Sharon Bruckman on Celebrating a Labor of LoveDec 29, 2023 09:29AM ● By Sandra Yeyati
Credit on image is Sharon Bruckman / Natural Awakenings
In 1994, Sharon Bruckman started a natural health, conscious living magazine called Natural Awakenings in Naples, Florida. Within a few years and with the help of partners and collaborators, she turned that single edition into a national franchise. In an industry that has seen so many publications fail, Natural Awakenings thrived under her steady leadership, at its zenith amassing 95 franchisee-publishers across the U.S., including Hawaii and Puerto Rico.
Last year, Bruckman sold Natural Awakenings Publishing Corporation to KnoWEwell, P.B.C., while still retaining her original magazine, essentially switching roles from franchisor to franchisee. As Natural Awakenings celebrates its 30th anniversary, she reflects upon her journey.
What inspired you to launch Natural Awakenings magazine?
It was divine intervention. I was going through a big transition in my life and praying about my livelihood—asking God to use my talents and passions to serve others in a way that felt fulfilling—and I heard a voice say, “Start a magazine.” It was surprising, because I had no background in publishing, so I started exploring the possibilities.
I noticed a need for a platform that could bring together all the holistic-living resources available in our community. This was before smartphones, social media, and the internet. If you didn’t see it in print, you didn’t know what was happening in your hometown. Our mission statement today is as clear as it was in 1994: to be a natural lifestyle publication that empowers people in our communities with the knowledge, resources, and connections to lead healthier lives on a healthy planet.
How did the decision to turn it into a franchise come about?
I had a knack for starting up small businesses based on passions of mine, but when I launched the first edition of Natural Awakenings, I never considered franchising it until I met John Voell II, who had a background in it. The whole thing was intimidating for me, especially in the beginning. I’ve had to step out of my comfort zone most of the time in this business, but I’ve come to understand that being out of my comfort zone isn’t a bad thing. It’s an exciting place where I can grow, open myself to new possibilities and feel most alive.
Luckily, I learned how to manage the business one new franchise at a time, and our staff and skillsets grew with each new publisher who brought their own strengths and perspectives to the family. It became a collaborative environment. I loved how the publishers got used to working together and solving issues.
What are the qualities of a successful team leader?
One is leading with your heart. I discovered that people need to feel valued and hear they’re doing a great job. I often express my appreciation and empower them to let their talents and strengths shine. People need love, kindness and encouragement. I don’t hold onto grudges and come to each encounter fresh. I strive to be open and honest.
I’ve learned over the years how to be a better mediator and negotiator through challenging conversations with publishers and staff members. The key is to reach for the highest and best result for everyone involved. It isn’t about being right. I don’t jump to the battlefield. I’ll speak my mind about the difficult stuff in a noncombative way—a way that comes from my heart and with openness, so people can feel safe to respond on that level.
To succeed, you also need tenacity, a willingness to work hard and clarity about your mission. Overwhelm is the norm in this business, making it necessary to practice extreme self care. People say my best trait is how well I handle stress and always have a calming effect or attitude.
How did you help the franchisee-publishers succeed?
Working with publishers, you could predict which would thrive and which wouldn’t, depending upon their beliefs and statements. The ones that said, “No one wants to advertise,” you knew weren’t going to make it because of their attitude. The publishers that worked on their personal growth and on creating and manifesting what they wanted were much more likely to succeed.
At one of our publishers’ conferences, I remember motivational speaker Chik Shank of LifePower Seminars had us walking on glass and fire, bending steel bars and performing other amazing feats. We did things we never believed we could do, and it changed your whole perspective. That was one of our most powerful conferences; when people left, they said, “I didn’t think I could walk on fire; I guess I can sell an ad.” It’s about breaking through belief systems.
Do you have any mantras or personal beliefs that provide strength or resilience?
I like using “I am” statements because they’re two of the most powerful words. What you put after them shapes your reality. I’ll assert: I am vibrantly healthy. I am loved. I am full of abundance. I am always protected.
I remind myself to stay in the present. When feeling discouraged or challenged, I turn to a YouTube video by Esther Hicks, who says repeatedly, “Everything always works out for me.” The way she says it, accompanied by lovely background music, makes it sound so sensible. If you repeat it enough, you begin to believe it.
Sandra Yeyati is the national editor of Natural Awakenings.