A Lesson in Budgeting: There will probably Never be Enough Money (so get creative)
I knew that I didn't have much money to open Amethyst, and while we certainly continue to have some hairy financial moments, on the whole I feel good about my decisions. I realized pretty quickly when we were building out that I was going to need to prioritize things in order for Amethyst to be functional, if not exactly what I wanted it to be.
Here's what I decided on, in order of importance:
- Set up all legal filings (LLC, filed articles, bank account set up, city and state fees and filings, aka anything that was going to make us a viable business in the eyes of the American Government came first)
- Machinery (new espresso machine, hot water tower, batch brewer, kettles, fridges, water filtration system, and running plumbing and electric. Commonwealth Coffee and Cafe Fixe in Boston helped us out immensely with all of these things)
- Build out (bar design, material, furniture, overall decor)
- Opening Inventory/Operating Money
- Money for paying people (myself included)**
There's obviously some flaws in that list, and I'll be the first to tell you that things did not at all happen how I thought they might.
As far as prioritizing legal fees and such, I still feel great about that. We had a Colorado lawyer set up our LLC and file articles with the State so I knew that everything was done correctly. I had never done this before and was happy to pay for peace of mind.
The thing that came out of left field for me was branding. I got the name of a company called The Whistler and the Well (firstname.lastname@example.org) and shot off an email. I answered their questionnaire and then we met at their studio. They asked me all sorts of questions I wasn't anticipating, and all were based in emotion and not aesthetics. They made me remember and really articulate why I love what I do and why I wanted Amethyst to exist and flourish. The process of opening a business can be a little soul-sucking. You're often just a number on a page or in a queue at the city office. You're just a client who pays $200/hour for legal services. 'Don't ask too many questions, you'll get billed for that,' my lawyer told me. It was so refreshing to be in a room with inspired and creative people who wanted to build something great just as much as I did. That's why, when it came time to talk about pricing, there was no doubt in my mind that this was worth paying for.
This meant that other things had to go, so I started scouring craigslist. I found a lowboy fridge that some guy's mom had used at a TCBY ice cream franchise that he was selling for $350. I went out there to get it and he goes 'Did you bring anyone with you...?' When my answer was no, we proceeded to carry the thing up his basement steps, through his house, and lift it into my car. That fridge continues to serve us well and it was maybe the best $350 I've ever spent. I realized pretty quickly that it would not be enough space, so back to craigslist I went. I found a woman selling a normal home fridge for $50 and borrowed my fiancé's pickup truck to go get it. Of course, as I started driving a GIANT blizzard hit Denver so this poor woman selling this fridge had to help me load it into the back of a pickup in a white-out blizzard. I strapped it down and drove the 30miles back to Amethyst at about 15MPH with my flashers on. I had never really driven a pickup truck before and forgot to think about how light the back is compared to the front. When I got to Amethyst it was about 7:30pm the parking lot was completely snowy and there were two men there shoveling. They helped me get the fridge off of the truck and into our storage area, so I bought them dinner from across the street. This turned our opening fridge budget into $400 (plus the $30 for dinner), with the rest of the money that was budgeted going straight toward branding. Voila! We've been open for 2 years and we just got rid of that second fridge and upgraded the lowboy to a 2-door and moved the small one to our storage area, and I can never quite express how happy I am with our branding.
When I look back at pictures of how Amethyst looked on opening day I'm always shocked. It looked so empty and sterile, and so not how I had intended it to look. It's grown and filled in so much in the past two years, and it's been really fun to share that process with my staff and with our regulars.
I guess what I'm ultimately saying is that it's okay if it's not a glamorous process and it's okay if it's not 'perfect' right away. You have to have an open mind and be willing to compromise on some things to make it work, but you CAN make it work. Get creative, look for solutions, and really nail down what adds value to your business.
I probably should have gotten MORE creative and figured out how to save some more money to pay myself better in the beginning but, hey, there's always next time ;)
**(You'll notice I don't mention 'rent' anywhere on that list, and that's obviously quite the expense. Lease terms are private and should be outlined by you and your landlord, but remember that people don't put their best offer on the table at first and the worst thing someone can say to you when you ask for something is 'no'.)
Photo by Paula Klimas