Owners of small businesses should avoid re-inventing the wheel when it comes to coping with management problems, according to entrepreneur Donald Wilson.
He said business dilemmas that seem terribly novel and unique have, in many instances, already been licked by other business people, so it pays to solicit advice. Mr. Wilson is the president and founder of Micro Wholesalers Inc., a Hunt Valley-based wholesaler of microcomputers and computer networking equipment.
It's been about a year since Mr. Wilson joined The Board, an Annapolis-based organization that for a fee provides owners and directors of small companies with a forum to exchange opinions and advice based on their experiences.
Once a month, Mr. Wilson attends meetings with the heads of 11 non-competing companies. Together, they map out the trials and tribulations of entrepreneurship.
"In dealing with all the facets of running a business, it became clear to me that there are lots of things I didn't know," Mr. Wilson said. "Sometimes, knowing what it is you don't know is as important as the answer.
"The company grew very quickly for, say, four to five years," Mr. Wilson said. "And then we got big enough that we began to have a lot of the organizational needs of a much bigger company, without the volume to really cover this overhead.
"We've spent much of the last two to three years sorting out these issues and getting our act together as a company. And The Board helps us to do this."
Micro Wholesalers has 35 workers and did $15 million worth of business last year, Mr. Wilson said. When he started the company in 1984, he employed only a handful of people and had substantially lower revenues. In the early days, seeking outside counsel wasn't a pressing priority, Mr. Wilson said.
"When you have a small group of people working together and everybody knows what to do, life is very simple," he said. "When you have more people, you have a much more complex situation. You begin to need things like written policies."
Mr. Wilson's unfamiliarity with some of the problems he encountered as his business grew led him to entertain thoughts of hiring an outside board of directors. But he couldn't afford to pay each member anywhere from $1,000 to $1,800 annually, he said.
Business people don't have to join an organization like The Board to get good advice, Mr. Wilson said, adding that it's a matter of what one feels comfortable with. For him, The Board has dovetailed nicely with his needs, and the annual membership fee of $2,400 has been worth the expense, he said. Regardless of where business counsel is sought, Mr. Wilson is a strong advocate of getting an outside perspective. He said that doing so has made Micro Wholesalers "a strong company, and is insulation against us making mistakes that other people have made.