A “Coffee with Colm” Blog – How to get family and friends to support your entrepreneurial vision (or what happens when you can’t pay your bills?)

I regularly have the pleasure of speaking to groups, mainly to do with my business journey and the ups and downs I’ve experienced over the past two decades. Recently when addressing a wonderful group of business people supporting each other, under the leadership of Amanda Delaney, called We Can and We Will I was asked the question, “How do you get your family and friends to support you on the entrepreneurial journey?”

I thought, “I got this.” so I waxed lyrical for a few minutes about the four players in the world of commerce; the employee, the self-employed, the business owner and the investor and explained that they all had a different view of the same world based on their training and experience and aspirations and that if a family member or friend was not understanding the entrepreneur in you, your entrepreneurial journey so to speak it is likely to do with the fact that you are headed to a place they have never been and they simply don’t understand. I cautioned about taking advice from someone in the wrong quadrant, if your sister is a 25-year civil servant telling you you won’t make it as a business owner, her advice should be treated with skepticism, why? because her experience doesn’t allow her opinion any validity. If Sir Richard Branson cautioned you about starting your own business (I can’t imagine him doing that), then that would give you pause for thought.

“Have I answered your question?” I asked, a tad too confidently.

“No.” she replied.

“O.K…” says I, clearing my throat and scrambling to see where I had gone wrong. “Clarify the question for me.”

“They do support me.” she said “And, they wish me well. But how do I get them on-board completely?”

“Pay the bills.” was my response. “Prove to them your business is working by paying the bills.”

There was a general murmuring and nodding of heads in the group. One lady told me afterwards it was a gem she needed to hear.

And, while all of that is lovely, what if you can’t pay your bills? What then?

My friend, there have been lots of time in my journey to date, and I have no doubt there may be more in future where bills cannot be paid… on time… but they always have been and will always be paid.

Allow me take you back to the darkest period in my journey when we lost our first business, a Bewley’s Cafe Franchise in Limerick.

The date is January 2005. The cafe had actually begun to fail in 2003 with a ridiculous rent-review (the feckin’ Celtic Tiger… don’t get me started!) which, at arbitration, pushed our rent (for a coffee shop in Ireland’s third city) to €1,000 per trading DAY! Yep. You read that correctly per DAY, not week, not month, not quarter, per DAY.

It was game over the day the award was made. So we set about finding an exit strategy which included us getting out of the lease. Naturally, this put an inordinate strain on our finances and it became harder and harder to pay the bills until, in January 2005, it became impossible.

There was no money.

To find out what happened next, watch the short video (recommended) and read on below a snippet from my book, Feeding Johnny – How to Build a Business Despite the Roadblocks…

“You will get paid, trust me.

“There is no money. The café will close soon. I need you to trust me. I need you to continue supplying the café and also to continue supplying the school lunch business. You will get paid, I just can’t say when.”

This was the gist of the conversation I started holding with each of our suppliers in January 2005; not an easy one to have.

I was effectively asking each of them to a) not expect money for invoices that were coming due or were perhaps outstanding in January 2005 and b) as if that wasn’t enough, to continue to supply both my businesses on credit and trust until further notice. To have them discontinue supply for any element of either business would have made it very difficult to continue trading and we needed to continue trading to give ourselves a chance at surviving. We were treading very deep water and if we stopped treading we would drown. If one stopped we would never find a replacement.

That is a lot to ask anybody. Imagine if you were our supplier to one or both businesses – all of the suppliers to our school lunch business were suppliers to our café business initially – what would be your gut reaction to my request? Would you be nervous? I would. Angry? Perhaps?

Effectively we had three types of supplier: Corporate suppliers, SME’s and small mom and pop-style operations and each one had its own unique process to go through to see whether they could or would support us. The mom and pop’s at one level were easiest because in most cases we were dealing daily with the owner him or herself. However being, in the main, the smallest operations, they had shallow enough pockets meaning their consequent ability to fund our cash flow problem for an extended period would prove difficult even if they wanted to help.

SME’s are typically that bit bigger with a management structure involving the guy on the ground, i.e. the salesman, with whom we had the relationship and so the conversations started with him and very quickly entered the phase where the owner of the company hurried in for a meeting. In a funny sort of way the SME’s often have less access to funds than mom and pop’s because they are often very highly indebted as a result of their investment in growing from a mom and pop operation to becoming an SME.

The Corporates were a different animal altogether. Here we dealt with the salesman, as with the SME’s. He would wheel in the regional or perhaps national sales director who then had to ‘put a case’ forward to the board recommending that they continue or otherwise. There was stress at all levels. The salesman was in the spotlight for ‘not seeing’ this thing coming down the track; the director similarly for not being on top of his sales people and their accounts.

But we found ourselves where we found ourselves and no amount of if only’s were going to make it go away; we all had to ‘confront the most brutal facts of our current reality’

They all agreed!

They agreed because of our track record.

Every supplier continued supplying one or both businesses until we finally exited Cruises St in March 2005.

Once the dust settled and we knew what funds we had access to, we met with each and closed off the account to the full satisfaction of all parties.”

So. How do you get your family and friends to support your entrepreneurial vision and journey? Demonstrate clearly that what you are doing is/will/can pay the bills.

How can I help?

END.

MORE? I alluded to a number of concepts above including the differences between the four players in the world of commerce. If you’d like to read/watch more on that topic, click here.

STAY CONNECTED: If this is your thing, consider joining in the conversation here.

FREE BOOK: If would like a complimentary copy of the book in audio, narrated by yours truly so you get all the nuances, feel free to grab one here.

Thanks for thinking with me.

Yours truly,

Colm

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