Unchartered Territory…


…Or call it 2020’s COVID-19.

Call it whatever you like. Bottom line we just got tossed into unchartered territory and I am not sure any of us really know exactly what we are doing. Social distancing- ok- in exactly what situations? Toilet paper. check. Stocked up.

But seriously- what about our economy? What will happen to our economy if we stop buying from small business? Trust me. Amazon will be fine.

I recently was gifted a book called The Small Business Millionaire by Steve Chandler and Sam Beckford. 

It’s a story about how The Sushine Inn, a restaurant in sleepy Royal Oak, Michigan made a total turn around. They went from running boring newspaper ads to telling their story and having a restaurant that was full to the brims every night of the week.

Stories are certainly compelling and when you tell them you share some vulnerability which lets people feel closer to you. We struggle to share our problems but in reality how we face them presents a gift to those who want to love and support us the most. And those folks are our customers.

After the death of Frank Mills wife, who ran The Sunshine Inn, Frank and his daughter, Jennifer, just kept on working at the family restaurant. Frank loved music. He named his daughter Jennifer after Jennifer Warnes, the original lead singer from Hair. And the restaurant followed suite. it was named after the hit song ‘Let the Sunshine In.”

But his boring newspaper ads didn’t give anyone a reason to care.

The Sunshine Inn

Royal Oak’s Best Restaurant

Best Food, Best Prices!

Frank was a pretty amazing creative chef too. Always inventing dishes right infront of his customers and them loving his food. But their 3 sentence newespaper add certainly didn’t convey any of this.

Stories require we investment in ourselves. That we feel we have a story worth sharing and are willing to take the time to tell it.

I built my first business when I was 17 to escape an alcoholic parents wims’ and be in control of my life. I am a successful small business owners and have helped others do the same for 37 years now. 

I have discovered along my way that like Frank and Jennifer ‘Team Sunshine Inn” you need to be flexible and malleable to win. You have to be willing to change everything.

And, I have learned that corporate leadership, from household big brand names are not better than folks like Frank Mills, Jennifer and I. They, however, most usually think they are because they won’t associate with you on a peer level. Sure they have big experiences. But they have never known what is required to actually EARN the money that flows through our hands. We actually could help each other climb much faster if they could see we were peers.

Bottom line what I know is that building a customer journey map that ACTUALLY WORKS is REALLY time consuming. To make it really work you can’t throw a bunch of glitter up in the air, market pretty and get all dressed up with influencers and ambassadors when you actually have NOTHING going on inside. That’s Theranos 101.

These folks need their next round shored up and be told to make their map work. Without a kick in the ass, there are more of them out there, disguised under innovation and leadership, in my opinion, who have received way too much investment to not have it all figured out.

You have to actually care about the development of your product and be open to working with customers to turn them from skeptics to lovers. Just because you’re good at selling your idea off the spreadsheet and pitch deck, and the math works, doesn’t make you a worthy investment in my opinion. Including your track record as CMO of a loved household brand.

I have been horrified by how much money I have seen thrown at newish entities that look like this and have nothing behind the surface at all going on. Few are coming back to them.

What it takes to succeed in small business, is that you are willing to do whatever it takes to figure out how to deliver the value that makes your business great- whatever the thing. Your customers have to freakin love love love you. That’s what makes your business unstoppable.

And it out ought to make your business investable too. Regardless the type. Or size. Or sector.

But here is also what I have learned. This kind of relentlessness REQUIRES nimbleness. You have to be able to not worry if the lights will be still on tomorrow to dive deep and get a customer journey map to work. It also doesn’t have to cost you millions and millions of dollars. Incremental investment is what is required.

Traunches for milestones. We need to take the pressure off these Series A big rounds.

For a seed round you should:

  1. Be building the organization structure you need to deliver extraodinary service.
  2. Have a sales pathway/channel at least dripping with sales if not running slowly and the skeleton for growth of that one mapped out and a second just in case.

To succeed it takes time to cultivate the kind of relationships you need both in staffing and prospecting to win.

Cause when customers win, they LOVE you forever.  And ever. And ever. No one ever forgets true love. It has to begin with customer acquisition and that requires a reasonable financial cushion for the business to have to be able to focus on that.

I am not sure about one idea The Small Business Millionaire floated as a ‘truism’ however—that if you open your heart and mind to your customers hearts and desires, the support you need will surely find you. 

From my experience this is not always true.

One of my greatest repeat life-heartbreak has been to see how few of us truly want to help each other in this world.

And quite honestly, I think COVID-19 just woke me up. It’s been a long time since I felt inspired to write on this blog. Part of the reason is because of the idea The Small Business Millionaire floated as a ‘truism’- that people care.

I was taught to care. My father built a grey iron diesel engine foundry into a social venture back before their were words for that kind of enterprise- it was just about doing the right thing. But today too many in the entrepreneurship circle are far from being about doing the right thing; They:

Selfishly Take.
Cheat.
Act superior by ignoring others instead of collaborating.
Refuse to Trust because they know they are not trustworthy.
Humiliate Others.

Why would anyone want to become an entrepreneur or try and tell your story when these kinds of bad apples are in plain sight?  And they are honestly. It made me crawl into a hole for a bit here, honestly. And no one is talking about it because god forbid we shake the golden venture capital Gods and they banish us from their pile of gold.

If you challenge the status quo cause you don’t look like or act like them? You are for sure a goner if you need investment. So don’t bother asking for their help.

But should it be this way? Sometimes it’s the little bit of help that changes EVERYTHING. Isn’t that what investment is suppose to in part do? Help you achieve the impossible?

I have lived a life that has required I ask for help. If it were not for dozens of mentors who I sought out and who said ‘yes, I would love to’, I would not be the person I am today.

And I have always followed my heart. Following it saved my life quite honestly. Bottom line: listening to my intuition / my heart- got- me out of a very unsafe scary home at the age of 13 and into learning environments that taught me discipline and what safe looked like, and positivity.  Every home-even an affluent one- with one controlling alcoholic parent in it won’t leave anyone unscathed.

Affluence and money can’t buy you pretty, or sane, or safe. It can buy you a ticket out. And sometimes that’s all you need. Enough to get past a big step like I did leaving my house at 13. Thank God my parents had the money.

And I have managed to find a way to work toward most every thing I think matters in this world to date. But without more financial support, it’s not possible to get significantly farther. There just comes a point where money is what makes the transformation happen.

Sure I had to seize those funds, to make my own happen- where my brother elected not to. But bottom line the money was there. All I had to do was ask for it. Not so easy to get it as an entrepreneur. It’s for 2% of us females and less than 1% if we are black. Unless of course you want full recourse loans when what you really need is another smart partner who wants to help you out because they see the value you can bring.

While we may be in un-chartered territory, the one thing I know for sure is that NO ONE- ABSOLUTELY NO ONE- SUCCEEDS ALONE. And I think the outpouring online communal support and discussions I am seeing and participating in, during the Pandemic of 2020: Covid-19, seems raw and real. It has inspired me to poke my head back out into the real world to write this blog.

Entrepreneur The Arts has been running for over 10 years and remains a labor of love. If we all are willing to help each other just a little bit more, great things can happen for those of us willing to share our story.

I fundamentally want to believe that people want to help when asked to. Without hope what do we have.

But even hope, every once and awhile, has to deliver. Jonathan financially supported The Sunshine Inn. We need more to step up and invest in promising ideas that have a few paying customers. Especially those started by women.

To your highest purpose and best self,

Lisa Canning Linkedin

Unchartered Territory…

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