Once upon a time, when I first moved to California, I decided I wanted to start a business. This was years before I officially launched Pop!Art Studios, and I was basically clueless. I knew I wanted to run a Paint n' Sip, and at the time I had a potential investor. Everything else was just floating in a nebula around me; ideas, business concepts, real estate, God knows what. I was a total novice, and I had no idea where or how to get started. After giving it a Goog, I ended up at this FREE orientation-thing at the SBDC. That stands for Small Business Development Corporation, by the way. They're a nation-wide group that helps people get launched in--you guessed it--small business.
Lucky for me, the Los Angeles chapter of the SBDC is headquartered in Long Beach, maybe 10 minutes from where I lived. It felt like kismet. I rolled up to the Long Beach City College with a little notebook and a dream. There was a handful of attendees, about 20 people, all super diverse, different sexes and ages. The orientation host welcomed us, and we took our seats.
I don't recall everything, but one section of the presentation really stuck with me. We went around the room, each person sharing who they were, and what they wanted to do as a potential small business. The host was very friendly, and this was after some of her presentation, so we were all warmed up, and no one was feeling too shy.
People shared baby ideas, fully developed ideas and everything in between. I mean, there were total rockstars--one couple already had a successful food truck and were looking to convert it into a cannabis baked-goods business, but needed help with the legality-- and there were future rockstars, who hadn't yet formed their plan at all. One girl next to me stood up and simply said,
"Well...I know I want to do something with...succulents?"
It was in my nature--and I think a few other attendees' nature-- to scoff at the Succulent Girl. I mean, like, WOW, you think you 'want to do something with succulents?' You've got a ways to go, babe. But, the host of the meeting encouraged her, the same way she had encouraged everyone else and pretty much made me feel like a jerk. The point of the orientation at SBDC is not to scoff, not to discourage. It's the opposite. I get that now. Also, could I maybe check myself? I wanted to paint pictures and drink wine for a living. Succulents ain't so crazy, babe.
After we shared, we broke off into groups to discuss our ideas, network, and see who in the room could help one another. We met people like ourselves, people who wanted to grow a dream into a reality. As we chatted, the host paired anyone with a more developed idea with a business adviser. Business advisers are experts, trained in your field, who have seen it all and done it all, and can help you in your next steps. All for free.
The overall vibe was hella supportive. And that is really important! When our ideas and dreams are in infancy, they're delicate, just like the babies they are. They need encouragement, support and assistance, until they grow into strong, healthy businesses. We need to surround ourselves with likeminded dreamers, and experts who can calm us down when the going gets tough. (And, yes, the going is about to get tough in this blog....hang in there, like 2 more paragraphs.)
I was paired with my adviser, Lori Williams, and began once-a-month accountability calls, where we discussed exactly how to get start-up money from my investor, how much interest to give him in the company, and everything else you can imagine, really. We talked ticket pricing, charitable donations, parking at different retail sites. We talked about customer retention, we blabbed about cold calls, dropping fliers vs. internet marketing. I. MEAN. EVERYTHING.
Having a call with Lori every month made it impossible for me to drop the ball. This woman is a succesul, high-achieving professional, who was helping me for free. I was hell-bent to have intelligent questions to ask for each call, and determined to come prepared. There were a lot of times I think I would have quit, had I not been ashamed to tell Lori she had wasted her time on me. Accountability is important. And one more time, for the people in the back, THIS WAS ALL FREE.
I met with Lori for about a year. We mostly focused on how I was going to get an investent to start the company. We worked hard to make me a numbers and financials pro. I got the lingo down, the spreadsheets, and created a clever and appealing financial presentation to take to my potential investor. I learned a ton, worked hard, and was feeling confident.
I made my financial presentation to my investor--a wealthy accountant, BTW, who had 30 years experience in what I was trying to pitch him--and he was impressed! He agreed that the investment looked worthwhile and that he was in!
Lori and I celebrated on one of our calls, laughing about how far the concept of my little painting studio had come. I waited for the money, shopped for a retail location, and did fun things, like web design, cold-calling, and launching our Instagram and other social media. I still hadn't chosen a name, but I knew I wanted something to do with Pop Art.
Then...OH MY GOD the drama. Of course, it had to be SO DRAMATIC.
I went to see my investor. He wanted to take me out for my birthday. It was also time to give me a check. I was STOKED. He lived in Nashville, so I flew out, and we went to dinner. Happy Birthday to me, right? My painting studio was about to become a reality!
That night, there were terrible storms in Tennessee. Call it Mother Nature's foreshadowing.
Like two idiots, my investor and I ignored the tornado sirens and dined at Skulls Rainbow Room (check it out if you're ver in Nashville! Really cool spot!), taking in a burlesque show and about 4 too many cocktails a piece. We had agreed not to talk business until the next day, and just enjoy my birthday.
Do I even need to tell you what happened next? Ugh. You see it coming, don't you?
After dinner, the tornado sirens were really going off, more and more, and I decided that I was A. Intoxicated, and B. Didn't want to die in a natural disaster. I told my investor that I was going back to my hotel. He looked at me, dead-drunk, with that look in his eyes.
"Well, can I come with you?" He smiled, but it looked more like a sneer, I swear.
"No, absolutely not," I said and meant it. I had dated this guy 5 years ago, and we agreed we weren't compatible, but had stayed friends and now business associates. He thought he could make money off of me, and I was offering him a hefty percentage in my company for his measly investment. I certainly wasn't going to sleep with him for such a bum deal! Or any deal, but, still, especially not this deal! What a pompous ass!
"We can talk about business tomorrow," I added, the sirens now blaring, constantly, the rain hitting me hard while the wind picked up and whipped my birthday dress in every direction. (I told you. DRAMATIC. But the dress was fabulous.)
"I'm never gonna give you that money," he slurred again at me, half laughing, through the gale-force wind.
The way he said it, through that half-laugh, it was like he was teasing me.
"What?!" I said in disbelief, processing something I'm sure you already knew was going to happen. My body started to fill with an unfamiliar rage. For a second, as I digested what he had said, I thought I might punch him. Or kick him in the balls. Or both, right before I tore his head off.
He just stood there, a total schmuck, getting rained on, with a drunk, stupid smile on his face. I was so mad, I couldn't even react. I just turned around, and walked toward my hotel, my fists balled up tight at my sides. I was drunk. It was my birthday. There was a tornado. Business (or kicks in the balls) would have to be dealt with in the morning.
The next day, I was devastated. A friend picked me up from my hotel, and took me to Michael's Crafts to cheer me up. It didn't work. She got me a canned cocktail from the gas station, for my hangover, and took me to her apartment. For two days, I stayed under blankets, eating carbs, and cursing myself and my investor for being so stupid, and such an a**hole, respectively. Or wait, maybe both at the same time. I felt so, so stupid. I hated feeling so naive. More than anything, I hated feeling under someone's thumb like that. But that's how it felt. Not good.
On the 3rd day, I came out from under the pile of blankets on my friend's sofa. I picked up the phone and dialed Lori's number. We had a call scheduled and, despite the circumstances, I wasn't about to stand up my mentor.
"I didn't get the money," I told her, and my voice cracked. I pulled myself together and continued. I told her the story, more or less, without crying. I'm sure I left out the canned cocktail. I'm also sure she could tell I was heartbroken.
"I just...how am I going to afford to rent the studio without the investment? There's no possible way..." I sighed.
"I had a feeling this might happen..." she said, softly, and paused.
"You know..." Lori picked back up, cheerful and very matter-of-factly, "I like to take disadvantages and make them advantages. Would you say that this is your biggest disadvantage, right now?"
"Yes. I don't have a space," I replied, defeated, "I don't have any money for a space."
"So let's make that an advantage. Flip it upside down. You're great because you don't have a space. Go mobile," she said, like it was that easy.
I had never considered a fully mobile business, before. It wasn't that it wouldn't work, but, I was so used to working for a brick and mortar painting studio, I thought that's how it had to be done.
"Think about it. No one has retail establishments anymore, unless they have to. And then, your overheard would be cut way down. If you work hard, you won't even need an investor. And then..."
"I wouldn't have anyone to pay back. I wouldn't have to give anyone half of my company..." I started to feel that thumb I was under ease up.
"Right. Let's not make it an issue. Just keep moving," Lori's voice was confident.
So, that's exactly what I did. I kept moving, went mobile, and avoided the literal disaster that was The Schmuck investor. And now I had a name. I was already flirting with using Pop!Art in the company name, and now we were a pop up. It was perfect. Kismet, again!
So go, go now! Don't walk, RUN, to your local SBDC and get into an orientation.
Here's a link to find one near you. They also do a lot on Zoom now, so distance isn't an issue.
I don't care if your idea is big, small, developed, or if you just got dumped by a horny investor with no vision. Keep moving forward, step by step. And, get some smart, savvy people behind you. You'll need them...in case of... uhh, tornados.
Til' next time! Have a great Labor Day weekend!
P.S. Big, huge, walloping thanks to Allison, the friend who took me in after The Schmuck incident. Love you, girl.