Ruth King has spent more than three decades as an entrepreneur, having owned eight businesses in that period. This success has earned her the name serial entrepreneur and the nickname “Profitability Master.” Throughout her career, she has shown tremendous passion about “helping small business owners get profitable and stay profitable.”
In 1981, Ruth King started her first enterprise, called Business Ventures Corporation. At the company, she “coaches, trains, and helps contractors and others” who want to “achieve the business growth and goals” for their business. Her work has led to success for a lot of her clients; for example, an HVAC contractor whose yearly revenues jumped to ten million dollars from just $750,000 in less than a decade. A few years later, the client sold the business for nine million dollars, in cash.
With her work, Ruth King has shown a great knack for “helping business owners truly understand financials,” and enabling them to “apply their knowledge to fuel massive growth, income and profits.”
Aside from being the Profitability Master, Ruth King has also worked to realize her passion for helping adults “learn to read, photography, and running marathon races.” In 1986, she helped start an “adult literacy organization,” which now teaches more than 1,000 adults every year. So far, she has also run the Boston Marathon, along with nine others.
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Jerome Knyszewski: Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dive in, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’ and how you got started?
Ruth King: I always knew that I wanted to have a business. I started my first business when I was growing up: I sold flowers from our garden.
When I was in high school I thought that I wanted to go to medical school. When I got into college I decided that I had better have a backup plan, which became my plan: I graduated with a chemical engineering degree. I never went to medical school.
I worked two summer jobs in chemical engineering and loved them. Then I got into the real world and hated my work. During this time I went back to school at night to get my MBA in finance, and discovered I loved finance and financial numbers.
I started the Decatur, Georgia branch of the Small Business Development Center in 1982. Then I started the Women’s Entrepreneurial Center and taught a year-long course for women who wanted to start their own businesses. This course was the foundation for one of the classes at the Women’s Economic Development Authority in Atlanta, Georgia.
Continuing on the path I was the instructor for ICE, the Inner City Entrepreneur program in conjunction with the Small Business Administration. This 16 week course taught business owners with at least $400,000 in revenues (and many had over $1,000,000 in revenues) how to grow to the next level. A large part of the curriculum was aimed at improving the financial knowledge of the business owners enrolled in the course.
Along the way, I have written five award-winning books, including my latest, Profit or Wealth: Simple Rules for Sustainable Business Growth.
Jerome Knyszewski: Can you tell us a story about the hard times that you faced when you first started your journey? Did you ever consider giving up? Where did you get the drive to continue even though things were so hard?
Ruth King: The hardest was my sixth startup. We had negotiated with our first customer and a $1.6 million deal. I had $800,000 in investments riding on that deal and had invested all the money that we had in the startup. I got a phone call saying the deal was off and I was devastated.
Everything we had was in that deal. I got off the phone, went outside my office building, sat on the curb where no one could see me, and cried.
Then I heard my father’s voice in the back of my head, “Pick yourself up, dust yourself off, and keep going.” I dried my tears and did. I invested my last $25K from credit cards and we started.
My father was instrumental in getting over the shock and continuing, even though it was his voice telling me the same things he had told me every time bad things happened as I was growing up.
Jerome Knyszewski: Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lessons or ‘takeaways’ you learned from that?
Ruth King: I realized I was afraid of my employees and didn’t make myself clear about what was expected.
Now I know that anyone, including me, could get “hit by a truck” tomorrow and be gone. No one is irreplaceable, including me. I am also much clearer about what I expect. And, I live by the “three strikes and you’re out rule. They get two warnings and then they go through my career readjustment program, i.e. they are terminated.
Jerome Knyszewski: Based on your experience and success, what are the five most important things one should know in order to lead a company from Good to Great? Please share a story or an example for each.
Ruth King: Be a great communicator. No employee can read your mind. Clearly define what is expected. Communicate what the authority, responsibility, and accountability are for each manager. Manage by those objectives.
Each manager should be able to understand his department’s P&L and make good business decisions based on it. Each employee should know how his/her job affects the customer AND the bottom line.
The owner should be able to read department and company P&L, as well as the company balance sheet. He should be able to make company-wide decisions based on the financial information. He must also build the wealth of the company so it is protected during downturns.
Clearly communicate what the company goals, purpose, mission are, and how everyone fits in to that mission. Employees should know why they are there and align with the company’s goals and mission. Share the testimonials you receive about an employee with the company and that employee’s spouse/significant other.
The company must focus on taking care of its customers since they write the employees’ paychecks. Good customer service is in the eye of the customer, not the company employees. There are times to fire customers: if they do not pay their bills, always want to negotiate an invoice, you can never make happy, or there is a safety issue. Never have more than 20% of revenues from one customer or one industry (whenever possible).
Jerome Knyszewski: Extensive research suggests that “purpose driven businesses” are more successful in many areas. Can you help articulate for our readers a few reasons why a business should consider becoming a purpose driven business, or consider having a social impact angle?
Ruth King: If you are in business solely for the money, I believe you will ultimately fail.
Jerome Knyszewski: As you know, “conversion” means to convert a visit into a sale. In your experience what are the best strategies a business should use to increase conversion rates?
Ruth King: First, discover your potential customers’ needs and wants. Then show that potential customer how your products benefit him/her.
Always follow up a visit — in the way the customer prefers — email, letter, text, or phone call. By following up you will have higher conversion rates.
Jerome Knyszewski: Of course, the main way to increase conversion rates is to create a trusted and beloved brand. Can you share a few ways that a business can earn a reputation as a trusted and beloved brand?
Ruth King: Take care of the customers’ needs and wants profitably. Communicate and give benefits even when you don’t want them to buy something. Provide value and show that you care.
Build recurring revenue — give customers a product, a service, or something they can invest in every month that will help them. You’ll build trust and repeat customers. (This is a rule of building profit and wealth).
Jerome Knyszewski: How can our readers further follow you online?
Ruth King: You can find me here and here.
Jerome Knyszewski: This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for the time you spent with this!
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