Your Weaknesses

With our expert's help, you can follow these entrepreneurs' examples and turn your weak points into problems solved.

Be honest with yourself. You're not perfect. Maybe you feel lost in the jumble of bookkeeping or the sales calls you make are garnering only a few new projects. Whatever. Every successful entrepreneur has a weak spot. It's your business's Achilles' heel.

This is not some terrible admission. Most entrepreneurs started their ventures based on several superior skills. Running a successful business requires you to learn more. But no matter how much you learn, you need to recognize your deficiencies and reach out for help.

Call it a case of watching too many makeover shows on The Learning Channel. We decided to help massage some tender Achilles' heels by pairing entrepreneurs with experts. Five business owners agreed to bare their souls. Five experts offered free consultations.

The results will educate you. Although the businesses run across a variety of industries, their problems will be familiar to any entrepreneur: growing your sales, improving your distribution, ramping up marketing, motivating employees and managing cash flow. The experts offered the entrepreneurs fresh ideas. Their insights should help you begin the process of addressing your own Achilles' heel.

The Entrepreneur: Stephanie Anne; Stephanie Anne; Dallas
The Expert: Arthur St. Onge; St. Onge Co.; York, Pennsylvania
The Problem: Distributing high-quality furniture

Stephanie Anne's eponymous company produces high-quality children's furniture--furniture a parent would want to pass on to a child. It's been a huge hit in Dallas and Houston, where she runs two stores--so much so that she's added a catalog and Web site to accommodate customers outside the area. Stephanie Anne, 34, now ships about $3 million in products each year from her warehouse.

That's where the problems begin. Stephanie Anne's customers are well-off mothers expecting their first child. Anyone who's had a child knows first-time parents want everything perfect. That means no scuff marks on the crib--especially when it costs $995 to $2,100. Locally, Stephanie Anne can count on people she trusts, but how can she guarantee someone unloading changing tables in a far-off city will treat the goods with kid gloves?

Stephanie Anne ships most of her goods with Bekins Van Lines, but it hasn't been willing to assume liability for delivery. Distribution expert Art St. Onge offers a few solutions.

First, he suggests partnering with a local firm that has comparable needs. The Container Store, also based in Dallas, has a similar business model and shipping situation. It may be willing to offer some transportation ideas or a partnership to share transportation and defray costs.

Another option is to find a way to reduce delivery damages. "Get a packaging consultant involved," St. Onge advises. "See if you can't come up with a packaging system Bekins agrees they'll take responsibility for."

Marketing can help, too. St. Onge recommends Stephanie Anne bombard one region--say, the Northeast--with catalogs so she can consolidate shipments and cut costs. She may even be able to handle shipping herself.

St. Onge also says Stephanie Anne should look up a local Council of Logistics Management chapter. "Make a presentation at their monthly meeting," he says. By providing good fodder, Stephanie Anne would get an opportunity to brainstorm with experts.

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This article was originally published in the January 2003 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: We Shall Overcome.

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