by Sid Ragona, Ph.D., Ragona Scientific, LLC
The catch phrase “working on your business and not in your business” is almost ubiquitous these days and can be found in just about any article or podcast discussing entrepreneurship.
The term was first coined by Michael Gerber decades ago. The rationale behind the advice was derived from the fact that not all people that start business are actual entrepreneurs. In fact, most are not. Instead, they are skilled technicians that have mastered a craft and have decided to set up shop, despite having little or no knowledge of what it takes to start, manage and grow a business. This scenario holds true for many of us that have become manufacturers’ representatives. Most of us worked for many years as employees of other companies and have become experts in the field as well as skilled salespeople and developed the confidence to go it alone and set up our own manufacturers’ rep company or buy an existing one. As we all know, in the early days of a new rep company we have to play to our strengths of prospecting, following up, closing sales, back of the envelope bookkeeping, and a whole host of tasks that were taken for granted previously. Over time, daily actions become routine, and routine actions are formed into habits and before we know it, we become the deckhands of a ship with no destination. Simply being technically good at something does not an entrepreneur make.
Most of us at some time or another have probably recognized that we may be spending too much time working in our business as opposed to on our business. On occasion this might be required and absolutely necessary, however one should always remember that when the problem that needed to be solved by our expertise is solved, it is time to climb back up and start being captain of the ship again.
Fortunately, there are a plethora of resources at our fingertips to help lift us from working in the business to working on our business. After all, most of us started our companies because we wanted to elevate ourselves from doing things right (our technical prowess) to ensuring the right things are done (our leadership goal). Two of the greatest resources available for manufacturers’ representatives are MANA and SCORE. Everyone reading this article will be familiar with the vast array of resources offered by MANA, ranging from how to craft a legal agreement to how to work with overseas principals. However, fewer people will be familiar with the services offered by SCORE.
SCORE is a national network of business mentors servicing every location in the United States and offering free and confidential mentoring on all aspects of starting, operating and growing a business. SCORE consists of around 10,000 certified mentors all of them volunteers and all experienced in many facets of business. A SCORE business mentor can easily be accessed by going to the SCORE web page (www.score.org) and typing in your zip code, which will put you in contact with the nearest local volunteer chapter. Working with a business mentor could not be easier. They will meet with you either in person or remotely, depending on preference, and provide guidance and mentorship based on your needs. This can range from business planning, to legal structures to HR issues. Often the business mentor may bring in other mentors when different experiences are required. For manufacturers’ representatives accessing SCORE services, request a mentor that was either in sales or was or still is in the rep business to ensure your mentor has a deeper understanding of your business and the avenues available for growth. If the needs for your rep company are more on the accounting side, ask for a mentor that can advise on bookkeeping. It is perfectly acceptable to have more than one SCORE mentor depending on the needs of the day.
In addition to free and confidential mentoring, SCORE offers a wide variety of webinars and courses both live and recorded as well as many local events.
Because the rep business is one based on sales, the people who start the rep company are generally gifted salespeople, and it is only too common to find most reps working as salespeople in their own business instead of on their business. This is often the de facto status for single-person rep companies where the rep can easily believe that they have no choice but to do everything. Under these conditions it is even more important to put aside some time, as little as one hour every week or month as required, to meet with a SCORE business mentor.
Did I mention that its free!?!
Sid Ragona, Ph.D., founded Ragona Scientific, LLC, in 2006, and the company has been a MANA member since 2009. Ragona Scientific specializes in nanotechnology from foreign start-up companies that want to sell into the U.S. and Canada. Since 2020, he has cohosted a radio show and podcast about entrepreneurship entitled Rethinking Business: Success Sauce and Two Pickles (www.successsaucetwopickles.com). Ragona has also been a Certified Score Mentor since 2011 and serves on MANA’s Board of Directors.