Tom Schlafly is one of the most successful business people (and human beings) I have had the pleasure of talking to. He built the St. Louis Brewery in the town that has…um..you, know… THE Brewery. However, since InBev came to town, Schlafly now enjoys status as St. Louis largest locally-owned brewery.
As Tom points out in his witty column Top Fermentation, “In any discussion of local industry in St. Louis, Schlafly is now The Brewery.” The irony is thicker than the head on one of Tom’s stout winter brews.
The man who:
- claims that he “would never have started his business if he knew anything about business”
- attracts an entire team of people with liberal arts degrees and no business background
- had to change Missouri laws on microbreweries to grow his business
- holds an irrational love for St. Louis
- continues to bring a creative wonder to his business
…is now wildly successful against all odds and in the shrined shadow of a St. Louis darling – Anheuser-Busch.
Entrepreneurship is a lifestyle choice and a way of thinking differently about:
- what it means to be in business
- what it means to have success
- what it means to be professional
Many times at the root of this decision (to rip the employee label off your life and think in this manner) is a very emotional and peculiar drive. As my friend Richard Sacks (author, consultant and entrepreneur) puts it, “most entrepreneurs are on plan B.” They are creative, innovative, passionate people who got ticked off at the way that their industry was working, or feel that some population is grossly underserved.
If there is this distinction between an entrepreneur and a manager or executive, then why do entrepreneurs constantly feel they have to behave like the rest of business world when it comes to financing their business?
I have heard many entrepreneurs complain:
- The banks don’t take me seriously.
- I don’t have the right contacts.
- The credit market has dried up.
- Venture capitalists aren’t giving out money.
- Angel investors are watching their portfolios dwindle away.
This reaction to our current economy is not an irrational response. This is fear-based thinking that will be a secure lockdown to any growth that your business could hope to have.
To survive the slowdown and the limited access to capital, you must see this fear, name it and move along on the path. You must be irrational. (For more on this see Dixie Gillaspie’s article on moving through fear.)
You are an entrepreneur…be creative. Here are some practical steps that I have seen the best entrepreneurs take to make long-term financial goals. (All of these steps were taken assuming that you had the right attitude, have had solid business ethics and want to grow your business.)
- Get skin in the game. This is a battle. If you can’t stomach a big personal loss, you may need to find a job. While it does not sound pleasant, I have yet to meet a financial backer who is comfortable taking on all the risk. Collect up your capital and what you have of value. If it was a comfortable process, then everyone would do it. Two retailers I know have doubled their business in the last year by leveraging collateral to get credit.
- Negotiate and make terms with your vendors. Make it as simple as possible. “Hey, things are slowing down for me. Can I pay you $x amount per month?” Most folks will allow you some latitude.
- Find easy ways to monetize what you do. This is dangerous because you may end up going down sales paths that can distract you from a primary purpose. What do you do already do that adds value and you can easily charge for? This could be scaled-back versions of a larger service for a reduced rate. However it looks, find new ways to make money at what you are already doing.
- Find like-minded folks that share your vision. They may not be instant sources of money, but you can certainly find advise, empathy, friendship and accountability. The monetary value of true friendship is immeasurable. The most successful people that I know found and inner circle that they went to in good times and bad. You start finding these people by becoming an approachable person.
It may seem as though the universe is conspiring against you, but take a look at Schlafly’s situation 17 years ago. You do not face nearly the odds that he did. He made it. You can too. It may not look the way you thought it would, but your company will be better for it.
And, if you are a St. Louis-based entrepreneur, then you have access to at least 49 growth opportunities that are unique to your city.
TRY THIS ONE ON:
If you wanted to hear what it was like for a passionate, eccentric business owner, then read Tom Schlafly’s book, A New Religion in Mecca. There is a great deal of hope in there. It seems that Schlafly contends that the universe conspired to make his business successful, but, someone who knew what she was talking about once said: Luck is the residue of rigorous, persistent action.
- Jeremy Nulik, Creative Energy Officer, St. Louis Small Business Monthly