By Diane Crosby

Small business owners, for the most part, do not have degrees in business, management or accounting. They may open a store because they have an interest in the field. For example, Perry Slaughter, owner of the successful Georgia sports shoe store, Run Fit Sports, previously worked for an airline. He opened his running shoe business because he was an avid runner.

Other business owners inherited a family business, while many are seeking self-employment or investment. In fact, of all college educated people, it is estimated only 27% work in the area in which they studied.

Those running small shops and stores may not have any experience at all in the retail market and little official marketing education. They do, hopefully, have other skills needed for small business management, such as self-motivation, organization, people skills, entrepreneurship, a good eye for display, the ability to find great products and the math prowess needed to keep up with finances. These are the do-it-yourselfers of retail.

Small retailers take pride in making their own decisions and handling the lion’s share of the work load. Certainly, there are countless areas of the retail business that can be learned on the job. It is sink or swim in the first months or years of a new business as the owner struggles to stay afloat with customer service, special orders, countless government requirements, paying invoices, bookkeeping, stocking, inventory and sending bills.

Slowly, the hardy will develop methods to handle all of these areas and hire people to work wherever needed. Having a trustworthy and diligent office manager can be a godsend. Some business owners will hire for other jobs around the store and do the paperwork themselves, which is also a good model.

As time goes on, business owners find the areas of their businesses wherein they excel. No one knows their businesses better than they do! Still, they are usually not all-knowing. A smart business owner knows when to ask for help.

When overwhelmed by government regulations, tax forms, computer glitches and Internet burdens, it sometimes pays to hire experts. Because of ever-changing technology, the days are long gone when one person can leisurely man a storefront and keep hand-written ledgers. Federal and some state governments now require online filing of taxes. It may be quicker to hire someone else to handle your accounting, but it may also be wise to hire someone to train you!

Developing a list of reliable professionals to call upon is as important as knowing a good plumber or electrician. You may be a Jack or Jill of many trades, but there is not enough time in the day to do it all. When it comes to technology, having a great tech guy on call can streamline problem solving when a point of sale system crashes or the email goes down.

Another time to hire help is when you have installed any new system. Hiring someone to train you and your staff on the use and maintenance of any new system can save hours and hours of guesswork and digging through manuals, and countless costly errors and down time. Think you cannot afford training? The truth is, you cannot afford not to have it. Often, training on-site or nearby is included in the purchase of new software, hardware or machinery. Take advantage of it!

We often think of staff development and training as something we should do ourselves. Certainly, we train our employees on the basics of running our stores and the rules we follow. We can usually identify areas of weakness, and hiring a consultant or sending staff to a workshop can open employees’ eyes and ears. Yes, sometimes they do tune us employers out, and a new voice may be more easily heard.

“Hiring a consultant is like buying another me,” says my husband concerning our store. “If, as the boss, you are the most limited resource, then anything you do to expand your resource is beneficial.”

Some free consultant/seminar services can be found through your state’s Small Business Administration, local universities’ business schools and even your vendors. We have welcomed reps from our vendor stable to demonstrate new products and show our sales staff how to use the latest gadgets.

While computers may be the cause of many a storeowner’s headaches, the Internet also provides a vast resource for answering perplexing questions encountered daily in business. Just one example of useful websites is called “65 Indispensible Websites for Business Owners.” On this site, you will find links to information including accounting, organization, start-up, surveying, franchises, intellectual property, customer service, and marketing. There is no shortage of free information on the web. All you have to do is take the time to look for it or assign the job to a tech-savvy employee.

The bottom line is to know your own strengths and weaknesses as a business owner and manager. Do everything yourself that you have the time and knowledge to do. Hire consultants for specific training. Keep a list of local experts for emergencies.

In fact, if you hire outside help to do specific tasks such as assisting you with income tax preparation or installing a new phone system, you are free to do what you do best – be the captain of the ship that is your business. Captains do not do all the work themselves; they delegate.

“Do it yourself” means managing your time and skills, as well as those of your staff, and realizing when you need help. The most important key to do-it-yourself retail is knowing when to do it yourself and when not to.

Diane Crosby and her husband, Wiley, own Red Dog Public Safety Outfitters. They primarily do retail on their own, though they regularly hire expert help.