Dear Entrepreneur

Several years ago, I started writing posts to nameless entrepreneurs, offering advice from lessons I was learning from my business challenges. I have a chapter in my book with a few of my favorite entries. If I was writing the book today, I would include this counsel below.

Click the photo to see more information about the book, bread&cup: Beyond Simple Food and Drink.

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Dear Entrepreneur,

These are troubling days for our type.  

Like birthing a child, you conceived a dream. It gestated inside you, long before there was any visible evidence, only you carried it. Only you could feel it. Only you were imagining what it would look like when it would eventually be born.

Only you.

It’s your business, your dream, your baby. No one will care for it like you. No one will care about it like you. You will do anything for it. You will sacrifice anything to keep it alive, even your own health.

Only you.

That’s why you will need some help.

As entrepreneurs, we get emotionally tied to our dreams. We are wired up to take risks. So much so, that it can make us blind.

Twice in my career as a restaurateur, I faced a deep economic crisis. There was a point both times that, apart from a miracle, it looked like I was going to have to shut it all down. The first one came in January 2008. We were in the middle of a dismal winter in our first restaurant. Sales were awful and here I was, only five months in. I didn’t imagine this scenario. I didn’t foresee the hand being dealt to me this way.

And so I felt the temptation that anyone in this situation has felt. Do I take on debt to survive?

Conservative fiscal advice would say no. Borrowing isn’t the same as raising capital. Debt makes me a slave to the lender. Had I listened to the counsel around me, I would have never taken the risk to open the business in the first place.

So I took another risk and borrowed to make payroll. Then in March 2008, spring weather returned and so did a brand new customer base. Each month showed an increase in sales. This led to September 2008, when the Omaha World Herald did a review, naming us as a Top 10 Omaha restaurant. Pretty good considering we weren’t in Omaha.

This opened the doors for a new regional market. Guests were driving to Lincoln from other cities to dine with us. My risk paid off.

The second crisis happened in our third restaurant. It was a similar scenario. We opened in December of 2015. Right out of the gates, it underperformed all our projections by a mile. I faced the same song, second verse. But the second outcome was very different than the first.

Sales languished and got increasingly worse as the weather warmed up. Debt was starting to pile up. It was clear that, barring another miracle, it was only a matter of time. We closed the doors a year after opening.

Entrepreneur, I don’t share this story to frighten you or make you think I there is one right answer in this trying time of the pandemic.  I write this to say that I’ve walked the road you are on currently. While my demise was under different circumstances, the anxiety is exactly the same, as are the temptations to go further into debt.   There is no right or wrong unless it involves an illegal means to stay afloat.

You’re stuck between your visceral gut and your logical mind. Every entrepreneur will most likely find themselves in this ditch. Like Kenny Rogers sang, “you gotta know when to hold ‘em and know when to fold em.”

The only thing I know for certain about it is this: don’t go it alone. Don’t make huge decisions without counsel. Even if you don’t know someone, good people do exist that can walk with you through the dark times.  Seek, and you will find. Knock, and the door will be opened. I know this from experience too. I’m forever grateful for those who got me through it.

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