I just attended a really great summit at the Flamingo Resort in Las Vegas. It was presented by eCommerce Merchants, the premier industry association for online retailers. In attendance were senior executives from the all over the web including eBay, Amazon, Overstock.com and hundreds of stand alone online shopping platforms.

I was there at the invitation of the eCommerce Merchants Board of Directors. A member of that board, David Hardin (he owns Shoetime, one of the biggest shoe sellers on the web) had attended the Laughlin Associates seminar last month in Las Vegas. At that time he told me that his industry desperately needed what Laughlin was teaching and asked me to come attend the summit. Boy, am I glad that I did. First let me say that I was blown away by the level of cooperation, support, and sharing of “secrets” that I observed among this group. They seemed to really want to help each other grow. They believe that brick and mortar is fading and that digital distribution will soon eclipse the old tried and true.  That the local mall is on its way out and that Amazon and its competitors are taking charge of the online capitalistic party. These folks make a pretty good argument and are willing to overlook their own competitiveness for a few days in order to help ensure that this dream of online, retail supremacy come to fruition.

I got the chance to visit with dozens of the key players at the event and the primary issue relayed to me from these industry leaders didn’t come as a surprise at all. They said that many e-commerce sellers had started out working from their kitchen table and that even the companies that had become super-successful sellers hadn’t ever done the foundational work to make their enterprise into a real business.

Four questions they (and all business owners) should ask themselves:

Without doing this work the owners of these companies would never be able to truly develop, protect, grow, and eventually sell or pass down the business that they had built.

These web entrepreneurs have fallen into a trap that many small business owners find themselves in. They are really good at doing some sort of job. They hang out their shingle and start doing that job for themselves instead of for an employer. They become successful. Everything is rosy until they are challenged. Maybe it’s an audit, maybe a lawsuit, maybe a partnership or marriage breaking up. Whatever the situation, the person who was doing great at doing what they did great was now in hot water. They might even lose everything they had built and all because they didn’t build the business on a solid foundation.

It doesn’t matter which industry you are in. In every case you, as a small business person, must do smart things to look out for your business. There is no outside Board of Directors looking over your shoulder. No attorney, CPA, or consultant that is going to push you to do the work that is required to survive. Don’t leave it to others to hold your hand through the boring but necessary issues that you must deal with in order to defend yourself if your business is ever challenged. I just met hundreds of smart people who are doing big sales in cyberspace. Most of them admit that they need to do better at building their foundation. So now, be honest; what kind of foundation is your house built upon?