I come from a long, proud line of people who never quite started their own business, despite their good intentions. Take my father, for example; a man of a million different phone app and product ideas who never exactly worked up the motivation to follow through.
For the longest time, I watched him bat around ideas for a restaurant he wanted to open, and while his menu and concept never quite had the focus it might have needed to succeed, it did inspire me to briefly consider my own.
At the time I had recently begun my first journey into vegetarianism, and inspired by a number of local restaurants that had begun to increase their vegetarian- and vegan-friendly options, I had pie-in-the-sky hopes of opening my own vegan/vegetarian restaurant, darn it! I’ll finally give all dozen-ish of us vegetarians living in southeast Michigan a place to call our very own!
Four months, a few dozen hours of research, and several calls to banks later, I’d just decided to chuck the whole thing and go back to work Monday morning like usual. But it doesn’t have to be the same for you! Here’s a few of the problems I ran into and how you might be able to get around them!
Have the time to devote to it
Much like many of you still are, or at least used to be, I’m a regular old working stiff with a 9-5. This did not leave me with a lot of time to locate funding, seek out locations, plan a menu, and so on.
About Money claims that it’s at least going to take 2-3 months alone to find a location, not counting time to renovate it – and that’s before you can even quit your job. If you’re serious about this, be prepared for it to take up a lot of your spare time.
Find the right location
Entrepreneur can put it better than I can, but a few of the biggest things you need to consider for a business are style of operation, type of business, and demographic.
Circumstances kind of prevented me from looking too far outside my little Metro Detroit neck of the woods, and the more population information I looked into, the more it seemed like a strictly vegan restaurant on Michigan’s east side might not be too long for the world.
And even if I got a location in Detroit proper, there were already a few established joints I’d have to contend with, which would just make things harder. Take it from me – try to settle on your area of operations first before you move too far into anything else.
The paperwork is as bad as you’ve heard
Sure, I was kind of doing it to myself considering I was opening a restaurant, but take it from me: the paperwork you’ll have to fill out as even a potential small business owner is mountainous at best.
There’s tax forms, there’s all kinds of land deeds and zoning regulations, there’s employee records, there’s all kinds of nonsense. And this goes for online businesses too. Even if you’re working from home, you’re going to have to get business licensing and register as a business with your city, state, and county. Speaking from experience, it isn’t fun.
Where is the money coming from?
I know, I know, I’m already a big sellout corporate drone by worrying about money instead of the people, but without money, you’re not going to be around too long.
There’s a ton of ways to get money out there – bank loans, small business financing places, even your friends and family (uhhh…not that I tried that) – but you need to know how you’re getting it first. How’s your credit? Do you have anything valuable you can put up for collateral?
Will you be able to go to a bank or do you want to find an independent private lender? Or maybe it’s finally time to sell all those old toys and video games, as I (briefly) considered. Speaking of money, actually…
How much do you need?
This is almost just as critical as where you’re going to get the money from, and from what I learned is probably something you should look into pretty early on in the process.
This is probably going to be hard information to come up with at first, depending on what you’re trying to open – these aren’t franchise locations with a set cost and investment, after all! – but it’s still going to be very much worth your while to do a little digging into your estimated upfront costs.
Speaking personally, I found it surprisingly difficult to find information on what I might need to spend to open a vegetarian restaurant (except for a brief guide written by a site called Credibly), so when working on my half-hearted attempt at a budget, I mostly relied on other estimates of independent restaurant costs.
Equipment and supplies
This ties in pretty closely with the last two steps, but depending on what your business is going to be, exactly, this should be a pretty major concern. Let’s take my poor imaginary restaurant as an example.
Sure, I had the general overhead: there’s ovens, kitchen implements, comfortable seating, maybe a few cheap flat-screen TVs (that I probably would’ve kept permanently tuned to Cartoon Network or something) to buy.
But you need to look at your specific business. In order to keep everything vegan-friendly I’d have had to buy special cooking implements to prevent cross-contamination with dairy or anything, special cooking oils not derived from animal products, etc etc.
And while it does mean I could have avoided the constant flux of meat prices, the sheer number of less-common (and thus more expensive) ingredients would have set my operating costs a little higher than the average diner, and was a big contributing factor to me changing my mind about the whole operation.
Look, this might have all sounded a little…defeated, but all hope is not lost! There’s a Chinese proverb that explains “to know the road ahead, ask those coming back – and that’s me in this case. I learned these lessons a little too late, but if you keep all this in mind while you plan your own small business, you’ll probably do pretty well for yourself. Better than I did, at least.
This was was written by Tim Allen (yes, that is his real name). Tim is a freelance writer based out of Detroit. He primarily writes about the issues facing small business owners in America today and has contributed to sites like Green Capital, Yellowstone Capital, and RabidOfficeMonkey. If you’re interested in his work, or just to chat, he can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.