Skip to main content

The Business Owner's Lament

There's a common statistic tossed about that 50% of small businesses don't survive past 5 years. I think the failure rate is even higher for restaurants.

Bakeries can't be too far off these stats; I sure see a repeating pattern with small, local, independent bakeries. Around year 4 or 5 a common refrain is they're stuck in limbo where they aren't totally failing but they aren't feeling safe either.

It goes like this: an eager baker with a passion for baking and a love of feeding people opens up her own place. Business thrives, so the baker hires staff and ramps up production. But the business never grows enough to pay for all the staff. So the owner spends all night at the bench and all day trying to keep the business afloat. She's exhausted, frustrated and scared. Unsure whether to scale back and go solo again (but with a lease and equipment to pay off) or get bigger (but unsure how.)

I hit this stage at Orange Boot Bakery too, when an unexpected purchase offer solved my problem. But if a purchase offer isn't forthcoming, how do you power through this all too common dip?

There's no single right answer to this. However, it's worth forcing yourself to take some quiet time and take a calm, objective look at the foundations of your business.

A day will do. A weekend is better. A long weekend is perfect. Some topics to consider:

Your Vision #

  • Why did you open your business in the first place? What did you want to achieve?

  • Does your original vision still ring true? Has it changed? After all, if you're going to make a big change, may as well change in the direction of your current vision.

Much better to write a new vision and build towards that than to keep building in the wrong direction.

You #

  • What's more important to you, being a baker or a business owner? Are you more excited about going to baking classes or business classes?

  • Do you have the partners and advisors you need to thrive?

Your Team #

  • What's your vision for your staff? Partners in your mutual success or cogs in the machine?

  • Who’s ready to take on more responsibility? Where can you delegate?

  • How well does your team match your vision? Where are the gaps?

Customers #

  • Who are you serving today? Are they the people you always imagined, or is there a gap?

  • What do your best customers value the most?

  • What's more important to you: finding more customers or doing more for your existing customers?

Products #

Look at your product line in terms of what you desire, what your customers want and what your team can produce.

  • Does your product lineup get you excited? Does it get your customers excited?

  • Is your lineup needlessly complex? Is everything too similar?

  • Does the quality match your customers expectations? Does it match your expectations?

The point of this reflection is to understand where you are at right now. What is the foundation you've built? And is it the foundation you need to achieve your current vision?

Strategies to fill gaps and strengthen your foundation will come later. Tactics after that. But first, be sure you still moving in the direction that you want to go.