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"'Ask the Small Business Professor' is a must read for small business owners looking for free expert business advice. Using a Q&A format, Bruce Freeman covers important small business topics weekly by bringing in recognized experts on subjects including accounting, legal issues, trademarks marketing and sales. Don't miss it!"
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It Doesn't Matter When, Where, or How You Start a Business
Carolyn Gable was the fourth of six children and always felt like she had to fight to be heard. A self-starter, Gable put on the "golden handcuffs" as waiting tables is sometimes called because the work is punishing but the money is good, got married, raised two children, and finally realized after 15 years that she was meant for something more in her professional life.
One morning, she decided to put on a suit and find her way to an employment agency. She always wanted to be in sales, but the agency wasn’t encouraging about her chances. Yet at the end of the day, she had a job as a customer service representative for a trucking company
One day, she happened to be dressed-up and some visiting executives, who had passed her by many times when she was more casually dressed, asked why she wasn’t in sales. This incident galvanized Gable into action and soon was a sales representative for the well-known Carolina Freight company. She loved sales and became a top income-producer. She was recruited by another firm, and now with experience, she was able to negotiate a better salary and more freedom. Soon she was making $100,000 in sales per month.
Other job offers followed, but as Gable grew more experienced, she realized that customers were following her wherever she went. By opening her own firm, she could book her customers’ freight with whatever trucking company gave the best service and price. New Age Transportation was born in Gable’s basement and Gable laughs when she remembers being a startup company and in labor with her fourth child. She was leaving for the hospital, when the phone rang. As an entrepreneur, she just couldn’t let it ring so she picked it up and quickly explained, but the only thing the customer wanted to hear, baby or no baby, was if she could get the freight picked up! (She did.)
Business was good, but it was a constant struggle to keep from being undersold. In 1992, Gable’s largest account called and told her they were shifting all their business elsewhere. She lost the account and believes it was the worst time of her life, but took the time to reflect on the company’s direction. She realized that she wanted to get control of billing, and that by taking on the liability of account collection; she would also realize a much larger percentage of the profit for each job. She concentrated on building infrastructure and got the account she lost back within six months.
By 1999, concerns about Y2K and the Internet shifted her priority toward warehousing, so she started a new division with 20,000 square feet of warehouse space. Within six months, the warehouse was packed and she moved into 86,000 square feet to keep pace with the growing business. Next, Time Warner, to whom she was regularly delivering freight from another client, sent for her and asked if she would handle their cable company’s freight. Instantly she went from $4 million to $8 million in sales and from seven employees to twenty. Shrewdly, she requested, and was granted permission, to carry freight for other cable companies and her business skyrocketed. Today, New Age Transportation has 50 employees, billed $18 million in 2004, and has built their own 90,000 square foot building.
The Small Business Professors' Words of Wisdom
Carolyn Gable’s story has a lot to teach us. First, don’t let a lack of education hold you back, no matter what your age or what you’ve done (or haven’t done) before. Don’t believe anyone who tells you that what you want is impossible – use their negative energy to help you prove what you know to be true – you can do it. Dress for the job you wish to have, not for the job you have now. The more professionally dressed you are, the more seriously people take you and your company.
Work hard and don’t give up, even when everything looks bleak – use the time to re-evaluate, and then, keep trying; something good will almost always come along. When you’re running a business, the customer is your number one priority, no matter what is going on in your personal life. Finally, always remember where you came from. Gable remembers what it was like to wait tables; so she periodically gives surprise rewards (including cash) to employees who work above and beyond.
- Case History: New Age Transportation, www.newagetransportation.com
- Entrepreneur’s Strategy: Start somewhere, anywhere, and learn a business from the inside out. If it works for you, go for it.
- Could This Work For Me? Finding something that you love is the most important part starting a successful business. It doesn’t matter how long it takes or what the business is, your commitment, passion, and energy are what drive success.
Today, New Age Transportation has 50 employees, billed $18 million in 2004, and has built their own 90,000 square foot building.