Small is Good

By Hannah Wallace July 31, 2006

It's not easy to run your own business. My father started out hammering nails on roofs for another employer before he launched his own roofing and subcontracting company in Pennsylvania back in the late '50s. He ran his company for nearly 45 years, expanding the business into three states and employing close to 100 employees before retiring (although, a true entrepreneur, he jumped into other ventures immediately afterward).

I remember the round-the-clock hours he kept, visiting job sites, taking care of customer complaints after dinner, even rousing missing roofers out of bed in the morning to make sure they got to the job. No plush corner office or power lunches for him. He bore the heavy responsibility of not only paying his own bills and keeping his family secure but of meeting payroll of employees who were counting on him. I remember the constant tough decisions he faced: Should he venture into a new product line? Where should he advertise? Where could he find more capital? Should he invest in a new headquarters? I also saw the immense satisfaction he received from working this hard for himself and in helping many of his employees launch their own companies. He loved being in control of his destiny.

This issue celebrates small business-the engine that drives this country's economy, accounting for 99.7 of all employer firms in the country, according to the Small Business Administration. Small businesses employ half of our private sector employees and, in the last decade, have generated 60 percent to 80 percent of new jobs annually. They also have a high rate of failure: In 2005, 671,800 new firms opened their doors for business; I'm sorry to say, that same year, 544,800 small businesses closed.

Fortunately, good role models and professional advice are readily available. In this issue, we ask four multi-generational families about the challenges, strategies and rewards of running a home-grown show.

We also offer advice from some national experts, including Horst Schulze, the man who redefined customer service when he was president of The Ritz-Carlton Hotel Company, and small business mentors and authors, brothers Jeff and Rich Sloan of StartupNation. The Sloans visit Sarasota Aug. 31 as keynote speakers at Sarasota/Manatee Technology Conference 2006: Integration at the Crossroads. (Sarasota/Manatee BUSINESS is a sponsor; we hope to see you there.) They gave writer Lori Johnston a preview of their talk, including these three tips: Find a partner you can trust, who complements your own skills and supplies crucial energy when yours is flagging; research the market; and don't be fooled by your own hype.

I asked my dad if he had a piece of advice for budding entrepreneurs, and his answer was both brief and daunting: "Just do your best.all the time."

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