3 Things I Did When I Started My Business That Helped Me to Stay Afloat During the Lockdown


(Photo by Dan Schiumarini on Unsplash)


Summary

  • Look into the opposite direction

  • Cut down the cost that will not benefit your client directly

  • Do whatever you have to do to survive

What I did

  • No office

  • No venue

  • No full time employees


I don't need to mention to you the restaurant and food industry is one of the hardest-hit sectors during the current pandemic. Though my company, Breakthrough Sushi is an event company offering sushi classes, not a restaurant, we too are hit hard. All our March, April bookings got canceled. Our revenue dropped to Zero for April and May. We have one private event scheduled for July. Yes, the company is losing money for the last three months and the recovery to profitability looks far far galaxy away.

I have been doing everything to I can keep the business going during the last three months. There are a few things I did when I started this business nine years ago that helped me stay afloat even when our income is down 95% for the last four months.

Even if you are not a business owner or entrepreneur, I hope what I am about to share will be useful. Because of the lockdown, we have entered into the brand-new era of the business and work model. Not just the work at home and zoom meetings, but many things we have been taking granted will change.

This is just a beginning.

More than ever, to survive this change, every worker must have the mindset of a business owner.

Look into the opposite direction

If starting a sushi class business with no kitchen or venue sounds bizarre, I am here to tell you it's possible.

In the beginning, I thought I had to have a permanent venue to host because all the other cooking classes had a venue. I started to look for one but couldn't find one. Leasing space in downtown San Francisco and convert it to a kitchen studio venue was in the plan, but no one would lend me money to build such space. I was stuck.

That was when I started to think about operating without a kitchen.

"There must be a kitchen, a beautiful kitchen someone has built already, but no one is using."

I had no idea where it came from, but I had this feeling such a kitchen would exist, waiting for me to use it. The only thing I had was my gut feeling. I never doubted. I kept telling my wife I will find a beautiful kitchen venue.

Within a month, I found a showroom kitchen just five minutes from our apartment in San Francisco. It was a kitchen cabinet showroom—beautifully, custom-designed with a working sink, perfect for a cooking class. I walked in and told the owner I was looking for a venue to host our sushi class.

"I've been waiting for someone like you to walk in and ask me that!"

Now I had a venue without paying a dime to build it.

The owner was happy I was bringing in 20 to 30 potential customers to their showroom every time they hosted my sushi class.

I didn't know this and it costs a lot for such a showroom to have a potential customer walk into their door. Because of this benefit, I was able to negotiate a low venue rental fee, which I could pass on to our clients. Many of the clients appreciated the beautiful set up for their events as well. It was a win-win-win situation.

Since then, I have discovered and made a special agreement with several other showroom kitchens like the first one, where they love to welcome our clients and us to host our sushi classes.

Think outside of the box may be a good analogy for this story, but I like to use "look the opposite direction when everyone is looking at the same direction" analogy.

You see, I am the type of person to say no when nine people out of ten say yes. I am not saying they are wrong, and I am right. I question if those nine people are really agreeing or just saying yes because they don't want to disagree.

It's like when even a shoe-shining person is telling you to buy bitcoin, then you should stop and think about why everyone is saying the same thing. (note; I cannot remember the original quote, but a famous businessman said this, I think.)

Now being a lockdown and not being able to do the in-person class for a while, I am glad I don't have high rent expense every month. It is helping me stay alive.

Takeaway: Just because everyone else is doing you don't have to do the same. You can always stop and evaluate before making a decision.

Cut down the cost that will not benefit your client directly

Just like owing to the venue, my mind was set to have a nice-looking office when I started a business. I thought starting a business automatically meant renting an office because that was what everyone else was doing. Business without a physical office, I thought, lacked credibility.

I was afraid I would never get a client if it weren't for the office. After all, I was tired of finding a nice quiet café with WIFI access.

Back then when I started, sometimes, I couldn't afford a cup of coffee, so I had to go to public libraries, which had time limit on how long I could use WIFI. I even use the hotel lobbies and lounges, Union Square in San Francisco, wherever offered free public WIFI.

But then, I started to realize something.

All the communication was done via email and phone calls, mostly emails. I rarely met my clients until the day of the event. I had an occasional onsite visit to their office to check their room is ok for to host the sushi class. None of the clients ever asked if they could meet in our office. They would never know if I talked to them at my office, my home, in San Francisco or in Tokyo. It was not their concern. What mattered to them was what we offered, and we could deliver what was promised.

I realized there was no need for me to have a physical office because:

a. There is no need to have one

b. Having an office would never benefit our clients

To this day, Breakthrough Sushi doesn't have a physical office. Our business is registered in San Francisco using the mailbox service. We do have a physical storage location (not registered) for our equipment. I am now planning to have it convert to a live-streaming kitchen for the online sushi classes.

Sure, I did have one prospect hang up the phone after saying, "Are you talking to me on your cell phone? Don't you have a landline and an office?" That was nine years ago.

Now, co-working space like WeWork (I use it too), the remote work and zoom meeting are becoming the new norm, people's perception is changing.

Finally, the rest of the world is catching up with something I have been doing for the past decade.

Takeaway: Can you examine and reduce, or eliminate your company expenses that do not benefit your client directly?

On-call and remote staff

It would have been nice to have full-time staff so that I could work with the same crew at every event so that I don't have to train the new staff. But I couldn't afford full-time staff because our revenue was unstable.

Like catering, Breakthrough Sushi is an event company. Since the company was new, we did not have a steady flow of bookings. Just because we did ten events in one month, there was no guarantee we would be doing the same the following month. Over the years, I found out there is a basic booking pattern, but our bookings are random – different every year, every month.

I had no choice but to hire on-call staff because I couldn't afford full-time staff even if I wanted to.

Luckily, this worked out better for the company now during the pandemic to keep our overhead costs down.

Our part-time events coordinator is remote. So are HR admin, social media marketer, and our lawyer. I met, interviewed them online before the pandemic using such a platform as Upwork to find them.

All the decision was based on the lack of funding, but, it worked out to be my advantage because it forced me to be creative.

Takeaway: Lack of financial resources is an opportunity in disguise. Use it to come up with creative ideas to run your business.





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