I sat at my desk two and a half years ago writing a plan for French Fry Heaven. The plan was flawless; take care of our community, bring on great franchisees, serve an awesome product, build systems that were scalable to 1500 stores and reap the profits from a job well done. Sitting in my basement office I tried to think of every pitfall, challenge and obstacle that could possibly crop up and make a plan to address them when they did. I took my plan to my three (see earlier blogs) and took their feedback to refine the plan to a masterpiece of unimaginable genius. I sat back in my chair, hands behind my head and thought about which pose I would choose for my cover of Forbes magazine. The one I should have chose was one with my head up my keyster.
One of the 1000 Terrible mistakes entrepreneurs and franchisers make is forgetting that a plan, no matter how professionally developed or well thought out, ultimately sucks at some level. This is not to say we did not do a kick ass job with French Fry Heaven or your plan will not be awesome. It is to say that the old military adage “Plans don’t survive the first contact with the enemy” is dead on accurate. When that plan doesn’t go accordingly, the result for the entrepreneur or franchiser who is to wedded to it, is pain.
Pain is not something we plan on when we start our businesses. We talk about being prepared for when things don’t go right and proudly boast that we are realistic, that we are comfortable in accepting that there will be challenges all along the way; but we are full of it. The minute that first check shows up late, the franchisee goes on a crack spree and abandons the shop, the shipping of our main products gets caught up in some third world machete conflict, we lose our freaking minds! Your business will not go according to plan and to the degree that you are wedded to controlling the outcome, is the difference between choosing pain or suffering.
Pain for an entrepreneur or franchiser is not optional. Things will break. People will do astoundingly dumb things. You will make choices, that later, you would have beaten someone else for having done. These things will happen. Think you are the exception? Prepare for suffering!
During those long cold nights when you are lying awake in bed thinking about all of the demons dancing around the fire that is consuming your business, you will know pain. Those mornings when you come in frankly surprised to see no locks on your doors, you will feel it to your core. When that great, wealthy, potential client who promised to buy five bagillion of what you are selling decides to go a different direction for seemingly no valid reason, you will hurt. When your key employee meets a stewardess on a plane to aruba and decides to sell fruit smoothies on the beach instead of coming back to work; you will experience that profoundly. You will know fear, doubt, worry and pain.
So one of the 1000 Terrible Mistakes entrepreneur and franchisees make is to try to protect themselves from experiencing ache. So what are your alternatives to avoid pain? There are none. Pain is unavoidable. Saying goes, “life is hard. Anyone who tells you different, is trying to sell you something.” Pain is mandatory, but suffering is optional. That is the whole key to your business from an emotional standpoint. You have to accept the knocks, but if you get yourself back up again, you avoid suffering. When you start your business, put your plan in place, work your ass off, but accept that the results are not in your control. As many terrible ideas have been successful, as have good ideas failed. You can’t avoid injury, but pick yourself up, believe in your concept and team, get back to work towards success and you will avoid suffering.
One of the things we heard a lot when we first started French Fry Heaven was how we are in the middle of another of those health trends and maybe people wouldn’t want our product. We did everything we could do to dodge this by making our fries 0-trans fat, used 0-trans fat canola oil, most of our toppings gluten free, msg free etc. We did everything possible creating a 95% vegetarian menu, but still we heard the fear that others had about our timing. We also launched in the middle of the recession, when everyone told us there is no way to get funding, especially for a food business. Then I talked to Doug Ducey the brilliant former CEO of Cold Stone Creamery. To loosely quote him he told me, “we started Cold Stone in the middle of a down economy that was on a huge health kick. We rolled out a fairly expensive product that was more fattening than a lot of what was out there….and we killed it!” It turned out at the end of the day that people loved it and that was all she wrote. French Fry Heaven blows people away with our flavors and we rest our hats on that. When we went into the investment market place with our product looking for funding, we ended up with lines of people who wanted to support a great company. We got breaks most could only dream of, which were created through a combination of intelligence, hard work and blessings. However, having great flavors, money and brains did not preclude us from experiencing pain.
We learned painful lessons about money, the right kind of franchisees, the perfect locations, the right staff mix, etc. We had good people leave and crush our hearts. We had bad people leave and injure the company. We made a lot of great choices, but also a lot of horrible ones. We worked our asses off and were passionate about what we did, only to see some folks connected with us not work as hard or keep the passion. Every day was filled to the brim with successes and epic failures. At times it seemed that the darkness would consume us. However, we are still here and growing. How? It took constant reminding, but we bought into the idea that the best we can do is the best we can do. We plan, we work, we care…and we learn to accept. Accept that life doesn’t always play out the way we want. So long as we put our franchisees first, we will make choices for the right reasons and that will lead us in the best possible directions. This does not mean we are fatalists, who just get kicked in the nads and take it without a fight. It means if we get knocked, we get up and get back at it to achieve the next success. I could wrap this up with some brilliant closing paragraph of my best thinking, but I think Rocky put this whole thing in the best perspective.
“Let me tell you something you already know. The world ain’t all sunshine and rainbows. It’s a very mean and nasty place and I don’t care how tough you are it will beat you to your knees and keep you there permanently if you let it. You, me, or nobody is gonna hit as hard as life. But it ain’t about how hard ya hit. It’s about how hard you can get hit and keep moving forward. How much you can take and keep moving forward. That’s how winning is done! Now if you know what you’re worth then go out and get what you’re worth. But ya gotta be willing to take the hits, and not pointing fingers saying you ain’t where you wanna be because of him, or her, or anybody! Cowards do that and that ain’t you! You’re better than that!
-Sylvester Stallone, Rocky Balboa (2006)