During Karl Hodoh's 15-year sales career, he worked for McDonald's, PepsiCo, ConAgra, Gatorade, and Coke - but he never abandoned his dream of someday working for himself. When he heard about Midwest Power Files, a struggling 30-year-old document-filing and storage company in Kansas City, Kan., Hodoh felt his time had come.
"They didn't even have a computer. Everything was done on paper, with carbon-paper copies," he says. Not surprisingly the outfit was losing money, but Hodoh saw the possibilities and bought the company in 2005, draining his 401(k) to do so.
Now computerized, the company has doubled its sales, to almost $1 million, and is profitable; clients include CommerceBank and Whiteman Air Force Base. Hodoh has had some help from the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation, a nonprofit in Kansas City, Mo., that offers classes called FastTrac to teach newbie business owners the ropes. This spring his teacher and coach was Kay Saunders, head of Bellewether, a consulting firm in Lee's Summit, Mo.
One of the challenges Hodoh faces is getting potential customers' attention. "In all those years working for huge, well-known companies, I could walk in without an appointment and get a warm reception," Hodoh says. "Now the reaction is more like, `Who?'"
Saunders has helped with that: "She's great at advising you on how to build those client relationships and grow a broad network."
Says Saunders: "The key is, people have to see that you understand their business problems and that you can solve those problems. It does take some tenacity."