By Cliff Ennico
“Like the guy in Psalm 130, I am writing to you out of the depths of despair.
I started a retail business last year involving a hot new technology. We needed some local real estate, and found a pretty good location, but when our contractor inspected the space after we signed the lease he discovered all kinds of environmental and structural problems with the building which didn’t show up on any of the land records. We were able to get out of the lease, after much yelling, screaming and threats of lawsuits, but it cost us a ton of money.
After a diligent search we found another good location for the business. This time, I had the contractor examine the space before we signed the lease. But then the real problems began. It cost us twice as much as we budgeted to build out the space. A relative of mine had arranged some financing from some of his country-club friends but we burned through that dealing with the first lease. When I went back to him asking for help with a second round, he said he wouldn’t do it – not couldn’t, wouldn’t – and started calling me all kinds of bad names of which ‘stupid’, ‘incompetent’ and ‘lunatic’ are the only ones you can print in your column.
Okay, I made some mistakes, but I didn’t mislead anyone into thinking I was Mark Zuckerberg. Everyone knew that this was a new type of business, that I didn’t have a track record in business startups, and that nobody, anywhere, had done anything like this before so we would all have to learn together as we went along. Funny how they forgot about that when the you-know-what hit the fan.
A lot of suppliers wouldn’t give us credit because we were inexperienced in business, so we had to pay cash up front for the equipment and inventory we needed. Some of it didn’t work, and I had to learn to fix things myself because there are no qualified technicians where we are located and I can’t afford the downtime to ship it cross-country for repairs.
In the meantime, my marriage started to deteriorate because I wasn’t spending enough time on my day job. After we maxed out on all of our credit cards, my spouse wouldn’t put the house at risk to guarantee an SBA loan. We are currently separated and I’m living in a month to month rental with bedbugs until things cool down for a bit. I’m hoping they will, but I may have to choose between this business and watching my kids grow up.
The really weird thing is that I haven’t yet given up on this business. I know this is going to work. We opened our doors a couple of weeks ago and are getting tons of new customers as well as extremely favorable local press and word-of-mouth. It will be a while before we can cover expenses, but we have revenue, and we are getting there. I have spoken to the landlord and he’s willing to stretch out the rent payments for a couple of months. I have even gone over my rich relative’s head and directly contacted his friends who loaned us startup money, asking them to tour our operations and consider either making another loan or converting their existing loan into a piece of the business. A couple have visited the store and said they would.
I have been through Hell and back, but I am not giving up on this. I am working with a financial planner willing to donate her time and have found a local accountant willing to introduce me to some local angel investors. I’m not sure anyone can give me advice I haven’t already received, but I could really use some inspiration right now. Can you tell me something that will help me get through this?”
Never mind the new Star Wars movie. If you are looking for a real, honest to goodness American hero, look no further than this e-mail which crossed my Inbox on Christmas Day. Whoever wrote this (he or she did not leave a name) has my nomination for Entrepreneur of the Year.
A lot of people start businesses thinking it will all be fun and games, that everyone (customers, suppliers and investors) will buy into their idea the minute they open their mouths, that there will never be even a moment of stress or doubt, and that everyone will love, worship and adore them like, well, the heroes in a Star Wars movie. We love watching these characters take leaps of faith and huge, death defying risks because, frankly, we’re not being asked to do it ourselves, and we know things ultimately end up “happily ever after” in Hollywood movies.
To see the real world of entrepreneurship up close and personal, re-read this reader’s e-mail. [To be continued next week . . . ]
Cliff Ennico (www.succeedinginyourbusiness.com), a leading expert on small business law and taxes, is the author of Small Business Survival Guide, The eBay Seller’s Tax and Legal Answer Book and 15 other books. Follow him at @cliffennico.