as a great way for business owners in our area or in their area. If you’re reading this and you have a co-op, check in with that member services department and find out if there’s some value that you can add that other people aren’t thinking of adding.

One of the other things that I can’t speak to a lot is that we also participate in economic development. There are a lot of levers that we can pull through the state and local funding resources as far as USDA grants and loans. We operate with that a lot. Some of the people at the cooperative are also on influential boards within the community as well.

If one of our members has something they feel needs to happen in the community, they can submit requests to the board of directors of the cooperative. They can bring it right to the main meeting. That is another member-owner benefit. One of the foundations of our society is that we supply electricity. What can you do without electricity? Almost nothing.

Camp maybe?

Yes, but you can’t have a blow-up mattress. You can’t have light.

Who sleeps on those things anyway? I don’t know.

You’re probably not going to have running water because you have to have an electric pump to pump it up.

That’s true. Every well in the state would go dry or would go unused without that pump.

Part of the positioning of the electric cooperative is that we are influential. Typically, some of the executive employees of that cooperative are probably connected to some of the most powerful people in the community or the state. They can help with legislation and all kinds of different things. That’s not my thing.

There’s someone there whose thing it is.

Exactly.

Thank you for that education. You were giving us some good nuggets there. Let’s talk about what’s next for you. I know you’ve talked about investing in real estate a little bit. Where are you at in terms of building your portfolio?

I am in the beginning stages of figuring out what I want to invest in.

What does that mean? What are the beginning stages for you?

I have talked to a lot of people and told them that I want to become an investor. There are different options as far as businesses to invest in, stocks to invest in, real estate to invest in, and a lot of in-between types of things that we could get into. We could buy and sell, flip, or open a business. I’m intrigued by real estate because it’s a long-term play. As the song says, you can buy dirt and it will pay long-term dividends. I’m really interested in it. That’s why I’m so glad that I’m connected to you so I can learn from you.

Real estate is a long-term play. Click To Tweet

One of the things that my wife and I really want to do is create diversified income streams. I make a great salary and benefits in my position, but I want to set up my family for generations. I want to be able to be more philanthropic with what we own and what we have. I want to be able to make my own hours in the future if it should lead to good entrepreneurial success. One of the things that I’m pursuing is learning what is out there. If you were going to help me and I said that I wanted to go buy this lake in New York for $500,000 and want to not pay for it out of my own pocket, what should I do?

Find a partner. You would also have to have a plan and a pitch. Those are the three things that you would need. You can’t really get a partner, and by a partner, I mean a private equity partner or a business partner. There are 100 different ways that you can partner with somebody in order to buy this lake in New York, but there’s no way you could convince somebody if you don’t have a pitch or a plan.

The pitch comes from confidence in knowing that the plan is sound. The plan is usually some type of proforma or some type of way you are going to monetize the property. Whether you’re pitching your grandpa, your next-door neighbor, or a private equity company, you have to have a thesis. Come up with a thesis and say, “This property in New York has a house on it which I believe we could rent out on Airbnb.”

You would have to check with the zoning laws and make sure from a government perspective or zoning perspective that you could do that there. From a market perspective, you would have to make sure that it’s close enough to densely populated areas for this to be a getaway location. You would want to do market research in that area to make sure that you’re not trying to create a market. You’re not on the bleeding edge of something. It’s okay to be on the leading edge of something, but you can’t say, “We’re going to open up the first Airbnb in a 400-mile radius.” It might work, but you’re probably going to do a lot of extra work. You’re going to have to budget more for marketing to get people out there.

That’s what we’re doing with Lake Longbow. We’re on the bleeding edge of a market, but I’m seeing the trend. Before we bought the property, we knew that a destination lodge with a ten-acre private lake was rare. You can’t find that anywhere. Go find it for me. You can’t. People don’t know they need it yet. After COVID, the trend began to change from people wanting to stay in a condo to wanting a unique destination. They want to stay at a place where they can fish, bring their four-wheelers, hike, or sit out under the stars and be away from everybody.

We’re an hour and a half away from a major tourist destination. They could still go to Branson. They could take a day. They could go on a day trip. We’re fifteen minutes away from the new state park that has been built. We’re 7 miles away from 60 miles of biking and four-wheeler trails. Somebody could come and bring them and they don’t have to worry about parking.

It’s taking some time to tell people how to use the property. When we talk as business partners, we say, “We need to create some marketing posts on how we are using the property. We need to let people know it’s available and run some specials.” People aren’t knocking on our door yet. It’s taken a year for us to begin to get regular bookings. You would want to build that margin into your plan if you were going to be farther out.

There are a lot of different data sources that you could connect with to get some great Airbnb data. You could rent out the cabin long-term for a little while because you want to tap those trees. You would come up with what your resources would cost to be able to tap those trees. Maybe you could log the area. There are a variety of different ways you could monetize the land, and that all goes into your proforma and your plan. Once you have that, then you’ve got to create a sales pitch. You have to let go of some of the things that I had to deal with when I first began asking for money, which was asking for money is bad.

I was raised that you work. When you need money, you work overtime. If you’re borrowing money, it’s because times are hard. You should have thought ahead. If you never save money, you’ll never have money. That’s what my dad taught me, and I’m teaching that to my kids because it’s great money advice.

There are all these other Dave Ramsey training, which is, “Don’t go into debt.” That’s true. Don’t go into consumer debt. Pay your house off. You should do all of those things. Paying your house off is an incredible fortress. If it’s not a goal of yours, it should be top of the list because when times get hard, somebody can’t take it away from you. No matter what, you’ll always have that. Having that confidence is incredible.

In fact, I was always good at paying my bills. I was ridiculously on time paying my bills until I paid off my house. I then realized that my house payment was responsible for all my other bills getting paid on time. I’m getting a note from the electric company like, “You haven’t paid your bill.” I’m like, “Let me go write that $91 check.” It’s very important.

Moving into the uncertain economic times that we’re having, I’m not really scared. I’m able to take better risks with my business to expand and scale because my fortress is paid off. If you have an office, you should pay off your office. A lot of people say, “You should be tapping into that money and using it to invest.” I used to think that way but I don’t anymore. I’ve changed my mind. You’ve got to have your house paid off. It’s got to be a fortress.

That search for private equity or a private equity partner has to do with us flipping the script on borrowing money. Especially when money was cheap, most people would go to a bank and put their money in the bank and they were getting maybe half of a percent of a percent on their money. If I walked up to them and said, “I’m going to give you 6% on your money every year religiously,” they’re like, “Here you go. I want to make 6%.” It’s backed by real estate, so it’s great. Rates have gone up so I’ve got to increase that rate.

There are tons of people out there who are not happy with their performance in the stock market and are not happy with whatever they’ve got their money in. If they know a real estate person who’s smart and who has a great plan, and you pitch them on the return on their money that’s backed by real estate, if I don’t perform, you get the real estate. The real estate will perform for you, and then it’s relatively easy to find a partner. It’s like anything else. You have to find those people that are willing to partner with you.

You can also find other business partners where you’re the sweat equity partner and they’re putting up the money. You’re 50/50 partners, but you’re the one doing everything that it’s necessary to set up the business, operate the business, and market the business. They’re the money person, but they also own 50% of the property. People will partner with you in a variety of different ways. It could be a syndication. You can find ten people who want to partner with you and create a small little fund, for lack of a better word. Honor your investors. Make sure you get them a return because you want them to lend you money again.

The next phase is what I’m in the process of learning, which is creating a fund. That usually is attached to some type of sub-asset class. For me, it will be short-term or midterm rentals and resorts. We are raising money to fund that so that we can say, “Nathan, you did the analysis on that. It checks all the boxes.” Maybe someday, you’re the guy in the company whose job it is to make sure that all the boxes are checked. Whether it’s New York, Mexico, Canada, or British Columbia, it doesn’t matter. It is like, “This is our formula. These are the types of properties that we’re looking for. This is the criteria that must exist for us to say yes to it. If it’s a yes, then we buy it.” We’ve got the ops team that manages the property and continues to monetize the property to generate returns for the company.

What you’re saying is there are a lot of options.

There’s an infinite number of options. The only thing stopping a person from making money in real estate is a lack of education, which is why I’ve always educated real estate agents. I feel like we need to educate agents to the point where people will be crazy to do business with somebody else. We always wanted to make sure that those agents were investors themselves because it adds a ton of clout to their business model.

 

CDRE 26 | Homeschool Hero

 

They’ve gone through it. They’ve experienced it.

In fact, we are continuing to double down on that even more as we begin to expand. We are teaching real estate agents all over the country to become investors themselves. Frankly, real estate agents will work until they die if they don’t have some kind of retirement plan. Forever, your own personal portfolio will protect you. We joined forces with eXP so they could get stock in revenue share as well.

We’ve been talking for a while and it is all amazing things. One of the things I love to do is I love to find out what people like you are looking for. We talked a lot about my story and what I’ve gotten into so far, but how can I help you find what you’re looking for? You talked about building up nationwide. You’ve jumped in with eXp. I know in other discussions you’ve talked about building the architects in your company. What are the things that you’re looking for? Is there anything that I can help you find?

Thank you for asking that question. I’ve always told everybody in my organization and anybody that I’ve ever worked for, “I need people.” If you put me in front of people, then I can serve them. Like you, I can figure out what their problem is. I can serve them, educate them, or inspire them to move off the line. My whole purpose in life is to be a light. Like you, I believe that God has sent me to be an apostle in the business world. All I want to do is to be a light and to be an encourager to people.

I’ve got a skillset that if somebody wants to become a better real estate agent, if they want to build a portfolio of income-generating properties, if they’re a developer and they need funding for their property, or if they’re a leader and they want to learn multiplication in their business and lead their team, these are the things that you will learn when you come in association with me. Anybody who is already in real estate that wants to get a greater return on their time or any investor, whether they’re a real estate investor or not, that wants a greater return on their time, we can talk to them.

In fact, for the past couple of years, I’ve been doing nothing but help real estate agents do more production, teach them to become investors, and teach all of their clients to become investors and better investors. I am always a white belt. I am always a learner, so I am constantly pushing myself into new areas. I’m always learning from other people as well.

If you know any real estate agents who don’t have a portfolio of income-generating properties, then I would love to chat with them. I would love to chat with them about their business model and find out if it’s serving them in all the ways that it can, whether they’re team leaders, broker-owners, individual agents, or any person who wants to invest in real estate and wants to kick it off and get started. We’re going to be starting some free challenges for people to inspire them and get them kicked off and thinking about investing, whether it’s in long-term rentals or short-term rentals.

There’s a lot of steam behind the short-term rental world. Especially in some established markets, the numbers aren’t working as well. That’s true in a lot of cases, but there’s a ton of emerging markets out there and a ton of opportunities in existing markets that people aren’t realizing. We’re doing a lot of work by helping investors find incredibly unique rare properties that you can’t find anywhere.

I love that.

That’s what we’re doing.

That’s one of the things that drew me to you the first time that we talked. You shared a testimony of one of the first times that God spoke to you to say something to a stranger and the process that you went through internally and externally, disobedience and obedience. I saw the authentic part of you that desires to help people. It is cool to see God blessing your efforts and expanding your horizons. I need to probably get into some of those free classes and learn some more because we want to get some rental properties. We want to get into real estate. You mentioned a lot of different things that you’re looking for, but if there was one thing on the top of your list, what do you need?

It would be people, and it would be people who want more out of their real estate careers.

That’s awesome.

I can, without a doubt, confidently stand here with complete conviction and say that out of that conversation, 1 of 3 things will happen. One, we’ll talk to them and find out that what they’ve got going on is perfect for them. They’ll feel confident that what they’ve got is good. They’ll find out that there are missed opportunities in their real estate career that they need to take advantage of. We’ll find that they might need to make a change in their leadership, whether it’s with us or somebody else. The best thing that I could possibly do is help them come to the realization that something needs to happen or nothing needs to happen. They’re either confident or confident they need to make a change.

Thanks for sharing all that. I appreciate it. I am looking forward to building a deeper, more authentic relationship with you and the Worley team and seeing where God takes all this.

That sounds fascinating to me. It would be my greatest joy to be able to hang out with you more. Thanks for the maple syrup, thanks for the conversation, and thanks for all the great nuggets.

Same with you.

I appreciate you.

A big thank you for reading until the end of the episode. I know your time is valuable. I hope you got a few takeaways that are going to help you get a greater return on that time. I know you will. If you did enjoy it, I’d sure appreciate a share or a comment. Feel free to subscribe for instant access to new episodes and offers. There’s also a ton of free content and ways to learn more and engage more at WorleyRealEstateNetwork.com. Until then, we’ll continue to bring you recipes for success and real stories from real people who, like you, are living out your divine purpose. God loves you. No matter what happens, don’t give up.

 

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About Nathan Stearns

CDRE 26 | Homeschool HeroNathan was born and raised in New York State until deciding to relocate to the Ozarks in 2017. He and his wife Kathryn have 5 beautiful kids and now reside in Taney County. He is the Community Programs Coordinator for White River Valley Electric Cooperative. His duties include managing the White River Valley Electric Trust company and their board of directors, as well as the programs he will share about today.

In addition to these duties, he serves on the Taney County OACAC advisory board, GOCAPS advisory Board, is a member of the James River Basin Board of directors, a member of the Transformation Ozarks cabinet, Generations Bank (Kimberling City) Advisory Board. In his free time, he enjoys spending time with his family, being outdoors, fishing, playing basketball, and cheering his children on in their many sports leagues. He is very active @ his church drumming, leading small groups, and mentoring other men. He is passionate about making the Ozarks a better place to live, work, and raise a family.