Survival of the Fittest

Meet an entrepreneur who has survived the struggle of starting a business, and find out what you need to survive, too.
Magazine Contributor
3 min read

This story appears in the November 2002 issue of Subscribe »

Surviving as a woman in a male-dominated industry wasn't always easy for Mary Ellen Sheets, who started Two Men and a Truck, a moving company, out of her home in 1985. Associations mysteriously raised their rates when she tried to join, and her competitors constantly reported her to the Michigan State Police Motor Carrier Division for no good reason. Despite the opposition, she was able to succeed by "just ignoring it and focusing on our customer," says Sheets.

Sheets took a grassroots approach to marketing by distributing fliers anywhere from laundromats to apartment complexes' leasing offices. Her thick skin and hard work have paid off ( see Survival Tip #6, below ). The company--with her daughter, Melanie, now at the helm--now has 117 franchises and expects sales of $100 million this year.

As Sheets can testify, it's a jungle out there. Being in business these days requires some heavy-duty survival tactics. To help you navigate, we've compiled a list of 10 homebased survival tactics, with the help of John Rarrick, president of Rarrick Business Solutions, a management and marketing consulting firm in Nyack, New York, and Kenton Thomson, general manager of CFSE Business Services, an accounting and business consulting firm in Winter Park, Florida.

  • Leap of Strength: A Personal Tour Through the Months Before--And Years After--You Start Your Own Business ( Silver Lake Publishing ) by Walt Sutton

1. Get a line of credit when you don't need one, since emergencies don't announce themselves.

2. Double the amount of time and money you spend on training yourself and/or your staff, so you'll be covered when the economy picks up.

3. Have a well-thought-out, 3-year business plan before embarking on a business adventure.

4. Create standard operating procedures for your business and document them in a manual, so your employees can follow them.

5. Shine the light on your business by hiring a good PR firm and looking for every possible media opportunity to publicize your business.

6. Develop a thick skin --you'll need it to protect your self-esteem when customers say "no."

7. Pay attention to the competition , making sure your product or service is at a safe distance ahead, and that you don't lose your spark!

8. Ply your customers with great service so you'll have something to build on even when times are tough.

9. Constantly reevaluate your product or service offerings. Reengineer every aspect of the process and continue to improve quality, profitability and market receptivity.

10. Don't forget to call your CPA , your attorney or anyone else who can help you deal with an emergency.

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