Estimated reading time: 6 minutes, 45 seconds

You can't get any more boring than Al Terrisio. Al is the President and owner of Ultimate Controls. This is a real guy and a real company, but I'm changing names here. I'm not sure he would want to be the subject of this piece. Please understand - Al's a very nice guy. A good family man. Reliable. Honest. But boring.

And Ultimate Conrols? Boring too. The company sells pumps, instruments and other equipment for the waste water and industrial process markets. Still awake? Sounds boring doesn't it? It ain't exactly like owning the New York Yankees. But that's OK with Al.

Which is why he's such a good penny pinching business owner. Hey kids, students of business, potential leaders: want to be a successful business owner? Hey CPAs and accountants: want to tell your clients the truth? About running your own company? Want to be the boss? My company serves over 600 clients and I talk to hundreds of other business owners every year. People who are alot smarter (and better looking) than me. And guess who's the best? The guys like Al Terrisio. Because running a small business isn't romantic or exciting or even fun for most guys I know.

There's no romance, no fame, no glory. Most of us are not Richard Bransons, Donald Trumps or Bill Gates. We're more like Howard Cunningham. Or Al Terrisio. That's the reality of running a small business. And there's more.

Successful penny pinchers I know almost always have a partner. Do you? It's rare that I see one guy successfully grow a company, unless he's a 19- year-old narcissist who can create an entire website in his dorm room capable of crashing Harvard's servers in just one night. Successful businesses have a team of people. More often than not it's family members. Sure, they're yelling and throwing things at each other. But they divide and conquer. And because they're from the same family they usually have a higher level of trust for one another than otherwise. One guy usually does service and the other guy does sales. That's the typical breakdown. The sales guy is the brother who always got the girls in high school and drank a lot of beer in college. The service guy is the one who got the better grades and drank a lot of beer in a better college. It's rare that I see one guy doing it all.

Al may be the President of Ultimate Controls but his brother Jeremy is his equal partner in crime. They both own the same share of the business. They worked there when they were kids and their dad owned the place. Jeremy's the sales guy. And he's good at it. He talks on the phone. He plays a lot of golf. He likes to drink mass quantities of beer. A few days on the road at a trade show away from his wife and kids is like paradise for Jeremy. Al and Jeremy fight all the time ... mostly about nonsense. But both are equally important to the business. Which is why Ultimate Controls is a profitable company.

Another reason why they're profitable: both are at it 24 hours a day. They're not workaholics. They don't have any love for their jobs. They're not "passionate entrepreneurs." In fact, they would both prefer to NOT be at it 24 hours a day. But when you own a small business it's your livelihood. And it becomes your life. You check in on things on a Saturday. You go in the office to finish up paperwork on a Sunday. You get in before everyone else. You're one of the last ones to leave.

Al's not happy about this. He'd rather be with his family or taking a nap. But this is the life that you choose. Because if you're not making sure things are getting done than you can be sure that things aren't getting done. And if your business fails you're losing more than just a job. You're losing your life savings too. Al doesn't choose to work hard. He just has to work hard to keep things going. Ready for that, future penny pinchers?

Well, you better also be ready to become a hardened cynic. Your faith in people will be tested. Your good spirits will be rained on. You will be challenged to keep that glass-is-half-full outlook. Because after running a small business for a few years, you're going to find yourself turning into a skeptic. People will lie to you. Customers who say they will pay your bills .... won't. Suppliers who promise your shipment will arrive on time ...aren't being truthful. Employees who you expect to show up to work ... don't

Al is a successful business owner because he chooses very carefully the people who he can trust. Given the choice, Al would choose a masters in psychology over a masters in business administration. His whole life is spent evaluating people. Trying to determine if they're being truthful. Gauging whether he can put his confidence in that guy. You don't learn this in school. You don't read about it in Inc. Magazine. And don't worry - the guys who are running successful small businesses aren't complete pessimists. They're realists. They're almost always good judges of human nature. Al may not hold an Ivy League diploma, but he has a better understanding of human nature than most of the people teaching in the Ivy League.

And Al has a better understanding of money too. He's a penny pincher, that's for sure. But he's not a cheapskate. Cheapskates always struggle to be profitable. They read too much about saving money and too little about investing. They think that staying up until midnight doing their own payroll taxes is better than hiring a payroll service firm to do it. They misinterpret the value of money.

Al doesn't do this. Sure, he works a lot of hours. But he's learned to spend his time doing the things that he does best. He spends money on technology and people to do the other things. That way he can focus on product profitability, inventory control, customer complaints and new engineering plans. Of course Al doesn't like to overspend. But he's been known to drop a hundred thousand on a new piece of equipment because he knows it'll return many times that amount in increased output over the years. Cheapskates aren't good business owners. Penny pinchers like Al are the guys that survive.

And Al continues to survive because he has a long-term plan. And it's not an exciting plan either. He doesn't plan to take his company public or merge it with an international conglomerate. Not that he wouldn't like to do that. But he knows that the big multi-gazillion dollar payback only happens in the movies. Most business owners don't see massive pots of gold at the end of the rainbow. But they do see a more than comfortable retirement if they manage things correctly and luck stays on their side. Al looks forward over the next ten years and works toward building cash, increasing asset values and building equity.

Boring stuff, I know. But that's Al. Just a boring old penny pincher. Those are the guys running most of the small businesses I see.

Gene Marks
Gene Marks, a columnist, author, and business owner, writes monthly online management and technology columns for Forbes and Business Week and a bi-weekly column that appears nationally in American City Business Journals. His books include Gene\'s books include the #1 Amazon Small Business Best Seller The Streetwise Small Business Book of Lists (Adams Media), The Small Business Desk Reference (Alpha Books, 2004), Outfoxing The Small Business Owner - Crafty Techniques for Creating a Profitable Relationship (Adams Media, 2005) and The Complete Idiot\'s Guide To Successful Outsourcing (Alpha Books, 2005).

He owns and operates the Marks Group PC, a ten-person firm that provides technology and consulting services to small and medium-sized businesses. Before starting the Marks Group, Marks spent nine years in the entrepreneurial services arm of the international consulting firm KPMG in
Philadelphia where he was a senior manager.
Last modified on Sunday, 02 June 2013
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