January 9, 2016
Many entrepreneurs start their businesses from a desire to build a life doing what they love. It’s surprisingly easy though for your business to take over your life entirely. In this first Small Food Business podcast, we speak with small business consultant Lenora Edwards (lenoraedwards.com) about how entrepreneurs can create and build businesses that are in line with their whole life.
Jennifer: Today we are going to be talking to Lenora Edwards, and as you’ll hear in a minute, I specifically chose Lenora because I thought she would be a perfect way to kick off this podcast series of ours. In terms of a little bit of background, Lenora does business development for entrepreneurs, which means she’s hired to consult with business owners who have all levels of business experience, from beginners to seasoned veterans, on how to accelerate revenue growth.
She works with each client to create a business that represents their creativity and ingenuity, while building the opportunity to earn the income that they deserve. When I was talking to her in advance of this podcast, she summed up her work by saying that she is building a community of people who prosper doing what they love to do, which is a pretty powerful statement when you think about it and I imagine it’s what many of you who are listening are hoping to do.
For more information on Lenora Edwards and her services you can visit her website at lenoraedwards.com and I’ll include a link to her website on the SmallFoodBiz site as well.
First of all, thank you Lenora for joining us, really appreciate this.
Lenora: Thank you for inviting me, I’m happy to be here.
Jennifer: As I mentioned, I specifically thought that you would be a great person to talk to, an expert to talk to, as we kick off this podcast series focused on food entrepreneurs. Is talking about how to create a business that actually suits your life, and what you want in life. It may sound funny because we’re not going to start with the hard nuggets on how to start a business, but, Lenora, can you talk a little bit about why it’s important to think about the business as being a part of your larger life as you go into this?
Lenora: Yes. I think this is a perfect place to start because it’s the way I like to begin with my clients, their why. We take a bit of a risk when we start a business. We’re not plugged in and doing only one aspect of a job, we have responsibility for all of it. The nuts and bolts of it, the customers, the growth of it, the products, everything. It’s important to think about what it is that makes you want to do it and why it’s important to you.
That usually comes from who the person is and what kind of meaning they derive from their life. Starting with the why, starting with, “why is this important to me?” Certainly on one end there’s the market. “The market needs this, I think that they want that,” but there’s also the part that drives you. In order to make all the pieces line up, I think it’s really a good idea to be clear about why you’re doing it to begin with. That way, as you design your business and the way it operates with you each day and your customers, it would likely be very complementary to the life that you want to create at home and with your friends and your family.
Jennifer: How do you recommend that people start thinking through this? What sort of things should they be thinking about? Do you have any exercises that you recommend that folks walk through as they try to figure out what is important to them in both their business and in their personal life?
Lenora: Yes I do, very much. There are two things. One is, I always kick off my work with clients, asking them about what gives them energy and what drains their energy. This is a fun one because a lot of people don’t get a chance to think about this because their usually, “I have to do a job, I do it. I put my head down, I do it. I do the work that has to be done.” Entrepreneurs are pretty driven so they can do just about anything and power through. Taking a pause and thinking about activities, whether it’s in your business or whether it’s past jobs you’ve held or even volunteer responsibilities where you contributed into a non-profit organization. If you really, really think about those time when you felt like you were in the flow of things or on a roll or time just disappeared, those energy giving activity which includes the kind of people, environments you are in, the kind of physical environment you are in, the kind of job you had to do and the interactions you had. Focusing on what give you energy can help you design that business that is appropriate for your life. Just as important as knowing what drains your energy.
It depends on who I’m talking to. Sometimes people come up with the drainers first and then they go, “I just want the opposite of that.” [inaudible 00:04:17] givers right? Those drainers, we’ve all been there where I call it kryptonite or I call it the sales prevention department. Whatever it is that makes you feel like, “Oh my goodness, this is so much harder than it needs to be, whenever I do these activities.” I think in order to design a business that complements your life and helps you create the life that you want, you must be very clear on those givers and drainers. The opportunity you have with the givers is of course go towards more of those activities so that you can feel more energy and more positivity and just be excited and gain momentum in your business. On the drainers, those are the things you need to take a look at and say, “Who can I outsource this to? How can I minimize my involvement with this because it’s clearly not my gift or my interest to do it.” It’s a very clear path to figuring out what to delegate first.
The second activity is the one where you take a look at all the areas of your life. There’s your financial part of your life, your spiritual part of your life, your career part of your life, your family part. How you’re taking care of your body. Just looking at all the different areas of your life and knowing what you want to have as a result of being autonomous and having a business. For example, when we’re in the corporate world, generally it’s like we’re in a big cushy school bus. Everybody’s on the bus, everybody’s going to the same place, everyone’s going to stop at the rest stop at the same time, everyone’s going to lunch at the same time. When you’re driving your own business, it’s like driving a high-performance sports car. What that means is you need to know how much rest you need. You need to know how much recreation you need that’s recreating your energy. You need to know how much family time you need. You need to know what kind of finances you’d like to have in order so that you feel supported.
Getting a picture of that as you roll into your business is super important. Now you have a choice. You are going to feel every bump in the road in that high-performance sports car. You don’t have to go along with everybody else on the bus anymore. Really getting tuned to what’s important to you through those two exercises will greatly help.
Jennifer: As you were talking about understanding what excites you and what kind of gives you light and what drains you or drains your energy, I had one of those light bulb moments because I realized just in thinking that i would’ve answered those questions differently 5 years ago than I would answer them today in part just because of life changes, family changes, things like that. What I want out of the business also has changed because of some of the changes in my personal life. It really was one of those moments where I was like, “Wow, my take on that has changed.” It kind of brings me to my next question which is, is this something that you recommend only for people who haven’t started their business or is this something like sort of the business plan that they should revisit every year or more frequently? What are your recommendations around that?
Lenora: Oh, definitely once a year on the big life questions and looking at those categories. The finance, the family, the physical care. I think once a year is good for that because those are kind of big areas where there could be small shifts if you checked it once a month for example. There could be a circumstance that pushes it around that you don’t want to make a policy decision shall we say about your business because of what’s happening right now. You might want to look more over the last 12 months and think about the next 12 months.
However, on the business range, I think that’s good to sit down and look at every quarter because things can creep up. There are things that happen in our businesses. Our clients can change the kind of job that we have. Even if you’re selling a product, your making up the product and it’s going on the shelves of retailers, you’re selling it online. If you’re customers start asking for things and you start accommodating in a way that doesn’t really help you or your business, you can get into that habit pretty easily and realize later, “Oh my gosh, that’s not really good for my business because now I’ve got the kind of business I never wanted to have.”
It reminds of a company I worked with years ago where we sold buckwheat pillows. We noticed that all of our mail that came in, all of our fan mail and all of the comments that we got at trade shows and even visiting our retailers, hearing consumers talk about it, they talked about this as a personal accessory. They have a very personal relationship to their buckwheat pillow and people are always trying to take it away from them because they liked it so much. We were like, “Wow, this is an interesting phenomenon. We thought it was a pillow.” It was a very healthy way to be resting your head and your body so that your spine was in alignment, it felt good.
What we realized is that the customer looked at it as a personal accessory and yet sometimes at trade shows, we do barrage of requests of people to create a heat-able pillow with a different kind of a filling so it could used to cure aches and pains or make them feel better because there were other competitors doing that. They said, “You need to do this too.” We really had to sit down and go, “Do we want to be known as a company that makes a product where there has to be something wrong with you in order to use it or do we want to be that personal accessory company?” We enjoy hearing the stories of great connection people had with the product. We just started to go for the latter and to not create products that were about you had to have something wrong with you, a therapeutic product instead.
It can happen to you in any kind of business. It can especially happen in services businesses where people ask you to do things and pretty soon you’re accommodating and then you realize I have a schedule that I’m accommodating behavior that I don’t even want to participate in. We all want to serve, we all want to help. I have to say entrepreneurs are extremely generous. Quarterly looking at that gives and drains are a good idea to keep things in check. To make sure that you’re not being a total co-dependent with your customer and you keep a healthy balance and boundary to do the kind of work that you were made to do. In the long run, there are 24 hours in a day, 7 days in a week. We can’t change that, however, we can have an effect to the kind of energy that we bring to our business during that time. That’s why I like to look at that pretty regularly.
Jennifer: I sometimes sit there and think, “If I could cut back on sleep and I’ll only need to sleep 2 hours a night, how much more productive would I be?” That’s not a reality.
Lenora: Since you’re not a robot, it won’t work.
Jennifer: The story that you were telling about the buckwheat pillows and the opportunities that were being presented to you made me think, that’s a thing that a lot of entrepreneurs run into, food and otherwise. You have people demanding a product and as a small business, because you’re worried about cash flow, you want to be able to say yes to everything. Have you found that having sort of this foundation that helps you better determine that it’s okay to say no to some things? I’ve been there myself, it is so scary to say no to a financial opportunity even though it may not be 100% right for your business but it’s so hard to turn down that money.
Lenora: Yes it is hard to turn down the money. I’ll take the long view which is okay this is a transaction where I could get something right now and I tease my clients and say, “We want Mr. Right not Mr. Right now.” Sometimes when there’s choosy clients and they’re trying to decide I go, “Well this may be good for cash flow however you have to understand and this gets out you become known for doing this kind of work, it’s likely you’ll attract more of that kind of work.” That’s going to be a longer term cash flow problem than this one no.
The other thing which will sound a little [woo-woo 00:12:16] is I have to say, I’ve never seen anybody turn down an opportunity where there wasn’t one peeking out right behind. That’s what I like to remind my clients about. When you say no to this, trust me, within a couple of weeks something’s going to come along that you will realize if you had taken that other thing you wouldn’t have the energy or the time or the inclination to take on this great opportunity. Lost opportunity cost is something to really watch out for. Entrepreneurs focus very hard on cash flow and certainly conserving cost and reducing expenses. The other thing to worry about because it sneaks up on you is lost opportunity cost. That is when you become unavailable to pursue an opportunity fast enough or you miss it completely because your vision was obscured by something that perhaps is not good for the long term.
Jennifer: That is a great point. Again another sort of moment where I’m sitting here taking some notes as we talk, just this idea of there absolutely is a lost opportunity cost. When you say yes to something now for whatever else may come down the pipeline because again you’ve got a limited productionability, a limited cash ability to be able to produce the product. Whatever the case may be. Thank you. I put a little star right next to that one on my notes so thank you.
Lenora: My pleasure.
Jennifer: The last thing that I want to talk about today is the concept of building a business to fit your life, it sounds great in theory but it doesn’t mean … In talking to other entrepreneurs I have found that it doesn’t mean that you can’t build and create a business without making sometimes some sacrifices to your life that it’s not possible. Though this doesn’t sound very [piecy 00:14:09] it’s always possible to have everything. At least right now. I’d be interested to know in how you’ve counselled entrepreneurs in the idea of that it’s a-okay that they might need to make sacrifices to somethings in their life and also figuring out where they can make those sacrifices and where they can’t. Sort of like when financial planners talk about, “Oh, well if you cut back on the daily Starbucks you’ll be able to save $5,000 a year.” How do you counsel entrepreneurs on being okay with making those sacrifices and not having it all right now?
Lenora: That’s such an excellent, excellent question and it’s a really hard thing. I find particularly women are inclined for the “I can do it all, I can have it all.” Some men too, I don’t mean to make a sexist remark. It’s just that I have to say in all these years, I see it coming up more with women. I attribute that to women being newer on the business scene than men. Women can fluctuate back and forth between I’m going to work part time while I raise my family to I’m now doing this business or I’m going to take a break. There’s a lot of movement between different roles that women will make. It gives them the mistake and impression that I chose this and in any given time I can choose to do all of it at once. It’s sort of like I have six plates spinning while I clap cymbals between my knees while I run in place. It’s a tough wake up call.
I find myself reminding people and this goes back to how I began this conversation. When we met you told me the reason you were starting this business was. Let’s say it was someone who said I wanted flexibility so I could be available for important family occasions. I wanted to make sure I could raise or lower my revenue so that I could reap the rewards of that income as needed for family events. Usually there’s a tie between what it is that they want to do in their business and how they want their home life to be, right?
I many times find myself reminding them. I pull out my notes and you told me these things were important. What I’m hearing right now is behavior that is going to sacrifice that. I have to usually point it out to them and then the question that usually comes up is, “Am I wrong for trading this? Can’t I do it all?” And I say, “No, you cannot. You cannot raise a 7 year old while your husband travels all the time and work 60 hours a week and want to be present for certain school occasions, et cetera.” If you do the math and we can map it out and I have a white board in my office, and we do map it out. I say, “Here’s your availability. Let’s do the math.”
It’s not that my clients aren’t smart enough to figure this out, it’s more like they need permission and they need to spell it out because magically in their head. Here’s where entrepreneurs are really cool, they do have magical thinking. They do see a lot of ways to get a lot of the things done at one time. They are magical performers and so I have to do for them what I do for myself which is like, “Let’s look at the hours that are actually available in the day. Let’s look at the calendar and see what’s coming up. Is it really possible to do both things.” If you look at your long term request of yourself when you created this business, what is it that you said you were going to choose? You’re not doing that now. It’s okay to change, let’s sound it out. Why are you going to change? Because this is going to give you an extra 100 dollars in your revenue which will add up to another 50,000 dollars that you can contribute towards your kids college education and you need to do that? In that case you’re going to have to create some other compensating structure such as someone to be with your child while you do that.
I guess the best way I can say this, do the math, sound it out. They have to double check their motives because underneath it all, what I usually see when somebody is creating a conflict like that is they have guilt. They have guilt. Shouldn’t I be able to do this? If I was more organized, if I only got 2 hours of sleep, if I only sacrificed something personally, I could provide this thing. I help them do the reality check and say, “That’s not really realistic. Not if you want to be around in the long term and be healthy and really be available to the people you love in your life.” Does that answer your question?
Jennifer: Oh, it does. I’m laughing because I’m hoping I’m not the only one listening who’s sitting here nodding their head. Especially as you were talking about the guilt of feeling like you should be able to do it all and being an entrepreneur and be present in the rest of your life and do the other things that you love. I hope that there are some other folks who are listening that are like, “Yup, she’s describing me right now,” so that I’m not the only one out there. Yes, thank you so much for your time today and for this really illuminating discussion. I know that a lot of entrepreneurs that I talk to certainly are trying to build a business that does fit in with the rest of their life and also to the same extent build a life that fits into their business. Really appreciate the tips that you’ve given us and some of our discussion today to sort of help get us all closer to that so thank you so much for your time.
Lenora: Oh, it’s been a lot of fun. You had great questions Jennifer, thank you.
Jennifer: Oh thank you and once again I’ll put Lenora Edwards’ website up on the SmallFoodBiz site. You can also reach out directly. It’s lenoraedwards.com.
I hope you enjoyed today’s podcast and I look forward to having you join us on the next one. We’ll be talking about trends, findings, and take-aways from one of the biggest specialty food trade shows of the year, the San Francisco Fancy Food Show. In the meantime, I invite you to join the small food business community of artisan food entrepreneurs at smallfoodbiz.com. Small food business is also on Facebook at Facebook.com/smallfoodbiz and we’re on a host of other social media channels as well. I look forward to connecting with you.