I awoke in the wee hours of the morning to realize I was drenched in sweat, my covers and sheets twisted into knots around my body in response to my thrashing. My pillows lay on the other side of the room, thrown angrily at imaginary demons. My teeth were sore from grinding and my jaw muscles ached from clenching. The clock showed a red 3:33, a reminder that I had to get up early and needed rest, but my mind would not relent. My next day's agenda kept staring back at me inside my tightly squeezed eyelids. I awoke because I was having that nightmare again. I was at my restaurant, and nothing seemed to work. The Panini was machine acting up again. Customers were rolling their eyes at the slow service as I tried to fix the non-responsive credit card terminal. As I ran from catastrophe to catastrophe around me my employees were at a quicksand level talking in a deep slow drawn out speech as if a dj was slowing the spin of the record. Nothing, absolutely nothing was going right and I alone was the person that seemed to care. My blood pressure exploded as I alone was the only person who could fix it all and in the dream, and again I was failing miserably.
This is a scary story for the Halloween season but it is not about witches, vampires, werewolves, haunted houses or even flesh-eating zombies. This story is much scarier as it is real life. It is about things that really do keep you up at night like negative bank balances, over due loans, a quality yet disgruntled employee threatening to move on, bad assumptions, cash flows and, "Really, how much did we pay for that?"
Even though I have been self employed for many years, (40 years and still going, thank you) it is scary being an entrepreneur. Because being an entrepreneur is about survival. And not surviving is scary. At one point, you had the nerve to be bold and strike out on your own despite the skeptics around you. Maybe you used your entire savings or put the equity in your house up to get your business started. Maybe a family loan and the thought of not paying it back keeps shame lurking around the corner. Or, maybe that idea that wouldn't go away that you have given so much time and energy to, just wasn't such a good idea after all. These are realities that keep us entrepreneurs up at night.
Survival is a daily challenge in all of our businesses no matter what we do. There is competition from all sides, keeping your margins tight. Keeping up with constantly changing technology can be incredibly daunting. How does a little catering company get positioned right on internet searches when they cannot compete with the big dogs advertising budgets? Where do I spend my advertising dollars when the very fundamental forms of advertising went out the window 15 years ago? Your resolve is tested daily, hourly, sometimes relentlessly by the minute. After some days you come home feeling that you have been in the boxing ring being pummeled again and again.
Why did you get into your business? Perhaps you thought is would be lucrative, perhaps you were a social worker and wanted to save the world one troubled teen at a time, perhaps you enjoyed making people happy through food or entertainment. Why do you do the things you do? And why is it scary? Once I heard someone state that life is full of peaks and valleys. If you're in a valley, rest assured that a peak is coming soon. Simple thoughts like these can carry you through a scary night.
I worked tirelessly to get a line of retail specialty sauces established in grocery stores but the dream fell short as I did not have the financial ability to buy shelf space in large retail grocery chains and then back it up with a full blown advertising campaign. I had to give this up for survival during one of the four recessions I have experienced during my business life. I can say that I was negative 40K in the bank and holding 20 paychecks at times. These are realities of the self-employed. It is scary when your entire enterprise seems on the brink of disaster.
Some of my survival consists of rolling on after several break-ins, a burned employee before we had compensation insurance, a flooded restaurant (frozen pipes) six weeks after opening, the dotcom bust era, the real estate bubble burst. The list of hurdles is long in retrospect, but as I look back at them now, they were just daily hurdles the same as I experience today.
I always felt that if I did my best at what I do, (making great food) that these major economic forces wouldn't matter to a small restaurant & catering company. However, when the world goes into a recession everyone is affected. Customers make decisions based on what is in their wallet, period. If their wallet gets thinner, they spend less at every level. As a casual caterer doing drop off and buffet service, I thought during the real estate crisis that we would benefit, by the large companies scaling back on their holiday parties. The more expensive caterers would struggle as companies looked for savings. I felt that a small gathering in the back of the office was more diligent spending rather than taking the staff out to an expensive dinner.
This is true, but what I didn't see, is that the companies who were doing small gatherings before the recession were canceling their holiday parties altogether. Business across the board kept my bank balance in a negative and deprived me of sleep. Scary stuff.
But we are entrepreneurs. We asked for this and now we have it. Tenacity, focus, due diligence and an over all refusal to be defeated, these are the qualities that will carry us. Stay on course my friends and look forward to watching our vampires, werewolves, and flesh-eating zombies. With our strength and resolve we will just kick their asses again and again. Because we are the self-employed, we are the entrepreneurs, a rare breed of monster ourselves that takes on our nightly demons in this tough and challenging world.
Things that currently keep me up at night:
Donald Trump, Hillary Clinton, $15 or fight, Mandatory sick leave, Murphy's Law Finding new opportunities, Uncle Sam, Employees and yes, my bank balance