I want to tell you a story about my friend Kate. She recently called me looking for some business advice.
Kate is an amazing chef who just opened up her own little restaurant in North Carolina. She knew the first year would be tough, but business has been slower than she imagined. She’s having a hard time making ends meet. She is at the point where she needs some investors to help with her cash flow or she will have to give up on her dream.
I really want to see Kate succeed. She’s worked in restaurants her whole life, so she has a great background, and no one loves cooking more than her. Most importantly, her food is amazing!
I had to get to the heart of Kate’s problem. My first question was, “What is your business plan?” I thought if I could see the blueprint, I could figure out where she was going off track. Simple fix!
Kate told me she is still working on it. She wants it to be perfect for potential investors and she is thinking through all of the options. She’s also learning a lot in her first year of business, so she needs to make a lot of changes to what she first thought. It is so overwhelming to think about everything. She is so busy just running the restaurant, she doesn’t have a lot of time for writing a big old business plan that is going to sit on her hard drive and never be seen.
I get that! Gosh, we are all so busy these days!
So I asked “Well, what is on the menu? Everything you make is amazing!” (She really is a great chef!) She was suddenly so excited! THIS is what she loves talking about! Obviously food is her passion.
“We’re trying out so many amazing dishes right now! I want to sample a few different cuisines to see what sticks. I LOVE experimenting and learning. And of course, people love options! I figured for the first year, we’ll try out lots of different dishes and get some consumer feedback on what we are best at. I know that once we practice cooking lots of different dishes, we will start becoming known for something special and can take it from there.” Hmmmm, I’m starting to sense the problem here, but I continue to dig deeper.
“Okay”, I said, “So what style restaurant is it?” (I’m embarrassed I haven’t been yet.) “Is it upscale, fine dining, family style, fast food?”
Her answer: “I want it to be fine dining, but I’ve started it out as a sort of family style so that I can grow a customer base. We’re just a small place with really low overhead. My plan is to renovate next year when all of our ducks are in a row, refine the menu, and bring in more high-end clientele. First I just needed to get my feet wet and make some money. The scary part is, I’m afraid my prices are already too expensive, because no one is coming. We even started doing some happy hour specials, just to get people in. I know that once they taste our food, they will be hooked, and they’ll be willing to come back for a full priced meal! I think my biggest problem is advertising. I really need to get people in the door. No one even comes in for the specials!”
Well, the heart of advertising is understanding WHO you are advertising to. That is step number one. So I asked her who her ideal clientele is. And she said what I feared, “OH EVERYONE! I just need people walking in the door at this point. And everyone loves good food! The more people I can reach through marketing, the more volume I can get through my door, and once I’m finally making some money, I can do what I really want with the restaurant…. build my dream business. I just feel like this industry is so tough. The economy is bad. No one is going out to eat like they used to. People can’t afford the extras. That’s why I started with my pricing so low. I just don’t understand why we are so slow. I know our food is some of the best out there.” I agree. Her food is some of the best out there.
I’m starting to sense that my friend just opened her doors without planning anything at all and this is the heart of her business woes. “Do you have any type of financial plan? How much debt are you in? How do you pay yourself and your employees? How are you going to keep up your business overhead and your insurance?”
“I’m not sure of that just yet,” she said. “I’m not in debt. I saved a lot of money to start it up, and my husband earns enough that I don’t really need to take a pay check right away. I mean, eventually, if this doesn’t work out, he will be really upset with me that I sunk all of my extra cash into this dream of mine. I really pray I will make it before that happens! All I know is that I love to cook more than anything else in the world. I gave up so much to start this restaurant. I feel like I never even see my kids anymore. I have to follow my passion and see this through. I just pray that people who believe in me and my food enough will invest in me.”
I think you know what I know by now. The reason my friend is struggling so much is because she didn’t plan her business at all before jumping in. It seemed like a small risk at the time, but now that she has invested so much of her own time and money into the whole thing, she needs to start seeing a return. She’s starting to think she can’t make it.
Kate started with her passion running her business, and now her fear is running it. She’s working in circles trying to keep her business afloat, stretching herself in a million directions, and getting nowhere. What’s worse? More than anything, she fears disappointing her family who believed in her and supported her. She’s afraid she made the wrong choice and she doesn’t know how to get out. She feels like a failure. She feels trapped.
Would you invest in this business and hope to see a return?
H-E- double hockey sticks – NO!
In fact, you probably think my friend is crazy. And anyone who would invest in a business with no direction like this would be crazy too.
I know Kate is not crazy. She loves what she does. The main reason she didn’t thoroughly plan her business was because she didn’t really need the money at the time. That is understandable. She felt in her heart that she had enough passion and determination to make it work. Now she is at the point where she has poured all of her time and money into a sinking ship and she has no idea why it is sinking.
It isn’t Kate’s food that is failing. Her food is amazing and her talent is undeniable. It is her business that is failing. And her business running smoothly is the framework through which she can do what she loves and share her talents with the world.
Sadly, there is no foundation for Kate’s restaurant. She doesn’t have a plan. She can’t manage her financials. She isn’t well known yet. She doesn’t have a cuisine that can set her apart. She doesn’t know who she is advertising to. She doesn’t even know what to put on the menu or what it should cost. She is working with absolutely no direction. She is showing up, cooking her heart out, and hoping that everything else falls into place.
I have a secret. My friend doesn’t run a restaurant. She is an amazing photographer.
Oh wait. Now it doesn’t seem so crazy. Now it seems normal!
I changed Kate’s profession for this story so you would stay with me. I wanted to illustrate how absurd it seems to invest so heavily in a small business that has absolutely no plan.
There is a better way.
People often ask me what my number one piece of advice would be for a photographer just starting out. This is it, my friends. Start with a plan. Or, if you’re already in over your eyeballs, pause. Pause and make a plan. It is never too late to start living the life you want.
Make a plan and you are much more likely to skip over that whole “sinking ship” part. You can create a business that supports you in sharing your amazing talent with the world. There is nothing selfish or greedy about it. It is what you were born to do. I am here cheering you on!
“Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, and fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people will not feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. It is not just in some of us; it is in everyone and as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give others permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others” ~ Marianne Williamson
Honor your time. Honor your talent. What you have to give to the world is worth it. Make a plan to make it happen. I believe in you, friend. You should too!
Your friend, Heidi
I am super duper excited to be talking business plans at the Chic Retreat in Seattle this May! I want to hear how you feel about business plans. Does the thought of them make you want to poke out your eyeballs?! Does Kate’s story sound familiar to you? I want to hear from you below!
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