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“You can work for somebody else, but work at the stuff that you really want to do. If you’re not doing that, you’re not only cheating yourself, you’re cheating the rest of us by not giving as much as you possibly can.”

Founder of My American Benefits Plan

Interview by Mike Sullivan of Sully’s Blog

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Matthew Lesko is a best selling author and entrepreneur.  You know him as America’s Answer Man, they guy in the question mark suit, the infomercial guru.  He tracks political changes and government programs and services which often go unadvertised.  He provides that information to the rest of us, the taxpayers.  He’s not only close to government programs, but  also with the changing face of today’s business environments.  Raised in Wilkes Barre, Pennsylvania, Matthew received his undergraduate degree from Marquette University, in Milwaukee, then went to Viet Nam as a navigator for the U.S. Navy. When he returned, he earned a Masters in Business Administration in Computers and Management at American University, in Washington D.C.

It began 25 years ago when Matthew was working out of his bedroom with one phone line helping Fortune 500 companies get information on commodities.  Then he realized that the government gives away what these companies are buying and selling.  The complexities of multiple agencies and programs made it impossible to navigate without a map.  So he created one and within 3 years the company grew to 30 employees.  Matthew Lesko is the author of two New York Times best-sellers, Getting Yours and Information USA and has sold over 3 million books on how to apply for government grants.  He has also been a syndicated consumer columnist for Good Housekeeping magazine, and The New York Times Syndicate, and has addressed the prestigious Harvard Business School on Branding, where his books are part of the curriculum.

My American Benefits Plan
MO:
Your website MyAmericanBenefitsPlan.com features a vast amount of assistance for members.  Things like information on getting help with education, paying bills, expanding your business and more.  You also offer mentoring.  What can members expect when they take advantage of some of these offerings?

Matthew:
I just set up a page that shows the best programs for business and has a lot of free videos.  The videos talk about things like selling overseas (The government will, for $350, find people in any country in the world to represent you.  They send people from the embassies out to find these people for you.), protecting your ideas as an inventor, selling to the government and more.  The service the site provides is that I have the largest collection of services.  So let’s say you want to start a business in your state and what income you want.  You can do a search and there will be 400 to 500 programs to help you start a business.  It’s for anything such as health care, legal, you want to go back to school.  We keep it up to date.  We send you new programs everyday.

Author Matthew Lesko

I also do mentoring, right from my kitchen table.  People can call in and ask questions and be mentored.  I enjoy listening to people and help them eliminate the roadblocks they have in their mind.  A true entrepreneur can find more than one way to do something.  If you can come up with the money to do it then maybe a joint venture is the solution.

MO:
How is it that you came to realize that there are government programs and services available that most of us as tax payers don’t even realize are available?  Are people really getting their hands on this money?

Matthew:
I wanted a business.  I would have sold hot dogs at the mall.  In the 70’s I had an MBA in computers, I had a computer company that went belly-up.  I was trying to figure out how to make a buck, just like any entrepreneur.  I knew that I didn’t want to work for anybody.  I would work for someone for six months and it was like jail, I hated it.  I just couldn’t wait to get out.  I would quit, start a business, it would fail, and I’d go to work for someone else for six months.  Then start the cycle again.

Failure, to me, is the most important thing in life.  As an entrepreneur there was absolutely nothing more important than failure because nobody knows what the hell works.  There are experts, and they have some value, maybe to tell you what the problems are, but anyone can tell you what the problems are.  That’s easy.  If you are going to start a venture and start something new, your loved ones are the worst people to ask, because they don’t want to see you fail.  Anyone looking at your new venture can tell a thousand reasons why it’s not going to work or a thousand reasons why you shouldn’t do this.  That can stop you and they’re right.  But we spend a lifetime protecting ourselves from stuff and we are going to die anyway so why not.  I’ve had a few failures, but you just keep going because the alternative is terrible.  I just knew that I would dread doing something I didn’t want to do.  What a waste of your life.

MO:
It sounds like your passion isn’t just about government money, but there is more to it.  Am I right?

Matthew:

My work is really not to tell you about government programs, but to show you what help is out there to do what you want to do in life, no matter what it is.  You can work for somebody else, but work at the stuff that you really want to do.  If you’re not doing that, you’re not only cheating yourself, you’re cheating the rest of us by not giving as much as you possibly can.  That’s the joy in life.  Come home exhausted, but love it.  Love your work.  What’s better than to give?  I can’t imagine any other way to get through life.

MO:
We’ve all seen you on TV telling us that this government money is out there and available to us.  Have you ever leveraged any of these programs to access government money yourself?

Matthew:
Oh, yeah, all the time… my kids, my wife, my family.  My kids, as teenagers, once received $10,000 to work on an anti-tobacco campaign.  It was a grant from the state government.  My wife gets government contracts right in the living room here.  My sister frames stuff for the government. A million bucks from her garage in the middle of Virginia.  But it’s information too.  My kid broke his arm and we found the expert at NIH that studies this and they found the expert in the world to send our x-rays to.  Our own doctor wasn’t giving us the time of day, you know how important doctors are.  So we got these specialists, through the government, to look at these x-rays for free, brought the results to our doctor and man we had his attention.

If your insurance company doesn’t pay a claim, you don’t have to hire an attorney, there is a government office that will hassle that insurance company for you.  They can put that insurance company out of business, so they are more powerful than your attorney.  But people hire lawyers and that’s silly.

Another example, you’re in credit up to your keester and all you hear and see are ads for credit companies that say they will help you.  Well, they’re going to get money from you one way or another.  They need to pay for those ads and the money has to come from somewhere.  The government pays people to give you that same service and they’re free and they’re better.  They’re not going to try to figure out how to up sell you on something.

MO:
Have the current economic conditions made it more difficult for people and business to access the money the government has set aside for these programs?

Matthew:
No, the government is giving out more money than ever before.  They are the only people with money.  No one else has money.  There are actually more programs and more money available.  It’s double.  It’s a tool, love it or hate it.  I mean you may not like lawyers, but if you get divorced you need a lawyer.  You may not like the expressways, but if you want to get from Chicago to Milwaukee, the expressway will get you there faster than the back roads.

MO:
In your documentary, you’re wife says that you’re actually a quiet guy.  That’s quite different than the Matthew Lesko we see on TV jumping around telling us about government money.  Is it true that you are a quiet type of guy?

Matthew:
People around me are embarrassed.  My father and mother didn’t admit that I was their son the first 10 years I was on television.  I was a professor of computer science and I knew no one would pay attention if I said “this is very important.”  I love entertaining.  It annoys some people but I have fun with it.  That’s how I get your attention.

MO:
What advice do you have for entrepreneurs looking for money for their businesses or to get their ideas off the ground.  Is there money out there for them?  Does it exist?

Matthew:
Well, it’s not in the obvious places for one thing.  I think more then the money is other stuff.  Like my sister getting government contracts for millions of dollars.  That’s better than getting a grant for $10,000 or $15,000 that will take you six months and you’ll only get one.  Take that time and learn how to get a contract and get millions forever.

Services, you’re going to create a business plan, you’re going to raise money.  Go and Google “how to write a business plan” and you’ll find millions of people that will help you from consultants that will charge $5,000 to $10,000 to some software program.  The government has consultants that will help you for free to write that business plan.  If you’re an inventor, the same thing.  Don’t go call 1-800-IDEA or some invention company that will get $5,000 from you.  The government can help for free.

In starting a business, there are so many free things.  The government now has a program where they will chase down people who write you bad checks.  They’ll do it for free.  If you go to some collection agency, you’ll lose half the money to them in fees.  They’ll pay faster to the government than to any collection agency.

Selling… The government has experts that they hire, to help you figure out how to sell to the government.  You have a free marketing department.

The government wants you to succeed because that creates jobs.  Apple computers started with government money, FedEx started with government money.  Big business doesn’t really create jobs, it’s the entrepreneurs.

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