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STREET SMARTS

Understanding Your Company

Advice for small business owners when winging it is not enough to build your company

Norm Brodsky is a veteran entrepreneur.


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Dear Norm,
Fifteen years ago, I answered an ad in the paper for a sales job in the foundation repair industry and got hired. The owner ran the business out of his garage and had two installers, plus me. With a lot of hard work, we became one of the top companies in our area. Well, about a year ago, I bought the company by somehow persuading a bank to loan me $2 million. My problem is that I have only a high school diploma and have come this far by working hard and winging it. I realize I need to stop winging it and build the company the right way. I'm just not sure what I should do to become the kind of leader it needs. What's your advice?

Bud Norton
Matthews Wall Anchor Service
Beaver Falls, Pennsylvania

Good entrepreneurs are constantly striving to improve themselves and expand their knowledge, but sometimes you have to stop and give yourself credit for what you've already done. What Bud has accomplished with so little formal schooling is nothing short of amazing. He's actually had a great education in business and one that he could never have gotten in a college classroom. To me, that is a big positive, not a problem, and I suggested that he start thinking—and talking—about it that way.

That said, I could tell after a few minutes of conversation that there is one area Bud hasn't yet mastered and needs to: the numbers. In that, he is no different from the vast majority of entrepreneurs, most of whom find accounting mysterious and daunting. But you really can't know what's happening in your company or make consistently good decisions without mastering the numbers.

There are many ways to acquire the knowledge Bud needs. I suggested four. The company used QuickBooks, he said. I told him he should get the employees who put in the numbers to show him how the program works. Second, I thought he should hire a strong accounting person willing to also serve as a kind of tutor. Third, I urged him to sign up for an introductory accounting course. Finally, I recommended that he read Financial Intelligence and Financial Intelligence for Entrepreneurs, both co-written by Karen Berman and Joe Knight, with my former Inc. colleague John Case. They provide the best, clearest guides to the numbers that I know of.

Please send all questions to AskNorm@inc.com. Norm Brodsky is a veteran entrepreneur. His co-author is editor-at-large Bo Burlingham. Their book, The Knack, is now available in paperback under the title Street Smarts: An All-Purpose Tool Kit for Entrepreneurs.

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Last updated: Feb 1, 2011

NORM BRODSKY | Columnist

Street Smarts columnist and senior contributing editor Norm Brodsky is a veteran entrepreneur who has founded and expanded six businesses.

The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.



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