Planting in the Dark

Planting in the Dark

I went back and forth with myself, contemplating whether to share this post; because weakness, doubt, and vulnerability are seldom championed. But, in my binge of business podcasts, startup stories, and entrepreneurial fairytales I felt it important to share when things are low and you wonder when favor will shine again.

“Let’s not get tired of doing what is good. At just the right time we will reap a harvest of blessing if we don’t give up” (Galatians 6:9 NLT).

It’s been a challenging year. It began with one of our biggest contracts being taken away from us.There’s really no appropriate way to verbalize it, but just that. Without cause or reason. About 70% plus of our business came from that one contract, and we were mailed an amendment essentially dissolving it. I cried that day. I felt the air escaping me faster than I could catch it. Trying to remain stoic, I reviewed the document with my father. He remained calm. I insisted we get lawyers, that we defend ourselves. He agreed, ready to fight. But before we bolstered ourselves for that new challenge, I dissolved. I was angry and hurt. We worked so hard, harder than our competitors, proving we were equal if not better and here we were with the rug pulled from under us. I cried, because it was an affirmation that life is unfair. That you can toil, and sometimes no matter how intentional you are, sometimes you lose.

My father scolded me, “No.” As if my tears were propelled by a push of a gas pedal, like if I eased up they would end. “No.” Like, my tears were an affront and not from a space of endless overtime, weekends, and nights; an army of me’s from my past standing at a collective front questioning if all that time would end in defeat.

“I can’t be quiet! I am angry and bitter. I have to speak” (Job 7:11 GNT)

This was the beginning of my descent into regret and resentment. I spent much of this year feeling like maybe I should never have began to help my father. A dutiful daughter is not allowed to say that, but I will. I spent many moments wondering if maybe I should not have offered myself. The endless hours, low pay, and tedious tasks that could have gone into my own pursuits. Further and further I felt I was moving away from my own dreams. I began this endeavor so hopeful, content, and aligned with purpose. In the very least, I felt assured that no matter what, I was honoring my father. But now this honor feels like sludge. An exalting crown, now a heavy weight on my head and I’m not sure I want it anymore.

Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life?” (Matthew 6:27 NIV)

Between new insurance guidelines and regulatory restrictions, I’m tired. In an industry where everyone is being bought out or shutting down; I’m tired. Every time we meet a new obstacle I want to say, “But we are small!”, “But we are family-owned and operated”, “But we are black!”, “But we are immigrants!” And the reality is that in business, when the status quo benefits people who do not look like you, inclusion is not a discussion you can bring to a table you aren’t invited to in the first place.

“What strength do I have, that I should still hope? What prospects, that I should be patient? (Job 6:11)

There is no one black at our table. No one immigrant. No one woman. And here we are up against behemoths; multi-state, national corporate accounts. There are some smaller competitors, but they’ve got the game down. One of our competitors is doctor-run, so they get to self-referral (Stark law doesn’t apply to private payers). Then there are those who have been in the industry for decades (all white and with connections and existing capital). Some of our competitors have been in the industry so long, my father worked for them. So here we are, providing service unparalleled and getting by the fucking skin on our teeth.  

“This is what the kingdom of God is like. A man scatters seed on the ground. Night and day, whether he sleeps or gets up, the seed sprouts and grows, though he does not know how. All by itself the soil produces grain — first the stalk, then the head, then the full kernel in the head” (Mark 4:26-28 NIV).

Our contract was eventually reinstated, but it’s again hanging in the balance. We aren’t sure what will happen but are diligent and not wavering in our quality of service. Our biggest mistake was being so reliant on one source of capital. Even without, we were still doing well but I used the time to hunt for more contracts; and fortunately was able to get a new one. I know there is worth in what we do. Patients rave of my father, of his care and love. Patients call asking for specific staff, who they have grown to trust. There is heart here. There is intention of public good. I wish quality of care was enough, but it isn’t. Not in this country. Not in healthcare.

I’ve thought a lot about the almost four years I’ve put in and wondered what of my own ambition? Lord, I am to honor my father and mother but how much more before I break? Rather than wallow, I decided to put intention behind growth. Implementing ways to streamline day-to-day operations. New software, management systems, hires, services. In my most discouraging year I’ve spent more time diversifying and facilitating growth and change remembering that in the very least if I’m not motivated by my earthly father, then maybe my heavenly one can push me.

“If God cares so wonderfully for flowers that are here today and gone tomorrow, won’t he more surely care for you, O men of little faith?” (Matthew 6:30 TLB).

 

Advertisements

A Hand Drawn Map for the Lost

A Hand Drawn Map for the Lost

I briefly discussed zero sum game two posts ago in, Feeling Lost When You’re the Driver.”  IF you believe in this theory, I don’t think you can survive business. I don’t think you can survive much in life with this sort of application. It’s not healthy. There is always room in the market for everyone. Your growth, or any other player growing, does not inherently correlate to your loss or vice versa. Someone may do something better than you, but there is not one player that can do everything better than everyone. As long as you are open to new ideas and are invested in quality, there is no competition. Diversity in the marketplace is good! So do not be intimidated or think there is not enough market share…that is unless there is over-saturation.

So how do you know if your business idea is just like the others? Are there already too many businesses like yours? Is it even worth attempting? How do you get started and what steps can you take to begin its development? Let’s mapquest your business idea. It’s not a GPS, but it will get you closer. We’ll go over a series of questions that will help determine if that idea you’ve got is not only fully fleshed out but maybe begin exploring if it’s finally worth starting. I’m full of ideas, let’s play with this one: The Mobile Playground.

Firstly, what’s your idea? Flesh it out as if you are explaining it to an alien with no conception of modern, human life.

American kids are inundated with various new toys, gadgets, and activities that once purchased become recyclable within a week. Attention spans are shorter than your patience. You want to keep them moving, interacting, and engaged but you have no energy to go to the park, they aren’t interested in their toys, and you can’t think of an affordable activity within in a 5 mile radius. What do you do? You feel guilty sitting them in front of the tv or phone and/or they may have already been doing that for the last 2 hours. So why not rent a customizable truck that has playrooms set-up for playing house, restaurant, inflatable bounce house things, etc. These are options for those who may live in apartments, condos, or not have much space in their homes. For those who do, you can rent and pay for the set-up of activities like mini golf, a medium size swimming pool, bowling, etc. Your kids get the experience, and you save space and money! Whether you’ve got the kids for the weekend, or are all out of birthday party ideas; Mobile Playground gives you options without the stress and it all comes to you.

Who is your customer?

Children 2 to 12…and exhausted parents/guardians.

Who are your competitors?

Jump Zone, Chuckie Cheese’s, Discovery Zone, Dave & Buster’s, and bowling alleys.

Why your service? What makes yours different?

Variety and convenience! Just go to any person’s home who has children under the age of 10 and you will see a wasteland of toys, playhouses, etc that haven’t been used in weeks. It would be so much cheaper and efficient to be able to “rent” a themed truck for a few hours where kids can play with new toys, or have an interactive experience like an inflatable house for the weekend without having to deal with storage or maintenance. Depending on how long you rent, everything is gone and cleaned up and out of your space for you. This idea is so unique and because the amount of homes of working professionals is only growing, guilt-free convenience is the easiest thing to cash in on.

Now, if you have an idea that may have too much market saturation, is there a way to change your demographic? For an example, you want to open a hair salon targeted towards women and men of color. Why not open a hair salon for children? Do you know how exhausting it is to wash a little black girl’s hair and then style it?! I don’t wish it on my worst enemy. Or, maybe you want to open an Ethiopian restaurant in a city like Washington, DC. You know damn well there are a million of them already, but you’re convinced it was what you were meant to do. Why not consider the melting pot of the city and begin exploring a fusion of Ethiopian & Latin American cuisine? Misir papusas, anyone?

How do you market it?

Daycares, Yelp, and Facebook.  

How much will it cost to start and operate?

At first, if there’s no seed or start up money, a moving truck can be rented and the entertainment flavors can be kept to a variety of about 3-5 options. Because everything will be cleaned and reused, and little to no expertise for set-up will be required, a low overhead can be maintained. A storage unit can be rented to keep all the toys and equipment. And before transitioning full-time, operation hours can initially be Saturdays and Sundays. Considering this is when I would assume most business would occur, this works well with maintaining a full time job; thus not having to keep anyone on payroll. The importance of low overhead can not be overstated. It’s incredible how operation costs can easily add up, whether for the convenience or the assumption, the less you have to spend on space, utilities, and professional staff the better.  YOU MUST BE MISERLY. You will not be paying yourself first because you’re not going to be paid at all. So if you have any idea of that, get it out of your head now.

What’s your bottom line?

Honestly, the financial bottom line at the beginning may be your framework for how you move. This is especially so if you are juggling a full-time job and/or have no outside investors. Is this a passion project for you or are you looking to make the kind of money Karl Marx would find you deplorable for? I’m going to be honest, unless you love the idea, you will find it easy to quit. Because, again, at the beginning you will not make any money. You will be working for free, and you will be investing your time, money, and energy into something that may not even cover cost initially. So by bottom line, beyond the finances, beyond what your profit and loss reports look like; can you find the energy to work either for free or at a loss?

My motivating factor, the “it” factor, was and is the love of my father. I believe in his dream and my investment into what could give him a comfortable retirement. For you, it may be that you genuinely love the service or product. Or, maybe, you are fulfilling what you believe to be your purpose. This helps, immensely. Because, entrepreneurship is a love unrequited.

If you fail, will you regret having tried or be happy that you did?

If you think you may regret having put time and money into an idea, then just don’t start. Many businesses fail, or ideas become harder than you thought to execute. And, at the end of it all, you have to walk away with growth. Resentment will not allow you to leverage an experience for something greater. If you maintain that it is easier to recover from financial risk, than regret, then there is hope. Conviction will be your solace. If you do not believe in your product or service, then move on. Not all ideas are worth implementation. It’s okay to work for someone else, particularly if your strengths can be stronger felt in a collective. That may be your lane. For all others, do not lose sight. Remember your destination and hold steadfast that your diligence will get you where you are meant to be. You are where you are meant to be.