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Business & Marriage

Photo by:  Stacy Jacobsen

Photo by: Stacy Jacobsen

It's been a little over 4 years that my wife and I have been married and a little over 11 years that we've been together. Owning your own business, you tend to talk about numbers a lot, well those numbers are the ones I like to brag about most. We've owned UXC for 3 years now and what a ride it has been. We've had up's and down's and the expression "we've put our blood, sweat, and tears" into our business, couldn't be more true. But we also add a different dynamic that not all business owners have to deal with. Unlike most marriages, we work side-by-side FULL-TIME in the workplace. We drive to work together and come home together.  Majority of any given day, we are with each other most of the day.  In this post, I'd like to give you my perspective of running a business with your spouse and how it can effect your marriage.

In The Beginning, Things Were Looking Great...

In 2013, Brooke and I bought the business. We were officially business owners and it was the first thing Brooke and I ever OWNED together. It was a big moment. I remember the day we signed the papers, it was either use the money we had for a down payment for a home, or use it for a down payment for the business.  We took the risk, used MOST of our savings on the down payment, and signed off on a contract stating we will continue to pay off the business for the next 5 years with monthly payments to the previous owner, Brooke's mother Julie. In hindsight, we should've asked a few more questions inquiring about the financials of the business, but we were young and excited to sign the papers and start a new chapter in our lives. Lesson's learned literally from day 1. 

Brooke and I hit the ground running! We had the same vision for the store and we both wanted to get started right away. We started remodeling the shop, we started re-branding, we created new systems within the business, we starting throwing events that PACKED our shop and we never stopped. We loved what we were creating and enjoyed the new life of a business owner. You can basically call it our "Honeymoon Stage" because we were essentially blinded by the beautiful side of owning your own business and ignored some of the ugly parts such as: taxes, creating roles for each other, and being organized. So at first, if you asked us "How is it working together?", we'd say "Oh, we actually work really well together! We know it's not for everyone, but we love it!". Once again, so young, so naive..

After the first year of business, we brought sales up substantially, however, we goofed on our taxes and just wasn't quite as organized as we should've been.  So we paid for it. Literally. $15k later, the IRS was happy. So the second year we got a little bit more serious. I stepped into the accounting side of things and Brooke focused majority of her time on the front of the shop and inventory. After a while, I realized everything we weren't doing right and it turned the glamorous idea of owning a business, into the reality of what owning a business really looks like. It's a monster. A beast. That will tear your life a part unless you get your shit straight and contain it from exploding in your face. It's a 24/7 job, but that's what we signed up for but it took us a year to figure that out.

Reality Sets In

So how does this relate to our marriage? The first year and a half, Brooke and I were on cloud nine! Creating, meeting new people, doing what we love, setting our own schedule, and making good money (remember we goofed on our taxes so we had extra money). When I say good money, I mean, we paid ourselves every time. It wasn't a lot, but we never worried about not paying ourselves. Then reality set it in, and our business account slowly got lower and lower because now we were paying properly to our taxes. And now, the end of the month was super scary. Bills, bills, bills. I quoted my Aunt last week saying "when you buy a business, you are essentially buying a job", and it really started to feel like that towards the end of year two. 

Now with the stress level on a all-time high, those funny little jokes Brooke and I used to make to each other, weren't so funny anymore.  Just like any other husband, I was overly protective of our business money so I would constantly critique what Brooke was buying or spending. And come on fellas, we all know that critiquing our wives isn't the easiest thing to do, let alone critiquing her on her job. Needless to say, I've received many "eye-rolls" and cold shoulders. The store has always been able to pay for itself, i.e. bills, employees, inventory. However, there are times we don't get paid, so you can imagine after working a long and hard month and NOT getting paid, well both of us are on edge.  But for most marriages, or business partners, work is separate from the other, so when you go home, it's a breath of fresh air. Not in our case. Work never stops. Whether we are shooting emails out, making an Instagram post, going through the bank statements, etc. Work is constantly on our minds, especially when we have our own bills to pay.

What Have We Learned?

So let's get one thing straight, Brooke and I have a GREAT marriage! Obviously, we have our ups and downs just like everyone else, but I married my best friend and get to go through life with her! I couldn't ask for anything more! I just want to paint you an honest picture of what working with your spouse could be like. Obviously it's not the same for everyone, this is just our experience. And in our experience, we've learned a few things:

1. I miss hearing about her day!

Sounds cheesy but its true. Since we spend every day together working and outside of work, we never have stories to tell each other. Even if she goes off and gets coffee from Bluebeard I'm like "Soooo how was Bluebeard? Tell me EVERYTHING!". I want her to have a life separate from me, as I want to have a life separate from her. Not to sound like a dick, but it's true. She gets it. I look forward to the day that I get to hear her stories on a daily basis.

2. Roles Are Extremely Important

Creating separate roles for each other is crucial.  If you can make it to where you can preform those roles actually separate, even better. Obviously, you're going to have to work with each other, but make sure you give yourself some space. I know Brooke LOVES being able to spend her Monday's shopping for the store without me. I don't think that's a bad thing. It's actually GREAT for us. As long as the work load is even and your both being productive without annoying the other, well then my friend, you found the secret to success!

3. Working Together Means Single Income

For us, this is a huge factor. Yes, we've grown our business substantially. Our following has only increased since we've taken over and, knocking on wood, UXC will be going into it's 12th year in business in 2017. Outside looking in, we are killing it and we must be financially stable. Here's the thing, most small business owners in Tacoma, at least that I know, all have a second form of income. Majority of them either have a spouse bringing in an income or their business operates without them as they work their other job. This is how UXC was able to survive before we took over. But now that Brooke and I work their full-time, we essentially need it to afford a full-time salary for both of us. However, I don't believe it will ever get to that point, and as you can imagine finances are always tight for us. Don't get me wrong, I'm not complaining, I know everyone is financially tight. I'm just saying that the whole reason of us buying the store was to work together and do this full-time. So the idea of one of us stepping away and getting another job to help supplement our income, well it's just something that we haven't thought about for the last 3 years. We are more than willing, it would just be a huge change for us.

Next Chapter

So here we are. I'm sitting at my dining table typing this, in hopes of a few things:

1. I want to turn this into a potential consulting position for myself or for a company to see what I'm doing, like what I'm doing, and just want to pick me up full-time. That way we aren't relying on a single income.

2. I want to be able to relieve Brooke from having to be at the shop all the time.  Though she's typically only there five days a week, I want her to be able to take a day off when she wants or to be able to get back into her styling career without worrying about how it effects us financially. But as of right now, we can't afford her not to be at the shop.

In the end, I want to work with other creatives and utilize my skill set to help grow their businesses. All the while, being able to financially provide a second income for Brooke and I so that she can step out the box a little to utilize her skill sets as well. The "American Dream" right? I'm sick of dreaming. I want to turn that "dream" into REALITY.  Until then, I'll be documenting the process. 

What's The Light At The End Of The Tunnel?

Hearing about Brooke's day on a daily basis.

 

Cheers,

Nicholas Casanova

 

P.S. Love ya boo!

 

 

The Realities of An Entrepreneurial Life

You: "How's the store going Nick?"

Me: "Ok, not crazy busy. I'm just tired and it seems like were constantly on the grind."

You: "Well, you can't complain too much because you get to set your own schedule!"

Me: "Uhhhhh"

Ok, so today I want to talk about the realities of being an entrepreneur. What does it really look like to own your own business? I feel that most people have this glamorous idea that if you own a business, you must have a lot of money and you probably have a lot of free time to do whatever you want.  I mean, it's your business, you can set your own schedule right?  My aunt Debbie, who has owned numerous of businesses and currently owns Martin Henry Coffee Roasters, said it best: "When you buy a business or start a new one, your not just buying a business, but your buying a JOB.".  You're literally paying money to work. It's insane. With that said, I'd like to make a CONS & PROS list for you focusing on what it is like to be an entrepreneur. Seems elementary but its actually very smart and to the point so listen up. 

CONS

FINANCIALLY:

The day you decide to own your own business, is the same day your wallet decided to hate money.  As soon as you put money in it, it just pukes it right out and gives it away.  You are financially invested in this new adventure of yours.  Those full-time perks you used to have working for COSTCO, see ya later!  Your financial stability is based on your businesses financial success.  If the business has a good month, then you get paid!  If it's a slow month, then you don't get paid. However, your still working the same amount if not more, but yeah your not getting paid at the end of the month.

 

TIME:

Having your own business is like having a baby. In the first few years it needs your full attention. You barely can leave its side. If there are any issues you have to take care of it immediately . Sometimes you have someone else watch your business but they don't know what there doing so you have to fire them.  I can go on and on but I won't.  Owning your own business you will find that it's extremely time consuming.  Even when you're not working, you take it home with you.  Whether that's legit working from home or just mentally thinking/stressing about the business.  The "9 to 5" work day doesn't really exist in this world because its just the moment you wake up until the moment you go to sleep.  Oh and sometimes there's no time for sleep...

 

LIABILITY:

As a business owner, you are liable for your customers,  your employees, your space (if brick & mortar), your product, not to mention financial liabilities. The liability risk alone is enough to scare some people away from owning your own business.  If an employee get's hurt while they are on the clock, well now its a claim with L & I and you pray they don't raise your rates.  If a customer walks in, slips and falls and cracks their head, well in that case, you will be dealing with a mess of paperwork, if not, a lawsuit. The liability is high and its all on you.  Either accept it or throw in the white flag.

 

NO GUARANTEES: 

When you own your own business, there are so many factors that are up in the air.  For example: Will I get paid? Will people buy my product/service? Will my marketing pay off? Will people come into my shop today? Will I have enough money to pay for new inventory let alone bills? With my business (uxctacoma) there are times when we have to stop buying inventory because sales have been low. Or, if we've been swamped with buying inventory and need to slow down. Unlike other businesses, we can't put our inventory on a credit card, its all cash bases.  But we can't predict if we're going to have a busy week and we are not a big enough "company" where the product sells itself. We have to work our asses off to make sure we get people in the door, but there's no guarantee they will. On a weekly bases I think to myself "I hope we get paid next week..". Shit's real. NO GUARANTEES. Work harder than you think you have to.

 

FAILURE:

The biggest risk of all.  Failure. You have to understand going into a small business that the chances of you failing is real.  However, a little over half of new businesses survive 5 years or more and about one-third survive 10 years or more (U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics).  So succeeding is possible but not guaranteed. Typically, with failure comes debt, out of a job, your ego/pride is thrashed, and any plans you had for the future is put on pause until you find some steady income. Though failing can be great life lessons, it still hurts like hell.

 

Ok now that we've discussed some of the lame stuff about owning a business, let's chat about some of the perks that come with it. Grab a beer or cocktail, get comfortable, let's lighten up the mood a little  :)

 

PROS

FLEXIBILITY: 

Yes, when you own your own business, you are a slave to that business.  No more "9 to 5". However, if you're having a rough day and feel like you need to cruise to the pub next door for a pint, no one is stopping you. If you want to go on a quick trip to Portland for the weekend with your beautiful wife, well then do it.  Shoot, if you wanted to be CLOSED for the Seahawks game on a Sunday, more to ya! You literally can do whatever you want! However, here's the catch, it's going to cost you. "Regular" people get to go on vacation and sometimes get paid for it, NOT YOU.  You have to be able to afford your vacation, plus the cost of you being gone.  If you want to close for the Seahawks game, then great, BUT, you might be out the typical $500-$750 in revenue that you typically make on a Sunday.  So yes, as a business owner, you do have flexibility, but its always at a cost.  Your "free-time" is no longer "free".

 

CONTROL:

Not everyone knows this, but before I decided to jump into this entrepreneurial gig, I worked full-time for the Greater Seattle YMCA for about 7 years.  I helped manage before and after school programs & summer camps from Shoreline to Auburn.  Good times.  To make a long story short, when you have 2 or 3 people above you, the amount of "control" you have is ZERO. With the Y, there is a template for everything, down to your email signature, your newsletters, and the "curriculum".  I wasn't able to expand outside of their small box.  When you own your own business, you are the ruler of all.  What you say goes. Not to sound like a douche, but it's true. When we took over the store, I had this new creative outlet that I was just thriving with and soaking it all up. I just did every idea that came to me, cause I could. Now I've learned to tone it down a bit and really curate my ideas, but nonetheless, I do whatever the hell I want and I love it.

 

NETWORK:

This is one of my favorite aspects of owning my own business.  Because of UXC, I've been able to meet some really rad people! Whether it's the new people we meet everyday that come into our shop, or when I'm cruising other stores around the area, I'll use my shop as a conversation starter. Just yesterday I was in Dry Goods Design in Seattle and mentioned to the owner how I envied how neat it was in her shop! I just told her that I owned a vintage clothing store in Tacoma and it can tend to get messy. I believe the more creative people you surround yourself with, the more resources you will have when you might need their services.  Or even better, I love to have them as a resource so that I can refer people to them. I think the idea of networking to build your contact list is a joke. Stop collecting business cards and start sending people work. I want to network so that I always have a solution for a potential client or a friend. If I can't get the job done, I sure as hell know who CAN and will connect you with them.

 

EXPERIENCE:

Don't get me wrong, going to business school and getting that degree is extremely hard and anyone who has done that I raise my glass to you. However, the experience of owning your own business just isn't comparable by a long shot.  I think what I learned in the first 2 years owning my business, is the equivalent of a 4 year degree.  But in those 2 years I'm learning about marketing, accounting, web design, photography, social media techniques, community outreach, etc. I'm not just studying one thing for 4+ years in hopes that I remember it all when I interview for that job that isn't hiring right out of college. I learn as I go, and then move on, and learn some more. I feel if I ever stepped back into the "W-2" world and worked for someone else, I'd be the best employee. No joke, I actually feel this way. Not just because of my work ethic and my creative thinking/problem solving, but because I KNOW WHAT MY EMPLOYER HAS AT STAKE. I know that if I don't produce, my boss might not get paid.  I know the bills he has to pay. I know, if he hired me, I'm not cheap, so payroll is probably high. So I'm going to work my ass off so that when payroll comes around or rent is due, he's not stressing because I'm producing solid numbers. Or if I'm not producing solid numbers, then I'm happy to walk away because I'd hate for someone to lose money because I wasn't qualified for the job. The EXPERIENCE is worth so much and with each year that goes by I just feel more confidant as an entrepreneur.

 

DO WHAT YOU LOVE:

In the end, being an entrepreneur allows you to attempt to do something you genuinely LOVE to do. That's not to say you have to be an entrepreneur to love what you do, but there's a difference from loving your sales job at Nordstrom and creating Nordstrom. Entrepreneurs put EVERYTHING on the line for the passion and their "love of the game"! It's a risk, we all signed up for it, but damn, it's an exciting ride! It has it's ups and downs but with every punch, we take it. Gary Vaynerchuk says it best, "I am built to get punched in the mouth. I'll spit my front tooth out, look right back at you and be like: NOW WHAT BITCH?"!

 

So there you have it folks. My two cents for what it's worth. I hope this was informative or at the very least entertaining. Again, I can't reiterate enough that I want to start a dialogue about all of this! So if you read this and have questions or comments you want to add, CONTACT ME! Just go to the contact page and let's make it happen!

Stop thinking about being an entrepreneur, just be one! The journey alone is worth it!

Cheers!

Nicholas Casanova

 

 

 

 

 

September 1st / 2013: Small Business Life Begins

9/1/2013: Super low res image but this is the first picture of Brooke and I officially becoming small business owners.  Celebrated with some bubbly!

9/1/2013: Super low res image but this is the first picture of Brooke and I officially becoming small business owners.  Celebrated with some bubbly!

As of September 1st 2013, Brooke and I were officially small business owners and now were full-time managing UrbanXChange (UXC).  The story behind how we got to that point is in the "About Me" page, if you haven't read it yet, give it a go.  However, this post isn't about how it felt to be a new business owner.  Instead, I'd like to jump into the nitty gritty details of what steps I should of taken before we jumped right in.  This goes out to all of you thinking about starting your own business.  Some of this information would have helped me, so I figure I can pass it along and hopefully save you a few steps or add a few more.  Remember, I didn't go to school for business or had any experience in it whatsoever.  So some of this might seem kind of "Business 101" sort of stuff.  But not everyone will have that experience going into it. With that said, here we go:

 

1.  First you have to ask yourself, or others, "Is there a need for my product or service?  Is there a market for it in my community or online?".

Too many times do I see a business open up around town and I am sort of caught off guard.  In the sense of, I look at it and see what the concept is and I say to myself: "Why?".  That doesn't mean that the product is bad, but you have to know your market and your audience in your area.  Your product might be stellar, but the customer who is most likely to purchase from you is 45 minutes up north in "Seattle".  So make sure you plant yourself in a community where there is a need for your product or service.  However, sometimes the product is bad and you just need a good friend to tell you that before you spend all this time and money and realize you set up shop in the wrong neighborhood.

Know your MARKET!

2.  This is where you sit down and figure out the "Nitty Gritty" (I say that with a 'Nacho Libre' voice).                                ****Now this is a step that I should have focused on more when we took over the business, so listen up--might be helpful. 

What's the "Nitty Gritty"?  I like to think of the "Nitty Gritty" as the ABSOLUTE OVERHEAD COSTS (monthly).  Oh and by no means am I using correct "business" terms ..remember the whole school thing. Basically you have to sit down before you ever open the doors to your business and calculate how much is it going to cost you to open those doors to your business.  For instance:

- Payroll (if you have employees)

- Personal Salary

- Inventory

- Operating Costs (i.e. paper bags, pens, hangers, etc.)

- Taxes (based off your sales)

- Rent/Utilities (if you're a brick & mortar).

Now most people won't put payroll and personal salary in the same category as the rest of those, but I like to base my numbers on every dollar leaving my bank account that month compared to the number of dollars coming in. Again, this is just me. Once you've totaled that up, and let's say it comes to about $12k a month (expenses), well now you know that just to open the doors it's going to cost you $12k.  That doesn't include marketing, travel, equipment, etc. The $12k is purely the number you have to make to survive.  But if you'd like to start doing Facebook Ads, or Instagram Promos, or flyers, well then you have to have a budget for that which increases the $12k of expenses. If you can pull in $12k or more per month, then your on to something.  Ideally, $15k-$20k will give you some solid profits at the end of the year.  But in the end, if all bills are paid, all employees are paid, YOU are paid, and there's a few thousand (or $400) left over in your business account on the 31st, then it's been a good month.

Know the "Nitty Gritty" details of your business before you have to write a $15k check to the I.R.S at the end of the year...

3. Are you an accountant?  No, so don't try to be one.

When we first took over, we didn't have an accountant right away.  We figured, we'd find one and once we did, they could magically make everything better (QuickBooks wise).  Well, we went through about 3 accountants in 2 years before we found the right one this past year (reach out to me if you need a referral).  We also paid an unbelievable amount for the first 2 years because we didn't know better, but we also weren't seeing any results. Another thing to keep in mind, your accountant should never be doing your bookkeeping as well.  That's like having your 8 year old create a spelling test for themselves and then asking them to grade it.  He's most likely going to get a B+ or higher.  Not that he's cheating, he just might miss a few uncrossed "T's" or undotted "i's" but with no one else checking, he's a genius.  So have an accountant for your taxes and a bookkeeper to enter in your daily sales/expenses to QuickBooks.  

With that said, interview numerous accountants/bookkeepers until you feel that you have found the one that understands YOUR business and that you personally like.  There's nothing more personal than your business, so don't bring anyone close to it that you don't genuinely mind being around.  Don't try to do it yourself unless your a fully qualified and confident and have the time to do it.

4. LOCATION, LOCATION, LOCATION

This won't take long.  

Do not skip out on the better location just because it's cheaper.  Do whatever it takes to get the best location.  There's a reason why its the best location.  Because people are there spending money.  Money you need.

5. Create, Strategies, & Execute

Now this is the final step, however maybe the most important step.  You see, you could have done the research and found that there is a market or a need for your business in the area.  You could have sat down and figured out your "Nitty Gritty" details of your business and have a clear idea of what your "absolute overhead" looks like.  You could have scored a great accounting team to help you with your books.  And maybe you looked out and found the best location for your business.  But now you have to perform.  This is where the real BUILDING begins.  You must create, strategize, & execute.

CREATE:

All this time you've had this vision of your business.  You know what kind of napkins you want for your restaurant.  You know you'd rather have wooden hangers instead of plastic hangers for your clothing store.  You want your Spanish coffee shop to smell like Spain.  All of these are visions and concepts, but nothing more until you actually create it.  Put the tables in, hammer the shelves into the wall.  Clean all the whiskey glasses and make sure the wine is ready for sipping.  You have to build out your experience.  You have to bring your vision to life.  Be VERY particular with every inch of your business, because your customers will be EXTREMELY particular.

STRATEGIZE:

Now that your vision has come to life, you have to put in strategies to make sure your business operates efficiently.  For example:

- How to operate the register

- How to greet customers

- How to deal with a split tender at payment

- How to best communicate with your team

- How to do scheduling

- How to deal with unruly customers

There are more "How to's", but I think you get my point.  You have to give your business the tools to be successful if you want it to grow.  Policies, procedures, routines, these are all great things to establish on day 1.  It is best to be over prepared when you open those doors then to be surprised when your employees don't know how to accept a cash and debit transaction for a $225 sale.  That would be a big sale to miss.  

Put together strategies to make your team and yourself more confident operating the business on a daily basis.

EXECUTE:

Now this is my favorite part.  This is when your coach just got done telling the entire locker room the most inspirational speech and he hands you the ball and says "Go get'em!".  This is when Jordan laces his shoes up and steps on the floor with the flue.  You've worked so hard to get to this point, NOTHING WILL STOP YOU.  All of your nights creating this vision, and strategies to implement for your business, comes down to the execution.  You could have the best bar in town, but if you just open the doors and sit and pray people will come in, well they won't.  You have to stick to the plan.  You have to execute all of the important procedures that you put in place.  You have to tell EVERYONE about what you created! Tell people about the organic napkins you used, connect with the local newspaper and let them know your open, have a grand-opening to tell the world "WE'RE HERE!".  

Just don't think all of your hard work is done just because you have a beautiful shop.  The work is just getting started but the more you execute the plans and strategies that you put in place, the more likely your business will benefit from it.

 

I hope this post was helpful to you.  Please, if you have any questions or additional ways one can be better prepared in starting a business, feel free to reach out to me! My number is in the contact page and you can send a message as well.  I'd like to start a dialogue with these posts so that everyone involved, including myself, can continue to learn how to be a better entrepreneur.  Now like I said, some of this might be "Business 101" stuff, but you'd be surprised how many "scholars" have closed their doors because their business was not prepared.  

 

Now, lace up your shoes and "Go get'em!".

Cheers,

Nicholas Casanova