Wendy’s Wisdom

As the coordinator and teacher of Renaissance Entrepreneurship Center‘s Business Planning Class, I help small business entrepreneurs create solid business plans focused on management, marketing and money. Students learn, struggle and grow through the process… and many return to Renaissance to share their lessons learned as guest speakers, consultants and mentors.

At the last Business Planning Class graduation, Wendy Lieu, graduate of the Fall 2012 Business Planning Class, shared her wisdom. As of owner of Socola Chocolatier, Wendy Lieu handcrafts delicious artisanal confections.

Defining success

No matter how we define success — our business skills must align with our business’ needs at each stage of growth.  The skills needed initially for an emerging business must deepen and expand as the business grows.  We must consistently and continually increase our management capacity to meet our business’ complexity.  And this can be a constant juggling act!

There is a lot we can learn from other small business owners.

I recently shared six key considerations for matching business skills with the complexity of a business. Then I shared advice from Heidi Gibson of The American Grilled Cheese Kitchen.  Now, here is some advice from another successful small business owner…

Rachel Saunders
Blue Chair Fruit

success

Rachel Saunders would describe herself as a complete neophyte when she started Blue Chair Fruit.  But, “what I lacked in experience, I had in determination.  Also, I had several bosses who were terrible managers and their negative examples helped orient me towards how I did NOT want to be!”

As Rachel’s business grew she realized that she had to pay attention to her business structure.  Instead of thinking about her business just in terms of herself or the people who worked for her at the moment, she started to focus on key roles and how they functioned together to support the business.  “Once I was able to step back and look at the staffing structure of my business, I was able to manage in a way that made more sense.”

Learning how to stream-line the business’ operations in general was also an important learning for Rachel.  “Big corporations can afford to have extra staff or waste, but a small or micro business cannot!  Over time, I was able to streamline things dramatically.  A leaner business is a stronger business, as long as everything is getting done!”

At one point Blue Chair Fruit Company was selling at eight farmers’ markets a week.  This was great exposure but ultimately not the most profitable sales channel.  “I realized that selling more product through a wholesale distributor, despite the lower profit margin, was actually a much cleaner, easier way to do business.  Since we scaled down to our three best farmers’ markets, our bottom line has improved!”

Rachel’s advice for success:

Take a step back and ask yourself if everything you are doing in your business is really necessary.

Determine what is actually working and worth the effort.  Scaling up is not always the answer.  Sometimes your business should be scaled back to increase profitability.  Look at your staffing.  Be clear about when and where you need the help.  How can jobs be structured to maximize efficiency?

Keep track and analyze your data.

Understand what activities lead to better returns.  Don’t commit yourself to a sales channel where you aren’t making any money.  Exposure alone isn’t good enough!


For Rachel and many other small business owners, business growth isn’t just about getting bigger.  It’s about developing the right business model and scale for success.  What does business success mean to you?

Check out Heidi Gibson’s advice for small business owners and my six tips for matching business skills to business complexity.

Business advice from the field

One of the most enjoyable moments during the Renaissance Business Planning Class is when we invite graduates back to the classroom to share their experiences and their business advice. They talk about their successes but also reveal their struggles and mistakes, and what they might have done differently. Their advice has a profound impact on the current students who are about to launch or expand enterprises of their own.

In that tradition, I asked some of my clients and past students to share their thoughts on a common growth challenge for small business owners: balancing business skills with the complexity of the business. I recently shared six key considerations on this topic. I was curious to hear from small business owners in the trenches.  How did their business skills match the complexity of their business when they first opened? How have they dealt with this tension throughout their business’ evolution? What advice would they want to share with others?

Here is one story…

Heidi Gibson and Nate Pollak
The American Grilled Cheese Kitchen

advice
When Heidi and her partner Nate opened The American Grilled Cheese Kitchen they already had general business expertise, people management skills and financial management experience but they were new to the restaurant industry and lacked specific industry skills. Heidi and Nate’s approach was to be honest with themselves about their own abilities and get help. “We took a cold hard look at what we did and did not know how to do, and then we recruited advisers who could teach us, or hired staff who already had the skills we lacked.”

Heidi and Nate took a similar approach when opening their second location. They had never run a multi-unit operation before. They sought consulting from other multi-unit operators, and hired general managers for each store who had come from multi-unit backgrounds. “We tasked the managers in the stores with the responsibility of ensuring consistency across the stores, not just within their own. For us, hiring managers who brought experiences and skills to the table that we did not have ourselves was crucial.” With the added complexity of two locations, Heidi and Nate decided to outsource their bookkeeping, too. “We hired a bookkeeper who had deep experience with multi-unit restaurants, which brought more expertise to our operation and freed up our time to handle other issues.”

Just this month Heidi and Nate opened their third location and published a cookbook, Grilled Cheese Kitchen: Bread + Cheese + Everything in Between!

Heidi’s advice for other small business owners:

 

Be brutally honest about what you are good at and what you’re not.

For the things you are not good at, find a way to outsource them to someone who is good at them. This goes double for bookkeeping and accounting if you are in a high-volume, low-margin business.

Ask for help.

There are a lot of resources out there for growing business owners, including Renaissance, SBDC, ICA and most importantly, other business owners. People want to see you succeed and you’ll be surprised at how much they want to help.

Don’t skip financial forecasting.

Many small business owners underestimate their financial management needs and make mistakes with finances when starting or expanding a business. The worst-case scenario is running out of cash, and sometimes growing can really chew up cash. You’re in a much stronger position to secure financing before you run out of cash rather than waiting until you’re down to the wire. Take the time to forecast cash flow, accounting for your growth needs, and start investigating funding options early rather than late.

Check out these tips on balancing your business skills with your business’ complexity and stay tuned for more words of wisdom from small business owners!

In the news

PTA students and clients have been receiving great press over the past few months and we want to share some of their news…

This summer SF Chronicle included an interview with Andrea Kenner, owner of the Sebastopol boutique, Tamarind. Andrea took the first 14-week Business Planning Class offered at Renaissance Marin in the Fall of 2012. The article also plugged another Renaissance (SF) Business Planning Class graduate, Ali Golden, “Oakland’s It designer”.

bay area small business

Rusty Olson, Renaissance Business Planning Class graduate from Spring 2013, opened Rusty’s Southern in the Tenderloin this Spring and has received nice press from Inside Scoop SF and the San Francisco Chronicle about his delicious Carolina-style BBQ.

bay area small business

In August I opened the paper and saw the smiling face of Beth Vecchiarelli, BP Class graduate from Fall 2014 and owner of Preserved in Oakland. Beth teaches classes on traditional methods of food preservation and her store carries D.I.Y. supplies for everything from cheesemaking and fermenting to pickling and dehydrating.

bay area small business

Blake Joffe, BP Class grad from Winter 2011 and co-owner of Beauty’s Bagel Shop was mentioned in a New York Times article, “Why Is It So Hard to Get a Great Bagel in California?“. His co-owner and wife, Amy Remsen, was a featured guest on an early August episode of KQED’s Forum with Michael Krasney about the same topic. Also this year, Thrillist named Beauty’s Bagel one of the 12 most important restaurants in Oakland, and Blake and Amy were featured in the recipe section of the SF Chronicle.

bay area small business

This year PTA client and Renaissance graduate LauraLe Wunsch has been receiving some great press for her unique product business, Oxgut Hose Company, which creates beautiful hand-crafted products with recycled fire hose salvaged from US fire departments. The Culture Trip labeled LauraLe one of 10 contemporary designers in San Francisco you should know about, there was a nice article this month in Country Living Magazine, and the final issue of Anthology Magazine (issue 21, Fall 2015) includes a feature on the business.

bay area small business

The SF Chronicle Island Style Section in mid October include a nice feature on jeweler Luana Coonen, BP Class grad from Summer 2014, and the impact of nature in her jewelry.

bay area small business

The Dogwatch neighborhood in San Francisco has a new design destination – Industrious Life, co-founded by Renaissance BP Class grad from Winter 2012 – Patti Quill. Patti and her co-owner Patti Davidson opened the shop this year and were recently featured in the San Francisco Chronicle.

bay area small business

In October, PTA client The Good Life Grocery was honored with the San Francisco Examiner’s Reader’s Choice Award for the Best Grocery Stores! bay area small business

And last but not least, we are thrilled that PTA client Bay Area Medical Academy, founded by Simonida Cvejic, was one of just 20 Mission Main Street Grant recipients for 2015, chosen from applicants around the country to receive a $100,000 award from Chase! Congratulations!

bay area small business

Getting into Business

Emerging entrepreneurs can be a different breed. They are excited about their business ideas and are driven by their passion… but it may also blind them to some degree. How do people start a business with their eyes wide open and set themselves up for success right from the start?

start a business

Passion is essential

First, passion and conviction are essential. You need to know who you are and what you want to do. Then there is the choice of business model and knowing your product or service inside and out. You want to be ready to eat, drink and breathe business ownership… and wake up and do it again the very next day.

Know your market

Even if you have the best business idea and you are confident in your ability to make a product or provide a service and set up a successful business model, the great arbiter of success is the marketplace. Your business concept must be viable, not just to you, but to the people who will be your target market. How do you know your business expectations are not fiction? To get the answer, you must talk to people, survey potential customers or clients, and test your assumptions.

Test your concept

Once you have an idea of the marketplace, you want to test the concept. You can pop up in someone else’s space or test your product or service at a street fair or makers fair. You can get friends to hold events and sell your product in their living rooms. You can convince a friend who has a retail shop to let you set up a trunk show. If all goes well, the experience will make you feel more secure that your business idea is a good one and that you want to own and run a business.

Can you now say YES to these 5 key questions?

  1. Do I really enjoy being in business?
  2. Can I attract the customer or client who will appreciate my business and will pay for it?
  3. Am I good with customers and can I provide excellent service?
  4. Does my business model make money or will it at least break even “soon”?
  5. Can I envision myself persevering for the next 12 to 18 months to really establish my business?

Time for planning

Some degree of prior business planning is essential. To help guide you, you can take a class, read a book, or ask an experienced business owner for support. However you do it, the purpose of a plan is to define your business offerings, specify your market, outline the essential management skills needed, and create realistic financial projections with a well-timed series of action steps. Your final plan will be a useful document for potential investors, funders or business partners. But the primary purpose for writing a plan is for the process itself. It forces you to be objective and critical, identifying weaknesses, challenges and opportunities and setting benchmarks to track progress. Ultimately, it will give you confidence to get into and continue with the business.

Take the plunge

So you have made some initial sales, carved out time on weekends to work on the business and you are still excited about doing it. Actually, it is all you can think about. How do you take the plunge from part-time to all-in?

There are many different ways to do it.

  • Wait to launch until you have raised enough start -up capital – either through personal savings, bank loans or crowd fundraising.
  • Convince your friends and family to lend you money (perhaps with no interest) and agree that you do not have to pay them back for at least three years.
  • Approach your employer and negotiate to work only four days a week and use that extra day to work on your business.
  • Move from full-time employment to a contractual arrangement so that you can set your own hours and take time off when needed for the business.
  • Find an active or silent business partner with capital to invest in the new business and cover business expenses for the first year.
  • Marry well and/or use your future inheritance to support your entrepreneurship habit!
  • Quit your job and go all in right away, using credit cards to get you through the cash flow negative start-up period.

The path to small business ownership is unique for each entrepreneur. It depends on your tolerance for risk, your access to capital and cash flow, your skills and experience running/managing a similar enterprise, and your support systems.

Time, money and the prospect of failure are common hurdles for almost every small business owner starting out:

  • How do I find enough time to devote to my business?
  • Do I have enough funds to support myself while the business is developing/evolving in the first 6, 12 or 18 months?
  • Can I respond well to short-term failures as I navigate my way to long-term success?

You may struggle to find the right strategy to get your business off the ground but if you have passion for your business idea, some success from product or service testing, solid financial projections, and a strong support network… YOU CAN DO THIS!

Are entrepreneurs crazy? Sometimes yes. But that’s just what may be needed to jump in and swim! Some start in the shallow end of the pool and tip-toe down the stairs. Others lower themselves down the ladder until they are fully immersed but continue to hold onto the edge. And then there are the ones who leap off the diving board straight into the deep end. No matter your approach, just make sure you can see the edge and make your way back to solid ground as needed. But if you really want to swim in the world of small business ownership, you first just have to get into the water!

Launched!

There are many small businesses that launch every month in the San Francisco Bay Area.  Each launch is proceeded by months (if not years) of hard work, detailed market research and fundraising before the new business owner can “open the doors”. A number of our business planning students at Renaissance Entrepreneurship Center launched their businesses in 2014.  Show your support by visiting them and spreading the word!

Calibur

launched
Sean Patrick and his business partner opened a new burger and fries place in San Francisco’s West Portal neighborhood featuring burgers, fries and milkshakes made from 100% organic ingredients sourced primarily from California. (They even have a veggie burger for me!) Check out their recent San Francisco Chronicle review.

Pinhole Coffee

launched
JoEllen Depakakibo just opened a new coffee shop on Cortland Street in San Francisco’s Bernal Heights neighborhood. The curated space features a variety of coffee roasters and other locally made goodies. Check out this recent profile of JoEllen and her new business.

Kinda Fancy

launched
Lindsey Hoell and her brother and sister have launched a line of surf bikinis! They are made in America of strong, stretchy material …and include zippered pockets. Check out their fun website and online store.

The Good Hop Bottle Shop

launched
Melissa Myers opened her bottle shop and tasting room on Telegraph Avenue in Oakland, offering hundreds of craft beers from around the world, with mostly local beers on tap. You can enjoy your brew on site or take away, and attend their classes and monthly events.

Hoi Polloi Brewpub and Beat Lounge

launched

Viet Vu opened his brewpub with his brother and wife on Alcatraz Avenue in Berkeley. The pub features a variety of beers, including their own creations, and all beer comes with popcorn drizzled with truffle-oil. Check out this recent San Francisco Chronicle review.

Rilla

launched

Courtney Cummins has launched Rilla, an online style boutique featuring select clothing, accessories and textiles from independent designers, as well as highly curated vintage pieces.

Communitē Table

launched
Michele LeProhn opened the doors to her neighborhood restaurant in Oakland’s Laurel district this December — seasonal American comfort food to eat there or to take home. Check out this recent article about Communitē Table in the East Bay Express.

The ReCrafting Co.

launched

Andrine Smith opened The ReCrafting Co. as a crafter’s resource for quality recycled crafting materials, supplies and tools. The shop also offers crafters a convenient opportunity to recycle their surplus crafting material and supplies on consignment for cash.

Liquid Gold

launched

Tim Lee’s bottle shop and tap room opened in lower Nob Hill the Fall of 2014. The  focus is on locally sourced beers and wines.  In November, Liquid Gold made Zagat’s list of the 12 hottest new bars in the United States!

Urban Putt

launched

Steve Fox and his team have created Urban Putt, the City’s first and only indoor miniature golf course in San Francisco’s Mission district. It is a playground for people of all ages with organic and locally-sourced food and drink. Thrillist calls Urban Putt “quite possibly the best thing to happen to the Mission.”

Do you have an entrepreneurial dream?

TeleSmart Communications founder Josiane Feigon understands the benefits of a great business plan… and that plan set her on the path to success in business.

entrepreneurial dream

“When it came to launching my own business, I needed a plan. I couldn’t just work it out on a cocktail napkin. I needed time to think it through. I might be brave and adventurous, but I’m also very methodical.

An entrepreneurial friend told me that she’d registered for a Business Planning Class at the San Francisco Renaissance Entrepreneurship Center. They offered a 14-week planning session to help entrepreneurs work on their business plan and give their idea wings.

So I decided to register… I worked on firming up my idea, looking at it from all angles, and finally creating a robust business plan that would set me up for success.

I can’t recommend the RenCenter enough. Today it has offices in SF, the Peninsula, and Marin, with more small business incubators for new entrepreneurs. Sharon Miller is an amazing CEO and visionary. Their instructors are brilliant (special shout out to my mentor, Paul Terry) and the support is amazing. They are not your Shark Tanks.”

(thanks for the shout-out, Josiane!)

Now, Josiane wants to encourage others who are passionate about a business idea and ready to take the plunge. TeleSmart Communications is offering a scholarship to one lucky person who would like to register for Renaissance Entrepreneurship Center’s 14-week business planning class in 2015.

Do you have an entrepreneurial dream? Click here to learn more about TeleSmart’s scholarship opportunity!

Taking Action

At Paul Terry & Associates we help small business owners build successful and sustainable enterprises. Our consulting process is focused on clear assessments, careful advice and taking action. Central to our approach is business action planning.

taking action

Your passion and a strong vision for your enterprise launched you into small business ownership but a great idea alone won’t make you a successful business owner. You must turn your initial ideas into realistic goals with a specific plan for action.

Whether you are an emerging entrepreneur or an experienced business owner entrenched in the complexities of running a business, business action planning can help you identify measurable goals and create specific steps to reach your desired outcomes.

Every area of your business – customer/client relations, marketing and sales, business operations, ownership expansion, and your eventual exit from the business – can benefit from action planning. So how do you begin?

DEFINE YOUR GOAL

Put it in writing. Writing down exactly where you are today and where you want to be in the future will force you to think concretely. Taking the time to write down your goals may spark some new ideas, too.

Taking Action4

Be S.M.A.R.T. – that is, specific, measurable, achievable, realistic and timely/time-bound. You need to be able to clearly state what you want to achieve and your goal needs to be concrete and doable. Initially, steer clear of goals that might take you three to five years to achieve. Once you get comfortable with the action planning process, you can use it to tackle bigger, longer-term goals. For now, stay focused on something you can attain within a year’s time, or even less.

SET YOUR ACTION STEPS

Take it one step at a time. You are much more likely to attain your goal when you identify specific steps to reach it. Each step needs a realistic deadline and an estimate of how much it will cost you—not just in dollars but in your time and other resources.

Taking Action5

GET SUPPORT

Everyone needs someone to lean on. Trusted advisors and people in your business support network are essential during this process. They can be a sounding board while you create your plan and they can keep you accountable once you have a plan… every step of the way.

USE YOUR PLAN

Long and pretty it ain’t. A business action plan isn’t a fancy document—it’s a usable one. It needs to be accessible and referred to frequently. It might help to set reminders on your calendar to review it so that you can stay on track and make adjustments if necessary.

Still feeling daunted by action planning? We support clients through the action planning process every day –helping them create goals relevant to their current stage of business, identify specific action steps, and stay on track. How can we help you?

Are you ready for your encore?

The traditional idea of retirement is increasingly becoming an old notion—either because people need to keep working as a financial necessity or because they still want to work. Instead of retiring, many people are looking to do something on their own terms, and do work that really matters. Like any effective performer, they are ready for an encore!

encore career

The term “encore career” is being used to describe a new career later in life—one that is focused not just on making a living but on making a difference. Encore.org—a San Francisco non-profit that helps people pursue “second acts for the greater good”—defines encore careers as jobs that combine personal meaning, continued income and social impact in the second half of life. And according to the organization, the idea is catching on. As many as 9 million people ages 44 to 70 are already in encore careers, with 31 million more interested in the idea but not sure how to make the transition.

For many, the encore career most appealing is starting a business. In 2012, nearly one quarter of all new businesses were started by people ages 55 to 64.  According to the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation, business creation by older Americans grew more than 60% between 1996 and 2012.

So if you are interested in starting a business, where do you begin?

1. Follow your passion! Your business will only succeed if you love what you do. As Steve Jobs says, “The only way to be truly satisfied is to do what you believe is great work. And the only way to do great work is to love what you do.”

2. Know yourself well. Assess your strengths and weaknesses to determine if you have what it takes. Do you have some of the traits common to successful entrepreneurs? What are your existing skills?  Older entrepreneurs have an advantage — at this point you probably have a good sense of what you love to do and what you can do well. Now, instead of doing that work for an employer, you can do it for yourself.

3. Get out there to connect and learn. There is so much to learn from others in the field. Read, take classes, join small business groups of like-minded people, find organizations focused on the issues you are passionate about, as well as organizations focused on senior entrepreneurs. Starting a business can be a risky endeavor but much less so when you have relevant skills, a sense of the marketplace, and an understanding of what others have tried already and what has succeeded or failed. (Renaissance Marin offers a class called Encorepreneurs, based on The Encore Career Handbook by Marci Alboher.)

4. Don’t do it alone. Starting a new business can be a significant undertaking. You need a strong network to help you navigate through the rough patches and mentors who will share sound guidance. It is important to surround yourself with supportive and insightful people.  As someone with life and career experience, there is a good chance you have a strong network of contacts already — people you can turn to as a support system and people who might eventually be customers or clients.

5. Use all the business tools you can find. There are many non-profit organizations and government agencies committed to helping people start their own small businesses. In San Francisco, the Office of Small Business is a great resource, with a helpful step-by-step guide to starting a business. Technology has made it a lot easier to start a business, too, with online tools like License 123 for finding all the licenses and permits you’ll need. Check out our website for more resources.

6. Money, money, money. There are many small and home-based businesses that can be launched without much start-up capital. No matter your size, knowing the resources you have and projecting what you may be able to earn is critical. How much do you need to make each month to cover expenses and make a profit? What are your start-up costs and how will you fund your transition? There are many ways to fund your business, with crowdfunding platforms becoming an increasingly popular strategy.

7. Make a plan! Your plan doesn’t need to be lengthy but it’s helpful to give some thought to marketing, money and management before you begin. A business plan can force you to clarify your idea, understand the external conditions that might affect your business, and set realistic goals with benchmarks to track your progress. Doing the research, talking to people and creating realistic financial projections will give you confidence to get your business started and keep it going. Renaissance Entrepreneurship Center offers a 14-week business planning class to help you through the process.

Above all, what’s most important is to get out there and keep learning. Starting a small business is tough but it can be so rewarding both for the people you serve and the person you become. You are never too old to learn something new and make a difference.

Planning for Business Success

Many people start small businesses and many seem to fail.  Risks always exist in business.planning

You can reduce those risks if you set aside time to plan in advance. This means defining your business offerings, doing specific market research, recognizing the essential management skills you need, and projecting realistic financial expectations… in short, you can reduce risks when you write and use a business plan.

Small business owners often say they don’t have time to write a business plan. There is too much to do and they want to get on with running the business. (Or, they may be intimidated by the planning process or simply be procrastinating.)

It’s true that some small businesses start without planning and do very well. However, once a business is launched and things get complicated, it can be confusing to figure out next steps. A good business plan helps sort out your options and can help you focus.

Business experts disagree about the importance of writing a business plan. Though some research has found that writing a plan greatly increases the chances that a person actually goes into business, there are business school professors out there, like Steve Blank, who say that real entrepreneurs don’t write business plans.

Although it may not sound like it, I actually agree with Blank’s approach. In his Lean LaunchPad classes, he’s pushing students to constantly talk to people and test their theories as they plan. A hands-on, real world approach is central to how I teach entrepreneurship, too. You cannot write a business plan in a vacuum and expect it to serve you well. You must get out there, connect with people, and constantly test your assumptions.

Writing, implementing and maintaining a business plan is hard work. Planning means learning to take the pulse of your business — over and over again. You have to be open to new ideas and be willing to learn from your mistakes. There is a reward for all that hard work, though. You end up with an operational management tool, a marketing plan, financial projections, and a means of communicating your business to others.

The primary purpose for writing a plan, though, is for the process itself. It forces you to be objective and critical, identifying weaknesses, challenges and opportunities and setting benchmarks to track progress. Doing research, talking to people, and analyzing your operation will give you confidence to continue with the business.

It’s really important that the plan reflects your unique owner perspective. The plan is a foundation from which each owner’s business judgment, personal feelings and intuition are measured. You should write it in such a way that you can use it, in a format that is easy to update. To be truly useful, a business plan should be a dynamic document — current, accessible and appropriate for the business. Don’t spend a lot of time making a pretty document unless a formal plan is needed to present to a bank or other investor. It doesn’t have to be perfect looking; the key is that it is useful for you and your business.

A business plan doesn’t guarantee success but it can help prevent serious mistakes. It is a great way to stay attentive to the important details of your business, to industry trends and competitors, and to new directions and business growth. A good business plan will help you maintain profitability, acknowledge and minimize potential risks, and develop confidence for future opportunities.

So how do you find the time to write a business plan? As Tim Berry says, “You don’t. You are always planning. Your plan is never done but your planning process is your key to good management.”

So, write that plan (or revisit your old one). It will be well worth your effort!