I speak to and work with hundreds of business owners, and I always find that there are some who seem to effortlessly glide through, with a successful enterprise, and some that seem to struggle when they hit £200,000 a year. There’s a reason for this. I call it the “Oh, Shit!” moment, and not for the reason you might be thinking.
You see, most people think that the tipping point in business is when you’ve got nothing left to lose and you’re faced with the choice of going big or going home, at which point people seem to knuckle down, find their “inner strength” and then go on to smash it out of the park. This is absolute shite. Don’t get me wrong, it does happen, but when most people are faced with the option of throwing more at something that isn’t working or walking away from it, they choose the latter, and it’s often the right thing to do.
No, the tipping point in business isn’t a hail Mary, or a last ditch attempt at “making it big”. It’s quite often the opposite. Someone has a small business that’s ticking over nicely and it’s paying them an ok wage- it isn’t perfect, but they’re happy. Then all of a sudden, they get busier, or they get into their stride and things seem to start flowing at a much faster pace than they could have ever anticipated.
This is the tipping point.
This is the “Oh, Shit!” Moment as in “Oh, Shit! This could actually take off!”. This is where fear usually sets in- the risk and fear of failure is magnified 10 fold. They’ve suddenly got a business that people know about, care about, and want to see succeed, and could fail at any minute despite it not failing so far. The big difference is the illusion of scale. There are suddenly so many more jobs that you think need to be done, that can’t wait any longer for you to do them. You feel that you’ve got to be ready to “go big”, and you just aren’t prepared enough for all of these things that you think might happen as a result of your business’s growth. This fear is most definitely imposter syndrome- you don’t believe that you should be able to build your business, and that you’re definitely not qualified enough to run it now that it’s growing. You’ve built the business, it has trickled along, and all of a sudden BANG, something changes in the business, and it also changes in you. Oddly enough, the changes in the business and the changes in yourself are exactly the same. As a small, independent business owner your business is a direct reflection of you.
Don’t get me wrong, bigger problems definitely come along with a bigger business, and more often than not, they will be problems that you can’t solve for yourself. Economies of scale don’t just work for purchasing power, they also work for problem power. Business is difficult, but so is being skint, it’s up to you to choose which “difficult” you want.
Choose your “difficult”.
I often find it easier to digest things when they’re put into context, so that’s what I’ll try to do.
When I started Evans and Co as a sole trader (and without a “Co”), I was on my own and it was difficult to get clients. After a few months of digging away, I got Madre and Queens Wine Bar & Bistro as clients (along with a few others).
I then incorporated my business as Evans and Co Hospitality Accountants Ltd (still without a “Co”- I just really liked the idea of having an “and Co”), and it was difficult to get all of the work done on my own, so I hired staff.
I took on my Mum (Carol) and my Mother-in-law (Judith) in May 2021 (they’re still with me now) and it was difficult to train them (not because they couldn’t be trained, but because I’d never trained anyone in this environment before now), but I did it.
We then grew a little bit more and it became difficult to have Carol and Judith working from my house over different days, and it then became difficult to afford new computers for the three of us. But we needed computers, and we needed somewhere to work. So we got our first office in Clockwise Offices on the Albert Dock in Liverpool.
It then became difficult to juggle the workload once again, so I hired someone else- Clair. Clair and Carol then went from three days per week each to four days each and then Clair went to five days as the workload grew again.
We then moved office and it was difficult to get the building up to scratch, and to have all four of us working remotely. We occasionally worked out of the Liverpool Arts Bar on Hope Street (one of our clients) whilst waiting for our offices to be finished.
We moved into our new offices and spent days cleaning up and putting the furniture together whilst juggling our workload. This was difficult too (especially when the power tripped on the first day and I had to wait around for an emergency electrician to come out at midnight).
We took on more clients and increased the levels of service that we were offering to most of our existing clients. It then got difficult to manage year-end deadlines, so I hired an accountant- Jack- in February 2023.
Fast-forward from March 2022 to March 2023 and there are now 8 of us and we’re looking to bring in an apprentice in May 2023. I have two bookkeepers, a senior bookkeeper, an administrator, two people on the payroll team, an Accountant, and myself. The payroll team work completely remotely, and everyone else is free to work when and where they want. Our monthly revenue from March 2022 to March 2023 had almost doubled.
It then became difficult to juggle all the tasks that I’d been landed with due to the growth of the business, so I had to delegate. Delegation is difficult when you don’t have any systems in place, so we’ve had to start building those systems which is also difficult when you’re working with a blank canvas.
My “Oh, Shit!” Moment was December 2022- January 2023. Myself and my family had been pretty much wiped out over December and so it took what felt like an age to catch up on everything that I’d missed. I started to get through my list of tasks, but the work didn’t seem to diminish, so I spent a bit of time procrastinating looking through my own accounts and what leads/ enquiries I had in the pipeline. The reason I couldn’t catch up was because we’d grown 100% in 12 months in terms of monthly revenue, and I thought “Oh, Shit! This is actually working. The business is growing. This is more than I thought it could be.” At that point, I had two choices;
1. Continue working my backside off and pay myself a better wage. I’d have to work in the business a little more, but I’d be paid a fair wage for it, or
2. Bite the bullet and hire an accountant that would take up a big chunk of my revenue, but would free me from a huge amount of the daily tasks that I’d otherwise have to be getting on with on top of everything else that I do.
Rather than wait about to see what happened, I immediately got on the phone to Rick, my recruitment guy. I sent him over the job description and details and he posted it for me. I did this so that there was no backing down- once it was online, it became very real; “I’m going to get an accountant, and they’re going to take away a lot of the work that I’m currently doing”, shortly followed by “I’m going to get an accountant? What if it doesn’t work? What if they’re no good? What if I lose a load of clients and can’t afford to pay them? What if they make mistakes? Or worse, what if they’re better than me and they see a load of mistakes that I’ve made?”
I won’t lie, I was scared shitless as all of these thoughts ran through my head. I had over 80 applicants, of which I spoke to 40, of which I interviewed 10. Two interviewees really stood out to me- their phone interviews were great, they asked all of the right questions, they both conducted themselves well in the interview, and they both had experience, but Jack had more experience than the other candidate. I asked Jack “how much?” and his answer was £7,500 higher than the other candidate.
I offered him the job on the spot and then I went home and panicked over my decision. I don’t know why I panicked, I’d already interviewed and hired several other great team members, and I’d also hired one or two that weren’t a great fit, but I helped them to move on as soon as I realised that we weren’t right for each other.
I then lost two decent-sized clients. They couldn’t keep the business afloat any longer and needed to liquidate. That was ok though, it was within our tolerance and we could afford to lose them. What I hadn’t thought about, was the fact that my wife was having 12 months maternity leave and come March, we were at the end of month 9 (for those of you that aren’t aware, maternity leave is paid for 9 months and you have the option to take an additional 3 months unpaid). I couldn’t afford to pay myself anymore than I already was (which wasn’t much anyway).
I then had two difficult choices:
1. Go home and tell my wife that I couldn’t increase my pay, and that we’d have to use what savings we had until her holiday pay kicked in in July, or
2. Bring in more clients and have those awkward salesy conversations that I absolutely hate with a passion.
Both of those choices are difficult, but when push came to shove, it was clear that option 1 wasn’t really an option, and it definitely wasn’t a solution. So I started to go through all of the proposals that I’d sent out over the past few months that I hadn’t chased, bit the bullet and called them up. One or two of them weren’t interested anymore, or thought we were too expensive, another two said that they had a lot on and to keep calling every so often until they either said yes or no, and four of them said they’d completely forgotten, but now that I had them on the phone, they wanted to move ahead.
What was I scared of?
You might be starting to wonder what this entire section about me, my wife, and my accountancy practice has to do with running a restaurant.
I said at the beginning of this section that I’d try to add context to the areas I’ve written about that don’t appear to be easily applicable to a restaurant or bar setting.
If what this section has to do with your business hasn’t quite clicked, I’ll tell you now:
We’re all afraid that the actions we take might lead to failure. Your brain gives you that shit, niggling feeling that what you’re doing isn’t safe, it’s wrong, and it won’t work so why even bother trying. What we should be afraid of is inaction. You might fail if you take action, but you’ll definitely fail if you take no action.
I had a similar conversation with a client of mine that runs a vegan takeaway style business- Forked Up Vegan Kitchen. Carleigh had used online ordering platforms before, but her business was slightly different now and she was unsure about getting back online. In fact, I’d told her not to “flip the switch” and go live until she had reviewed her pricing. After she had reviewed her pricing, she still hadn’t gone live- there were loads of excuses why she couldn’t, and after a proper chat over a brew (I had a brew, she didn’t because I’m a crap host and didn’t have any milk alternatives) I like to think that we got to the bottom of it. She was worried about all of the things that could go wrong, and not what could go right. I asked her outright what she was afraid of, and the conversation went a little bit like this:
Carleigh “what if I get really busy and can’t keep up with it?”
Me “you’ll stop taking orders”
Carleigh “what if I get complaints?”
Me “you’ll issue refunds”
Carleigh “what if something goes really wrong and I have to shut?”
Me “you’ll get a job, with better pay, better hours, and you’ll have more free time. Then you’ll probably save up and start again with the knowledge of what went wrong”
Carleigh “Oh, I should probably do it then shouldn’t I?”
Me “yep. Schedule a post or go live as soon as you’re out of this meeting and commit to doing it. There’s no backing out that way, and all of the things that you’re currently looking at as issues will either very quickly disappear, or you’ll fix them”.
In reality it took another 4 days for her to put that post up and set a date to go live. She’d had a meeting with a local taxi firm that had agreed to take on the deliveries for the takeaway. There was no backing out now. Once someone puts it into perspective for you and shows you that the worst possible case scenario isn’t actually that bad, then the things you’re panicking over become trivial, or better yet, they become the reason to do it rather than the reason for not doing it.
Credit to Forked Up Vegan Kitchen for the photo and to Carleigh for letting me use her story. You can follow the Forked Up revolution on Instagram right here.