The Day Our Business (Almost) Died

Business.com / Starting a Business / Last Modified: February 22, 2017

Learn how the owner of an almost defunct grocery store was able to completely turn business around when things were at their worst.

Terror gripped me. "Are you sure?" I asked. "Yes," he responded. Was he going to have a heart attack?

I looked, and it was true: our inventory was quickly defrosting because the power had been shut off. Dollars and dollars of inventory we couldn't afford to replace. We'd fought the power shut off as best we could but at a certain point it was inevitable.

We were screwed.

Our short-lived, Main Street business, a neighborhood grocery, was going end like this: a melting mess of hubris amongst gelato, pasture-raised meats and frozen bagels. Or so it seemed.

Business owners get familiar with the feeling of your back against the wall. It was our turn to live that. My husband and I met that first big obstacle and our hand was forced. We had to figure out a solution, and fast. Not just the power bill; our whole way of operating.

Our business died a bit that day, but, it was a milestone. A short time later, at an actual funeral, a brief encounter planted the seed that adjusted our thinking and helped us course-correct. It came from an unlikely source: permaculture.

Related Article: 5 Things You Need To Know About Entrepreneurialism

Chances are good that you don't know a thing about permaculture, or, if you do, you've dismissed the philosophy as a bit too "granola" suitable not for business but self-proclaimed "chicken revolutionaries" or other fringe characters.

Permaculture is a landscape design approach applied to sustainable agriculture. It originated in the resource-limited Australian outback and grew from there. The idea is to work with nature for the benefit of all: people, planet and place.

Yet, the philosophy can be expanded to other areas of life, too. It uses simple design rules to think about a system holistically. Business, as you would agree, is its own system of interlocking people and processes. So, as I explain in my book, Per-Money: Permaculture Principles for Indie Biz Growth, permaculture provides a helpful framework to think about your business in a new way.

As business owners, we often become mired in our business's many details and immediate needs. Often, what we really need to do is step back and think about our strategy.

I detail each of the principles in the book. Here is just one, along with some actionable tips you can apply to your business today.

Small and Slow Solutions

One of permaculture's basic tenants is to use the least amount of fuel to satisfy a particular requirement. "Fuel" here can be considered literally (e.g., gasoline) or figuratively (for example, managing our personal productivity). A business's "fuel" is the money that comes into and out of it.

So, "small and slow solutions" could apply to money management:

Managing use of debt or credit

The proper balance of debt and credit is one of the hardest things to do, especially at the beginning. Borrow conservatively and slowly so it doesn't overwhelm. Look at a repayment rate that you can realistically sustain without limiting your growth. Easier said than done sometimes, right?

Actionable Tip: Review your options, both in how you manage daily cash flow, and from your funding sources. What can be changed? What cannot be changed?

Related Article: 5 Money Management Tips For Any Business Owner

Rethinking our source of money

Venture capital is interested in big and fast: as a result, none of that money flows to Main Street. Maybe we should consider a local bank or credit union instead, to keep our money circulating where we live? Or, what about crowdsourced loans, which pay interest directly to the people who are helping you grow your business?

Actionable Tip: Investigate moving your money to a local institution, if you can, so your money makes a difference in your community. Look into alternative financing, too, such as crowdsourcing instead of relying solely on large banks.

Avoiding impulse purchases

Temptation abounds for flashy upgrades and other "business" expenses. Resist expenditures that do not support the core operation. Slow down. If you have a hard time resisting, set up some sort of fail-safe, such as a rule to wait 7 days before any purchase.

Actionable Tip: Think about the last impulse business purchase you made. Are you happy with the results? What will you do differently next time?

Maintaining a long time horizon

It can, at times, be frustratingly slow to see changes take effect. You might be doing everything correctly. Or you might not bee; either way, you need enough data to make the call. That requires patience.    

Actionable Tip: This is when you've got to trust your gut and accept it will take time. Step away from common distractions and go on a long walk. Simple and free, fresh air always helps bring new perspective.

Small and slow solutions were part of our business's turnaround. This year, George Bowers Grocery is seven years old. Finances are strong, and we're just getting started. Learn more about how permaculture design principles can be applied to your business. It might be exactly the change in thinking you need.

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