Lessons To Learn From A Sinking Ship

As many millennials before me, I moved back in with my parents after college. Facing some post-graduate exhaustion, I got a job at a bakery. This bakery was special, however: it was created as a community space, where they offered classes on financial intelligence, art, spirituality, and more. In the haze of my burnout from school, I was grateful for a job that could combine my love of people and my desire to contribute to my community. It seemed like a great organization and a perfect fit.

The longer I worked there, however, the more quickly I realized how poorly the business was run. Even with the best intentions, if you don’t have a clear voice and solid procedures in place, your business has a high chance of failing. Eventually, I grew tired of the disorganization and quit – with the business going under almost three weeks after I left. Although it was a messy organization, I came out with a better understanding of what works – and what doesn’t – in a small business. Here are my top 3 lessons on what you can learn from a sinking ship:

1. KISS – Keep it simple, stupid

Having a strong understanding of who you are and what you do is critical for customers to know what to expect from you. The bakery strove to not only serve treats and coffee, but also offer courses on financial planning and investing. The name that hung on the front of the cafe was long and confusing – more often than not, I’d have customers walk in and ask what we offered, and confusion about the space overall. Curiosity is one thing, but an overall lack of clarity is something else entirely. Making sure your message is not only clear, but concise is crucial in customers being able to understand and take advantage of everything your organization has to offer.

2. Unify your leadership

Making sure your leadership team is all on the same page is crucial in maintaining an organized, functional system. The bakery had three owners, and at the time of being hired, I was warned that sometimes the owners had a differing opinion on how to manage the business. I thought this was an overstatement, but I should have listened to what they told me! Things the staff were told to do one way by management would be completely chastised by the owners the next. Management would gossip with staff about how the owners were inconsistent, unclear, and at odds with each other. Eventually, the staff stopped caring if things were done correctly according to the owner’s desires or not because no one knew what those desires were. To make sure staff has a clear idea about policies in place, as well as ensuring a comfortable working environment for all, unifying your ideas – between business owners, and also management – is critical in ensuring the success of your business.

3. Check in with your costs often – before they get out of hand

Making sure your business costs don’t get too out of control is critical in ensuring the future success for your business. When I was first hired, I was told that the owners were still in debt from startup costs – 3 years prior. Later on, I was told the bakery wasn’t breaking even. This confused me, considering the high quality of ingredients and the frequency in which we had to throw things away. Why hadn’t there been some sort of overhaul of expenses by now? When the business finally shut down, they created a GoFundMe and I learned that they were over 100,000 in debt from costs associated with the business. Checking in on your business frequently, making sure costs are used efficiently, and knowing when to cut back helps you not end up like the bakery.

Unfortunately, the bakery is no longer open. With a few adjustments, perhaps they could have saved their business. Right now, you still can if you’re struggling with these tips!

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