One of the hardest things about running a business is what lawyers call "succession planning"--deciding when it's time to step aside and let someone else run your business, and who that successor will be. While it's never easy for the person letting go of the reins, it's even harder for the person taking over, especially if the predecessor is a legendary figure--a Thomas Edison, Jack Welch or Louis Rukeyser. No matter how good you are, you've got some pretty big expectations to live up to.
It's the same with newspaper columns. Starting today, your weekly small-business report has a new voice--mine--and I'd like to begin our relationship (for such it is) by saying a few words about my predecessor, Jane Applegate, one of the great media visionaries of our time.
To fully grasp Jane's achievement and her life's work, you have to take a step back to the late 1970s. If you were self-employed or ran a small business back then, you remember how hard it was to be taken seriously by the media. Business was not considered "news" unless it involved the Fortune 500. There were no radio or TV shows for entrepreneurs. Running a business out of your home was considered bizarre, if not illegal. Business schools didn't even offer courses in small-business management--their mission was to grind out middle managers for giant corporations. Yet millions of small businesses and professional firms around the country were looking for inspiration, information and the knowledge that they weren't in it alone--that others were fighting the same battles and were somehow surviving.
The person who recognized this underserved media market was not a business executive or self-styled "expert." Rather, it was a young Southern California journalist, working the business beat at the Los Angeles Times, who persuaded her editors to publish a weekly column profiling local small businesses. Since then, America has become a nation of entrepreneurs, and that column--the one you are now reading--reaches millions of them from coast to coast.
"Jane Applegate is one of the pioneers of entrepreneurial journalism," says Rieva Lesonsky, editor of Entrepreneur magazine. "At a time when few media outlets were showing any interest in the nation's small-business owners, Jane set her sights on the market and uncovered numerous interesting, successful entrepreneurs, showcasing them as inspiration to the millions who hadn't yet undertaken the entrepreneurial plunge. Over the years, Jane has worked relentlessly to spread the word to all who would listen (and to some who wouldn't) about the importance of entrepreneurs to our economy and to our nation."
What Jane saw was an opportunity to help business owners solve their problems and get the information they need without lecturing or preaching. Her mission was--and still is -- to let America's businesses help and teach each other by telling their own stories. Those stories are the heart and soul not only of this column, but of Jane's several books (most recently 201 Great Ideas for Your Small Business) and her Small Business Television Network at www.sbtv.com. Jane will continue to be an inspiration to all entrepreneurs as she builds SBTV, completes her next book (titled Entrepreneur's Desk Reference), and represents America's small-business community at conferences and government hearings worldwide.
No two voices (or writing styles) are ever completely the same. Inevitably, this will be a somewhat different column than it was when Jane was writing it. Yet be assured that I completely share Jane's vision that has made this column a leading voice for America's entrepreneurs. Like Jane, I will do my utmost to keep you informed of trends and developments affecting the small-business community and give you no-nonsense advice for solving some of your toughest business, legal, ethical and psychological challenges as you fight for career and financial independence. Like you, and like Jane, I am an entrepreneur and am personally committed to your success.
Sir Isaac Newton said, "If I have seen further [than others], it is by standing on the shoulders of giants." In my case, I am standing on some very broad shoulders indeed, and I will not allow myself to forget that it is people like Jane Applegate, with her pioneering spirit, who have made careers like mine possible.
Take a look back at some of Jane Applegate's columns:
- "Small Companies Benefit From Outside Advice"
- "Hiring a Bookkeeper or an Accountant"
- "Seeking Counsel for Your Family Business"
Cliff Ennico is host of the PBS television series MoneyHunt and a leading expert on managing growing companies. His advice for small businesses regularly appears on the "Protecting Your Business" channel on the Small Business Television Network at www.sbtv.com. E-mail him at email@example.com.