A year ago life seemed so different. I felt free, free enough to forge a new path in life that would be better than the road I had been on. Ever the optimist, I believed that I had a successful idea, the right spot, the support network and enough money to set up a new business that would allow me to not only enhance the health of my community, but take better care of myself and my family and provide me with time to write; something I had wanted to do for a very long time: win, win. I had thrown off the shackles of teaching and was now free to live in the sunshine.’ Nothing can be harder than teaching’. The past year has demonstrated to me just how wrong I was on every front.
My first job on taking over the lease was to get the building ready for trading. It had been empty for two years and I knew there was some water damage but it took four months to put this right and just when we were almost complete, the tenant on the top floor of the building, left their bath running with the plug in, for more than half a day. This set us back another month. Four months of paying out rates, rent, utilities, setting-up costs and of course builders and materials, that pot of money was shrinking fast.
Finally, February 25th 2015, I had everyone in place and we were about to open. I knew of course that once we did, people would come flooding in because this was the kind of place they were looking for and wanted, a veggie, vegan café with healthy food options and fresh juices, so I was prepared. I had employed six staff, three in the kitchen alone. The cost of this further depleting my shrinking pot of gold. It is scary how quickly money goes, especially when you have no idea what you are doing.
My husband had insisted on me doing some research and a business plan before he would agree to me using our money. I did a business plan of sorts, but it was a guestimate, as you can’t really tell until you start trading how things will pan out. I also did a SWOT analysis which showed the area was dominated by chicken shops, pizza, kebab and old style cafes. What I should have noted about this though, was demography and attitudes to food but I saw beyond that, to the gap in the market that needed filling, and I had just the product to fill that need.
It is now, eleven months since we started trading and in that time so much has happened. Two months after opening, I had reduced staffing by half. Three months in, my support network disappeared. Four months in my doctor looked at me and said, ‘you need to make an appointment to see a doctor, immediately.’ Five months in and my husband informed me that he was on the verge of leaving. Six months in I had to beg a dear friend for money. Seven months in the rent on the property had more than doubled. Eight months in the building was flooded by water coming in from above and below. 10 months in, the landlord issued a bailiff’s order for backdated rent uplift from 2009.
Business is for dummies because if you were truly wise to the issues and problems coming your way when starting a new business, you would never begin. I was told it would be difficult, but I wasn’t listening because I knew my business would succeed. I was arrogant. I knew it was the right thing to do. Yet, without that conviction and passion I could not have gotten things going. You need to be motivated to start a new business and you can’t do that if you are wise to just how much you will lose along the way. I am so much poorer than when I started not only in tangible things such as money, time, health and family but also in the intangible things, such as outlook, emotional well-being, and happiness.
I am using this blog to record my journey from dummy to growing wisdom. Will I be one of the 80% of new businesses that fail within their first year? That chapter has not yet been written.