The answer to this often asked question will (thankfully) include the word “Busy” to which the response is inevitably “That’s good!”
And – most often – that is where the conversation is left. When asking an individual how they are the acceptable response seems to be “Fine – how are you?” but when enquiring after the health of a small business “Busy” seems to be the magic word.
In the big wide world outside of The Kitchen (I believe it is there – though I rarely see it these days…) there are other small business owners. There are also those who own or work within larger businesses, in banking, accounting, or as financial advisors and consultants. These are the people who tend to dig a little deeper, ask a few more questions maybe, and perhaps encourage me to open up about how things really are.
Of course there is everything to be thankful for when “Busy-ness” defines your business – or at least when the response to “How’s it going?” is always “Busy”. But there seems to be a recurring word here – Busy, Busy, Busy – so is this always a good thing?
Ask a small business owner what the aim of their business is and making money has to be somewhere at the top of the list surely? For no matter how much we enjoy the sense of creating community, of giving something back, of networking with and using local suppliers and making charitable donations – well the bills have to be paid. Factor in staffing costs – once you start to get Busy – and it becomes more difficult to make a profit.
I wouldn’t call myself an experienced businesswoman, though it feels like an achievement to have lasted three years in The Kitchen with some not inconsiderable challenges along the way. I listen and take advice from many people whose opinions I respect, I’ve signed up for an online business course and above all else I’m just determined to make this Busy-ness work.
But this evening – having worked a twelve hour day – I spent a happy couple of hours poring over Quickbooks (don’t the TV adverts make it look such a simple, intuitive programme to use …?) and the only conclusion I can draw from this time is this.
Don’t always believe a Busy Business is a Profitable Business. (Please forgive the excessive use of capitalisation this evening, ungrammatical but essential I feel). It’s perfectly possible to be Busy doing nothing (remember the song?)
But even if you’re Busy doing something that’s still no guarantee you’re making money. And wanting to make money doesn’t necessarily make you greedy or a bad person. It can just mean you want to look after your family, pay your own way in life and perhaps if you’re lucky have a little holiday now and then.
This has been a longer and more rambling post than usual. I could blame the complicated subject matter but perhaps it’s the glass of Merlot, or the distraction of the jungle, stopping me from being focussed tonight. A blog post without a conclusion always feels to me like chip shop chips without salt and vinegar, a scone without clotted cream, or Dec without Ant (thank goodness he’s back).
So what’s the point?
“Things are going okay thanks. They’re good. We’re fine. Busy…”
But is this a sustainable business model? Making money? Allowing you to live the dream? Or at least the life of the self employed entrepreneur with the freedom to live life the way that you want?
We’ve made many changes at The Kitchen in the three years we’ve been open. We’ve adjusted the opening hours and the products we offer to try and reduce costs and waste. We’re very customer focussed (ask the BIA!) and we’ve always tried to respond to what our customers ask for. The most recent being our (stalled) application for a Premises Licence. The comments we receive are humbling, heart warming and overwhelming, including over 200 five star reviews for our Afternoon Teas.
Perhaps I need a Mary Portas or an Alan Sugar to come in and advise me? Maybe I should enter the Dragons Den and find a backer to plough in some capital along with a bucket load of Busy-ness advice? There isn’t an easy answer to this (I know, if there were one I surely would have found it by now!)
For now we keep on keeping on. We know that we make delicious, affordable and beautifully decorated celebration cakes. We also know that our Afternoon Teas are amongst the best our customers have enjoyed. Closing the Coffee Shop at the beginning of the week has cut costs and what we’d really like to do is host lots more Birthday Parties.
But if the numbers are to be believed, the one thing that would make a difference would be this. For us to increase our prices. The danger of doing this of course is that we price ourselves beyond reach of many of our long standing and loyal customers. In doing so we ultimately reduce our sales and turnover.
Sadly it feels as though there is no answer. Not just no easy answer. Maybe things have changed beyond repair and the place for small businesses such as The Kitchen has been filled by the chains such as Costa, and the supermarkets with their coffee shops and cheap cupcakes. Perhaps the place for community and networking and gathering and being together is not the local coffee shop or tearoom but somewhere else now? Probably not the pub – they also seem to be in decline. And perhaps not the community centre or library as closures seem to be the norm nowadays.
Who knows what the future holds?
For now this isn’t the blog post I had intended to write. Blame the Merlot, blame Dec and Ant. Blame – or thank – the many business experts and advisors I have spoken to who assure me there are no easy answers. But for now if you live locally please do pop in. Say hello and if you like buy a cup of tea or coffee. If everyone in Croxley did that each week we’d be laughing!