I'm trying to keep my business, my triplets, and my waistline under control. I excel at one of those, fail at another one of those, and one is a work in progress. Which is which is day dependant.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Blind Faith and Belief

Recently I had the opportunity to tell two different groups of people the story of how I started the business, in specific how I did it with nearly no money. The short version is, I used up all of our savings (which was 20K exactly) to move into proper commercial premises and set up everything. Before that I'd been doing everything from my home kitchen, with no real money spent and no real money earned. I launched my hare-brained scheme by starting at the beginning of the process - eg, working out how much money I thought I would need.

I sat down and wrote out what I thought was an exhaustive list. I even have "broom" listed on there, and things like "rubbish bin" and all sorts of other itty bitty things I thought I would need. Literally I thought about EVERYTHING down to the wooden spoons and a box of tissues. Once I had the final number - gulp! - I added in enough money for 6 months worth of rent and utilities, then added a few more thousand on just for good measure, and came up with something like 17K. We had 20K available, so I took that whole amount (bit of 'play money' never hurt, right?), deposited the lot into a brand-spanking-new business banking account, and got to work.

In took about 30 seconds in my new kitchen for me to realise I needed an oven which was more suitable for cake making...and that wasn't on my list. So I was down $6,600 for an oven. Then I realised my little Kitchen Aid wasn't going to cut it, so another $1,320 went out the window for an industrial mixer. Then I realised I needed other stuff. You know, like maybe some packaging, and possibly some stickers, and what ho!- a decent website, too.

Within a week of taking on the lease of the kitchen, I was flat broke. I didn't have enough money to pay the rent for that month, let alone enough money for 6 months of rent, for that broom or that rubbish bin, and certainly not for playing of any kind. I remember sitting down with DH and saying to him, "OH SHIT. I really screwed these numbers up. Now what?!" He didn't have a terribly good answer at the time, but by the next day we happened to get our tax return refund.

Talk about being saved by the hair on my chinny-chin-chin.

The refund which we were meant to use for other stuff paid my rent that month, plus some bills. I don't know how, but I then earned enough to pay the next lot of rent, and then things just kinda kept going. By about 15 months later, I had repaid the 24K to us in full.

After telling this story, I got the reaction of, "Wow, you must have had a hell of a lot of blind faith!" and "You really believe in yourself, didn't you?"


The answer to both of those is NO. Well, not in any conscious way. I can't remember a time when I thought, "I'll do this or die trying," or "I can't fail at this because I believe so much in it." I rented that kitchen in the first place because I felt it was the right time to move forward with it, and because I made that (subsequently ridiculous) list which TOLD ME, in black and white, that I could do it. Then when I couldn't pay the rent, inertia and a sense of obligation to repay that money propelled me forward to the next step, and the next one, and the next one.

And now here I am, moving forward in a way I never thought possible, having not only taken an entire SERIES of giant leaps forward, but also still basically making business decisions in the same way. Most of the time, I figure out the black-and-white part of it first - I make lists, take educated guesses, wear out the numbers on the calculator, ask a bunch of people for their professional opinions - and then I make a decision and move forward. The black and white is really only 50% of the decision - the other 50% I make on the basis of gut feel. If it feels right, I do it. The first year (and many, many times since) I made decisions which, on paper, looked kinda okay - because we all know how good I am at making paper lists, right? (Ahem, most bakers need a OVEN, how did that get left off the first list?) but then I took the leap. I burnt the boat. I just did what I thought needed to get done and hoped like hell (and worried a lot) about it all turning out okay.

If you asked me today, did I get this far with blind faith? Oh, hell NO. Nothing "blind" about it. I have endless...literally endless...bits of paper where I have worked stuff out and taken notes and made observations and copied sentences out of books and tried to sort out in my head what was probably hiding in my heart. Only THEN did I feel confident enough to make some sort of decision about it. And if you ask me today, did I get this far because I believed in myself? Well, that one is harder to answer, because no, I don't feel like I believe in myself that much. I am motivated much more by a feeling of obligation to my family than I am motivated by a belief that I am somehow fabulously capable of things.

It's not that I believe I CAN do it. It's that I believe I HAVE to do it.

These days, I make much more informed decisions about business matters. In part because you don't get to this point without learning at least something about how to run a business, in part because now I have even more support (thanks, Biz Guy), in part because I've gotten older, and in part because as the business has grown, I've grown. But even with ALL of that, there is still some portion of me which makes the, "Well, seems like a good idea!" sort of decisions on a whim - and while not always, it's often that those ones turn out to be the ones which pay me back in spades.

Again, do I make those "good idea' decisions because I believe in me making them work? Nope. I make those decisions because I believe I HAVE TO in order to move forward.

This week the business managed to stage a major coup in the Australian baking world. I won't go into details and bore you all, but suffice to say that suddenly, my itty bitty cake business got thrust into the spotlight, in a pretty big way. What amazes me, of course, is that it was yet another decision I made using scribbles on the back of an envelope and just a certain bit of "what the hell" chutzpah. And maybe what I call "what the hell chutzpah" really is just blind faith in another name. Either way, while I'm not convinced I necessarily have the traits people seem to think I do (namely the ones of self-belief)...well, you know, this time it turned out okay. Better than okay.

Maybe the lesson here is that the best business decisions are those made both on the backs of envelopes and WITH faith, not entirely with just ONE of those. If you're just relying on the black and white, how many things would you NOT go forward with, and then miss the opportunity of? And if you rely entirely on faith, is the fail rate higher than if you'd taken the time to work out the mechanics of it?

Either way, this week, I was filled with an enormous sense of excitement, pride, and maybe just an itty, bitty, tiny bit of belief.

Hmm. I could get used to this whole belief business.

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