EntreLeadership: 20 Years of Practical Business Wisdom from the Trenches

By Dave Ramsey

Howard Books, 305 pp. $26

There’s no shortage of hype about how apparently unbelievably easy it is to become a successful entrepreneur.

(Simon and Schuster/ EntreLeadership )

For many people these days who’ve lost their jobs or are in jeopardy of losing them, the appeal of starting a business is hardly to get rich — it’s to put food on the table.

Still, statistics offer a sobering assessment of the journey: More than half of new businesses fail in their first five years of operation, according to the Small Business Administration.

Today, we introduce the On Small Business Book Review. We hope this will be an occasional feature to help you navigate those treacherous waters, introducing you to books we think might be useful in helping you break into business or becoming a better entrepreneur. We hope you’ll comment on our selections and let us know what you’re reading and how it’s helping you.

Our first selection is “EntreLeader: 20 Years of Practical Business Wisdom from the Trenches” by Dave Ramsey. You may have heard Ramsey on his radio show admonishing listeners in his Tennessee twang to cut up their credit cards to get out of debt.

Much like Stephen R. Covey in “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People,” Ramsey outlines the qualities leaders need to make an impact. He makes it clear that entrepreneurship is not for the faint of heart: It’s for Type AAA, super-charged, detail-oriented people who have an off-the-chart tolerance for risk and failure.

But Ramsey, in his folksy manner, goes much further in offering a behind-the-scenes, decidedly unglamorous, sausage-making window into his business. Turns out Ramsey is quite the tycoon: He owns a financial advice media empire that profits from national and local ad sales on the many stations that run his programs as well as book royalties, personal speaker fees and proceeds from what people pay to attend his seminars to learn how to escape from debt. Apparently helping people get out of financial trouble can be lucrative.

Ramsey goes into painful detail about how his early failure as a real estate agent in his 20s, a period when he and his wife simultaneously lost their jobs, led to the couple’s financial ruin. That experience was the turning point, forcing him to become scrupulous in his financial dealings and to eschew debt.

He also highlights the things people don’t like to think about when they’re caught up in the excitement of starting a business: contracts (they don’t always protect you from crooked business people) , unproductive and incompetent employees (one of his first bookkeepers got him into lots of trouble by failing to collect money from clients, failing to pay the firm’s taxes and failing to pay its bills) and suppliers who let you down and jeopardize your ability to meet your clients’ or customers’ needs.

Some readers may dismiss as impractical his advice never to take on debt. After all, it could be extremely difficult for many business owners to save the hundreds of thousands or millions of dollars needed to acquire inventory, equipment and a facility.

Some also may find him a bit quirky and controlling as a boss. He seemingly has fired more staffers than Donald Trump, some for simply being tardy. His base of operation is Tennessee, a state, he says, that allows employers to dismiss workers at will. He also interviews potential job candidates about five times, including a dinner where he meets their spouse and children.

But Ramsey in “EntreLeadership” offers would-be business people a blueprint to starting and growing their enterprise. The book contains useful advice on determining whether it’s time to turn that part-time business in the garage into a full-time concern — or whether you should keep your day job. He walks the reader through one of the biggest decisions a beginner start-up owner will make: How to select and train the first employees so that you can begin delegating duties.

As Ramsey reminds the reader over and over, the goal of a business owner is to work “on” the business — not just work “in” it.

Ramsey hardly paints a simplistic or overly rosy picture of entrepreneurship. People going into business should have an eyes-wide-open view of what they’re getting themselves into and a plan for dealing with the pitfalls they will surely encounter.

For those who can survive, the journey can be rewarding.

What do you think? Post your thoughts on this review and other business books you’re reading in the comments section below.