This is the story of how Couldi Beyou began her journey of being self-employed.
Couldi Beyou's head was spinning.
She'd had her first taste of business success over the last few weekends. Now she wanted more.
She struggled to concentrate on her boring day job as she imagined how her life might change if she could make a business out of this. Whatever happened, it was going to be such an exciting adventure!
As she kept perfecting her concept over the weekends, Couldi tried to figure out how big this could get if she expanded the business, and involved other people. Maybe she could open multiple shops around town, or even spread throughout the entire country! She didn't have the money to pay a shop's rent or employ any staff yet, but she wasn't going to let that stop her.
Couldi was tempted to think this was all about her own ability to roast an amazing zucchini, but she realised that this was her ego talking. Perhaps she could distil her wisdom down to some key steps, and show some potential staff how it's done . Perhaps she could look at employing some university students to do this, as surely this would help keep the cost of wages to a minimum?
What she needed first was a proof of concept. If she could teach someone else to cook and sell the zucchinis just right, and the happy customers kept returning, she should be able to bring in enough money to pay their wages. This would free her up to work on developing her business. If she could do that and still put a bit of profit into her pocket, then she knew she'd be on to something.
Couldi hesitated. It seemed a little risky to think about sharing her secrets with others. Wouldn't it ruin her business? She hoped not. In fact, she thought, so far no one had asked how she did it. They were simply happy walking up, handing over some money, and eating the delicious food.
Still, she wanted to protect her idea, and really work on what would make her business unique. She thought that perhaps it would be a good opportunity to show young people how to eat healthily and still make money at the same time. If she could put her knowledge of health, vegetables, physics, chemistry and timing to work, and perhaps consult some nutrition experts, she was sure she could make a difference in the community, while making a profit and doing something good.
Couldi tracked down a nutritionist, who helped her figure out a balanced approach to the vegetabular diet. It quickly became apparent that the right answer was not to just eat zucchini all the time, but to have various combinations of vegetables and some other bits and pieces. Couldi used her own culinary wizardry to trial various flavours and cooking styles at the weekend market, to figure out what would work, and after a couple of months she had developed a lovely selection of vegetable combinations that were delicious yet healthy and easy to eat on the go.
To streamline the business, Couldi decided to do a set menu each day. If you came in on a Monday, you'd get a particular delicious dish. On Tuesday there was a different one, and so on. And to stay true to her grass roots, you could come to her store any day and still be able to get yourself an amazing fire-pit zucchini flambé.
Next, Couldi needed to develop a memorable and appealing brand. She had a friend, Mandy, who was a freelance graphic designer and was looking for work. Once Couldi had finished using her weekend profits to pay the nutritionist for their valuable expertise, she decided to approach Mandy to get her to help make the business look really good. Mandy was only too happy to get involved. She was already hooked on the fire-pit zucchini flambé, and was excited to get involved!
After a couple of weeks, Mandy had come up with an amazing logo, general branding, and some flyers with the nutritional information about the various products available. Before too long, they had the whole concept ready to go.
This was all an exciting learning curve for Couldi, and she couldn't wait to scale things up.
"Now," she said to Mandy. "The next thing I need to do is teach someone else how to cook and sell the food. I need to extract myself from the process, otherwise we'll always be limited to whatever I can cook on my own and I don't want that."
"Well, I can help you" said Mandy. "It's hard to find consistent design work these days, so I'd love a regular wage."
"Alright, let's try this out then!" said Couldi. So they agreed on an hourly figure that still allowed Couldi to make a profit and shook hands
"Agreed. Whatever you can do sounds great. Let's have some fun."
Over the next four weekends, Couldi showed Mandy all the intricate details of how she cooked the food, and her techniques and equipment that made the finished product reliable and delicious. Mandy struggled at first, not knowing much about cooking at this level, but as Couldi instructed her, she gradually learnt how to cook the perfect fire-pit zucchini flambé, and then one by one, the other vegetabular delights as well.
Couldi started making notes about which particular skills needed to be taught to future employees. In the end, she realised that even if Mandy didn't understand why the technique worked, she could still acheive the right results. In the end, Mandy was cooking great food, and Couldi was able to write an instruction manual which Mandy could use to train future staff.
This was revelatory for Couldi. It was exactly what she'd been trying to achieve. Couldi had already shown Mandy how to run the shop, and she was able to do it without Couldi around. Therefore it was possible, in theory, for Couldi to work on her business from home, while still paying Mandy and making a profit. That had been an important step, but was it really true that without Couldi even being there, Mandy could now show another person how to run the business? There was only one way to find out!
As luck would have it, Couldi's neighbour Billy decided to come and buy a zucchini that very afternoon.
"These Zukes are great!" he said to Mandy. "Can I have another one to take home?"
"Zukes, eh? Hmmm, that's it! Hey Couldi!" said Mandy. "We could call the shop Zuke!"
"Brilliant! I want the credit!" chimed in Billy.
"How about a weekend job instead?" said Couldi. "Mandy could teach you everything you need to know. We could even open up a shop!"
"I'm happy with the amount of work I already have, thanks" said Billy. "But my son Bob just started university and is definitely looking for a weekend job".
"Done. Bring him along next Sunday and we'll show him the ropes. We're thinking of opening a store, so if he can show us that he can do it, he can have as much work as he wants!"
The next weekend, Couldi made it clear to Mandy that the important thing now was to use the opportunity of teaching Bob to trial their new instruction manual. Mandy was to give Bob the manual as a reference, and then go through it step by step and show him how to cook.
It worked really well. Bob was keen to learn how to cook healthy food, and Mandy knew enough to show him step by step how to do it. Now that Mandy was so experienced, she was actually able to get Bob to the point where he was cooking on his own in only two Sundays.
Couldi was impressed with how things were going. She now had a business concept where other people could teach someone how to run it, and the market store was still managing to make a small profit. When Bob and Mandy worked together they were able to cook and sell a fair bit more than when Couldi had worked on her own, which was helped along by the fact that word had spread and people were returning regularly to Zuke for their veggie fix.
Couldi wondered what the next step was, and decided that it was time to try opening a permanent shop in a busy location. That way they'd be able to see if they could sell enough zucchinis to pay the rent and still make a profit.
Couldi was still working her boring day job, so she wasn't too worried about her own finances. She just needed to see if they could put Zuke in a permanent shopfront and make more income than their expenses. Couldi had some leave up her sleeve at work, so she could take some time to set up the shop with Mandy, and then Bob would be able to help out during the busy times or when Mandy needed a day off.
"Mandy, I think it's time to open a shop and see if this really works" said Couldi one Sunday.
"Wow, we could put up a big sign, put the flyers in a little stand and get a proper kitchen up and running!" said Mandy.
The decision had been made.
While they started looking for a place to set up shop, they set about figuring out their business structure. Couldi was adamant that she needed to be heavily involved at the start. She needed to learn how to open a shop, as she would need that skill again later. On the other hand, the important thing for Mandy to do was run the shop, do most of the work on an ongoing basis, and get Bob's help when she needed it. Mandy agreed to receive a relatively low wage of $2,500 a month in exchange for also having part ownership of the shop. This meant Mandy would receive a portion of the profits - a strong incentive to work hard and make sure the business was a success!
Luckily for the budding entrepreneurs, a florist at Couldi's local shopping centre was closing down. The premises faced out to the car park and the street beyond - a good location. The shop was small but Mandy could keep her supplies inside and then cook and sell from the trailer out the front. Couldi spoke to centre management at the shopping centre to see how much the rent would be to use the premises.
They discussed numbers, but Couldi didn't have enough money to pay just yet. She needed to make sure the store would be profitable before committing to a long term rent contract. After a bit of back and forth, they negotiated a deal. In a month, they would open the first Zuke store. They wouldn't have to pay the rent for the first three months while they proved the concept. At the four-month mark, if they stayed on, they would begin to pay $2,500 a month in rent on a 12 month contract. Either way, at that point they would also have to start paying back the first three months of rent that they owed. Between the two of them, this didn't seem like a particularly big burden to take on, given the opportunity they were making for themselves. But this was the moment of truth, to see if Couldi and her small team could make this work. Exciting times lay ahead!
As Couldi was still working in her normal job, it was easy for her to get her mortgage broker to sort out a small personal loan. They used the money to fit out the new shop, as well as getting some more kitchen equipment to make their processes a bit smoother. Couldi and Mandy agreed that the business would pay back the loan out of its profits.
Excited, they got stuck into making their variety of vegetabular delights and educating the community about healthy eating.
After a few months, it was clear that they could bring in about $200 profit per day during the weekdays, and $500 on Saturdays. So that was $1,500 for the week, after wages, stock and so forth had been paid.
"I'm tempted to multiply this $1,500 figure by 4 to figure out what the monthly average is," Couldi said to Mandy.
"What's wrong with doing that?" Mandy asked.
"Well, that would give us $6,000. But to work it out correctly, I need to multiply $1,500 by 52 weeks in year, then divide by 12 months, which gets me $6,500. There are more than 4 weeks in a month, you see."
"I see. How do you know so much about calculating budgets?" Mandy asked.
"Well, you have to do these things properly when you're in business," Couldi replied.
Indeed, when she followed the same line of reasoning, the expenses were $2,500 a month of wages to Mandy, plus another $1,000 to Bob for the various shifts he was doing, as well as the $2,500 of rent they were going to have to start paying. That took their total expenses to $6,000 a month. But given their average monthly income was $6,500, that should mean a $500 profit! It didn't sound like much, but in theory they should be able to keep making that profit without Couldi having to work there. Couldi was free to concentrate on developing the business!
"If I could get the shop to $2,000 a month of profit, and make ten shops, that's $20,000 a month of profit, without me having to do the cooking!" thought Couldi to herself.
So, as time passed, word got around, flyers were handed out, and sure enough, sales started to improve further. Six months later the shop was making $2,000 a month of profit and they had almost finished paying off their personal loan. That meant that not only was Mandy getting her $2,500 wage, but she was also receiving her share of the profit.
Meanwhile, Couldi was saving up her share of the profit so she could open another shop without having to borrow any money.
It was time to find some more staff, and another good location for a second Zuke shop.
Couldi set her next goal: opening three shops, taking her share of the profits from each one, so that she could pay herself a full time wage.. If she could do that, then she could quit her job and focus fulltime on the business.
After another 12 months she achieved this goal, so she set another one: setting herself up with a good, long term sustainable income from the business so that she could have a healthy retirement, at the same time as taking the opportunity to really get the message about healthy eating out there.
After six years of hard work, Couldi Beyou was the part owner of a franchised chain of Zuke shops, making a fantastic living from her share of the profits of each shop. Her franchisees, the shop owners, were really happy with their own income too. All in all, Couldi could see that she had built a successful business that was making a positive contribution to the world, which was really satisfying.
Best of all, it was happening without her having to work 9 to 5. She was simply managing things, having the occasional meeting with a business partner and making sure the business continued to grow. She loved the lifestyle, and decided to keep making the most of it. But soon she wanted to start really reaping the benefits. She wanted to travel. She wanted to be able to take three months off at a time, and come back to see the business still growing. So her next goal was to replace herself as the manager.
Over the course of the next 12 months, she started working with Mandy on a deal that would see her highly motivated to take over operations. She would receive some shares in the business, and a higher salary for running it in Couldi's absence.
At the end of that year, Couldi put her work to the test. She took a lovely month long holiday, switched off all communication, and the business was free to run without her. It made her a bit nervous at first, but she knew she needed to take the leap of faith in herself and her staff. Sure enough, when she returned, she was delighted to find that there were only two issues that needed her attention. When she analysed them, she discovered this was only because she hadn't given Mandy permission to assume responsibility for these sorts of things. After a quick discussion, those problems were solved, and the business had reached its zenith: Couldi's retirement plan was now in action. She could pay attention to her business whenever she liked, but it would run fine without her.
Couldi successfully ran the business like this for another 20 years, saving a good chunk of the profits she received, and living on the rest. By the 20 year mark, she was healthy, happy, unstressed and had a huge amount of savings in her bank account that she knew would take care of her for the rest of her life. By this stage, Mandy was very happy to buy the rest of the business from her (and had been waiting for this exciting moment for so long!), so they set up a vendor finance arrangement. This meant that instead of Mandy having to come up with a large sum of money, she could pay Couldi the purchase price over a period of five years.
Everyone, of course, lived happily ever after!
Now, an earlier option that Couldi would have had access to, if things had still been going well but she'd wanted to still exit the business, is to offer to sell the entire business to her manager, rather than just part of it. The business wasn't worth as much back then, but it still had a significant value, and Couldi would have been able to receive all the money over the proceeding five years by vendor finance. In the end, Couldi had structured things well enough that continuing to own the business seemed like a far better option: why sell the business if it's doing well, growing, not costing her 60 hours a week of blood sweat and tears, and is paying her a significant profit? Well, the main reason would be that perhaps she wanted to bank a large amount of money, perhaps she had bigger plans for that sum. These are the decisions a business owner can be faced with, and there are many different ways to achieve these desired outcomes.
In Couldi's case, she had made good decisions all along, which allowed the business to function without her needing to put in the hard work on an ongoing basis. This kept her free to operate at the highest level, and it also meant that when she left, the business was still fine.
If you're building a business, a great question to ask yourself is how to make the business function without you. If you can achieve such a thing, you create a wealth of options for yourself.