Sage Advice for Today's Entrepreneur

11/16/2009 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Brown Tire Corp. was founded by Johnny Brown in 1970; the independent Goodyear dealership started in Chicago on 87th Street and Cottage Grove.

In 1980, Brown formed Brown Enterprises Inc., to carry out his future plans in the field of real estate and land development. Since its inception, the company has expanded from one store to multiple locations throughout the Chicago area, as well as stores in Atlanta and Cleveland.

Last week, Johnny Mack Brown succumbed to cancer after an 11-year battle with the disease. In this last telephone interview, though ill, Mr. Brown was upbeat about the prospects for today's entrepreneurs and gave solid survival strategies that led to his success.

These are Mr. Brown's words of wisdom for today's entrepreneur.

I was the seventh of 12 children.

My dad wasn't an entrepreneur, only had an eighth-grade education, and he was working on a farm as a sharecropper. And then, at the end of the day, he realized that he had no money. But he was living by that old cliché, that you want your children to eat better than you are eating.

When it was time to go to college, he worked three or four jobs to try to put us through school and he was successful initially in that area.

But then there were three of us in school at the same time and I knew that my
father wasn't making any money.

We got together and the family agreed that we would help each other. We knew that if we didn't help each other, there were no means for us to go to college.

My dad taught his children to do their own thing and become entrepreneurs, and that's what we did.

I was a teacher when I first entered a training program that taught blacks the keys to starting their own businesses. This was during the Nixon administration, when the government was encouraging blacks to enter major corporations like Goodyear.

I went through the Goodyear training program during the weeks that I was out during the summer and they offered me a store.

There wasn't a heck of a lot of celebration because they had offered me that store and I needed to fund it!

I started this business back during a time when loans were very difficult to get. Today it's worse, but back then you couldn't very well get a loan. I went to Seaway Bank, and they talked with me and decided to take a chance on me.

If you want to succeed, there are three major things you need: Have a good bank that will take a chance with you. Have a good attorney who won't make dumb mistakes. And have a good accountant to make sure you're spending the money right.

Nowadays, the cost of doing business makes it very, very difficult for an entrepreneur to do business and that's one of the major problems.

What happens today is there are a lot of small business owners that first go into business and you think you're making money and the longer you stay, the more you realize that you're not. And by the time you wake up, you don't have anything but loss.

And the cost of business in Chicago has changed astronomically!

If the city comes up short, all they have to do is go to the City Council; they don't have to think of ways to produce a dollar, if they need to stay in business. All they do is go to a meeting and decide what they are going to do. We need a dollar for this, we need a dollar for that, we need some extra parking meters ... so they don't have to think of ways to produce a dollar.

It's not that simple for an entrepreneur and this is why we fail.

Unless you just have an astronomical amount of money -- in other words, you buy it for a dollar and you sell it for $20 -- you have a lot of room for error. But if you buy a product for a dollar and you sell it for $1.50, you don't have a lot of room for error. You must make sure that the dollars that you spend are worth spending.

Going into business in 1969 and being in business in 2009 is like day and night. You still have good sales, and you still have good tires, but the cost of doing business in today's market is so much different from the cost of doing business forty years ago.

And everybody understands that things change, but the change at such a great pace is unbelievable. Most people downsize or let employees go. I've been fortunate, instead of hiring people from the outside, I'm from a large family and my family was able to come and work for me. And they were able to take less money for a period of time -- and that made a very big difference.

If you hire your family members, hire qualified family members.

My family believed in getting a better education. Two in the family are accountants, one is an attorney, and I have one brother that's running for mayor down in Atlanta, and these are some of the things we need to do in order to strengthen ourselves, without having to go to the outside a lot.

As an entrepreneur, you should work hard, but you have to work smart more so than hard because there are things that will get you in the long run. Don't let your business own you, rather than you owning it.

Put ample time into it and do what's necessary, but at the same time, have a life.