No product sells itself, writes Ruth King, in her book, "The Ugly Truth about Small Business." (Sourcebooks, Inc., Naperville, Ill.) "You can have a great product, great production and great cash reserves. If you don´t have great sales and marketing, the other "greats´ don´t matter."
Subtitled, "50 Never-Saw-It-Coming Things That Can Go Wrong and What You Can Do About It," King´s book showcases 50 entrepreneurial tales where small business owners — including retailers — tell their stories. Chapters close with each business owner´s summary of "What I learned" and "Applying the lessons learned to your business."
"We have a lot of people who can help," writes Lester Scaff, CEO of S&S Foods Inc., which operates 46 convenience stores. "We teach our supervisors and other employees to treat the stores like they are their own stores and to treat the money like it is their own money."
Change is a constant theme in Scaff´s section of the book. One example: "We didn´t sell gasoline up until I had my seventh store. At the time, you had to service the cars. A customer couldn´t pump his own gas. When I was forced to install gasoline, we put two pumps out front with lights over them. Eventually for us to survive, we had to do like everybody else. We had to get a big canopy, and we changed into gas pumping instead of just being a convenience store."
When going through a crisis, Scaff suggests, "Find others who have gone through it before and ask for advice. Ask what they would have done differently, the lessons they learned, and compare it to your situation. You´ll find that you learned from that person and won´t make those mistakes."
Jeff Russell, president of Russell Cellular and Satellite, talks of the importance of putting together a core group of key people. When King´s book was published last year, he was Alltel´s largest agent in the United States. "If you get enough good people together in a room and you come to a majority decision, you are going to be right 99 percent of the time. An individual will never achieve that percentage."
Russell hadn´t planned on becoming a business owner. But after he went to work selling phones for another company, it took him three months to figure out the owner was unethical. "He forced me to go out on my own," Russell writes. "My wife and I started selling door to door. About six months into the process, I thought that it would be good to have a retail store to service our customers. So, I called my mom and borrowed $1,500 from her. That opened my first store." At last count, Russell had 44 locations.
Along the way to opening all these stores, he had to learn to delegate. "Letting go is essential for business growth," he says. "Unfortunately, delegation is difficult and must be a learned skill for most entrepreneurs. Without delegation, you will try to do too much and when you are overwhelmed, nothing will get done."
Nothing like hearing from people who´ve "been there, done that," right?
Coming up soon: Practice "hearing" the ring of the cash register.