Emily's Choice: Should I Stay or Should I Grow?
Today’s story is about Emily, a flower shop owner, who thinks she’s done all she can with her business as she finally gets out of debt. Emily plans to coast and is challenged by a new stranger in her life who convinces her that growth is a better option.
Emily entered the bank for what she was sure would be the last time ever. She rarely went to the bank unless she had problems with her account. This time was different. This time, Emily was making the final payment on a loan she had taken out 10-years ago for her greenhouse and shop building.
Emily owned a successful flower-shop. She managed to get contracts to supply her local grocery stores and a few other flower shops; plus she had a growing local delivery business that was taking off. Ten years ago, she took out a loan for $500,000 to purchase the land and building that eventually became Emily's Flowers. She wrote out her final check for $6,607.54 and headed to the teller window with a great big smile on her face.
She announced to the bank teller, "This is my final payment, I'm so happy!"
The teller looked a little confused, "Can you tell me the account that you are paying on, Ma'am?"
Emily handed the teller the last slip from her loan book, "That's it."
A man from the back opened his office door. He thought that he recognized Emily's voice. It was Peter Sandoval. Ten years ago, Peter approved Emily's loan. He had visited Emily a few times over the years when Emily needed to ask for leniency on repayment of her loan. Peter was now the manager of the local bank branch. He walked to the front of the bank and Emily recognized him immediately.
Emily laughed, "Pete, you don't have to worry about any more loan payments. This is my last one!"
Pete smiled, "That's wonderful, Emily. I hear only great things about Emily's Flowers. You must be doing great in your business. I wonder, do you have time to chat after you’re done with our bank teller?"
"I get it, Pete.... You want me to borrow more money. Don't you?"
Pete knew that Emily was half-joking, "If you need to borrow some money, we'd be glad to lend it to you. But, I'd like to talk to you about something else."
"Sure, I'd love to chat with you."
After Emily had made her final payment, the teller instructed her that the bank would be mailing her a lien release that documented that her loan was paid in full and she would no longer owe anything to the bank. Emily then followed the teller on her way back to Peter's office.
Peter welcomed Emily and closed the door behind her as she entered his office.
Emily started, "So, what do you want to chat about, Pete?"
Peter responded, "Emily, I'm so proud of the work that you’ve done with Emily's Flowers. You’ve become an amazing business woman. I'm curious. What are your plans now that you’ve paid off your loan?"
Emily smiled, "I plan on making an extra $6,607.54 in profit each month."
Peter laughed, "That's a given. I'm talking about your plans for Emily's Flowers. You’re a young woman who has achieved a high level of success with your flower business. What are your plans for your future?"
Emily now looked a little confused, "Look, Peter, if you think I'm going to borrow more money to build another flower shop, you're crazy. I just paid this one off and am going to enjoy the profits without having this debt hanging over me."
"I'm not asking to loan you more money. I believe you’ve created something very special with Emily's Flowers. I was wondering how you could duplicate your local success in other cities?"
"Oh. I hadn't thought of that."
Ten years ago, Emily had fleeting thoughts of creating a nationwide flower business. But after the last ten years of ups and downs, she was tired. She had created her success.
Her shop manager, Marcia, was completely running the shop and Emily was ready to enjoy not having to work on a daily basis or worrying about making payments on her shop loan. The fact that the loan was paid off meant that Emily could now afford to retire because this extra $6,607.54 would be going directly into her savings account, instead of paying the bank.
If Emily were to grow Emily's Flowers, she’d have to start the debt cycle all over again; and for what? More debt? Finding another responsible manager like Marcia? Finding a new location? And then losing everything she had if her efforts failed? No! It was time to rest. She could live just fine off her newly found $80,000 per year.
Peter could see the consternation on Emily's face and offered, "Look, Emily. I think this is an important decision; and I don't want to convince to do anything. I just think you have a great business; and it would be awesome if you could grow it."
Emily responded, "Pete, I've worked hard to pay off this loan; and I just want to take a break for a bit."
"I understand. I'll give you the contact information of a business coach. Everyone calls him Coach Russ. I think he’d be a great resource for you."
"Okay, Pete. But I don't think Coach Russ will change my mind."
"I think that Russ may give you a different perspective on growth; and it's a free initial consultation, so I think it is definitely worth your time to give him a call."
Emily and Peter shook hands as they parted ways.
A week went by before Emily scheduled her discovery session with Coach Russ. Now, it was time to make the call. Russ answered, "Hello, Emily."
Emily thought, 'Darn Caller ID!', "Hi Russ... or did you want me to call you Coach Russ."
Russ laughed, "Call me Russ. Pete told me about your situation. But I'd prefer to hear from you about what thoughts and feelings you have about growing your business."
Emily felt like she was caught off-guard. She was talking to some highfalutin business guy; and all she wanted was to take life easy. Emily responded, "Look, Russ, I'm calling you as a favor to Pete. I'm not sure how you’ll convince me that growing my business is a good thing."
"Emily, I don't want to convince you of anything. Most business owners call me because they’re stuck on something or are having difficulty making it to the next level of their business. If you’re happy where you are, there’s nothing I can do for you."
At this point, Emily felt a little relieved and disappointed at the same time. On one hand, she felt like she wouldn't have to defend her position of simply taking life easy. On the other, she thought, ‘maybe I want to grow my business... don't give up on me.’
Emily said, "I've just worked so hard to get to where I am, that I want to enjoy not having a loan payment."
"Like I said, Emily. You don't need to convince me. I’ve been where you are. I know how hard it is to grow a business; and I respect your desire to take it easy. Let me ask you. On a scale of 1 to 10, how much do you want to grow your business from where it is currently? One means that you’re going to coast; and 10 means that you desperately want to take your business to the next level."
Emily loved the idea of a scale. This way she didn't need to commit one way or the other. Emily responded, "Three!" Emily thought, 'This should send the message loud and clear that I don't want to grow.'
Russ asked, "What inside you prevented you from picking a two?"
Emily was shocked, "A three is pretty low. What's the difference?"
"That's what I asked you?"
Emily seemed a little exasperated, "Okay. I guess, at one time I really wanted to create a nationwide flower business. But after ten years of stressing out about loan payments, I've decided that my peace of mind is more important. That's why my answer was not quite a 1 or 2... but a 3 is still pretty low."
"Yes, a three is pretty low. The reason for my question was to try to uncover the real reason that you got into your business in the first place. I also want to get to know what makes Emily tick; and what will ultimately make you happy as a business owner."
"Are you saying that I'm not following my dreams, if I don't work harder to make my company grow?"
"It doesn't matter what I think. I want to lay out three scenarios for you. The first is that you decide to leave things the way they are. Eventually, your business revenue declines. You then lose the profit that you thought would finance your retirement. And… need to go back to work in your flower shop. The second scenario is that your flower shop continues to do as well as it’s doing now. In the future, you sell your shop to someone who takes it over and gives you a good chunk of money. The third scenario is that you decide to duplicate your store's success and franchise your store to other flower shop owners who want to run an Emily's Flower shop."
Emily seems a little baffled.
Russ continued, "I don't want your answer now. I want you to think about this question over the next month. If you want the first option, I can't help you much. If you want either the second or the third option, I’d be glad to help you get there."
Emily took Russ's advice. She waited over the next month. She barely showed up at her flower shop and spent most of the time catching up with her kids. She took long walks and thought a lot about the three scenarios. She rather doubted that scenario #1 was even a possibility; and so, she was only considering #2 or #3. Russ told her that if she wanted to do #2 or #3, that he could help.
At the end of her month, Emily booked a paid session with Russ to discuss options #2 or #3.
When the phone rang this time, Emily was not startled by Russ's, "Hello, Emily."
Emily responded, "I've been thinking a lot about these scenarios, and I don't think that option #1 is a possibility. So, it's down to #2 or #3."
Russ responded, "I think it's important to understand the reality of option #1. If a large flower conglomerate wants a piece of your market, they can set up shop and put a lot of pressure on your business... which will erode your profits. Right?"
Emily felt her heart skip a beat. She always thought that coasting had no risk. She thought if she decided to do nothing, profits would always be there for her until she decided to sell her shop. She then remembered how local retailers that had been successful for decades had closed their doors as soon as Walmart moved into their town.
Emily responded, "Okay... I guess you're right. I'm not sure what option I want to pursue. All I'm sure about is that I liked taking a month away from work and spending time with my kids."
"Spending time with your children is important; and it sounds like that’s a high priority in your life. How do you think that Options #2 or #3 will impact that priority?"
"I think, if I grow my business, I’ll never see my children again because I’ll be even more busy than I was when I started my first business?"
"That's a normal reaction. A business owner who’s working so hard to grow their first business, thinks they need to work even harder to continue growing. However, if you do it right, you can spend more time with your kids and grow your business. What do you say?"
"I say I don't believe you. If you saw me when we first started the flower shop, I was working non-stop. How would it be any different by opening new stores now?"
"There are four key stages in a business owner's life cycle, Emily. The first stage is technician. In the technician stage, the business owner is doing all the work. They wear several different hats because they can't afford to hire help to run their business. In the second stage, the business owner becomes a manager. In the manager stage, the business owner hires people to do the work, and manages them. In the third stage of business, the business owner becomes a visionary and looks at ways to duplicate or increase the product lines of the business to grow their current business model exponentially. I call this the entrepreneur’s stage. In the fourth stage of business, the business owner is looking to cash out in some way by selling their business. I call this fourth stage, the investor stage."
Emily was writing down everything Russ said and asked, "It sounds like I'm in the investor stage of business. All I want is my $80,000 share of profits on a yearly basis.... and then sell the company someday. Right?"
Russ responded, "You can certainly do that, Emily. However, I believe that you’re in the midst of the transition from manager to entrepreneur. Your shop is running on autopilot. Marcia has assumed your management duties. The decision you’re facing is whether you want to duplicate the success you’ve created in your local town to multiple towns. If you decide to expand, you’ll enter the entrepreneur phase."
"It sounds like this phase is optional. If all businesses grow through 4-phases, how can I skip from manager to investor?"
"Great question. Any business owner can cash out at any one of these four phases. If you want your business to grow to the 'next level', you need to change your thinking as a business owner."
"What? If I've been successful so far, why would I want to change?"
"The same thinking and skills that got you where you are, won’t get you to the next level. If you decide that franchising or duplicating your flower shop is right for you, you'll need to better understand finance, franchising agreements, selling stock to fund your growth, and other skills that you don't have now. From a mindset perspective, you’ll need to understand how to hold your store managers or franchise owners accountable for financial success and consistent quality to protect your brand. Does that make sense?"
"I suppose it does. I just don't know if I am up for learning new things to grow my business. Won't this take time away from my kids?"
"I don't want to convince you of any specific direction, Emily. However, at one point, you had a dream to create a nationwide flower business. What happened to the Emily that had that dream?"
"I guess that Emily got a dose of reality and is worn out."
"I understand. You’ve worked hard to reach a milestone in your dream; and now lack the energy to take your business to the next level. Right?"
"If you could somehow magically find the energy to grow; and you don't have to sacrifice one minute with your children, what would your decision be about the three options we discussed?"
Emily laughed, "Not sure how any of that could happen, but I would pick option #3. No question."
"That's what I thought. Emily, us business owners tend to get burned out by reacting to fear. These fearful thoughts and actions tend to wear us out over time. I believe that’s what’s happened to you in your flower business. You’ve heaped the burdens and stresses of running the flower shop on your shoulders. Now, you feel that your dream is a type of prison; and you want to be free. If you work with me; I believe we can achieve the freedom and success that you truly desire. What do you say?"
Emily thought about it. Now that she had paid off the loan on her shop; she could afford to pay for a few sessions with Russ.
Emily responded, "I'll give you two months to prove to me that I can grow my business and spend more time with my kids.”
Russ offered, "What about six months? It takes at least six months to see the results your looking for in a coaching relationship."
Emily responded, "If you can't do it in that time, then I'm going to settle for option #1."
Over the next six months, Emily worked with Russ and found that her life had become an interesting balance of lots of time with her kids and engaging her mind in a completely different type of business leadership.
Marcia continued to run things at the local store while Emily worked on documenting processes and procedures to create an operations manual that would become the foundation for a franchise. Emily hired a franchise expert to help her with the details.
Within a year, Emily had the foundation constructed to launch her franchise called Anyone's Flowers. Her idea was ground-breaking. Each franchise would bear the name of the owner of that franchise. If the owner was Frank, the shop would be called Frank's Flowers and be trademarked under Anyone's Flowers. If the owner was Jane, the franchise would be called Jane's Flowers.
By the second year, there were twelve franchises up and running. Because each owner paid Emily a franchise fee, Emily didn't have to borrow money to launch new franchises.
Each franchise owner was responsible to borrow money to pay for flower shop buildings in their region, so Emily wasn't taking on any more debt. With the franchise fees and revenues being earned by her franchisees, Emily was able to hire administrators to help new franchisees get their stores launched successfully. Marcia was promoted to become one of Emily's best franchisee consultants and coaches.
It was the start of the third year of Anyone's Flowers franchise, when Emily called Russ for what would be her final coaching session.
As usual, Russ answered the phone, "Hello, Emily!"
There was a pause on the other end of the line. Russ could hear Emily's breathing; but no words were spoken.
"Emily, is everything alright?"
Then it was apparent that Emily was sobbing and tried to talk through her tears, "I j-just w-want to s-say... thank you."
Russ could feel himself getting a little emotional, "You're quite welcome, Emily. But you've done the work."
Emily had composed herself, "I know... but I would have never tried to do what I did over the last three years, had it not been for you. When I first talked to you, I was content to take my small yearly paycheck and never work again. And, I would’ve always regretted not growing my business when I had the chance."
Russ had to pause, because now tears were filling his eyes, "It makes me feel great to hear you say that, Emily. I'm glad that I could play some part in helping you make the most authentic decision you could make."
Anyone's Flowers went on to become a wild success; and Emily did cash out in year ten of the franchise for millions.
There are several lessons in today’s story. I want to pull out a few that I’d like to talk about.
First, is this notion of setting and achieving goals. In our story, Emily felt like she had accomplished her goal by paying off her bank loan. Indeed, she did. However, she was reminded of a larger goal. In goal setting and achievement, it is very normal to either fail to achieve or even make progress toward a goal; or achieve a goal prematurely. In either case, it’s a good idea to reassess your goal and set a new one as Emily eventually did.
Second, is this connection that us business owners make between working harder and growing our business. Many business owners are reluctant to grow for several reasons. It could be that they are concerned about losing an investment in a growth venture. Maybe, they feel they can’t find or groom the right people to lead the growth they seek. Maybe, they feel content with what they have. The biggest reason I see is that they have worked so hard to get to where they are, making personal sacrifices of personal and family time that the idea of growing seems like digging a deeper hole for themselves.
Each business is a little bit different, but for the most part, starting the business is hard and requires a lot of personal effort by the business owner. Sure, they can hire lots of employees to help... but that’s expensive and when you’re strapped for cash, you end up doing a lot of the work. Once you learn how to transition out of the technician phase of your business to manager and then on to other stages, your workload will drop as you grow your business.
This brings up the third principle of the four stages of business ownership. Emily had difficulty making it through the first two stages of Technician and Manager. After all, it took her 10-years. Many business owners get hung up in a certain stage of business because they fail to change the way they operate. As our fictional coach, Coach Russ, stated… “what skill got you here, will not get you through the next stage”. Us humans are complacent beings. We don’t like to change unless we’re forced to change. All I can say is if you feel you’re stuck in one of these stages of business development, you may need to learn completely new skills. Then you’ll need to change your role in your company.
And, finally, I’d like to talk about the concept of business coaching. We all tend to get “tunnel vision” on where we are in life and business. There are two concepts that can pull us out of that tunnel vision: 1) hearing yourself say the ideas in your head out loud; and 2) getting the outside perspective of an experienced business leader.
Let’s talk about this first issue of hearing your own ideas out loud. I compare this to having disposable paper plates vs expensive china. If you eat off paper plates, you’ll throw them away and not give it a second thought. You may revel in fact that you don’t need to wash the plates. An idea is like these paper plates… it’s disposable. An idea can enter and leave your mind quickly and you don’t feel like you need to give it a second thought. However, when you say that idea out loud, you give the idea power. When you take this a step further and write it down, you give that same idea structure. When you implement that idea, your idea finally has substance. China is kept in a china cabinet and shown for all your visitors to see. Paper plates are hidden and then thrown away when they’ve been used. Treat your ideas like the China plates… and the first step in this treatment is saying your ideas out loud.
Now the second idea of getting outside perspective. If I were to think in my mind, I will run a mile in 5-minutes, it’s easy enough to let that idea go as soon as it enters my mind. If I say my 5-minute mile idea out loud, it starts to seem real. When I tell another person, “I’m going to run a mile in five minutes.”, I’ve created an accountability link. If I go one step further, and tell a track coach, “I’m going to run a five-minute mile.” I have now engaged a person with expertise who can help me achieve my goal. This is the same benefit you get when you hire a business coach to help you refine your goals and then achieve those goals.
I hope you have learned a few things from Emily’s story. If you’d like to learn more about Mechanics & Mindset Business Coaching, I invite you to check me out at www.mmbizcoach.com. Until we meet again, I wish you the best with your business.